What Should I Do If a Credit Card Bonus Offer Isn’t Honored?

Sep 4, 2016

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TPG reader Joe sent me a message on Facebook to ask about earning sign-up bonuses:

“I recently received a mailer offering an AAdvantage credit card with a bonus of 30,000 miles. I signed up and met the spending requirement quickly, but now I’m told there’s no record of the offer being extended to me. I’ve called multiple times with no result; they’ll only honor the bonus if I can come up with the original letter. What, if anything, can I do at this point?”

Credit card sign-up bonuses can be incredibly lucrative, but only when they actually reach your account. You’ll almost always get the offer you apply for (or sometimes a better one), but mistakes happen, and it’s good to know what your options are when an agreement isn’t being honored. A missed bonus is a wasted opportunity, especially since many cards have application restrictions that may limit your future eligibility. Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can use to avoid the headache of a missing bonus.

The best way to protect yourself from shenanigans like what Joe is facing is to document every step of your application process. Hang on to any letters or emails that describe a bonus offer you intend to apply for (whether it’s targeted or public). If you fill out a physical application, take a picture or make a photocopy; if you apply online, take a screen shot of the offer page that includes the date and time. Documenting your offer will give you strong evidence in your favor in case there’s a dispute later. Keep in mind, though, that an invitation to apply doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be approved.

Once your account is open, try to verify the bonus offer right away — I usually get confirmation from customer service when I activate my card, though you can sometimes call even sooner. If everything checks out, be sure to get the name of the rep (along with any ID number), and note the time and date of your call. That information can help the card issuer track down a recording of your conversation to further support your claim. If nothing else, you’ll be better off knowing that something is amiss before you try to meet the spending requirement.

If you do encounter a problem, start by investigating your own side of the agreement. Were you eligible for the bonus? Did you apply for a targeted offer when you weren’t targeted? Did you meet the spending requirement in the allotted time? If you answer no to any of those questions, or if you failed to meet any other terms of the offer, then all bets are off. Whether you have evidence or not, make sure your case is air tight before you appeal to the card issuer.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Take screenshots of online applications to document your bonus offer. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

If you don’t have hard evidence (or if that evidence isn’t given due consideration), start working your way up the ladder of customer support. When low-level reps can’t help (as is often the case), ask to speak with a supervisor. If that still doesn’t get you anywhere, keep elevating the claim until you reach someone with the autonomy to make a decision. Calling is a good start, but you can also try your luck on social media. In any case, be polite and succinct — it will help your cause enormously if people actually want to help you.

As a last resort, you could file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. However, your time is valuable, so if you don’t get the outcome you’re looking for after putting in a reasonable effort, just drop it and move on. There are plenty of worthwhile sign-up bonuses out there, so don’t let one bad experience turn you off from other opportunities.

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

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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