How everyday purchases cost me thousands of points
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I recently redeemed hundreds of dollars in points — but not on flights or hotels. No, I didn’t use my points to fly British Airways to Europe or for a hotel stay in the Caribbean. I used them on home improvement projects.
Here at TPG, we caution cardholders against using their points to wipe statement charges or use them to pay for purchases at merchants. Unfortunately, I did just that — not purposefully, but by accident.
Here’s a cautionary tale of how I lost thousands of points and what you can do to avoid the same fate.
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Like many people living under quarantine, I got bored and decided to upgrade my living space. At the beginning of the pandemic, I spent all of my time at home and ventured out only for groceries or to walk my dog. I had nothing but time on my hands and wanted my space to feel more comfortable.
I had a few Amex Offers for Amazon, including some cash back and points offers. I was also targeted for an up to $50 statement credit after using one Amex point on my American Express® Gold Card or American Express® Green Card. Generally, we don’t recommend redeeming Membership Rewards points on Amazon, given that each point is equivalent to just 0.7 cents. We value Amex points at 2 cents apiece, but there are exceptions to that rule. What I did is not an exception to the rule.
The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
I decided to upgrade my space by purchasing a new rug, a dresser, bedding, dishes, cutlery, picture frames, a TV stand and more. I spent a few hundred dollars on purchases at Amazon and Walmart in about a week. Sounds normal, right?
Here’s the problem.
Amazon has a feature on the payment page where you can link your credit cards for easy payment. If you have an American Express Membership Rewards card, there’s also a second option that shows your points balance and whether you want to use points for the purchase.
Walmart has a similar feature where you can link eligible Amex cards. You’ll see in the screenshot below that if you link an Amex card to your Walmart account, you have the option to pay with points. If you don’t manually enter “0” instead of your purchase amount, it may deduct points instead.
A week later, I checked my Amex points balance as I’d made a pretty big purchase and expected to see those bonus points in my account. To my horror, I noticed a massive decrease in my balance. I then realized that I hadn’t unselected the pay with points feature on my Walmart purchases
I lost roughly 50,000 Amex points, which, according to TPG’s valuations, is worth $1,000. That’s just 10,000 points fewer than the 60,000-point welcome bonus I earned on The Platinum Card® from American Express last year (after spending $5,000 in the first three months). Ouch.
If this does happen to you, Amex recommends calling the Membership Rewards program Customer Care line at 1-800-297-3276. If you don’t want to even have the option to pay with points, you can also use that line to get rid of the feature. I didn’t use this feature because I didn’t know it was an option until recently.
I want to be clear here: I am not blaming any of the other platforms I used for my own carelessness.
This debacle has also taught me an essential lesson in checking both my credit cards every day, instead of once or twice a week. Had I done that, I would have noticed that I was receiving statement credits for my purchases instead of being debited for those charges. I would have also realized that my points balance had dropped.
Before hitting purchase on your items, make sure (and then double-check) that you’ve unselected the pay with points feature. Otherwise, you’ll be out of a hefty amount of points that you could’ve used instead to travel.
Featured photo by Leon Neal / Getty Images
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.