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5 Ways You Can Lose Your Credit Card Rewards

Jason Steele

Credit card users often save their points, miles and cash back for years with the hope of redeeming them for their well-deserved rewards. Yet in the back of their minds is the fear that their rewards simply won’t be there when the time comes.

Sadly, there are several ways that credit card rewards can fail to materialize. Here are five of the most common pitfalls, and how to prevent it from happening to you.

1. Expiration

Many airline frequent flier programs have expiration dates. For example, if American AAdvantage miles aren’t earned or used at least once in any 18-month period, the miles are lost.

How to keep this from happening to you: Keep track of all your loyalty points using a website such as Award Wallet. Although some airlines block these sites from accessing customers’ frequent flier information, American Airlines recently announced that it would again allow members to track their program using Award Wallet.

2. Inactivity

Like airline expiration policies, some credit card programs will take away your rewards if you don’t continue to use the card. For instance, the NFL Extra Points card from Barclaycard will close accounts of cardholders who do not make a charge for six consecutive months.

How to keep this from happening to you: Cardholders need to be careful to scrutinize the fine print of their award programs to look for issues like this. If your card has an inactivity clause, you could set up an automatic recurring payment such as a cellphone bill so the card won’t be closed.

3. Late Payments

Some credit cards have instituted terms that withhold rewards when the cardholder makes a late payment.

How to keep this from happening to you: Missing out on rewards is just one of several good reasons why you should never pay your credit card bill late. To avoid this, set up regular electronic payments through your bank or the card issuer.

4. Account Closures

When the card issuer operates the rewards program, cardholders will usually forfeit rewards when their account is closed for any reason. This includes customers canceling their credit card as well as banks that close delinquent accounts. For example, the Costco True Earnings Card from American Express issues reward vouchers to customers once a year in February, but cardholders who cancel their card before then will not receive their annual rewards.

How to keep this from happening to you: If you need to close a credit card account, make sure to redeem all of your rewards in bank programs. Obviously, you should avoid becoming delinquent in your payments, but if you fear that your card issuer might close your account for any reason, be sure to cash out your rewards as soon as possible. Also keep in mind that many credit cards issue rewards to a third-party program such as an airline or hotel chain, and customers’ balances may still be safe when they close their credit card account.

5. Program Changes

All loyalty programs have terms and conditions that allow companies to make changes any time they want. Most of the time, these changes result in rewards being harder to redeem, or requiring more points or miles.

For instance, earlier this year several of the major hotel chains changed their frequent guest programs to require more points for award stays. And recently, Delta announced large increases in the miles required for many business class international award flights.

How to keep this from happening to you: Although investors are encouraged to take the long view, reward credit card users should be very cautious about accumulating vast sums of points and miles for more than a year or two. Like those holding cash in a times of heavy inflation, those who hoard points and miles will inevitably see the value of their savings diminish.  Thankfully, most programs (other than Delta) will give customers several months of advanced notice before making major alterations, so keep track of any changes and try to redeem your points and miles before they go into effect.

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