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When deciding which travel rewards card to use for large purchases, it’s important to look beyond the points and miles you earn. Card issuers strive to set their products apart from the competition by offering incentives like sign-up bonuses, but sometimes the less flashy benefits can also end up being very valuable.

In this post I’ll look at the three different shopping protection policies offered by many American Express cards:

  • Purchase protection
  • Return protection
  • Extended warranty coverage

Then, I’ll explain how you can leverage these benefits to save money.

Purchase Protection

These benefits can reimburse you for theft or accidental damage to eligible items that occurred within 90 days of purchase. To be eligible, all you have to do is charge a portion of your qualifying purchase to your American Express card. You don’t have to register your purchases, and the coverage is included for all cardmembers.

With most Amex cards, you’re covered for up to $1,000 per covered incident, and up to $50,000 per year, but the reimbursement doesn’t include any shipping or handling expenses. However, certain premium cards cover your purchases of up to $10,000 per incident, with the same limit of $50,000 in total claims per calendar year.

Cards with this higher level of coverage include:

But as with any insurance policy, the devil is always in the details. In this case, you have to purchase an item that’s eligible for coverage, and the loss can’t be due to an excluded reason.

The following purchases are ineligible for coverage:

  • Tickets of any kind
  • Negotiable instruments including travelers checks and gift cards
  • Animals or living plants
  • Rare stamps and coins
  • Consumable or perishable items such as perfume, light bulbs and batteries
  • Antiques or any previously owned items
  • Motorized vehicles, parts and accessories
  • Anything purchased for resale or commercial use
  • Permanent household items such as carpet, flooring, air conditioners and refrigerators
  • Medical or dental equipment or devices

Also excluded is loss or damage due to any of the following reasons:

  • Natural disasters
  • Riots
  • Illegal activity
  • Service in the military
  • Normal wear and tear
  • Damage through alteration
  • Items not being safeguarded or left at an unoccupied construction
  • Simply losing or misplacing the purchase (although the policies for the Premier Rewards Gold, Delta Reserve, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card and all consumer versions of the Amex Platinum card do cover lost or misplaced items.)

For a complete description of the policies of your American Express card, select it at this page. You can also view this page with Frequently Asked Questions.

How to File a Claim

You must file a claim within 30 days of loss by using this link or by calling 800-322-1277. You must provide an original store receipt (or a printout of an online receipt), or in the event of theft, a copy of a police report. You may even be asked to send in a damaged item, so be sure to keep it until the claim is resolved.

Woman using laptop computer at home. (Photo by aluxum/Getty Images)
To file a claim you must provide an original store receipt or in the event of theft, a copy of a police report. (Photo by aluxum/Getty Images)

Return Protection

All American Express cards come with the same return protection policy, offering you compensation when a store will not accept a return of an eligible item within 90 days of purchase. In these cases, Amex will refund the entire purchase price up to $300 per item, excluding shipping and handling charges. There’s a $1,000 annual maximum benefit.

What’s Covered

The purchase must be made in the United States, be in “like new” condition, and the merchant must have previously denied the return.

The following items are excluded from this policy:

  • Animals and living plants
  • Seasonal items
  • One-of-a-kind items such as antiques and artwork
  • Limited-edition items
  • Going-out-of-business sale items
  • Consumable items with limited life spans such as perfume, light bulbs and batteries
  • Jewelry and watches
  • Services
  • Used and/or altered items
  • Custom-built items
  • Media such as compact discs, digital video discs, mini discs, audiotapes, videotapes, computer software and firmware
  • Books
  • Health care items
  • Formal wear such as bridal wear, gowns, prom dresses and tuxedos
  • Tickets
  • Motorized vehicles including parts and accessories
  • Firearms and ammunition
  • Negotiable instruments such as gift cards and travelers checks

See the entire return protection policy for your card here.

How to File a Claim

You must file a claim within 90 days of your original purchase at www.AmericanExpress.com/onlineclaim or by calling 1-800-297-8019. You’ll be asked for a copy of the receipt and your Amex purchase record. You may also be asked to return the item to Amex, so be sure to hang onto it.

Extended Warranty Coverage

This policy covers eligible purchases for an additional year beyond a manufacturer’s warranty of between one and five years. The coverage is secondary to the manufacturer’s, so it only applies when the original warranty has expired. The coverage is limited to $10,000 per claim, and $50,000 in total claims per calendar year.

The extended warranty does not cover the following items:

  • Products covered by an unconditional satisfaction guarantee
  • Motorized vehicles and parts
  • Business fixtures including air conditioners, refrigerators and heaters
  • Land or buildings
  • Consumable or perishable items
  • Animals or living plants
  • Items purchased for resale, professional or commercial use

Also, coverage does not apply to damage from natural disasters or power surges, or any item under a product recall. You can view the full extended warranty policy for each card.

How to File a Claim

You must file a claim within 30 days of your covered loss, and you can do so online or by calling 1-800-225-3750. You will be asked for a copy of the receipt and your Amex purchase record. You may also be asked to return the item to Amex in the event it can’t be repaired.

Amex Shopping Protection Policies in Action

It’s easy to write off these policies as being too much of a hassle, or conversely being too good to be true. However, I’ve filed two claims with Amex in the past, and in both cases I was pleasantly surprised about how quick and easy the process was.

The first claim was for a child’s bicycle seat that was supposed to mount on my bike’s handlebars. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but once I received it and had a chance to install it, I realized that it scared my daughter and seemed too dangerous to me as well. Since I was outside of the 30-day return policy, but still within 90 days of purchase, I filed a return protection claim online with Amex. The claim was quickly accepted, and I was issued a statement credit for my purchase.

My next chance to use these benefits was when a computer part failed about a year and a half after purchase when the warranty was only for one year. The manufacturer was completely unwilling to repair or replace it, but once again I remembered my Amex extended warranty policy, and filled out an online claim form. I was notified after about a week that my claim had been accepted, and I was issued a statement credit for the purchase price. I was not asked to return the items in question in either case.

How to Get the Most Benefit From These Policies 

First, you have to have the right card. Beyond that, I think it’s prudent to factor these protections into your decision of which card to use whenever you make a large purchase. I definitely lean toward my Amex card when I buy a television, computer or a major appliance that can be costly to repair, even if it means sacrificing bonus points.

I confess that I don’t save a copy of the register receipt from every purchase I make — I’m just not that organized. Thankfully, it’s really easy to search my email inbox to find receipts for everything I’ve bought online. Failing that, I can also search my order history at Amazon, eBay and other online retailers I use, and an increasing number of brick-and-mortar retailers (from The Home Depot to the Apple Store) will now email you a receipt from the register. These online records helped me file my Amex claims quickly rather than having to dig through a shoebox full of paper receipts. Finally, it’s not that hard to snap a photo of a receipt, and retain it in your smartphone’s cloud storage archive for many years.

Bottom Line

When we think of travel rewards card benefits, we tend to think of lounge access, free checked bags and companion tickets, but don’t stop there. By taking advantage of the valuable shopping protection policies offered by most American Express cards, you can save hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars when a purchase doesn’t work out the way you hoped.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Up to $200 for Uber rides annually. Credit and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member only.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • As a Platinum Card Member, you can enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. That's up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$550
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.