A Shopping Portal Miscalculation — Reader Mistake Story

Apr 26, 2019

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here –  Chase Freedom Unlimited 

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Keertana, who forgot to account for taxes while saving up for an award flight:

I got the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card last summer before moving across the country. My regular expenses were enough for me to earn the sign-up bonus, which I spent quickly. Since I didn’t have to worry about Chase’s 5/24 rule, I decided to then apply for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, which at the time had a bonus offer of $200 cash back after spending $500 in the first three months. I realized that since I also had the Sapphire Preferred card, that $200 translated to 20,000 UR points, which I could transfer to United for a trip to see my family for 12,500 miles each way.

I was confident I’d find United award availability since I wasn’t flying during peak travel times, but I needed roughly 5,000 more points. I figured one way to earn them would be to use the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal to receive bonus points on each dollar spent. I religiously used the portal for every purchase and kept a running tally of how many points I earned. What I didn’t realize, though, is that bonus points are only earned on actual dollars spent at each store; taxes and shipping fees don’t count. So while I thought I’d be receiving enough points on my next statement to get me over the redemption threshold, I actually received a lot less.

It just goes to show that you should always read the fine print, especially if you’re still relatively new to the game. Also, it doesn’t hurt to do more than what’s required to meet your goal — I could have made a few dozen more purchases to ensure that I earned the points I needed. I wound up using my points to buy a one-way flight on United and paid for the return leg with my Sapphire Preferred card, and now I know how to calculate my earnings the right way so I’m not surprised. I hope this story helps someone else, and thank you for the opportunity to share!

Fine print strikes again! The Shop through Chase home page offers only a brief disclaimer about stacking coupon codes, and buying gift cards and other cash equivalents. As you click through, however, you’ll see a more thorough set of terms and conditions on the landing page for each retailer. Many of those terms are unique to that store — for example, Macy’s excludes Apple products, mattresses and furniture from portal bonuses, along with gift wrapping and other service charges. But nearly all of them specify that taxes, shipping fees and returned items are ineligible for bonus points. Shopping portals are a great way to boost rewards from online purchases, but as usual, attention to detail is critical.

Shopping portals aren’t the only arena where taxes and fees can throw off your calculations: airlines typically issue rewards only for your base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges, and any amount paid toward taxes and other government-imposed fees is excluded. Hotels operate similarly, though you’ll generally earn points for other expenses charged to your room apart from the nightly rate. Forgetting to account for taxes could lead you to miscalculate your rewards (like Keertana did) or to overestimate your progress toward elite status. Fortunately, while some credit card charges are ineligible for rewards (like annual fees and cash advances), you’ll generally earn points on the full amount of any purchase, including taxes, and this typically applies toward certain discount programs like Amex Offers as well.

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 me to post it online), I’m sending Keertana 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. 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 Bloemenmarkt / Getty Images.

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