How I Squandered My Travel Benefits — Reader Mistake Story
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Frank, who missed out on up to $1,000 worth of travel protection:
My wife and I recently traveled from San Diego to San Antonio for a few days. I used Southwest points to book the trip, and paid the taxes with my Southwest Premier card. I was working towards getting the Companion Pass and was putting all purchases on that card to get me there faster.
It was a good getaway, but on the morning of our return flight, we received a message that our flight had been canceled. We ended up booking another flight about 10 hours later at no additional cost (Southwest later sent us travel vouchers as an apology). While trying to figure out how to deal with the situation, I suddenly realized the mistake I had made and how much it had cost me. Had I paid the flight taxes with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, I would have been eligible for the trip delay reimbursement benefit.
I was kicking myself the whole day thinking of what we could have had reimbursed. Paying the taxes for the flights was not a big spend increase at just over $20. I would have gained far more from using my Sapphire Reserve. I learned my lesson: meeting minimum spend requirements may be a priority, but it's not always the top priority.
This might sound like heresy to award travelers, but the best card for a given purchase isn't always the one that earns the most points. You should aim to maximize the total value you get from your spending; rewards are only part of that equation. You may also get value from other features of your card, including travel protections like trip delay reimbursement and coverage for lost or damaged baggage, as well as shopping related benefits like extended warranty and purchase protection. As this story shows, sometimes the potential value of those benefits outweighs the rewards you earn.
To illustrate, consider Frank's options. He didn't specify the bonus offer in question, but let's assume it was the current offer for 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months. Let's also treat each dollar spent as if it earned a proportional amount of the bonus — in other words, we'll pretend he earns 40 bonus points per dollar up to the spending requirement, even though it really comes as a lump sum. His $20 Southwest Airlines charge on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card would typically earn 40 points, but factoring in the bonus, that $20 in spending represents a total "earnings" of 840 points. That's worth $12.60 based on TPG's most recent valuations.
In comparison, the Chase Sapphire Reserve would have earned 60 Ultimate Rewards points (worth $1.20), with no sign-up bonus at play in that case. Using the Southwest card effectively earned Frank $11.40 more in rewards, but it also meant foregoing trip delay reimbursement and other superior benefits, and neglecting the value of those benefits was a mistake. That's not to say using the Sapphire Reserve is necessarily the better choice — for example, the math might favor Frank's approach if he were making a larger purchase. The point is that you should take a holistic view when you're deciding which card to use. Once all variables are accounted for, the card that offers the most value might not be the one you expect.
Related: When Using the Right Rewards Card Is the Wrong Choice
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 Frank 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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!