Product return assistance: a disappearing perk

Programs can help when it's too late for a refund, but they're becoming more rare


Return assistance perk
Return assistance perk

As credit card perks go, return assistance has often been overlooked. Now even consumers who know about the benefit may have a harder time finding a card that offers it.

Return assistance programs offer consumers extra protection should they want to return an item after the retailer's return deadline. But they've been dropped as a universal benefit, first by Visa and then MasterCard -- though certain Visa and MasterCard issuers may still offer the perk.

In January 2014, MasterCard reworked its core card benefits "to better meet consumer needs," according to Beth Kitchener, business leader, U.S. markets communications, for the company. One perk that bit the dust in that move was MasterCard's Satisfaction Guarantee program.

Discover and American Express still offer their own return assistance programs, though. Both require the item to be returned within 90 days of purchase. And both have limits on the cost of the item -- $500 for Discover, with a cap of $2,500 per account annually, and $300 for American Express, with a cap of $1,000 per account annually.

Not all items can be returned. Among the exceptions are perishable and consumable goods.

MasterCard axed its program to focus more on "need" benefits than "want" benefits, Kitchener wrote in an email. The three core benefits are now identity-theft protection, price protection for 60 days and an extended warranty program. Those three benefits are available to all MasterCard holders, Kitchener wrote.

The card's website, however, lists "Satisfaction Guarantee" as a benefit, stating that if customers are not satisfied with a MasterCard-purchased item within 60 days of purchase, and the store won't accept a return, "You may be eligible for a refund for the cost of the product up to $250."

In much smaller type, the site warns, "Selection of benefits on your card varies greatly by card type and by card issuer," and refers customers to their financial institutuions. Kitchener advised cardholders to check if their card issuer still offers the benefit.

Along similar lines, Visa apparently has discontinued its Return Protection program, which required a return within 90 days of purchase, with a limit of $250 per item and $1,000 per account annually. Emails sent to the publicity department at Global Visa went unanswered. This reporter called customer service for two cards -- a Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Visa and a Chase MileagePlus Explorer Visa. The Citi card does not offer the return program, but the Chase card does, and the customer service rep offered a toll-free number and website for backup.

The moral of this story? Read the fine print when it comes to anything related to credit cards. 

Program Limit Refund request deadline Cost Caveat Examples of exclusions
Discover Return Guarantee $500 per item, $2,500 per account annually Within 90 days of purchase Customer pays shipping costs to return items Applies only to items purchased in the United States Customized objects, rare or precious coins, art objects, consumable and perishable goods
American Express Return Protection $300 per item, $1,000 per account annually Within 90 days of purchase Customer pays shipping costs to return items Items must be purchased in the United States, Puerto Rico or other territories and countries with close ties to the U.S.; cardholders cannot be past due on payments Jewelry, computer software, seasonal items, formal wear, books, motorized vehicles and perishable goods. The full list includes 28 exclusions.
Visa Return Protection N/A N/A N/A No longer a core benefit; check with card issuer to see if it applies to your card. N/A
MasterCard Satisfaction Guarantee N/A N/A N/A Not longer a core benefit; check with card issuer to see if it applies to your card. N/A

See related: Top retailers' 2015 return and receipt policies, 6 steps to getting a credit card chargeback, Your rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act

Published: December 31, 2015

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Updated: 10-21-2016

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