[Update: Some offers mentioned below have expired. You can view the current offers from our partners here — The Platinum Card from American Express and Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]
Reward credit cards are a great way to earn points, miles or cash back from your spending, but they have one fatal flaw: Cardholders only earn these rewards in proportion to what they spend, and that can encourage people to overspend and go into debt.
Yet there is another credit card feature that often goes unnoticed: cardholder benefits. These are perks that all cardholders receive before ever making a single transaction.
Here are the top ten credit card perks out there:
1. Business lounge access
Plenty of credit cards offer some sort of airport business lounge membership ranging from two free visits and a discount, to unlimited access to multiple airline clubs.
The most generous card: The American Express Platinum card offers cardholders unlimited access to the clubs of the Delta, US Airways, American, and the Lounge Club network. Purchased individually, these memberships would cost well over $1,000.
2. Cell phone protection
At a time when the latest phones cost hundreds of dollars, and carriers charge hundreds more for insurance plans, it is great when your credit card covers theft or damage of a cell phone.
The most generous card: Wells Fargo offers a cellular telephone protection plan on most of its credit cards that features $600 of protection against damage or theft, with a $25 deductible.
3. Companion ticket
Some credit cards offer customers a companion certificate that can be used as a two-for-one coupon on any paid fare. The second person only pays a small amount in taxes.
The most generous card: The Delta SkyMiles Reserve card from American Express offers a domestic economy or First class companion certificate each year upon renewal.
4. Primary rental car insurance
Most credit cards offer rental car insurance, but it is secondary so it only kicks in after a claim has been filed against your personal policy. Primary coverage protects you and your insurance company.
The most generous card: The United MileagePlus Explorer from Chase is one of a few cards that offer primary coverage at home and abroad. Others include the Chase Ink Bold MasterCard and the Fairmont Visa.
5. Concierge service
These services will help you purchase tickets to entertainment and sporting events, get directions, make travel and restaurant reservations, and just about any other task someone can do for you over the phone.
The most generous card: The American Express Platinum card is generally thought of as having the premier concierge service.
6. Priority service at the airport
Airline credit cards can offer card holders the ability to skip lines at the airport.
The most generous card: The United Mileage Plus Club card from Chase offers all cardholders priority check-in, security screening, boarding and baggage handling privileges. These are virtually all the benefits of a first class ticket, aside from the larger seat.
7. Free checked bags
Bag fees might help airlines become profitable, but they can be a major expense to travelers.
The most generous card: The Citi Executive/AAdvantage card from American Airlines offers one free bag for the cardholder and up to eight companions. The United Mileage Plus Club card from Chase offers two free bags for the cardholder and one companion, making it superior for parties of three or less.
8. Hotel status
Having elite status in a hotel program can mean a quick check-in, a late check out, free Internet service, and more.
The most generous card: The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card offers immediate gold status which even includes free breakfast for two.
9. Airline and travel fee credits
While some airline credit cards waive bag fees with a single airline, other cards will reimburse cardholders for change fees, seat fees and in-flight meals on any carrier.
The most generous card: The American Express Platinum card and the Ritz-Carlson card from Chase both offer $200 annual airline fee credits, but the Platinum card will also reimburse cardholders for the $100 application fee for the Global Entry program operated by the United States Customs and Border Patrol.
10. Purchase protection
Credit cards can offer return protection, extended warranty coverage and reimburse cardholders if their goods are stolen or damaged.
The most generous card: Most Citi cards include retail purchase protection, extended warranty coverage and Citi’s Price Rewind service.
At publishing time, The Platinum Card from American Express, United MileagePlus Explorer and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve cards are offered on Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards. However, this relationship does not result in preferential editorial treatment.
Image: Ingram Publishing