A thread started on Flyertalk Thursday night reports that Membership Rewards balances for several members doubled — or even grew ten-fold.
Most of the discussion there seems to be centered around how likely it is that a member could get away with keeping the points accidentally deposited into their account. In fact, many seem to be transferring the points out right away hoping that helps them abscond with their sudden loot.
“If they give you the inflated amount, transfer out all of the points on the spot.”
“Transferring right now, Merry Xmas to me if transfer goes through.”
“Transferred them all out. Now I won’t be able to sleep until transfer is complete. OH MY GOD, points were more than double what I should have! … I consider that paydirt as those cannot be reclaimed.”
In building their case that the points are theirs to keep, and American Express has no recourse:
Points accrued in the Program account have no cash or monetary value.”
So Amex transferred nothing into your account thus you have nothing to worry about.
I think the approach to quickly transfer out all the points credited in error is a mistake:
How Should You Handle Points in Your Account By Mistake?
IHG Rewards Club used to have a frequent issue with reward night stays where points would credit back to an account once the stay was completed. Many times I’ve seen United MileagePlus accounts where awards would get issued but miles not deducted.
My advice in those circumstances is always to wait and see if things get corrected on their own. I like to even make a call to alert the program to the mistake.
- I wouldn’t go to extreme lengths to get an issue corrected. If a program is notified and does nothing after a reasonable waiting period, I’d be comfortable using the points.
- I’d hate to have a program claw back points later, cause my account to go negative, and decide to cancel awards — something I’ve seen happen (whether members feel it’s fair or not).
I’ve had points fail to credit properly, and I’ve probably have points fail to be withdrawn too. Ultimately it’s a wash. I follow up to get points credited, and when I notice a mistake in my favor I say something too. But I don’t keep calling with superhuman persistence.
Loyalty program fraud groups too often hate their members. Sometimes though there are members they should hate. Don’t be one of those.
Redemptions Using Points That Aren’t Yours Can Easily Be Clawed Back
I once booked an award through US Airways Dividend Miles and points weren’t deducted from my account. The agent issued the ticket, but didn’t input my mileage number. I got a call from the fraud department asking me how I intended to pay for the award. I missed the call, and if I hadn’t gotten back to them promptly they were going to cancel my award.
It was their error, I told them I intended to pay for the award with miles from my account. But they already had their finger on the cancel trigger.
Some members took advantage of a glitch at Priority Club (now IHG Rewards Club) where you could download their shopping toolbar over and over for points each time. You didn’t even need to download the program. You just had to complete the form and go to the download page.
- People scripted this, and earned millions of points over a weekend.
- They knew full well that come Monday morning their accounts would be cancelled.
- So they booked awards right away. Those who booked future hotel reservations had those cancelled. Some got ‘clever’ and issued gift cards. Those were cancelled.
- Some folks went so far as to redeem for electronic gift cards, and redeem those electronic gift cards from the merchant immediately. Shaky legal ground, but for them it worked, they lost their accounts but successfully stole merchandise.
What Will American Express Do?
Without knowing what caused the glitch or how extensive it is, it’s hard to even speculate — though there’s a realm of possible scenarios.
Points transfers can be reversed. Under normal circumstances points transfers are final, but American Express can work with its transfer partners when they wish to. Even if you’ve already redeemed the points you transferred, that could cause your airline mileage account to go negative — and the issuing airline might cancel your tickets.
I suspect that American Express might just let you go negative, or bill you for any negative balance. Two and a half years ago American Express eliminated the ability to do a ‘points advance’. They used to let members go negative. A Platinum cardholder could borrow up to 60,000 points.
A member was supposed to earn back the borrowed points within 12 months, and any negative after a year was supposed to be charged at 2.5 cents a point (the price at which American Express sells points).
Transferring out points before American Express can reclaim them could be a costly endeavor. And don’t pay them back? Go to collections as well as have cards closed — possibly even being invited to no longer be a customer of theirs in the future.
What’s more transferring out ill-gotten gains right away makes you look guilty. If points had been there for awhile it’s reasonable someone might not know their account balance, and should be given the benefit of the doubt. But receive double, quintuple, or 10x the balance and immediately transfer the points? It’s certainly suggestive of someone trying to get away with something — that’s not someone I’d want as a customer.