|by Jason Steele|
In these days of unprecedented upheval in the credit markets, many people are cancelling their cards, or having their cards cancelled by their banks. For a reward card afficianado, this poses an intersting question. If I lose or cancel my card, what happens to the points I earned?
First, think about which company is giving you the points, and which company runs the program. For example, I might have a United Airlines reward card. The card is issued by Chase bank. Chase awards me miles in United’s MileagePlus program. The moment those miles hit my United account, they are essentially mine forever. The only situation that would change that would involve some kind of fraud on my part, as I recall there is a boilerplate provision that miles can be forfeited in that case. Fair enough.
The same would be true with a card like the American Express Starwood card. Amex issues me the card, and awards me the points in Starwood’s system. The points are in Starwood’s system, not American Express. If I cancel my Amex, there is no question that I retain ownership of the points through Starwood.
On the other hand, some reward systems are run by the banks themselves. These points may or may not be forfeited when you lose your card or cancel. The most infamous case is the American Express Membership Rewards program. If American Express wakes up one day and decides that you are no longer worthy of their card, they will cancel it, and you will lose all of your Membership Rewards points! Likewise, if you choose to part company with your Amex, be sure to redeem all of your points first.
There are many other bank run reward programs, like Citibank’s ThankYou Rewards and others. The rules are burried in the fine print that you receive when you were granted the card.
I know all of you studied the fine print very closely when you received your cards. I expect that you still recall every detail of the entire agreement and it’s subsequent revisions. If not, I am sure you have it filed away somewhere.
Otherwise, you probably think you can just call your bank and get the scoop. You might imagine that the customer service representatives hired by the banks spent years in training memorizing all of the rules for all of their cards. Of course, they will accurately provide you the correct answer when asking them a simple question. Yeah right.
The internet is filled with stories of bank representatives giving customers woefully incorrect information. In some instances, representatives have told customers that they will forfeit all of their frequent flier mileage if they cancel their card. In those situations, it may even be an intentionally deceptive claim made to retain an account. In other situations, customers are not informed that they will lose their points or miles if they cancel their account. The only way to protect yourself is to ask for the policy in writing.
How Else Can They Deny Me My Rewards?
By far, the most common way that people loose points and miles is by running afowl of their credit card’s rules. Each card member agreement states that rewards are only offered when you pay your bill on time. Miss a payment, or pay late, and you will not accure any rewards, in addition to the usual late fees.
You earned those points, make sure you don’t loose them!