The song blaring in the mall tells you it's the most wonderful time of the year, but it's also one of the most stressful. The good news: The plastic in your wallet might offer perks that can smooth out seasonal snafus, calm frayed nerves and even keep you from busting your holiday budget.
Here are seven holiday hassles — and how your credit card could come to your rescue:
1. You're so busy at work that you don't have time to track down the perfect gifts for your loved ones. Some credit cards come with free 24-hour access to a concierge who can secretly serve as your Santa. For example, Visa Signature cards have concierge service that includes shopping help. A concierge can come up with a great gift idea, hunt down a hot item or find the lowest prices for the gifts on your list. And, depending on which card you hold, they can even do your shopping for you.
These benefits aren't available on all cards — and if you're actually looking for someone to shop for you, chances are you'll need a perk-heavy card with an annual fee.
2. You're walking in the door loaded down with gifts when you drop (and break) the new iPad you just bought for your kid. Did you buy the gift with a card that has purchase protection? If so, you're in luck. Purchase protection is a type of insurance that will replace, repair or reimburse you for an item that gets damaged, lost or stolen within a certain time frame after purchase — usually 90 days.
“For example, if you've just gone to the Apple store and you leave your new iPhone on the subway or your dog eats a gift that's under the tree, those could be covered by purchase protection,” says Kimberly Litt, public affairs manager for American Express. But always check the details: Purchase protection typically has per-item and per-year dollar limits that vary by card, as well as some exclusions, Litt says.
3. You do your Christmas shopping online to avoid the crowds, but the vintage brooch you ordered for your mom never arrives. Buying an item with a credit card protects you in case your purchase never arrives or shows up damaged. Of course, you should always try first to work with the merchant to resolve the situation, says Luke Landes, founder of Consumerism Commentary. However, if that doesn't work, the federal Fair Credit Billing Act allows you to dispute the charge with your credit card issuer. If your issuer finds the merchant to be at fault, it will refund the charge. That should be your last resort, but it's a good option to have, Landes says, noting that the issuer will reverse the charge while investigating.
“It's good to have a large company on your side,” he says.
4. Your flight is delayed due to bad weather, and jostling through airport crowds has you on the verge of a meltdown. Take a deep breath and look in your wallet. Some higher-end cards offer access to airport lounges, says Marybeth Bond, a National Geographic travel writer and founder of GutsyTraveler.com.
Some less-swanky rewards cards also offer limited access to lounges. Check this chart to find out if yours does.
“You get to go to a place that's quiet, has Wi-Fi and doesn't smell like French fries,” says Bond, who took advantage of the perk on a hectic trip just before Thanksgiving. “And you know you'll get a seat.”
Other bonuses include coffee, healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, and free newspapers and magazines, Bond says.
“And, most importantly, there's a concierge at the front who can help you figure out any issues with your flight delay.”
5. You finally do get on a plane and arrive home for the holidays — but your luggage doesn't. Some credit cards offer lost luggage reimbursement that will allow you to replace your clothes in time for the holiday party. For example, Visa Signature cards have coverage that will pay the difference between your claim amount and what the airline reimburses you, up to $3,000, if you bought the plane ticket with that card. Some cards will give you a smaller amount, around $200, if your luggage is lost more than 24 hours, Bond says.
That allows you to replace need-it-now items such as toiletries, cosmetics and pajamas without paying out of pocket, she says. One tip: “Keep your receipts,” Bond says. That way, you have proof that you did buy that toothpaste and those spa socks right after your luggage was lost — and aren't trying to get money for things you already owned.
6. You rent a car to get around while visiting the in-laws, and the clerk pressures you to buy pricy collision coverage.
“They will try hard at the rental car counter to upsell you,” Bond says.
Your best move: Pay with a credit card that offers free rental car insurance coverage. But before you refuse the coverage the rental car company is selling, make sure you know exactly what the insurance from your credit card covers, Bond says. For example, most cards offer only “secondary” coverage, meaning it will kick in only after your regular car insurance has paid.
While you're at it, check for other rental car perks. Some cards offer an automatic upgrade on rental cars, Bond says. So, you might get to speed through a lane for preferred customers and even get a free upgrade.
“Instead of going to the Ford Fiesta at the front of the lot, you can go to the Lexus at the back,” Bond says.
7. You decide to surprise your spouse with a fancy new fridge, and you're fretting about whether to shell out the extra cash for extended warranty coverage. You might not need to worry if you purchased the item with a credit card that has extended warranty coverage. For example, all Capital One cards, such as Venture and Quicksilver, come with coverage that doubles the manufacturer's warranty by up to a year on qualifying products, says Sukhi Sahni, spokeswoman for Capital One (which is common across the board for the cards that offer this perk). However, be careful: Some products, such as floor models that come without a manufacturer warranty, are excluded, according to the Capital One's terms and conditions. Read your card's terms so you know exactly what coverage you have, Landes says.
Check the details of all of your perks ahead of time, so you're not scrambling for your card's paperwork if you get in a pinch this holiday season.
“Know your benefits, know what they cover and use them,” Bond says.