Published in: Credit Cards | Aug. 21, 2019

The Most Overrated and Underrated Credit Card Perks

By:  Lyle Daly

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Some credit card perks are even better than you’d expect, but others fall flat.


Woman wearing sunglasses holds a credit card in one hand and makes the OK sign with the other.

Image source: Getty Images

With the long lists of perks offered by the best credit cards, it’s hard to know which ones should get your attention. While many of them can be extremely useful, there are also some that sound much more valuable than they actually are.

The last thing you want is to overlook a card with some surprisingly solid features and instead end up with one that doesn’t meet your expectations. To make it easier to know what to look for, here are some of the most overrated and underrated credit card perks.

Overrated: Spending credits

Spending credits are great in theory. Your card issuer will automatically offer up to a certain amount of credit for specific types of purchases. For example, maybe a card has a $250 annual travel credit, so your first $250 in travel purchases are effectively free of charge.

The catch is that these cards will always have an annual fee that’s higher than the total credit amount, so it’s not like you’re coming out ahead here. It’s better to consider these spending credits as discounts on your annual fee, assuming you can use them.

That leads to the second problem with spending credits. Not all of them are easy to use. There are credits that cover airline fees, but not the airfare itself. Some cards offer monthly credits towards specific services, such as rideshares or food delivery, meaning you have to use them every month to maximize their worth. Ultimately, if you don’t use those spending credits, you’re not getting the most out of your credit card. 

Underrated: Free nights at hotels

Many hotel credit cards include a free night certificate every year that you’re a cardholder. This is a perk that can offer incredible value, because that one night will often be worth much more than your card’s annual fee.

Although you generally can’t use your free night at the hotel’s most luxurious properties, that still leaves plenty of places to choose from. If you know that you’ll stay at a hotel at least once per year, a hotel credit card that offers a free night is a no-brainer.

Overrated: Airport lounge access

Airport lounges are a perfect example of the relationship between quality and price.

The lounge experience used to be fantastic. You had a quiet place with free food and drinks where you could relax before your flight. Lounges were exclusive, and of course, they were expensive.

Then, lounge access became a standard perk with several of the top travel cards, allowing any cardholder to come in with a couple of guests and/or their screaming children.

There are still some excellent lounges out there, but on average, the quality has gone down. Overcrowding is the biggest problem, particularly in lounges you can access with your credit card, and you may find yourself unable to enter a lounge if it’s near capacity.

Underrated: Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credits

Now here’s an example of a perk that hasn’t been ruined just because so many travel cards offer it.

Both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck cut down on the amount of time you spend standing around in line at the airport. Global Entry gets you through customs faster when you’re returning to the United States after traveling internationally, whereas TSA PreCheck offers an expedited security line at U.S. airports.

If you have a credit card that offers this, Global Entry is the better deal, because it includes a TSA PreCheck membership, as well.

TSA PreCheck usually saves you at least a few minutes, and Global Entry is even better. The last few times I’ve returned from international travel, I was able to skip a 30-minute line and instead go through a Global Entry kiosk in under a minute.

Overrated: Shopping with points

Some credit card companies will let you pay with points at major online retailers, and others offer a catalog of products you can purchase using your points.

The issue here is that when you shop with points, you almost always get a subpar value for your hard-earned rewards. While it may seem like a convenient way to redeem your points, this option is effectively useless.

Underrated: Trip and purchase protections

Trip and purchase protections typically aren’t the most glamorous of credit card perks. They’re not the features that get mentioned at the top of the page, which is reserved for rewards rates, travel credits, lounge access, and so on.

They can, however, be a huge help if you run into any problems on a trip or with a product you purchased. Common protections include:

  • Trip cancellation and delay insurance
  • Lost luggage coverage
  • Purchase protection against damage or theft
  • Extended warranty coverage

There are even credit cards offering complimentary cell phone insurance, so you won’t need to spend money every month to keep your smartphone safe.

Don’t always believe the hype

This isn’t to say that the overrated perks are a waste, or that the underrated ones are must-haves. The goal here is to provide a clearer picture of how credit card perks stack up, so you don’t miss out on a good card you hadn’t considered or apply for one based on some benefits that aren’t quite as good as they seem.

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