Innovations and Payment Systems

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


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

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If your car breaks down by the side of the road, in many cases your credit card 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-flyer 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 cost of using your credit card’s roadside assistance program can quickly add up as you pay for each individual service call.

Offered on many cards

You’ll have the benefit automatically if you use an American Express card, a Visa Signature or Visa TravelMoney (prepaid) card.

Many of the major card issuers – including CitiChaseCapital OneWells Fargo and U.S. Bank – offer roadside assistance with almost all of their Visas and Mastercards. Don’t assume you have roadside assistance, 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

Visa: 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 $69.95 per call. Several services can be provided, such as towing your car, changing a flat tire, delivering a couple of gallons of gasoline or getting your car jump-started. The cost is billed to your Visa card.

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

American Express: American Express operates similarly to Mastercard, in that you call a toll-free number and the company coordinates the roadside 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 Citi spokeswoman Jennifer Bombardier.

Paying out of pocket: What common roadside help costs

According to research, these are the average costs of various common roadside services:

  • Locksmith service: $50-$120, based on location and service provided, per Fixr.

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 without paying anything extra.

Comparison to AAA

AAA, which has more than 58 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 park discounts.

AAA is divided into geographic regions, and prices vary by location. 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 $89. In 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 $130.

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.

Credit card benefits and AAA aren’t the only roadside assistance options available. AARP, auto insurers and other groups offer such programs.


Compare roadside assistance programs

Visa Roadside DispatchPay per use, $69.95. 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 AssistanceDispatches roadside service. You pay out of pocket for services; prices are pre-negotiated. Not offered on all Mastercards.
  • Tow
  • Tire change
  • Fuel delivery
  • Jump-start
American Express Roadside Assistance HotlineDispatches 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 (except for some vehicles with transponder keys)
  • Fuel delivery, up to 2 gallons (to to 10 gallons for premium cardholders)
AAA ClassicStarts at $48 per year, prices and services may vary by region
  • Tow, up to 3 miles, up to 4 times per year
  • Check, jump and/or replace battery, up to 4 times per year
  • Tire service
  • Locksmith, up to $60 and labor services
  • Fuel delivery, enough to get to nearest gas station; you pay fuel cost
  • Winch (one car/driver per year)
AAA PlusStarts at $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 and labor services
  • Fuel delivery at no cost
  • Winch (two car/driver per year)
AAA PremierStarts at $130 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 and labor services
  • Fuel delivery at no cost
  • Winch (two car/driver per year)
Ford Roadside AssistanceNo cost, valid for five years or 60,000 miles for 2007 and newer models; three years or 36,000 miles for 2006 models or earlier
  • Tow, up to 35 miles to closest Ford dealer
  • Jump-start
  • Flat tire
  • Fuel delivery, up to two gallons of regular or five gallons of diesel
  • Locksmith service (cost of spare key not included)
Source: research, February 2018


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