Product return assistance: a disappearing perk

Programs can help when it's too late for a refund, but they're not universal

Sienna Kossman
Personal finance writer
Statistics enthusiast focused on data-driven content

As credit card perks go, return assistance has often been overlooked. Consumers who know about the benefit may also have a hard 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 card 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 of U.S. markets communications for the company. One perk that bit the dust in that move was Mastercard's Satisfaction Guarantee program.

Discover is ending its return policy May 29, 2018, citing low usage. Until then, items can be returned within 90 days of purchase with a $500 for limit per item and a cap of $2,500 per account annually

American Express still offers their return assistance program, though. They also require the item to be returned within 90 days of purchase. The item can not cost more than $300 and card holders can only return up to $1,000 worth of items per account annually.

Not all items can be returned. Among the exclusions 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 institutions. Kitchener advised cardholders to check if their card issuer still offers the benefit. 

Along similar lines, Visa has discontinued its universal Return Protection program, but some Visa card issuers may offer this benefit on select cards in their portfolios. To compare differences between issuer Visa cards, the benefits of two different cards -- a Bank of American Travel Rewards card and a Chase MileagePlus Explorer Visa – were reviewed. The Bank of America card does not offer the Return Protection program, but the Chase card does, according to the Chase website.

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

Compare return assistance programs

Program Limit Refund request deadline Cost Caveat Examples of exclusions
Discover Return Guarantee
(Discover cut this card  benefit Feb. 28, 2018, but cardholders can file claims until May 29, 2018)
$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. The program will end May 29, 2018.  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: Major retailers' return policies, Purchase protection benefits survey 2016: which cards offer them



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Updated: 04-20-2018