An Especially Costly Annual Fee — Reader Mistake Story

Jun 13, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Sai, who fell short of earning a sign-up bonus after miscalculating how much he had spent. Here’s what he had to say:

I recently applied for the Alaska Airlines Visa with a bonus of 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. I had previously applied for several other rewards cards and was successful in earning the bonuses, so after spending slightly over $1,000 for the first two months, I was excited to get the miles in my Mileage Plan account. One billing cycle later they hadn’t shown up yet, but I called Bank of America and was assured I would get the miles after my next statement closed.

When I logged into my Alaska account after three months had passed from the opening date, the points were still missing. I called again, and this time they told me I hadn’t met the spending requirement. I showed them that my first two bills totaled more than $1,000, but they pointed out that total included the annual fee, which is not considered “spending.” In essence I was short, and I missed the deadline even though I had more than a month to make up for it after the initial confirmation.

While Bank of America falsely convinced me that the points would show up when I called them the first time, I realize the onus was on me and in the end it’s my fault. From now on I’ll always account for a card’s annual fee when I’m trying to meet a minimum spend requirement, and I’ll make sure to exceed that amount in time.

Most travel rewards cards offer a sign-up bonus when you open your account — you just have to spend a certain amount over a specified period of time, usually three to six months. As Sai’s story shows, however, not all charges that appear on your statement count toward that total. The terms and conditions for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card lay out that the spending requirement is “exclusive of any fees, including the annual fee,” which is typical of credit cards in general.  Balance transfers, cash advances and refunded purchases are also commonly excluded, though charges that are later offset by a statement credit should qualify as normal spending.

Sai made a costly mistake here, but he was smart to check in with customer service when he didn’t receive his bonus initially. I recommend calling proactively to verify that you’ve completed the spending requirement, though clearly phone reps can get it wrong, so you need to be vigilant about tracking your own progress. Also, try to avoid cutting it too close: spend a bit more than the minimum requirement so you’re not thrown off by a refund later, and finish your spending at least a week before the deadline so the charges have plenty of time to clear.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Sai 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, 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 by Thomas Barwick/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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