What Happens to Items in a Return Protection Claim?

Sep 27, 2015

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TPG Reader Jake tweeted me an interesting question about return protection:

@ThePointsGuy — “Any idea what happens to the items credit card companies take back from return protection benefits? I’m curious!”

In addition to benefits like bonus spending categories, elite status and lounge access, a lot of credit cards offer various protections to make cardholders more confident in their purchases. These include price protection (like Citi Price Rewind), extended warranty service, purchase protection in case of loss or damage and more. Return protection, which you’ll find on many travel rewards cards, allows you to return certain items even if the merchant won’t accept it or issue a refund. That can come in handy if you change your mind about a purchase outside of the standard return period.

Return protection differs from one card to the next, but policies generally stipulate that upon request, you must send the item in to collect your refund. That brings us to Jake’s question: Where do all these returned items go? I spoke with representatives from Amex, Chase, Citi and Discover to find out.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
If a merchant won’t accept a return, your credit card issuer may be able to help. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Each card issuer contracts with a third-party benefit administrator that handles your return. Your item gets shipped to a processing center (basically a big warehouse) and waits there while a claims representative verifies that your return is eligible for a refund. If your claim meets all the requirements (for example, the item generally has to be in “like new” condition), then the rep will cut you a refund check and decide what’s to become of your return.

I was happy to hear from several card issuers that, unlike lost luggage, many items are donated to charity. Others are sold at auction, with the proceeds then being donated. Unfortunately, some items are simply thrown out. Claims representatives and upper management make the call in each case, and whatever algorithm they use to decide is kept under wraps. It’s not clear why some items have to be sent in and not others, but I was told that each claim is handled individually, so presumably this too is at the discretion of the claim processor.

Ultimately, the refund is what matters to cardholders, but it’s good to know those items (mostly) aren’t just disappearing into the void.

For more information on return protection and other similar benefits, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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