As you know, I like to live dangerously. And is there anything more risky than buying things on final sale? I’ve been living on the edge ever since my friend told me about how she bought a pair of shoes, wore them, them decided they were in fact, the wrong size.
Then somehow the credit card company REIMBURSED her 100% for the shoes. Like magic.
My friends, this under-the-radar credit card perk is called Return Protection.
And it is a shopper’s dream.
What Is Return Protection?
Return Protection is a credit card benefit that reimburses you for eligible items the store won’t take back. Each credit card policy is different, but generally you’ll have up to 90 days to get reimbursed for an item you can’t return. So, if the store’s return policy maxes out at 30 days, it’s like getting a 60-day extension. Or, if you bought something marked final sale, it’s like creating a return policy where there wasn’t one.
If you’ve ever been in any of these scenarios, then Return Protection is another reason why credit cards should be your best friend:
- Have you ever bought something and forgot to return it within the return window?
- Have you ever bought something, wore it once or twice, and it ended up being a dud?
- Have you ever bought something that is marked as FINAL SALE and non-returnable?
- Have you ever bought something the retailer won’t take back because you, um, failed to read their return policy thoroughly? (Guilty as charged here)
But before I go forward, I don’t want anyone opening up credit cards if they have trouble paying them off in full each month. If that’s you then here’s my last article you can read instead.
How It Works: A Real-Life Example
My go-to card for Return Protection is the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card (referral), so I’ll explain how the program works specifically with American Express.
It should be noted that I pay a $95 annual fee for this card, but for me the benefits outweigh the fee. I can use my points to transfer to airline points, exchange points for hotel nights, and I use the Return Protection benefit at least once a year. Here’s American Express’ official blurb on their Return Protection policy:
If you try to return an eligible item within 90 days from the date of purchase and the merchant won’t take it back, American Express may refund the full purchase price (excluding shipping and handling), up to $300 per item, up to a maximum of $1,000 per Card account per calendar year based on the date of purchase, if you purchased it entirely with your eligible American Express® Card.
Every time I’m iffy about a purchase I make sure to use this American Express card. Remember a month ago I bought that Comme des Garçons sweater? It was final sale so of course I busted out my AMEX. Well, you might be wondering why I haven’t made a peep about it since. That’s because it ended up being a bust. The sweater arrived a lot more wrinkly than I expected, and I was also bummed to see loose stitching like this for a sweater that retails for over $300.
Tsk, tsk, Comme des Garçons!
American Express has their own website where you log in to submit claims, so I pulled up the receipt for the purchase from my e-mail, and started plugging in all the info:
- Date purchased
- Merchant name
- Date I tried to return it (you are technically supposed to try to return the item. However, I have never been asked for proof.)
- Item name and style
- Item model #
- Price paid
It takes me about 10 minutes to complete. Right after, I get an email confirmation from American Express with my claim number and any other info they need from me. In their email, they sent me an updated form where they wanted to know the item condition and the merchant’s return policy.
In this specific case, the time to submit the claim to getting reimbursed took a total of 7 days. And the only reason it took that long was because I took a few days to send American Express the missing info. After I provided everything they needed, it took only 2 days to get my claim outcome, which was a statement credit for the full price paid.
What Else Have I Used Return Protection for?
I’ve been taking advantage of the benefit for about four years now and have gotten reimbursed six times. Besides the Comme des Garçons sweater, here are some other items I’ve used it on:
- A bathing suit from Ann Taylor. They have a weird return policy where you can’t return bathing suits, even unworn with the tags attached.
- A pair of Theory pants I got from a sample sale. I tried them on at the sample sale, they were adorable, I bought them. Then I wore them to work one day and they proceeded to stretch out one whole size bigger.
- A Barneys scarf I changed my mind about.
- A kid’s designer dress from Barneys. It was labelled size ‘3,’ which I thought meant ‘3 years old.’ When I pulled out the dress from the box and held it up like a map, I quickly realized that ‘3’ meant 3 MONTHS old, not 3 YEARS old.
Note that all this stuff still had the tags on it or was worn only once or twice. I don’t have experience trying it with things that are more worn, but keep in mind that official policies usually state items need to be in “like-new” condition. However, they have never asked me for photos or to send merchandise to them, so I’m not sure how they would actually verify this stuff.
Other Types of Purchases You Can Use It for
Technically, it should work for electronics like cameras, phones, etc. I haven’t tried it for anything except for clothes, so your mileage will vary. You’ll want to consult the benefit terms and conditions for your specific card. I usually just Google [card name] + “return protection” to check.
What You Can’t Use It For
As I mentioned, you’ll want to consult the exclusions list for your specific credit card, but here’s a general list that was common to all:
Animals and live plants, jewelry, watches, computer software, motor vehicle parts, gift cards, tickets, and formal wear, just to name a few.
So, no trying to get reimbursed for your new puppy.
I also want to note that secondhand or pre-owned stuff won’t fly because there’s a requirement for items to be in “like-new”condition. That means it won’t work on things bought from places like The Real Real or eBay. I tried to use it on a 3.1 Phillip Lim bag from The Real Real and got denied.
What Happens to the Merchandise?
After you get reimbursed, technically, you are supposed to mail the item to the credit card company, but American Express has never asked me to do so. However, when I filed a claim with my Chase card, I was asked to mail the item to them. It should be noted that the cardmember is usually responsible for mailing costs if asked to send the item in.
Which Credit Cards Offer Return Protection?
This is not an exhaustive list, but most likely a card you own already offers Return Protection:
|Card||Duration (from date of purchase)||Item Maximum||Annual Maximum||Full Terms|
|American Express||90 days||$300||$1000||Terms + Conditions|
|Barclays||90 days||$500||$1000||Terms + Conditions|
|Chase||90 days||$250||$1000||Terms + Conditions|
|Citi||90 days||$300||$1000||Terms + Conditions|
|Discover||90 days||$500||$2500||Terms + Conditions|
Are There Any No-Fee Cards that Offer Return Protection?
If you want a no-fee card that offers Return Protection, here are three options:
- American Express Blue Cash Everyday Card
- Chase Freedom card (referral – you’ll earn a $150 bonus after spending $500 within 3 months)
- Discover It card (referral – you’ll earn a $50 bonus after making a purchase within 3 months)
Which Credit Card Has the Best Return Policy?
I’ve used American Express and have also experimented with using Chase’s benefit. With American Express, the typical response time is two days after providing all the required information. The one time I used Chase, it seemed to take much longer, and I needed to provide a lot more information and talk to a representative on the phone. I’ve read that Chase outsources their Return Protection program so that could explain why the customer service isn’t quite as top notch as American Express’. With Chase, I also was asked to mail them the item.
Winner: American Express, hands down.
What You’ll Need to File a Claim
Have this info ready to go when you sit down to submit your claim:
- Receipt of the purchase
- Filed within 90 days of the purchase date
- Once your claim is open you’ll have 30 days to submit all information. If not, your claim will be closed.
- Item should be in “like new” condition or in “good working order.”
To increase your chances of getting reimbursed, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Make sure you keep the item in question in good condition. American Express has never asked me to send them merchandise, but they might, especially if it’s a higher price point. Don’t throw the merch out or treat it like a rag until they let you know the outcome of the claim.
- Follow instructions! I’ve been guilty of this, but I would get annoyed a claim response would be taking too long, but then I realized it’s because I failed to give the information they asked me for. Oops.
- Don’t throw away receipts! Thankfully, mine are mostly online orders and the receipts sitting in my e-mail inbox, but if you have paper receipts, keep those in a spot where you’ll remember.
- Return Protection sounds awfully similar to Purchase Protection, which is a totally different benefit. Don’t confuse the two!
My Top Credit Card Picks
Since I have had the best experience with American Express, I’d recommend using them over Chase. I don’t have experience with Barclays, Citi or the Discover benefit, although I do have Discover and should investigate! Here are the two American Express options:
- $95 annual fee – Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card (referral) – Earn 25,000 points after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
- No fee – American Express Blue Cash Everyday Card – Earn $150 after you spend $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
And that is the end of my PSA! The credit cards that we carry every day offer useful perks that most of us aren’t aware of. Are you maximizing the benefits you’re already entitled to? With the holidays coming up, Return Protection is a valuable benefit to have in your back pocket.
Have you ever used this benefit? What was your experience like?