How I Wasted My Annual Credit Card Benefit — Reader Mistake Story

Jan 24, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from reader Michale, who missed out on a airline credit when he misunderstood how to use it. Here’s what he had to say:

My wife and I booked round-trip tickets on Delta for a trip from New York to Miami in September. Delta’s website showed that I could upgrade us to first class on the outbound flight for $199 per person, and the thought of having some extra room sounded nice since we have an infant. I have several cards that offer travel credits for incidentals and this seemed like a good way to use them, so I went ahead with it.

I charged one upgrade to my Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card and the other to my Platinum Card® from American Express. The Ritz-Carlton travel credit has to be applied manually, so I called the card concierge after making the purchase and had the $199 upgrade marked for reimbursement. The Amex Platinum credit works automatically, so I didn’t call about that one. We flew to Miami in first class and had a blast!

The surprise came much later when I was reviewing statements on my Platinum card. The upgrade hadn’t been subtracted from my total balance, which was puzzling since it was removed quickly from my Ritz-Carlton card; I figured it had to be a mistake. I called Amex to sort it out, and the customer service representative politely informed me that seat upgrades are ineligible for reimbursement from the $200 airline fee credit.

She pointed me to the benefit terms online, which list several items (like gift cards and mileage purchases) that don’t qualify. Even in-flight Wi-Fi charges don’t count as “incidental fees” because they’re typically not billed by airlines directly. The Amex credit turned out to be much more restrictive than the others I have, which left me wondering what it could be used for other than baggage fees.

The lesson I learned from this experience is that similar benefits from different credit cards don’t all work the same. By assuming my Amex Platinum airline credit would cover the upgrade, I ended up losing it!

The Amex Platinum airline travel credit doesn’t cover seat upgrades, but some similar benefits do.

I think Amex Platinum is one of the best travel rewards cards available, but Michale is spot on in pointing out that the annual airline fee credit falls short of the competition. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers an annual $300 travel credit that applies to a wide range of expenses (including hotels and rental cars), while the Citi Prestige Card comes with an annual $250 air travel credit that can be redeemed toward airfare and doesn’t require you to designate an airline in advance. The Amex Platinum credit can sometimes be used to buy airline gift cards, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Michale’s story is a reminder that you shouldn’t wait to use these credits once they’re available. Some cards (like Amex Platinum) award credits based on the calendar year, while others (like Sapphire Reserve) refresh them on your account anniversary. In any case, I recommend using these benefits at the first opportunity so you don’t risk letting them expire. The credits are worth the same amount whether you use them now or later, so you might as well use them now!

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Michale for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

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