How $20 cost me 50,000 points — reader mistake story

Mar 23, 2020

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Dan, who missed a credit card spending bonus due to a common miscalculation:

I signed up for the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card last year with a bonus offer for 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first [90 days of account opening]. I hit the spending requirement after a little over two months — a fact I confirmed with two Bank of America representatives on the phone. I then waited patiently after the three month mark and … nothing. The points didn’t post.

It turned out, as the fine print confirmed, that the $95 annual fee for the card did not count toward the $3,000 minimum, and I was around $20 short. I complained that I was misled by two different representatives, but Bank of America refused to make an exception or grant me an extension. They said they needed to review recordings of my phone calls to verify whether or not I was indeed misled that I had hit the minimum, but were in no hurry to do so. After waiting the requested three weeks, they still hadn’t done it.

I followed up with more calls over the following weeks, and each time I was told to wait just a little longer. A couple of months later, with no progress on the supposed phone recording review, I called it quits and canceled the card. Readers can draw their own conclusions about the quality of Bank of America’s customer service, but the moral of the story for me was to remember that the annual fee does not count toward meeting the minimum spending requirement.

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Sadly, Dan’s mistake is one I see repeated often. To earn a credit card sign-up bonus, you typically have to hit a spending threshold during a preset bonus period (though some cards allow you to earn a bonus with a single purchase). The trick is that not all charges count toward your total. The terms and conditions on the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card specify that qualifying purchases are “exclusive of any fees, including the annual fee,” which is standard across the industry. Many other transactions are similarly excluded, such as balance transfers, cash advances, interest charges, fraudulent transactions and refunded purchases. Miscounting those transactions as qualifying purchases may leave you short of the spending requirement and cause you to miss out on your bonus.

Dan did the right thing by calling to confirm he had met the spending requirement. Bank of America deserves some of the blame because its representatives provided bad information, but unfortunately, that’s bound to happen sometimes. To insulate yourself from miscalculations (regardless of who is at fault), I recommend you surpass the spending requirement by a comfortable margin instead of trying to hit it on the nose. The amount you should overspend depends on the card and how you use it, as well as the terms of your bonus offer, but I’d aim for at least a few hundred dollars of breathing room. You should also cross the threshold with time to spare, so you can be confident all your charges will settle before the deadline.

Related: 11 ways to meet credit card bonus minimum spending requirements

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Dan a 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, 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. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Alexey Rotanov/Shutterstock.

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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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