My Dad Made An Unforgivable Points Mistake (But I Love Him, So I’ll Forgive Him… I Think…)

Ugh! For the first time ever, I almost wish the points had been stolen instead!

My family dynamic when it comes to points

As is probably the case for many of you, I manage the miles and points for everyone in my household. I tell my family members which credit cards to get, which credit cards to use, I track their points earning, and I also help them redeem their points.

It’s ultimately less work for me to just manage the whole thing, rather than manage parts of it, and then fix the mistakes they make.

The reality is that all the points in our family are sort of shared. I’m incredibly grateful for everything my parents have done for me my whole life, and I always want to make sure they travel in comfort, so I’m very happy using my points so they can have the best trips possible.

This system works… usually.

My panic last night

I use AwardWallet to constantly update the balances of all the points that my family members have. Last night I saw that just over 25,000 Amex points went missing from my dad’s account. I logged into his Amex account to look at what they were redeemed for, and it showed two transactions, both with yesterday’s date:

  • AMAZON SHOP WITH PTS — 18,750 points
  • AMAZON SHOP WITH PTS — 7,050 points

Not only does my dad know the rule of not redeeming points without consulting me, but even bigger is that my dad doesn’t use a computer, so he would never make a purchase on Amazon (at least I’d assume that’s the case).

So I figured there was fraud on his account. I’ve seen some stories of people having points stolen from their Amex account, and I figured that’s exactly what was going on here.

I started to wonder if somehow my “household” was being targeted for this. I had three cases of credit card fraud within weeks earlier this year.

So last night I texted my dad and told him to call me first thing in the morning, so that we could both call Amex and get to the bottom of this.

My conversation with my dad

“Dad, I think someone stole some of your American Express points. Don’t panic, though, I’m sure you can get them back. You know we always redeem these points for travel, but someone redeemed them through Amazon, which is a horrible value. So we’ll have to call American Express and report this before anything else happens. You didn’t buy anything through Amazon, did you?”

“Benny, I actually do buy stuff on zhe Amazon. It said I had Amazon points I could redeem for zhe purchase, so I thought this was some kind of reward.”

UGH.

As it turned out, my dad had someone at his business order something for him on Amazon. As many of you may be aware, Amex has a “Shop With Points” partnership, where you can redeem Amex points towards the cost of Amazon purchases. You’ll be given the option to do this once you link your Amex card to your Amazon account.

The problem is that it’s a really, really bad value. You get 0.7 cents of Amazon credit per Membership Rewards point, while I value the points at 1.7 cents each. So my dad redeemed 25,620 Membership Rewards points for $179 worth of stuff. OUCH.

As a point of comparison, I regularly buy Amex points (indirectly) for 1.25 cents each by paying my taxes with an Amex card.

Buying points for ~1.25 cents each and redeeming them for 0.7 cents each isn’t exactly good business, eh?

I further drove home the point to my dad with an example — “you know how we just booked Delta business class tickets nonstop from Tampa to Amsterdam? We spent 50,000 Amex points for that, so that’s less than double the number of points you redeemed for something worth $179.”

“Oh…”

Bottom line

As someone who goes great lengths to maximize points, suffice to say that I almost preferred if the points had been stolen, rather than voluntarily being used this way.

On the plus side, I think my dad learned his lesson, and won’t be redeeming points that way again.

I sort of get how he made this mistake, though. When you’re asked if you want to pay for something or want it for free, it’s only natural you’ll take it for free. Clearly he didn’t make the connection that these were travel rewards points he was using.

I’m at least grateful that he “only” purchased a ~$180 worth of stuff this way, rather than something significantly more expensive.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest…

Anyone have any examples of uninformed friends or family members using points poorly, just to make me feel like I’m in good company?

Comments

  1. @Lucky: You wrote: ” my dad had someone at his business order something for him on Amazon”. So it was NOT your dad who made a mistake, but the person at his business who ordered the item :-)))). So he is off the hook!

  2. yeah if you want to disown dad, this is the only place that you shall garner support. But is there any refund/cancellation policy as a recourse?
    (I lost a friend when I told him how much he lost for not putting his FFP on a PE flight, and that is an idiotic mistake. He did not learn his lesson, but I did learn mine.)

  3. All is not lost. Just tell your dad to order the same items again without using points, and then return this order when he receives it and you’ll get the points refunded.

  4. Ouch is correct! Same thing happened to me, my husband used over 250,000 Membership Reward points and I almost had a heart attack! I was, however, able to cancel the order right away. Thank God!

    Maybe a call into Amazon won’t hurt…..

  5. Love it!
    I have it a little worse though. After explaining points stuff to my dad for years, it is now easier to just say “do whatever”. Sigh.

  6. Your dad clearly doesn’t value your work. If he has read your blog carefully, this wouldn’t happen. It is time to stop taking him on fancy holidays.

  7. Might be best to unlink Amex/Chase/Hilton from Amazon after you access any shopping incentive they offer. If your account is compromised that is a large amount of points that can disappear quite quickly.

  8. @beyounged

    That’s a very stupid reason to stop being friends with someone. So he wasn’t that much of a friend or you absolutely have zero sympathy when talking with people.

  9. This is exactly how these loyalty programs make money! Most people see the opportunity to use points to avoid paying for something, and just move on.

  10. Well mommy dearest refuses to open a single card so consider yourself Lucky! And yes, I still pay for her travel up front.

  11. Oh man I feel your pain, have endured similar things a couple of times. Obviously love and family and relationships are more important, so it’s not a big deal, and you move on.

    But in the moment? ARRRGH!

  12. As is probably the case for many of you, I manage the miles and points for everyone in my household.

    I assume you’re not actually living with your father, so did you mean “family” instead of “household”, or do you actually use the same address on credit card / frequent flier accounts to be able to transfer points and facilitate managing your dad’s accounts (when making phone calls, etc)?

  13. Love the Little Rascals GIF…with a very young Spanky. The ironic inverse here is that in that episode it was the child throwing the Dad’s money out the window.

  14. Lol I love how you quote your dad’s words with ‘z’s in them.
    I wish there was a video where I can see him actually talk.
    These kind of incidents/mistakes happen times to times to all of us.
    It hurts a bit when it happens, but we still enjoy this game and move on.
    Cheers.

  15. @Lucas
    Don’t know about you personally, but I bet a lot of point enthusiasts feel an innate sense of loss when someone close/important is losing out big in the game, and that usually means passionately explaining how much is lost by not doing something simple. And of course, I am not the best with elegant discussions…

  16. Oh well, how about my wife bought a BBQ from Aeroplan.com for 125k miles… As a gift for me. I didn’t talk to her for a week, because even after I explained everything she’s still convinced she got an awesome deal… Unbelievable!

  17. Before I even knew of the points game I threw away 15k in Chase Points on an amazon purchase. Even as I earn and redeem my points I think “Man if I had those 15k points it would probably get me _____ redemption” 🙁

    You live and you learn 🙂

  18. I noticed that when I clicked the “$30 off $60 when using points” offer, it automatically chose to cover the entire purchase price with points (even though the “apply automatically” option is off on that Shop With Points account). I clicked through to change it, clicked “Choose a specific amount,” changed it to 1 cent, and clicked “Continue”… and saw that it hadn’t changed it! Clicking “Choose a specific amount” had opened the drop-down but had NOT activated the radio button. I had to click “Choose a specific amount” TWICE – once to open the drop-down, once to activate the radio button. That’s confusing, and kind of shady…

  19. I cringe when I see a purchase show up on the wrong card for the category. This is completely what the card companies count on — most people aren’t going to bother using different cards for different purchases. My husband, bless his heart, tries his best. Sometimes, though, he forgets.

  20. This is a very easy fix. The charge was actually made to the card, and MR applied a statement credit when they removed the points to offset the cost. Call MR and tell them you didn’t want to pay with points and they’ll reverse the point debit and statement credit for you.

  21. My mom constantly fell into fraud iOS app IAP trap, creating surprising statement to me. so I think yours is not that bad…

  22. Ben, this is quite fixable. Cancel the order or return the item and his exact points will be refunded. Before I turned off the pay with points feature, my wife did this once. Total mistake. Easy fix and had amex points refunded.

  23. You’re so good. I’ve been trying to get my family into this hobby since 2012 but I’m the youngest child of 4 and whatever I say tend to go towards deaf ears. The way I deal with it is I’ll give a suggestion but won’t be offended if they don’t choose to follow it. After all, it’s their choice on what to do with their points.
    Hehe I like the accent though on how your Dad responded to you!

  24. I dont store my Amex card on Amazon for this exact reason, too easy for my wife or i to accidentally make a purchase without realizing this is checked (even though we know better).

  25. Soooo any tips or trick to book Tpa -Ams for 50k Delta? Been trying to burn these delta points for a longggg time but not seeing any worthwhile redemption. They always want like 40k from TPA-ATL, not sure how one would go one way to Europe for only 50k

  26. My shock was not that your father made a bad value purchase but that he doesn’t use a computer. My own father is 81 (probably old enough to be your grandfather) and has had a personal computer since 1985 and currently has an iPad, MacBook and iPhone and uses them daily, several times. He manages his own points and miles and does well. The old are not all dinosaurs!

    I’m surprised you can’t get him to use a computer.

  27. Dear Ben, My dad redeemed Japan airline lounge coupon with 3000 miles when he could have accessed the lounge free by using his one world sapphire status. Ughhhhhh!

  28. You can either return the goods, or I have had success talking directly to Amazon and them changing the payment method to return your points. Worth a try!

  29. If you think that’s bad, my mom spent her 100k Alaska miles on two one way first class tickets from Seattle to Phoenix. She was so proud of her amazing redemption…

  30. Ben,

    Lol I totally forgot about virgin Atlantic. I thought you somehow able to use 50k Delta miles (Amex-> Delta) to Europe with some super secret redemption lol.

  31. I loved Ben’s ending “anyone have any examples…?”. Puleeeeze! Dealing with our flocks is a major theme in this weird practice.

    @Ben It’s time for a “Rules for dealing with civilians in your circle” post.

  32. I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND THIS ARTICLE AND I AGREE WITH MANY OF YOUR COMMENTS HERE. I may not be as wise as Lucky when it comes to this. Yet, I have learned a lot from reading up on these travel details.

    I am sometimes at a lost with words on explaining to my mom about a good use of points rather than just using them. She only cares about redeeming solely to have free nights at the hotel. Yet, she does not understand the value of redemption, because sometimes the points redeemed are not good or the hotel is not worth it for those hard earned points. We always have energetic discussions and sometimes I wish Lucky could give her a point redemption 101 crash course in person.

  33. Once singer Marvin Gaye or someone like that had a discussion about life insurance with his father. One thought it was good. The other thought it was a waste. OK.

    What happened next was tragic. The father shot the son dead. He realized his mistake and sat on his front door steps waiting for the police.

    Mistakes happen. Luckily, usually they don’t escalate to disasters.

  34. Talk about a heart attack…I logged into my Hilton account one day and noticed my balance was like 550 points instead of over 600,000! Someone hacked my Hilton account and redeemed ALL those points on two Amazon purchases. Hilton reimbursed me thankfully.

  35. My mum did something like this with the household avios account, she was booking a holiday with BA and then when she came to selected seats for the group the website was like:

    ‘hey part pay with Avios and burn them household points’

    So she did…… RIP thousands of points for long haul family of four…

  36. When my father was alive, he had no access to his Amex points portal online. I had it. He didn’t know how to use computer or buy things online, so it was easier to separate his card usage and points.

  37. Ben, you should still call AmEx and ask them to reverse the pay-with-points and charge the dollar amount to the credit card instead. I accidentally used AmEx pay-with-points at a Rite Aid store a year or two ago (I clicked on a YES button without reading the question, thinking that I was just approving the purchase) and they restored my points and charged me the dollar amount instead.

  38. The value of redemption is lost on most. They start to understand the sign-up bonuses and the 5X, 4X, 3X, 2X points per dollar spent on the different cards, but redemption, most just don’t get it. All offensive with earning no defensive with spending.

    Like just doing the basic calculation before any redemption: RETAIL PRICE / NUMBER OF POINTS = VALUE RECEIVED PER POINT is lost on most. My father-in-law just gets the gift cards all the time…

    For my other friends, I can never convince them to book first/business class long haul flights where there are open capacity controlled seats. They just want to travel on the exact date at the exact hour from the specific airport on the most direct route. There is no convincing to be plan ahead and be flexible with dates and routing so they may redeem their points for the most value.

  39. Storm onto the lanai, shake your fist, and yell, “Shady Pines, Pa! Shady Pines!”

    This will be doubly effective as you both actually live in Florida.

  40. As my teenage daughter likes to scold me, “First world problem, Dad. First world problem”.

    P.S. I follow this blog because of these hilarious anecdotes (and sometimes the travel tips).

  41. I’ve had my father spend 70k Miles&More Miles on 250$ Sennheiser Headphones.

    I’ve returned the order and claimed the points back and just bought the same pair for cash.

  42. The other way of looking at it is for X points you can either fly from A to B in business or fly in economy and use the points saved to buy, say, a tablet on Amazon. Which is the better value, the better use of points? Surely it depends on perspective. You value business class travel, others might see it as an unnecessary indulgence and prefer goods.

  43. Dad bought a gas heater for the terrace with his M&M points now it rusts away in their garden. He is very happy though that he got it “for free”.

  44. @ Donna: Ha, …. female here in the same age-group as your dad and managing my KID’s accounts. They do not have a clue, the interest or the time to manage their own accounts.
    And I know the value of earning and redemption very well – done the game since way before the very exciting “Mint” period and probably before young Ben was born !

  45. This is what my mom does with all her points. I can’t convince her otherwise. I’ve given up.

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