Hey MasterCard, where have all my Eagle points landed?

By | December 24th, 2016

Jennifer Schneider’s USAA Credit Card loyalty points are gone. Or are they? In fact, were they ever there?

Question: I have a Visa credit card from USAA. My most recent Visa statement says I have 119,132 Eagle points. The last time I redeemed points for a plane ticket was 8 months ago, last February (45,000 points).

Recently, after calling USAA to confirm how many Eagle Point miles I currently have (they said over 116,000), I offered my son two plane tickets from Austin to Rome, for him and his bride for their honeymoon in April.

But when I called to redeem those points (50,000 for an international ticket, for up to $1,000), I was told I had enough only for one ticket. So I ended up paying for the entire cost of the second ticket ($1,080).

I’d like to get reimbursed for $1,000 for the second ticket, which I should not have had to pay. And I’d like you to persuade USAA to provide a real solution, which would be to provide accurate information for customers on their USAA Visa statement about how many Eagle Points they have. — Jennifer Schneider, Tucson, Ariz.

Answer: For readers unfamiliar with USAA, it is a giant, offering insurance, banking, investment services, and credit cards to military service members and their families. Its bold-faced pitch: “We stand by you.”

After your extensive — and temperate — correspondence with and numerous telephone calls to a variety of USAA departments, you know what happened. They didn’t really stand by you.

It turns out there is no mystery about your points. You used 45,000 points in February. By a rough calculation, you had more than 100,000 points before that rewards redemption. You must have been pleasantly surprised when your September account arrived with not 70,000 points but instead a balance of around 119,132 points. You say that a call confirmed that higher-than-expected balance.

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Then, trouble: After promising to cover a family honeymoon trip to Rome, you tried to redeem the confirmed and printed points with USAA.

No dice.

Agents there said the effective balance covered only one 50,000 point ticket, not the 100,000 needed for two. With no apparent alternative, you purchased the second ticket for more than $1,000.

And you called USAA. And you wrote to the CEO. And finally, turned to our advocates.

During your pursuit, you uncovered something that, now confirmed by USAA, can only be considered shocking: For months, USAA or its rewards-program contractor, MasterCard International Incorporated, has knowingly mailed out — and apparently confirmed in telephone calls — points totals that were not adjusted for prior redemptions.

As a medical doctor, you make a comparison here to professional negligence. If only. Read the Terms and Conditions. While not explicit for USAA, common practice holds that the points belong to the program, not to the cardholder.

Release of Liability

Neither we, MasterCard, Explore Cruise Travel, nor any other service provider used in connection with this program, is responsible for any defects in any regard for which you redeem your rewards points. You release us, MasterCard, Explore Cruise Travel and any other service provider from any and all liability for any loss, expense, accident, injury, death, or inconvenience that may arise in connection with the use or defect of any reward. The actions or inactions of any service provider, or your participation in the program.

One further perspective, from the financial sphere. Bank account holders are not allowed under law to profit from bank errors or omissions. That USAA’s probable culpability extended to misinformation over an unconscionable period of time does not change the math in your favor. Had USAA issued two tickets, and then canceled one or sought reimbursement, a consumer claim might have more traction.

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Still, either no one at USAA recognized the problem before September (unlikely), or customer-service reps were not properly briefed to explain the error.

Either way, if you keep USAA “at your side” where you can at least watch them, then watch your travel points.

Update: About a month after your exchange, USAA acknowledged the reporting problem in a statement to us:

Members with rewards cards can view their point balances on usaa.com, monthly statements or by calling us, and they can redeem those points at usaa.com or by calling us. While a technical error showed older data in some monthly statements, point balances remained accurate in the channels where points can be redeemed, so members always knew the correct balance when redeeming points. This technical error for monthly statements has since been fixed.

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