By Jean Chatzky ∑
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Posted: 6 am ET

Ever lost your luggage? Had a new purchase go on the fritz just outside of the 30-day return window? Come down with the stomach flu the day before a long-awaited cruise?

If so, you know how costly, not to mention frustrating, these scenarios can be. Itís hard watching both time and money run down the drain. But you may have a makeshift insurance policy against these experiences right in your wallet: your credit card.

Yes, credit card benefits can extend to coverage of the aforementioned issues, among many others, as long as the original purchase was put on the card. Itís all in the fine print, which many consumers toss without reading, missing these perks altogether. "You have to read the terms and conditions on your card," says Bill Hardekopf, founder of "And if you want to take advantage of one of these benefits, I highly recommend calling your issuer and talking about the benefit details over the phone."

Thatís because the policies can vary, as can the requirements for meeting them. But here are five benefits to look for:

Travel protections. These benefits can include both delayed luggage insurance, which will cover the cost of any "essential" items you need to purchase until your luggage is returned (up to a limit), and lost or damaged luggage insurance, which will cover replacing luggage that is not found -- again, up to a limit. Many cards also offer trip cancellation service, which can reimburse you if your travels get canceled and the services you've booked are nonrefundable.

Extended warranties. If youíve ever purchased an electronic item, youíve probably been offered an extended warranty -- for a price. You may not need it if youíre making the purchase with a credit card. "The manufacturer may give you a yearís warranty. If you buy it with a credit card, the issuer in its terms and conditions may give you an extra year of warranty on that item," says Hardekopf. "That may be adequate protection and you can skip the extended warranty from the retailer." On top of that, many cards offer you additional coverage (up to a limit) if an item you purchase is damaged or stolen inside of a set period of time -- often 30 to 90 days, says Beverly Harzog, a credit card expert and author of "The Debt Escape Plan."

Return protection. If you make a purchase with an eligible card, and the retailer wonít allow you to make a return, your credit card may offer a refund, says Harzog. There will be a limit on the time frame -- often within 90 days of purchase -- and the reimbursement amount.

Roadside assistance. If youíre stranded, you may be able to call the number on the back of your card for access to emergency services such as a locksmith, tow truck or tire change. Youíll pay for the cost of service, or in the case of Discover, a flat fee of $69.95 for any covered services rendered. Again, read the fine print on this one.

Zero liability. In this age of data breaches, this may be the most important benefit of all. "When you use a credit card, youíre really protected if it or your information gets stolen. With cash, youíre out of luck, and with check or debit, the thief has stolen your money and youíre trying to get the bank to replace it. With a credit card, youíre not out your own money," says Hardekopf.

This is one good reason to always use a credit card when shopping online, and traveling, as long as you pay off the balance in full, before triggering any interest charges.