My card choice cost me 140,000 points — reader mistake story
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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Erica, who misremembered her credit card's bonus categories:
I got married in November and had a ton of expenses, many of which were to be paid in increments. Nearly every vendor required a deposit, which allowed us to open up multiple new credit cards to earn sign-up bonuses. We’ve been reading TPG religiously so we can redeem points for our honeymoon to the Mediterranean (and hopefully experience first class for the first time). The big mistake came when our final balance was due to our wedding venue.
My husband is a Chase Sapphire Reserve loyalist and I’m an American Express® Gold Card girl. I convinced him to let me put a $70,000 charge on my Gold card on the basis that we would earn 3 points per dollar on the transaction in the hotel/travel category, giving us a fresh 210,000 points to put toward our honeymoon. He reluctantly agreed. You can imagine my shock when my Membership Rewards portal reflected earnings of only 70,000 points, not the 210,000 I was expecting.
I called Amex to figure out what happened, only to hear I had made a huge error and mixed up my card's bonus categories: the Gold card doesn't earn 3x points on hotels! I was devastated at tossing 140,000 points out the window. The representative I spoke with felt for me; I told him my husband wanted to use his Sapphire card, but that I had pushed to use the Amex. The rep wanted to make it right, and said he would call me back the next day after speaking with his supervisor. The next day, I received a call that Amex would gift me 20,000 points as a courtesy.
Crucial lesson learned: No matter how certain I am, I must always double and triple check bonus categories. When you open new cards frequently, it’s easy to mix up which cards offer which bonuses. Amex Gold offers 3x points on flights only [when booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel], unlike the Sapphire Reserve, which offers 3x on all travel purchases. This mistake put a huge dent in our honeymoon planning; I don’t know if I’ll ever get over losing all those points!
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A common mantra among points and miles enthusiasts is that you should maximize every purchase. I take a less absolute position, as I find the extra thought and effort I put into maximizing small transactions isn't worth the incremental gain in value. In short, I don't think it's worth stressing out about which card to use every time I buy coffee or feed a parking meter. For those purchases, I swipe whatever card at hand offers a decent return, and I don't worry about whether I could have done better.
Conversely, I think that extra thought and effort is imperative to maximize large purchases because so much more is at stake. The higher the dollar amount, the more carefully you should plan — for big ticket items (like a new car, an extensive home repair or the bill for a wedding venue), verifying your card's bonus categories is only the start. You should also confirm that your card doesn't cap rewards in those bonus categories — for example, the Amex Gold card earns 4 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets, but only on up to $25,000 in spending per calendar year (then 1 point per dollar). Furthermore, I recommend running a test transaction to make sure your purchase codes correctly.
Erica and her husband smartly mapped out their wedding expenses and formulated a plan to maximize each dollar spent; they just failed to execute part of that plan. If you have a lot of credit cards and you're struggling to remember which one is the best fit for each transaction, the 'Pay With This' feature on the forthcoming TPG app can help you decide.
Related: How do I maximize credit card rewards for large purchases?
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 Erica 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!