How I Lost a $200 Travel Credit — Reader Mistake Story

Sep 7, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Nicole, who misunderstood the terms for using a credit card benefit. Here’s what she had to say:

Lounge agents
Nicole could have used her airline credit at the Delta Sky Club and elsewhere.

This past December, I was targeted for a 100,000-point bonus on the Platinum Card from American Express. I was excited to finally get targeted for the higher offer that, and eager to finally get all of the benefits that come with the card. My mistake doesn’t pertain to earning the sign-up bonus (thank goodness, as that would have been painful), but I did miss out on one of the most valuable benefits for the first year.

Amex Platinum comes with an annual $200 airline fee credit, but I incorrectly thought it was based on the membership year rather than the calendar year. I received my card with only a few weeks left in 2016, and thinking my credit would last until the end of 2017, I didn’t use a single dollar of it. I had ample opportunities to do so — for example, I could have paid the $29 entry fee to bring my brother into the Delta SkyClub with me — but I wanted to save the credit for trips I had planned in 2017 trips.

I didn’t realize my mistake until late January of this year, and at that point it was too late. I lost the entire $200 travel credit — a major bummer, as that was part of how I justified paying the annual fee. I’ve learned my lesson, and I’ll make sure to spend my 2017 credit sooner rather than later!

Many rewards credit cards offer annual benefits like travel credits or hotel nights. Some of these perks are awarded based on when you open your account — like the Alaska Airlines companion fare — while others are awarded based on the calendar year. To maximize your benefits, it’s important to understand the rules for redeeming them, including when they become available and when they expire.

As Nicole learned, the $200 airline fee credit on the Amex Platinum card is based strictly on the calendar year. Qualifying charges that show up on your account through December 31 are eligible. Once January comes around, any unused portion of the credit will be forfeit, and you’ll get another $200 credit for the new year.

Not all credits work this way: The $250 Air Travel Credit on the Citi Prestige Card is based loosely on the calendar year, but it technically expires according to your statement closing date. The $300 travel credit on the Chase Sapphire Reserve card used to work in a similar fashion, but Chase updated the terms recently so that the credit is based on the account anniversary for new cardholders.

Ultimately, Nicole’s story is a good reminder not to hoard travel rewards. Points and miles are a bad long-term investment, and the same goes for credit card benefits that tend to have an even shorter lifespan. If you have an opportunity to redeem a travel credit, discount, or other benefit that might otherwise expire, take it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Amex Platinum and Citi Prestige base credits on the calendar year, but Sapphire Reserve now uses the renewal date.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Nicole for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image courtesy of Stephan Zirwes via Getty Images.

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