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By Herb Weisbaum

After years of offering an ever-expanding menu of perks to their cardholders, several major credit card companies are going in the opposite direction — eliminating or reducing the value of some of these extras.

One of the major reasons for using a credit card — aside from fraud protection and any rewards you might get — is the buffet of free benefits available, such as price protection, extended warranty coverage, flight insurance and trip cancellation coverage.

But now, some of those extras are being dropped. Discover did its roll-back in February, Chase made changes in June and Citi’s cutbacks take effect at the end of July. Industry analysts expect more card companies to follow suit.

“Credit card issuers are always tinkering to see what people like — what’s working and what’s not,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at creditcards.com. “What we’re seeing is the elimination of some perks, like price protection and return protection, that have been around a long time, but aren’t necessarily all that popular. And when a perk isn’t used that often and it costs the issuer money, the perk may not stay around for very long.”

When it comes to offering rewards and benefits, the prevailing theory had been “more is better.” But that strategy doesn’t work when so many cards offer the same features.

A report by Market Strategies International concluded that “The arms race to offer more benefits is not an effective solution for winning and retaining card users.” The report, published earlier this year, found:

  • Most people (80 percent) are “unclear” about the benefits that come with their primary credit card.
  • More than half (52 percent) said they “know little or nothing” about the added features.
  • Consumers want a card that has no annual fee, offers cash back and has a low interest rate.

Mike Berinato, vice president of research and consulting at Market Strategies International, expects more credit card companies to reduce their perks.

Most people (80 percent) are “unclear” about the benefits that come with their primary credit card and more than half (52 percent) "know little or nothing" about the added features.

“It’s smart business,” Berinato told NBC News BETTER. “The credit card companies are not getting more cardholders this way and they want to save money by not offering benefits that nobody is using.”

Here’s a look at the changes that have or are about to take place at Discover, Citi and Chase.

Discover

As of Feb. 28, Discover cards no longer provide these five benefits:

  • Return Guarantee
  • Purchase Protection
  • Extended Warranty Protection
  • Auto Rental Insurance
  • Flight Accident Insurance

Brittney Mitchell with Discover public relations, said the company regularly evaluates cardmember benefits “to ensure that we are meeting or exceeding our cardmembers’ current needs and expectations. The changes were made because of “prolonged low usage,” she said in a statement to NBC News BETTER.

Chase

In April, Chase removed Price Protection and Return Protection on its United Explorer Credit Card. It also lowered Trip Cancellation Coverage. Chase said it made these changes because only “a small percentage of cardmembers were taking advantage of these benefits.” They were replaced, Chase said, with benefits that were more valuable for all cardholders, including “the opportunity for the vast majority of our cardmembers to earn more miles every month.”

Chase is in the process of notifying its customers, including those who have its highly-rated and popular Chase Sapphire Reserve card, about the changes that will take place on Aug. 26. Here are the major ones:

  • Price Protection is eliminated for all Chase branded cards.
  • Return Protection will no longer be offered for the Chase Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, Sapphire, Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus or Ink Preferred cards.
  • Chase Freedom Visa Signature cardholders will no longer have Lost Luggage Reimbursement and Travel Accident Insurance. Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance is now lowered from a maximum of $5,000 to $1,500 for each covered person per trip. Chase says this is being done to standardize the benefits for its Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, Visa Platinum and Signature cards.

In a statement to NBC News BETTER, Lauren Ryan, communications director for Chase Card Services said: "We are always evaluating our products to offer a great mix of rewards, benefits and experiences that provide the most value to our customers — and those they tell us they value most. In order to do so we may need to occasionally retire lesser used benefits.”

Citi Cards

Here are some of the key changes that are effective on July 29:

  • Some cards, including Double Cash and Simplicity will no longer offer Roadside Assistance Dispatch Service and Travel & Emergency Assistance.
  • The Citi/AAdvantage Bronze card will no longer offer Lost Baggage Protection.
  • The 90-Day Return Protection no longer covers firearms, tires, jewelry, furniture or appliances.
  • “Citi Price Rewind” (the service that searches online for a lower price than you paid for that item and refunds the difference) drops from a maximum of $500 per item and $2,500 per year to $200 per item and a maximum of $1,000 a year. Price Rewind no longer applies to lower prices found at warehouse clubs where there’s a membership fee.
  • Trip Cancellation & Interruption Protection drops to $1,500 per trip and $5,000 per calendar year from $3,000 per person per trip with no annual cap for some cards, including Double Cash and Simplicity. And this coverage is now limited to you and your family members. For other cards with an annual fee, Trip Cancellation will change to $5,000 per trip from $5,000 per person per trip and coverage will be limited to you and your family members.

In a statement to NBC News BETTER, Jennifer Bombardier, vice president of public affairs for Citi Global Cards, said: “Citi continuously evaluates our products to ensure that associated benefits best meet the needs of our customers. As such, we are making changes to select credit card protection benefits effective July 29, 2018, so that we can continue providing key benefits that our customers use and value most at no additional cost.”

American Express goes the opposite direction

American Express recently notified cardholders that it will improve Price Protection and Extended Warranty Protection starting August 1.

Price Protection coverage will be increased from 90 to 120 days. Extended Warranty Protection is being greatly enhanced:

  • If the original manufacturer’s warranty is less than two years, AMEX will match the length of that warranty.
  • If the original manufacturer’s warranty is between two and five years, AMEX will increase coverage to provide two additional years.

Credit card perks can save money

You may not choose which cards to have in your wallet based on its perks, but if the credit card company is giving you something for free, you might as well take advantage of it.

And some of the benefits being offered — airport lounge access, cellphone protection, lost luggage protection, trip interruption or cancellation coverage, roadside assistance and payment of TSA PreCheck fees — can save you some serious money.

If you haven’t done it in a while — or ever — go to your card issuer’s website and take a look at the free benefits. There might be something there that’s right for you.

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