How I Squandered My Travel Benefits — Reader Mistake Story

Jul 24, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

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 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 AzmanJaka / Getty Images.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

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.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 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.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.