Purchase Protection is a rarely-used but omnipresent fringe benefit of some credit cards that could be worth much more than most of the things you buy with the card itself.

It is not a big secret that the extended warranties that many retailers suggest you buy at the registry usually end up being a big waste of cash. While they promise giant rewards should the product you are buying break down or short out, this kind of ad-hoc insurance usually goes by the wayside and you end up throwing your money at a problem that never really existed in the first place. Indeed, it is a rarity that anyone will ever actually take advantage of a register-based warranty extension. What is a secret, though, is that you can actually take advantage of the same kind of warranty extension just by purchasing the item with a specific credit card. This is not to say that there is only one card in the entire world that offers such a service, rather that many cards offer automatic warranty extension or automatic purchase protection or both.

Automatic Warranty Extension is a feature of many credit cards these days. This benefit, quite simply, doubles the length of the manufacturer’s warranty (up to a limit, ie an additional year, etc). It is a very simple benefit but it can require a little maneuvering if you ever actually use it since you will have to deal with both your credit card company and the manufacturer of the item. Automatic Purchase Protection, though, is much more specific. What basically equates to a simple insurance policy, Automatic Purchase Protection protects qualifying purchases from almost anything—including damage and theft—within so many months of the transaction. On top of this, some cards also offer a kind of Return Policy Protection that allows you to get a refund on an item that a store will not take back (regardless of the reason).

While these features are often standard across the credit card industry, the major credit card networks all approach them differently. They differ in the amount of coverage as well as the specifics of how each kind of coverage works.

American Express, for example, is the only credit card network that will cover any purchase against accidental damage for up to 90 days after purchase. Of course, they also cover theft. The American Express Purchase Protection plan limits the benefit to $1,000 per incident and up to $50,000 in damages per year. Similarly, the American Express Warranty Extension Plan will automatically double the length of any manufacturer’s warranty (up to one year) and their Return Protection Plan allows you to return any item (of up to $300) within 90 days of purchase.

Visa’s network also extends Purchase Protection to its customers, but only those with premium accounts. These include cards like Visa Signature, Visa Reloadable Prepaid, Visa Payroll, and Visa TravelMoney cards. Their Purchase Protection plan is similar to that of American Express, offering protection of up to $500 on items purchased within 90 days from the claim. Also similar to American Express, Visa’s Purchase Protection covers theft and water damage and they offer a one-year warranty extension (with some limitations).

Of course, MasterCard also offers similar benefits. They cap their Return/Purchase Protection at $250 per item within 60 days of purchase. They also, however, offer Price Protection (something NOT available through Visa or American Express).

Finally, Discover Card purchases are automatically covered by Discover Extended Product Warranty. This added insurance doubles any qualifying manufacturer’s warranty up to one as well as $500 towards goods that are damaged or stolen within 90 days of purchase.

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