How COVID-19 stranded 370,000 points — reader mistake story

Mar 27, 2020

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jordan, who is unsure what to do with points left over from a recently canceled trip:

Last spring, my parents booked a 30-day cruise on the Crystal Symphony (their ship of choice), traveling from Singapore to Rome in April of 2020. After years of preaching to them about points and getting them to move all their spending to the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom Unlimited, this was the chance for me to show them some points magic! I set calendar reminders for when award tickets would go on sale almost a year in advance.

Success! I was able to grab Singapore KrisFlyer Saver awards in business class for 95,000 points each for the outbound trip. I then took advantage of the 30% transfer bonus from Chase to British Airways to book return tickets for 90,000 points each (chosen for an easy connection from Rome back to their home airport of New Orleans). My parents were pleased that this hobby (obsession) I’d put them on had saved them approximately $15,000, and I was thrilled to get them an average return of 4.05 cents per point!

Fast forward to our global situation in 2020 dealing with COVID-19, and the cruise has been canceled. Crystal Cruises has been more than generous, offering a full refund plus a 25% credit toward a future cruise and $500 each for airfare compensation. However, now my parents have 370,000 points locked up with two different foreign airlines. Given the current situation, I don’t know if there’s any hope of getting those points back to Chase; if not, I don’t know how they should put those points to use with the respective airlines or alliances.

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This story strikes me as bad luck more than a mistake on Jordan’s part, but there is a lesson to be learned nonetheless. Any time you transfer points to an airline or hotel partner, there’s some risk that the award you have in mind won’t pan out. The availability you see upon transferring might disappear before you’re able to book, or you might find that availability never existed in the first place; whatever the reason, your rewards could end up stuck with a program that’s no longer of immediate use to you. As a result, you should at least consider what your backup plan would be if your points were unexpectedly marooned. If you can’t think of any other practical use for your points in the program you’re transferring to, that should factor into your decision to transfer in the first place.

It’s not unheard of for a loyalty program to reverse a transfer, but it’s rare, and in my experience is reserved for cases involving a clear error committed by one of the programs involved. That’s not the case here, so while it doesn’t hurt to ask, I would be surprised if either British Airways or Singapore Airlines were willing to entertain the idea. The silver lining for Jordan’s parents is that both the Avios program and the KrisFlyer program have myriad uses, with sweet spots they can take advantage of for future domestic and international travel. Both programs also have fairly benign expiration policies, so they don’t have to worry about redeeming their transferred points right away.

Related: Should I travel? Advice for the coronavirus outbreak

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 Jordan 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 JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP/Getty Images.

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