Senator Being Prosecuted for Poor Use of Amex Points (No, Really..)

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez has been indicted on corruption charges, which I read as his being charged with being a politician from New Jersey.

At issue is the trading of official acts in exchange for gifts from a donor.

The Hill details some of the allegations in the indictment.

Senator Menendez helped 3 girlfriends of the donor to get US visas. Menendez also intervened with the Department of Health and Human Services to help overturn an $8.9 million fine for the donor’s overbilling of medicare.

In exchange the Senator is said to have received private charter flights and more.

One of the gifts that is the basis of the prosecution is the donor’s use of American Express Membership Rewards points to book the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris on behalf of Senator Menendez.

Prosecutors allege Melgen paid for Menendez’s room in the posh Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme so he could see “a woman with whom he had a personal relationship.”

..The room Menendez allegedly stayed was valued at $4,934.10, prosecutors say. After having his staff research room rates, they say, Menendez asked Melgen to book “either the Park Suite King or the Park Deluxe King” using the doctor’s American Express reward points.

He allegedly told Melgen in an email that the room had a “king bed, work areas with internet, limestone bath with soaking tub and enclosed rain shower, [and] views of courtyard or streets.”

“You call American Express Rewards and they will book it for you,” prosecutors allege he wrote to the doctor in the email. “It would need to be in my name.”

I’ll reserve judgment on the merits of the prosecution, aside from pointing out the Senator’s home state.

What’s most compelling though is that Amex points were used to directly pay for a hotel booking, and that is never a good idea. That donor apparently flushed about half a million Amex points. He should have paid cash for the room and at a minimum saved the points for the first class commercial flights that he needed to cover as part of his kickbacks to the Senator.

While I certainly have concerns about overcriminalization, and putting people in prison for nonviolent offenses, at some level use of American Express points in this fashion ought to be illegal…

(HT: @pcpontificates)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary,

    This entire paragraph absolutely made my day. I actually laughed out loud! Hillarious!

    “What’s most compelling though is that Amex points were used to directly pay for a hotel booking, and that is never a good idea. That donor apparently flushed about half a million Amex points. He should have paid cash for the room and at a minimum saved the points for the first class commercial flights that he needed to cover as part of his kickbacks to the Senator.”

  2. Talk about a ridiculous waste of points indeed. But one thing politicians of all politcal party affiliations know how to do is use constituents’ money for pet projects. In this case, the Senator from the so-called Armpit of NYC had a project in mind: a supposedly fancy place to pet his girlfriend.

  3. Ah, but I beg to differ 🙂

    I recently used Amex MR points to book an OWB in Moorea, French Polynesia.

    Poor redemption? Sure, but I didn’t have to pay cash. And that is the point. I have more than enough miles, my 1st class tickets are paid for with miles. What I was lacking was covering one remaining night in a 2 week stay at Bora Bora and Moorea. MR points fit the bill nicely as my goal was not being out cash.

  4. He really should have had some Chase Saphire points and transferred them to Hyatt. Would’ve used so many less points! Or use the free night certificates from Hyatt’s credit card. Maybe I should start booking award travel for these people and charge a small amount compared to what they are paying.

  5. I stayed in the Park Suite King last week at the Park Hyatt Vendome.It might have been the same exact one too as the Senator. Contrary to the Senator, I did use Hyatt points and my free nights.

  6. Funny that the disapproval or dismay here seems to be with the good senator’s use of loyalty points in a poor redemption rather than with the illegality of his taking kickbacks for what the DOJ and FBI investigators have concluded constituted a quid pro quo and has resulted in his indictment…

  7. DCS, you are in the wrong place. This isn’t a politics or general news blog. This is a place where people discuss flying, points, and miles.

  8. Yes DCS, it’s called humor. It’s the general alternative to being painfully literal and boring. I also wasn’t aware that it was now necessary for people to state the obvious, i.e. that our politicians should not take kickbacks and engage in corrupt practices.

  9. @Will — Humor? By saying “Funny that…” I did clearly see the humor in “it”? Too bad you missed that 😉

  10. For us mortals, yes, that use of points is not a good value. But I have friends that have so many points that they couldn’t care less what the value proposition is. Yes, that many points, and still growing.

    Maybe that doctor was in the same class…

  11. Gary, your recent post reminded of the time you refused to help a woman book a one way ticket to Iran for her young daughter, because you felt it was wrong.

    If you had gotten a call from the donor asking you to help him use his points to book a vacation as an, um, favor, for his friend, the out of state Senator, would you have taken the business? 🙂

  12. @swag: I doubt Gary wanted to be “unindicted co-conspirator #1,” so probably not!

    But he could offer to be an expert witness for the prosecution re: the criminally negligent use of MR points.

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