Can Capital One really “erase” my debts? And while you’re at it, could you do another rant about loyalty programs?

Can Capital One really “erase” my debts? And while you’re at it, could you do another rant about loyalty programs?

When Capital One offers to “erase” part of her debts with award points, Kate Morrical calls on a loyalty program skeptic to clear things up. Find out what happens next.

Question: You’ve gone on record plenty of times with your feelings about loyalty programs, so I wondered if you’d seen this ad for Capital One’s “Purchase Eraser.” In it, Alec Baldwin implies that he can “erase” a $700 purchase with 30,000 miles.

But the program overview clearly states that any purchase over $600 is 100 miles per dollar to redeem.

If Alec is right, I’d love to know how I could get that deal, too. But I bet the ad is stretching the truth. What’s the best place to take complaints about these kinds of “truth in advertising” errors? — Kate Morrical, Washington

Answer: You’re asking me? Isn’t that a little bit like questioning an atheist about God?

All kidding aside, I actually like Capital One — no, not because of the Baldwin ads, or even its “double miles” cards. I’ve recommended Capital One for years because it has no foreign transaction fee, which is great for international travelers.

But I digress.

Full disclosure: I’m an unwilling participant in a credit card that’s similar to Capital One’s, which allows you to earn points that can be redeemed through your bank. My financial institution converted my otherwise acceptable credit card into a point-earning machine a few years ago, much to my dismay.

These cards offer many more choices than those co-branded affinity cards which tie you down to a particular airline or hotel. In other words, you’re less likely to turn into a blindly brand-loyal mileage nut as the result of using one. Instead, you earn points based on how much you spend with the card, and redemptions are not restricted to an airline or its partners.

No question, a card like Capital One is the lesser of the two evils.

But it’s still kinda evil.

I’m deeply unhappy that my credit card suddenly started spitting out points. I didn’t sign up for that and didn’t want it. I don’t actively monitor the number of points in my account and they can expire and go to hell for all I care. I use the card a lot less than before, because I view points as a completely toxic byproduct of the credit card industry.

Whatever happened to offering a solid credit card with useful features, instead of a gimmicky payment option that appeals to your worst hoarding instincts? When did that end?

I’ll say it again: Loyalty programs are another bubble that’s about to burst. Airlines this year will earne almost $10 billion from selling miles, a little less than two-thirds of their total ancillary revenue for the typical legacy carrier. A good portion of those miles will probably go unredeemed.

These barely legal point schemes are bad for consumers and ought to be banned by law.

By the way, if you’ve ever wondered why you never see any of those enormous display ads for credit cards under every post on my site, now you know. Point-generating cards have deceived and misled an entire generation of travelers. I’d sooner shill for a discount airline than write an advertorial blog in order to sell those ridiculously lucrative referrals.

Oh wow, where’d that come from? I seem to have forgotten to answer your question.

Sorry about that.

I can see how you’d be confused by the Purchase Eraser offer. The promotional language is light on details and heavy on hyperbole, as are most offers like this. You have to do a deep dive into the fine print and a little homework to get the answer.

I suggested you send a brief, polite email to Capital One with your question. It responded with a form acknowledgment, but didn’t clear up the matter to your satisfaction. Next, you sent an email to Capital One’s media relations team, but they didn’t answer.

Finally, you emailed Capital One’s CEO. That elicited a response from someone in the company’s executive office, who phoned you to explain the ad.

“It turns out that if you look very closely at the phone in the ads, it shows a starting account balance of 100,000 miles,” you told me. “70,000 miles are then subtracted to redeem the $700 purchase (although the 70,000 figure is never actually shown), leaving 30,000 miles left over.”

Put differently, those ticking numbers in the ad are counting down the remaining balance, not counting up the miles used.

While Capital One wasn’t being dishonest, I’m skeptical of any offer that needs to be explained to consumers. A feature like Purchase Eraser should say what it does and do what it says, not leave you with a false impression.

That said, an offer like this is easier to grasp than some of those offered by airline and hotel loyalty programs, so I can’t be too critical.

Was Capital One's offer misleading?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • bodega3

    The house wins if you pay their fees. 25 percent interest on a credit card? There are those who run a monthly tab and pay the minimum, so yes, they pay for many of us to enjoy these cards at no extra cost. If more people paid off their card in full each month, I have no doubt some of the benefits many of us enjoy would be gone. But if you know how to handle your financials properly, affinity cards are a good deal.

  • omgstfualready

    In Ireland it was getting harder to not have a chip, I find myself bringing more and more cash. It’s so odd that Cap One won’t issue it when they are the best international card out there and they know it. Ah, there it is……nevermind….

  • Grant Ritchie

    I’m not sure about your “No such thing as free” statement. I’ve had an “American Express Platinum Cash Rebate” card from Costco since 2000, and I funnel virtually all of my payments (Kaiser, Amazon, auto registration, taxes, grocery store, department store, restaurant, gasoline, gas, water, sewer, and electric bills, and undoubtedly a few I’ve forgotten) through that card. I get hundreds of dollars cash back every year — several thousand since I started using it. Granted, I pay an annual Costco membership fee of $100, but I’d pay that anyway because I love Costco. I’m sure somebody is paying the freight on my card, but to me… it’s better than free.

  • emanon256

    The house always wins. Play long enough, you never change the stakes. The house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet and you bet big, then you take the house.

    -Danny Ocean

  • Travelnut

    USAA offers a card with a chip. I used it last summer in Scandinavia.

  • omgstfualready

    I have a USAA card I keep in a safe place for emergencies (I’m paranoid, I figure if my house burns down I’ll run out and not have a purse and so I keep a card safely stored outside my home that I can get to quickly for ER purchases). I never thought to see if they had the non U.S. usage benefits that Cap One does. I’ll be looking into it this weekend, thanks so much!

  • LFH0

    That’s probably true with many card issuers, but maybe not all. I have a USAA credit card with cash back (they also offer point options). The APR is 7 percent. No minimum payment. Outstanding customer service. The only “cost” I’ve found is a foreign transaction fee (all foreign transactions, even those in U.S. dollars), but the 1 percent rate is very low. But I’d rather pay that fee than deal with Capital One customer service.

  • bpepy

    Get an AMEX Costco card. There’s no annual fee and you get cash money back at the end of the year. One year we took a big trip and replaced the windows in our house, I charged both to my AMEX card and got over $1300 back! That’s worth it. Usually it’s more like $300-$400, but it’s still worth it!

  • Travelnut

    You’re welcome! Full disclosure, I’m a USAA employee. The USAA card charges foreign transaction fees, while I believe Capital One does not. Every now and then it’s suggested that we drop the foreign transaction fee but it never happens.
    FYI, love your screen name and wish I’d thought of it first!

  • Cybrsk8r

    Ask yourself. Would you buy a used car from Alec Baldwin?

  • omgstfualready

    I cannot tell you as a customer how fantastic USAA employees are to work with. They have my checking, savings, home insurance, car insurance, a credit card; you get the point. Every call is met with someone knowledgeable and interested in helping. I hope it is a pleasant working environment for you.

    Yea, I was reading the site for a long time before I was compelled to write and that’s what was on my mind at that moment…..

  • MarkKelling

    Actually, it is the merchant you make your purchases at that pays a huge amount of the cost of your points. miles, or other rewards.

    Cards that give rewards have a higher interchange rate than plain old credit or debit cards. This is the ongoing battle between the merchants and the card issuers. It costs the same to process any card transaction no matter who issued it, who’s picture is on the face of the card, or what benefits you the cardholder receives. Why should the merchant pay the bank more just because you decide to use the gold plated platinum diamond studded card instead of the plain basic card?

  • Linda

    Yes it was misleading – which is a shame because the purchase eraser is a good deal, the $30,000 actually does erase $300 – so it’s the same as a 1% cash back on travel purchases. AND, as Chris says, no foreign transaction fee. I’ve had the card for less than 3 years and I’ve gotten over $1300 in credits. For a $59 annual fee. (No I am not an employee, just a satisfied customer).

  • $31488987

    I can understand why you’d object to miles programs that deflate their worth, pile on fees, sock you with blackouts, and expire your points without notice. But Capital One does none of these things. 1 mile = 1 cent on travel expenses and many gift cards. It doesn’t matter what kind of travel you redeem them for – you can even buy passes on your city transit system. The Venture Card is worth the $59 annual fee if you charge $1000 a month and pay in full monthly, as it will give you 2% back in legitimate rewards. Otherwise the Quicksilver card gives 1.5% back in cash, with no annual fee. What can possibly be wrong with this offer?

  • $31488987

    I pay my bill as soon as I get it. There are no fees. No interest rates. No foreign transaction charges. Benefits are straightforward and not changed. I understand that merchants (and consumers indirectly) pay a credit card processing fee, but we’re going to be charged for that whether we pay with cash, debit cards, credit cards, or bitcoin. Why not reap the generous rewards and get most of it back?

  • $31488987

    Sure, if you spend money and don’t pay the bill on time, you will pay. But if you pay as you go, you win. I haven’t paid credit card interest fees in decades and have received thousands of dollars in rewards.

  • Marilyn

    I have never watched the ad so don’t know if it is deceitful; however, if the person questioning if Capital One really will erase your charge, the answer is “yes.” This past summer, I was able to erase the charge for two airline tickets that were priced at over $800 combined. It was as easy as a phone call. I don’t recall how many points were required, but I still had points left in my account. I like their system far better than trying to accrue miles with a particular airline because those airlines keep raising the number of miles necessary to get a ticket. The Capital One points can be used on any airline but also for hotels, car rentals, and other things. I, too, like Capital One because they do not charge foreign exchange fees. I use my card for many purchases, but I don’t buy anything just to get more points–only for purchases that I need to make and I typically pay off my balances each month. So I really do not understand the animosity toward this credit card. In case you think I am employed by the company and simply putting in a good word for them, I am not now nor have I ever been employed by any credit card company.

  • Marilyn

    My Capital One card charges no annual fee. I pay off my balance each month so pay no interest charges. I fail to see how I am losing anything because they give me points that allow me to erase charges for airline tickets from my account.

  • Marilyn

    I feel the same way about my Am Exp card through Costco. Each year when my rebate comes in, I reward myself with something nice–one year a new laptop, one year a new tablet. I use it and my Capital One card for virtually all of my purchases so I either get cash back or points toward travel.