ADVERTISER DISCLOSURE
Post image for The Best Credit Cards for Holiday Shopping: Decoding Purchase, Return, Warranty and Price Protection

The Best Credit Cards for Holiday Shopping: Decoding Purchase, Return, Warranty and Price Protection

by

This post may contain references to products from our partners. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of how we make money, please visit this page.

For all the excitement of Black Friday shopping, you might well be filled with regret come Monday. But the right credit card can protect you against ill-considered purchases, too-short warranties or even damage or theft.

Many American Express, Discover MasterCard and Visa cards offer differing levels of assurances and guarantees:

 

  • Return protection: If you aren’t able to return a purchase, your card may cover the cost of the item.
  • Purchase protection: If your purchase is stolen or damaged for a covered reason, you could be reimbursed the cost of the item.
  • Warranty extension: Your purchase’s warranty can be extended for up to a year.

In addition, Discover, MasterCard and some Visa cards have:

  • Price protection: If you find a lower price for the same item, you may recover the difference.

But not all protection levels are equal. Some cut you off at half the coverage of other policies; others restrict eligibility to the most posh of cards. Still other programs require you to jump through hoops before you even think of taking advantage of the benefit. But with a little late-night reading of terms and conditions, you can find which cards to use for different purchases. Here are NerdWallet’s best credit cards to ensure longevity and satisfaction this Black Friday.

Best cards for guarding your purchases

Best for buyer’s remorse: Discover

Discover offers the most comprehensive return protection, insuring you up to $500 per item if the merchant doesn’t take it back. Your return period is 90 days, 50% longer than MasterCard’s. They even accept software returns, which no other network does. However, they do require that you submit written documentation from the store manager on letterhead stating his refusal to accept the item, along with the receipt and your credit card statement. American Express only insures you up to $300 per item, but does not require a note from the manager.

Best for software: American Express or Discover 

Software is eligible for American Express’ purchase protection and warranty extension and Discover’s return protection, unlike Visa or MasterCard.

Best for Sunday-morning-rain-is-falling: Visa

Visa’s purchase protection explicitly covers damage due to “windstorms, lightning, hail, rain, sleet, or snow,” and while American Express and Discover don’t exclude these events, neither do they outright include them. MasterCard doesn’t cover damage due to liquids or lightning. None offer coverage for natural disasters or acts of God, such as hurricanes or earthquakes.

Best for formal wear: Discover

Visa and American Express’ return protection policies don’t cover formal wear, but MasterCard and Discover’s do. Discover covers up to $500, twice MasterCard’s limit. What’s more, MasterCard’s return protection requires that the store offer some sort of return policy on the item, and many retailers have a no-exchanges rule for formal wear.

Best non-credit card: American Express Bluebird

Very few non-credit cards offer purchase protection. The Visa prepaid cards do, but they tend to be costly. The most affordable is the American Express Bluebird, a new, almost-no-fee prepaid debit card. If you load the card via a bank account or at Walmart, and either use direct deposit or don’t withdraw from an ATM, you can essentially use the card fee-free but still take advantage of Amex’s solid purchase protection.

Worst cards for worry-free shopping

Worst for holiday decorations: Visa 

Visa excludes seasonal items, like holiday decorations, from both its return and price protection.

Worst for books: American Express

Amex does not offer return protection on books.

Most cumbersome return protection: MasterCard 

Both MasterCard and Discover require that you get a signed statement from a store manager on the store’s letterhead documenting his refusal to accept a return. But on top of that, MasterCard requires that the store have a return policy of at least 10 days.

Worst warranty protection: MasterCard

MasterCard’s warranty extension is void if either the original warranty or extended warranty (if you purchase it) are over one year in duration. By contrast, Discover allows you 36 months of original or purchased warranty (though the original warranty and Discover’s extension cannot exceed 48 months), Visa allows three years and American Express five.

At a glance

American Express Discover MasterCard Visa
Cards covered All cards (purchase protection available on Bluebird Prepaid) All credit cards World MasterCard and above Visa Signature (purchase protection available on prepaids)

Purchase protection


American Express
Discover MasterCard Visa
Coverage Window 90 days 90 days 90 days 90 days
Coverage Limits $1,000 per incident $50,000 per year $500 per incident, $50,000 per year $1,000 per incident $25,000 per year $500 per incident $50,000 per year
Must provide Receipt
AmEx statement
Proof of theft/damage
Receipt
Discover statement
Proof of loss/damage
Receipt
MasterCard statement
Proof of loss/damage
Receipt
Visa statement
Proof of loss/damage
Exclusions Acts of God Software, acts of God, mold, power surges Software, damage by liquids, mold, power surges, product defects or acts of God Acts of God, software

Warranty Protection


American Express
Discover MasterCard Visa
Extended by Up to 1 year Up to 1 year Up to 1 year Up to 1 year
Coverage Limits $10,000 per incident $50,000 per year $10,000 per incident, $50,000 per year $10,000 per incident $10,000 per incident. $50,000 total
Must provide Receipt
AmEx statement
Copy of warranty
Repair order
Receipt
Discover statement
Copy of warranty
Repair order
Receipt
MasterCard statement
Copy of warranty
Repair order
Receipt
Visa statement
Copy of warranty
Repair order
Original warranty terms Must be 5 years or less Must be 36 months or less, total coverage (Discover + original) cannot exceed 48 months Original and purchased warranty must each be 1 year or less Must be 3 years or less
Gotchas Physical damage Software Media such as CDs or DVDs, and failures due to “normal wear and tear” or power surges Software

Return protection

(all exclude software)

American Express Discover MasterCard Visa
Return Window 90 days 90 days 60 days 90 days
Coverage Limits $300 per incident $1,000 per year $500 per item $2,500 per year $250 per incident 4 claims per year $250 per incident $1,000 per year
Must provide Receipt
AmEx statement
Item
Receipt
Discover statement
Item
Written documentation from store manager on letterhead documenting refusal to accept return
Receipt
MasterCard statement
Item
Written documentation from store manager on letterhead documenting refusal to accept return
Firstborn son
Copy of store return policy
Receipt
Visa statement
Item
Gotchas Excludes most electronics Surprisingly comprehensive Store must have a return/exchange policy of at least 10 days Excludes holiday items, items purchased outside the US

Price match guarantee

Discover MasterCard
Price Match Window 90 days 60 days
Coverage Limits $500 per item $2,500 per year $250 per incident, 4 claims per year
Must provide Receipt
Discover statement
Dated copy of lower-priced ad OR written documentation from store manager on letterhead
Receipt
MasterCard statement
Dated copy of lower-priced ad
Gotchas Excludes lower prices that are bonus or membership rewards offers Excludes lower prices that are special offers
We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet's official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.