How I Failed to Maximize a Large Purchase — Reader Mistake Story

Nov 30, 2017

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We often publish stories from readers that illustrate how points and miles can help you get where you want to go. However, it’s important to learn from our mistakes as well as our successes, so I’m calling on you to send us your most epic travel failure stories. Email them 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. If we publish your story, we’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure!

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Anirudh, who earned fewer miles than expected after maxing out a credit card bonus. Here’s what he had to say:

A few months ago a group of friends and I ran a community event in Singapore — a grand gala dinner to raise funds for a language preservation effort. When the time came to settle the bill, I was given the option to pay by credit card. The ballroom manager even offered to split my payments across multiple cards, but since my DBS Altitude Visa earns 3 miles per dollar on hotels (and other travel), there was no need. Paying the $15,000 bill would net me a handsome stash of miles I could put toward an upgrade on my 11-hour journey to Cape Town early next year.

It wasn’t until the next month I realized things had gone wrong. Instead of earning 45,000 miles for the transaction, I had earned only 27,000 miles, and I had only myself to blame. The card caps the bonus for travel purchases at $5,000 of monthly spending; beyond that, it reverts to the general earning rate of 1.2 miles per dollar. I would have known that if I’d read the terms and conditions more closely.

In retrospect, I could have earned more if I spread the payment across three cards. I might have even been able to negotiate splitting the bill up into three monthly installments on my DBS Altitude Visa to get the full 45,000 miles. Oh well, I guess I’ll be flying to Cape Town in coach!

Consider secondary benefits like travel delay protection when you decide whether to cancel or downgrade a card.
Make sure you know the benefits (and limits) of each card in your portfolio.

Spending in bonus categories is an easy way to boost your rewards, but many credit cards limit the amount you can earn at the increased rate. Some caps are enforced annually, like the $6,000 limit on 6% cash back at US supermarkets for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Other caps follow different timelines, like the quarterly $1,500 limit on 5x earnings for the Chase Freedom card. Knowing the terms of your credit card bonuses and keeping track of your spending will help you avoid mistakes like the one Anirudh made.

To maximize large purchases, I recommend sorting out which card you’ll use ahead of time. Whether you’re buying a car, paying for wedding expenses or even just paying your taxes, it’s best to have a game plan so you don’t have to decide on the spot. On another note, large purchases are a great opportunity to meet spending requirements for welcome bonuses or spending bonuses, so make sure to consider those possibilities in addition to regular earning rates.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Anirudh for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline 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 Pascal Le Segretain via Getty.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.