Downgrading My Card Cost Me $1,000 — Reader Mistake Story

Jul 13, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Erik, who missed an opportunity to use valuable travel benefits after downgrading a premium credit card. Here’s what he had to say:

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - AUGUST 23: Pubs and bars with neon lights in the French Quarter, downtown New Orleans on August 23, 2015.
Erik thought his benefits didn’t apply when weather stranded him in New Orleans. Image by f11photo via Getty Images.

My wife and I booked a trip from our home in Boston to New Orleans as part of our mission to visit all 50 states. The trip was supposed to be a long weekend in March, but the day of our return flight home, a massive blizzard closed down Logan Airport. When we called JetBlue, we found out there were no seats available for another three days.

We had just signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card due to the sign-up bonus and extra benefits, including trip delay protection if flights are cancelled due to weather. Many of those overlapped with the benefits on our Sapphire Preferred card, so we decided to downgrade it to a Chase Freedom Unlimited card. We did that the week before flying to New Orleans, which is where we made our huge mistake.

Chase’s trip delay coverage provides up to $500 for each ticket as long as it was purchased with the qualifying card. When we downgraded our Sapphire Preferred card, we forgot that we had used it to book our tickets, so the trip delay claim would have to be filed under that account. The Sapphire Reserve has similar protections, but since we hadn’t used it to pay for our trip, the benefit didn’t apply and we were out of luck.

If I had waited an extra month to downgrade the card, we would have had $1,000 to cover expenses on our extended vacation, with nice hotels and meals at some of the best restaurants in the country. I hope this story serves as a word of caution for all those thinking of downgrading a card with an annual fee.

Trip delay protection is a benefit you’ll hopefully never need, but you’ll be happy to have it when you do. If your eligible flight is delayed or canceled, this benefit (and others like it) can help you defray the cost of lodging, meals and other personal expenses incurred as a result. You’re typically covered even on award travel, so long as you use your card to pay for some portion of your trip (like taxes and fees).

It’s important to consider benefits like this when you take inventory of your credit card portfolio, since downgrading or closing an account may make you ineligible. A single use of trip delay reimbursement or lost luggage insurance can more than make up for your annual fee, and you don’t want to end up needing a benefit you no longer have. Keep track of which cards you use to pay for airfare and other travel purchases, and try to avoid canceling yourself out of a perk unnecessarily.

That said, some benefits (including trip delay protection on the Chase Sapphire cards) still apply even after changes are made to your account. I confirmed with Chase benefit administrators that you remain covered so long as the benefit was available at the time of purchase and you adhered to the other relevant guidelines. That’s true even if you’ve downgraded your account or closed it entirely (but not if the account is closed or suspended by Chase). Make sure you understand the terms of your benefits before you give up on filing a claim — you may be eligible even if you think you’re not!

Consider secondary benefits like travel delay protection when you decide whether to cancel or downgrade a card.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Erik for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image courtesy of Chalabala via Getty Images.

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