Earning More Points Isn’t Always Best — Reader Mistake Story

Mar 19, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Connie, who missed out on a valuable travel benefit after a delayed flight. Here’s what she had to say:

Last summer my family and I booked a trip to Hawaii. We were spread out on different flights due to schedule differences — my mother and I arrived earlier, while the rest of my family took a later flight the following day. Unfortunately, their trip ended up being a total nightmare.

They had a JetBlue flight from New York to Honolulu with a stop in Los Angeles. The first flight was delayed due to heavy rain, and because of this delay they missed their connection. Their new connecting flight out of LA was then delayed repeatedly, so much so that they had to stay overnight at an airport hotel and catch a 7 a.m. flight the following morning. I had booked all our flights on my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, and I remembered the card had several trip protection benefits, notably trip delay reimbursement.

The terms state that if your travel is delayed for more than six hours or requires an overnight stay, “you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses, such as meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket.” However, upon calling Chase customer service I was notified that my family members were not eligible. The benefit has a specific definition of “family,” so it would only work for my partner and children.

I had volunteered to book my family’s flights since my Sapphire Reserve earns 3 points per dollar on travel (versus 2 points per dollar on my mom’s Chase Sapphire Preferred Card). However, I realize now that the extra points were less important than protecting everyone who was flying.

There are plenty of credit cards that offer trip delay reimbursement, but the benefit terms vary widely between them. The most important factors to consider are the length of delay required before the benefit applies, the amount of coverage offered (most cards cap this at $500 per ticket), and of course who and what is covered. If you’re deciding which card to use for a given trip, make sure you know the strengths and weaknesses of each policy.

The Sapphire Reserve benefit covers spouses and domestic partners, plus dependent children under age 22. Depending on who else was traveling in Connie’s party, booking with her mother’s Sapphire Preferred card may not have made a difference. Citi offers much broader trip delay coverage on the Citi Prestige Card (and others), as the policy applies to extended family like grandparents, grandchildren and in-laws, as well as unrelated companions on the same trip. Given that the Citi Prestige benefit kicks in after a delay of just three hours (compared to six hours on Sapphire Preferred and twelve hours on many other cards), I think it’s the best delay coverage out there.

Connie’s last point is a good one. It’s important to maximize the points you earn, but you shouldn’t do so at the expense of more lucrative benefits. One great example of this is the free checked bag offered by the United MileagePlus Explorer Card. That benefit only applies when you use the card to pay for your ticket, so if you have bags to check, it’s probably your best option even though some other cards will offer a better return. When you’re dealing with competing benefits (like delay coverage versus free checked bags), you’ll have to decide which one is more likely to matter.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Connie for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her 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!

Featured photo courtesy of Jaromir Chalabala / Getty Images.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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