United Visa Promotion Disaster in the Making

I received a postcard mailing the other day from BankOne, which issues my United Visa. It offered double miles on “mail order and telephone purchases” in October and November.

The fine print said that the offer was for purchases from merchants that Visa classifies as mail order/telephone order merchants — not for purchases made over the phone or by mail. The key is how the merchant classifies itself! And there’s no guidance as to how to determine the way a merchant is classified in advance.

Boy, they aren’t making it easy to change my spending behavior the way that their marketing folks want me to!

It seems that this restriction limiting bonuses to merchants based on their Visa classification stems from a promo at the beginning of the year where they gave double miles on restaurant and home improvement purchases. But not all home improvement stores are classified as home improvement stores by Visa. And so folks weren’t getting the bonus miles they expected, and they had some marketing fallot. Sears, for instance, shows up as a department store — and so home improvement purchases there were not getting awarded miles.

Somehow they thought that being upfront (in the small print) about this arcane restriction would lessen the fallout. But is clouds the marketing message. There isn’t an easy way to know in advance whether any particular purchase will earn double miles or not!

Think that’s bad? It gets worse.

The offer is targeted, and there are actually (3) different United Visa double miles offers for October/November purchases out there:

  • Double miles on all purchases
  • Double miles on mail order and catalogue purchases
  • Double miles on dining and grocery purchases

Here’s a copy of the double miles on all purchases offer (link via Gary Steiger), and it doesn’t say anywhere that it’s targeted. A supervisor told me that if I would print out the offer and send it in, she would authorize me to be added to this version of the promo.

She cautioned, though, that double miles on all purchases were limited to 5000 bonus miles per month according to the offer. Not so according to the terms they sent out! Those conditions say the limit is 10,000 miles per month!

So another disaster in the making…

Wait! There’s more!

I called and added (2) cards to my United Visa account on June 29th when they were offering 2500 bonus miles per free card added. I verified over the phone that I would earn 5000 miles for doing this. So I was concerned that more than three months later the miles were nowhere to be seen.

I was first told over the phone today that the two new cards were issued on July 6, after the promotion ended, and that I would therefore not get the miles!

Then I was told “actually, the promotion was extended until August 31st, so you will get the miles. But the miles have been delayed. I believe cards requested by May posted in September. Your miles should post in November. And miles for cards requested in August will post in December.”


We’ll see. But I have a feeling I’ll have to fight this one, too.

No one said miles and points were easy. Fun and rewarding. But not easy.

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 InsideFlyer.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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