How everyday purchases cost me thousands of points

Sep 11, 2020

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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.

Related: Best credit cards for Amazon purchases

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?

Packed boxes pass along a conveyor belt at the Inc. fulfilment centre in Tilbury, U.K. on Friday, July 12, 2019. By offering 12 extra hours of deals during this year's Prime Day, Amazon will pull in nearly 50% more in sales, according to an estimate from Coresight Research. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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.

Screengrab from Walmart
Screengrab from Walmart

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.

Bottom line

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

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