Roadside assistance, your credit card's little-known benefit

Check your card; services, costs vary widely


Roadside assistance, your credit card's little-known perk
Roadside assistance, your credit card's little-known perk

If your car breaks down by the side of the road, in many cases your credit card company won't leave you stranded.

Many cards offer roadside assistance, which can give you a sense of security so you're not scrambling for someone to fix a flat or tow your broken-down vehicle in the middle of the night.

But unless you have certain premium cards, be prepared to pay a price for this service.

Unlike AAA membership, where you pay a flat fee annually for roadside assistance that you may or may not ever use, with a credit card's roadside assistance benefit you don't pay anything until you actually need the service.

In many cases, the roadside assistance benefit "could be less than the cost of AAA, which you might not use every year," says Gary Leff, a frequent travel expert. "By paying on a per-use basis, the credit card could be a better deal."

But if you own an old clunker that constantly breaks down, the costs of using your credit card's roadside assistance program can quickly add up as you pay for each individual service call.

Not offered on all cards
You'll have the benefit automatically if you use an American Express card, a Visa Signature or Visa TravelMoney (prepaid) card.

By paying on a per-use basis, the credit card could be a better deal.

-- Gary Leff 
Travel expert 

Many of the major card issuers -- including Citi, Chase, Capital One, Wells Fargo and US Bank -- offer roadside assistance with almost all of their Visas and MasterCards. Don't assume it's there, though. In 2014, MasterCard dropped roadside assistance as a "core benefit" available on all its cards. It became an optional benefit banks could pay to add at their discretion.

You're out of luck if you have a card from Discover or from retail card issuers such as Synchrony.

How roadside assistance works
For Visa cards that offer the roadside benefit, you can call a toll-free number and assistance will be sent your way. You're charged $59.95 per call. Several services can be provided, such as towing your car, changing a flat tire, delivering a couple gallons of gasoline or getting your car jump started. The cost is billed to your Visa card.

If you have a MasterCard with roadside assistance, typically you can call a number and have help sent to you. MasterCard has prenegotiated prices for similar services, such as towing your car and changing a flat, but the costs aren't stated upfront.

American Express operates similarly to MasterCard, in that you call a toll-free number and the company coordinates the assistance, such as towing, changing a flat or jump-starting your car. Again, the costs aren't stated upfront.

"Customer service is a top priority for us, and we are always looking for ways to meet our card members' needs. Roadside assistance is one of the many ways we are able to do this," says American Express spokeswoman Jane DiLeo.

'Peace of mind' benefit
In these cases, the benefit primarily comes from having someone to call for assistance, which can be helpful if you're far from home or need help in the middle of the night. You may also pay a lower price for services.

"Citi's roadside assistance benefit helps provide peace of mind for card members so they can travel with more confidence," says Jennifer Bombardier, a Citi spokeswoman.

According to the auto insurance company Direct General, these are the average costs of various common roadside services:
  • Towing: $55-$85 (up to 5 miles)
  • Locksmith service: $65-$120
  • Jump start: $50-$120

It's a different story if you have a premium card, such as the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card or the American Express Platinum Card. With those cards, you can receive assistance up to four times a year and not pay anything extra.

Citi Prestige and Citi AAdvantage Executive, for example, also offer the benefit without charging you for the service, Bomardier says.

Comparison to AAA
AAA, which has more than 55 million members in the United States and Canada, follows a different model. You need to pay an annual membership fee and then AAA provides roadside assistance and a host of other benefits, such as hotel and amusement discounts.

AAA is divided into geographic regions, and prices vary from place to place. In the mid-Atlantic region, which includes Washington, D.C., for example, a classic membership, which includes such things as five miles of free towing and locksmith service, currently costs $52. In AAA's South region, which includes Miami, you'll pay $66 for the same membership.

You'll receive more roadside assistance services from your local AAA club if you have AAA Plus membership, which costs about $100 a year, or AAA Premier membership, which costs around $125.

One big benefit of AAA is that you can use most of the services repeatedly during the year and pay only a single annual membership fee.

Those aren't the only roadside assistance options available. Every place from AARP to auto insurers offer such programs.

Another alternative: Buy a new car
Most automakers provide free roadside assistance when you purchase their vehicle, says Ronald Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at

In many cases, the period of coverage coincides with the warranty on your vehicle. Typical coverage runs from four to six years, and 50,000 to 100,000 miles. Some, including Lexus and BMW, offer unlimited coverage. Others aren't so generous: Toyota's plan is only good for two years and 25,000 miles, and Honda offers no roadside assistance benefit.

Even some preowned cars offer roadside assistance for a year or two, Montoya says.

If you're looking just for roadside assistance, rather than other perks, Montoya recommends waiting until your auto warranty is up before you sign up for AAA. "Otherwise you're just paying extra."

Leff recommends that you take a close look at all the benefits by the credit cards you use. "A lot of people don't use them, even when they need them."

Private companies, credit cards and automakers all provide some form of roadside assistance. Below are some of their features and costs.
Name Cost Services
Visa Roadside Dispatch Pay per use, $59.95. With certain premium cards you don't pay for services.
  • Tow, up to 5 miles
  • Tire change
  • Jump start
  • Lockout service
  • Fuel delivery, up to 5 gallons (cost of fuel extra)
  • Winch – within 100 feet of paved or county-maintained road
MasterCard Roadside Assistance Dispatches roadside service. You pay out of pocket for services; prices are prenegotiated. Not offered on all MasterCards.
  • Tow
  • Tire change
  • Fuel delivery
  • Jump start
American Express Roadside Assistance Hotline Dispatches roadside service. You pay out of pocket for services. With certain premium cards you don't pay for services.
  • Tow
  • Winch
  • Jump start
  • Tire change
  • Lockout service
  • Fuel delivery, up to 2 gallons
AAA Classic $50-$65 per year, prices and services may vary by region.
  • Tow, up to 5 miles, up to 4 times per year
  • Jump start
  • Tire service
  • Locksmith, up to $50
  • Fuel delivery, enough to get to nearest gas station; you pay fuel cost
  • Winch (one car/driver per year)
AAA Plus $100 per year, prices and services may vary by region.
  • Tow, up to 100 miles, up to 4 times per year
  • Jump start
  • Tire service
  • Locksmith, up to $100
  • Fuel delivery at no cost
  • Winch (two car/driver per year)
AAA Premier  $125 per year, prices and services may vary by region.
  • Tow, up to 200 miles one time per year, up to 100 miles three times per year
  • Jump start
  • Tire service
  • Locksmith, up to $150
  • Fuel delivery at no cost
  • Winch (two car/driver per year)
Ford Roadside Assistance No cost, valid for 5 years or 60,000 miles.
  • Tow, up to 35 miles to closest Ford dealer
  • Jump start
  • Flat tire
  • service
  • Fuel delivery, up to 2 gallons
  • Locksmith service
Source: research, October 2015


See related: 11 hidden credit card perks

Published: October 9, 2015

Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.

Follow Us

Updated: 10-25-2016

Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.