I threw away a $100 gift card — reader mistake story

Jan 31, 2020

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Michael, whose payment for a hotel stay didn’t process as expected:

I recently stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, where I used a free weekend night certificate to cover one night, and paid cash with the $250 resort credit on my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card to cover a second night. I also had a $100 Hilton gift card that I planned to use during my stay. The first night, we ate at the Zen Kitchen restaurant and the bill came to $153.41. We had a hotel credit of $50 that we used, which dropped the total bill to $103.41.

The next morning at check-out, they charged my card on file $103.41, but I told them I had a $100 gift card. So they swiped the gift card for $100 and then swiped my credit card for the remaining balance of $3.41. A few days later, I looked at my credit card statement and saw I was charged $103.41. The folio from Hilton doesn’t show any indication of the gift card being used as payment. I called Hilton, but no one can do anything about it since I threw away the gift card. I should have kept it just in case.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex 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.

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Gift cards have a variety of uses for award travelers. You can buy them to boost your loyalty accounts by taking advantage of credit card bonus categories, or scoop some up when they go on sale to secure a discount on future paid travel. You might also buy them to an exhaust an airline or travel statement credit from a rewards credit card (though this strategy is nearly obsolete), or to liquidate a small cache of points or miles that would otherwise expire or be marooned. Whatever benefit you get from using gift cards, the downside is that they’re more vulnerable to loss than credit cards, which are easily replaceable and typically carry limited liability for unauthorized charges.

To protect your gift card balances, practice good gift card hygiene. Start by logging card numbers in a safe place along with their security codes (where applicable) — I use a spreadsheet, but taking a picture should suffice. With that information, you may still be able to redeem your balance online or by phone when the physical card is unavailable. If you purchased the gift card yourself, I recommend also keeping the activation receipt as evidence of your purchase to help you recoup the value of a gift card that’s lost or drained fraudulently.

Another tip: Don’t get rid of physical gift cards immediately after you use them. I advise keeping them around until you verify the balances are drained and you’re certain you won’t need them to process a potential return. If Michael had held onto his Hilton gift card, the would have been able to use it at the next opportunity. Finally, try redeeming hotel gift cards at check-in rather than check-out. Ask the front desk to credit your folio with the gift card balance, and leave your credit card on file like you normally would to cover additional charges. That way you can verify the payment goes through while you’re still on site.

Related: What credit cards should you use to purchase gift cards?

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 Michael 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 Jakub Gorajek/Unsplash.

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