What do you do when points vanish into thin air?

What's the point? / Photo by Mitchell Bartlett - Flickr
Question: I’m having an issue with Points.com I thought you might be able to help resolve. I recently traded 6,000 American Airline miles for 6,000 JetBlue miles, with a transaction fee of $100. The interface stated that the estimated processing time was five to eight business days.

More than eight days passed, and my account hadn’t been credited. So I contacted Points.com. I was told a “system issue” would delay my transfer, but that it would eventually happen.

A few days later I checked in again, sending an email to Points.com. The response: “Our records show that your trade is now completed.” But I still didn’t have my miles.

I contacted JetBlue last week and was told that it would “investigate.” I called again today, and was told that they had submitted a request (their turn of phrase) but “their hands were tied” until Points.com completed the transaction.

Points.com is giving me the metaphorical finger and True Blue claims they can’t help. I’m out $100 and 6,000 American Airlines miles. Can you offer any guidance please? — Jonathan Govias, Boston, Mass.

Answer: Those points should have been transferred to you account immediately. When they weren’t, Points.com should have tracked them down quickly, and without any additional prompting from you.

Let’s back up and explain what Points.com does, for the uninitiated. The site allows you to consolidate all of your loyalty programs in one place and trade or transfer miles between programs, for a fee.

I’m a Points.com member, myself. I’m a reluctant participant in a few loyalty programs, even though I’m on record as being a loyalty-program skeptic. My account balances are strictly tourist-level, because I’m not a serious collector, but for many travelers, being a card-carrying elite is important. I understand that.

But here’s something I don’t understand: Why pay $100 to transfer $60 worth of miles? Frequent flier miles are valued at around one cent a mile, give or take. So 6,000 miles would only be worth $60. You must have had a really good reason for doing that.

From your correspondence, I see that you tried to keep an email trail, right up until you received a response that said “do not reply.” I’m not sure why any company would accept an email and then tell you not to reply. That doesn’t sound like customer service at all, and Points.com is hardly alone in doing this.

I contacted Points.com on your behalf. It responded to you, apologizing for the missing points and for its “do not reply” policy. It promised to review its email practices and posted your missing 6,000 frequent flier miles to your account.

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • backprop

    You don’t have to be loyal to an airline in order to be in the loyalty program, so sure they’re fine to collect. 

    As for the OP, it’s not uncommon to need a few thousand miles to redeem an award.  A hundred bucks to transfer 6,000 miles sure beats buying them from the airline directly which would have been 50-100% more.

    In fact, a situation like that is proof that collecting points in a loyalty program can be beneficial, even though you have no intention of being loyal to a company.  Those 6,000 AA miles might have come from a business trip, and the OP would have never used them, and they came in handy when needed. 

  • $16635417

    In my days managing corporate travel, I became less and less of a fan of loyalty programs. I had many meetings, many with the same travelers explaining how while THEY may like flying one airline, the business decision to use another is what governs us. Same with hotels and cars.

    The interesting point about this is when some of these people left to attempt to go in to business for themselves, they came to me for travel advice and now happily flew the airlines that saved them money up front. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if the loyalty programs went away. Airlines would have to compete on price and service and decisions could be made based on that, rather than be locked into a loyalty program.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    In this case, I think points.com should’ve given him something extra for all the running around he had to do. That’s quite a stiff fee they’re charging. 

  • Steve_in_WI

    I thought Points.com sounded like a great idea, too, until I saw the transaction fees.

    Anyway, as far as loyalty programs go – I can’t say much about frequent flier miles (I’m a member in Delta/United/American’s programs, but I haven’t accumulated enough miles to redeem yet), but hotel loyalty programs are definitely worth it. In the past five years, I have earned and used:

    – 1 free night at a Marriott property (estimated $120 value)
    – 7 nights at Holiday Inn properties (estimated $700 value)
    – 1 free night at a Hilton property (estimated $140 value)

    And I am not a frequent traveler – I average probably 20-30 hotel nights a year combined business and personal travel (and not all of those are at hotels with loyalty programs, either). I have found hotel redemption policies to be straightforward and the room is truly *free* – no surcharges or other junk just for using my points. The programs vary in how valuable the points are (Holiday Inn’s Priority Club is great because of the “point breaks” offers they have where you can get a room for only 5000 points a night. The selection is very limited, but I’ve taken advantage of that several times), but IMHO they’re always at least as valuable as FF miles. Best of all, about half the points I’ve earned have come from business travel – that Marriott room was truly free to me because the points I used had all come from business trips.

  • cjr001

    They used to be worth collection. But any more? Not so worthwhile, not when amounts required and fees keep going up.

    I have a Points.com account as well, and it too is losing value.

  • TonyA_says

    I’m like you – it’s about saving money. For others, it’s about getting a free upgrade (dream on), a free award flight (yup in winter), or [an extra] free checked in bag.

    But really, where you live and your regular destinations will likely determine which airlines you can practically fly. If you live just outside New York City and you have a choice of 4 airports, and you go other cities that almost all airlines serve, then it’s hard to be loyal to one airline. You just shop around and pick the flight that best suits your needs.

    But if you live in a small town in the middle of the nowhere, then your choices might be nil. A good example is El Paso, Texas. Every time I have a have passenger from that area, I end up having to use American (AA) to haul them first to an International Gateway city (via DFW). So it makes sense keeping passengers in a OneWorld alliance carrier for the whole trip. I tell my El Paso customers to sign up with a OneWorld loyalty program since they have nothing to lose.

    I’m not sure what 6,000 points can do with True Blue that it can’t do with AAdvantage. (I am a member of both programs and get almost  daily junk mail from both of them, especially American), Seems to me the OP’s $100 could have been put to better use. Why not wait for those $69 or so Jet Blue fares and just buy a ticket?

  • JPainis

    Since you’re going to be flying or staying in hotels anyways, there is no downside to just collecting them and using them. But just don’t get into unnecessary credit card deals or third-party websites.

  • Londoner1936

    The easiest ones to earn are those that come with opening a new affiliated credit card;  use the miles and then close the card account.   It works, I have done it.

  • lorcha

    I had the exact same reaction to points.com: stratospheric transaction fees. 

    Even in the case where you just need a few thousand more points to get to a certain level, most loyalty programs will let you purchase some points to get you over the threshold. No reason to pay $100 to points.com. 

  • tracy freeman

    In the past year I have used Starwood points to help my daughter stay at the Westin on Kaanapali Beach for $90 a night for her honeymoon & they upgraded them to a partial ocean view, used miles to fly to Maui for my husband and I in March (economy not coach but still the total charge was $20) and am flying my kids and their spouse/friends to Montana in August for free when the tickets would have cost a total of $2400. All of these trips were in peak season. So am I a fan – yes.

    I won’t pay extra to fly my chosen airline but it is usually competitive enough that it doesn’t matter. 

  • john4868

    My business uses a mileage card for most of our purchases. I haven’t purchased an airline ticket in over a year for anyone traveling with our business and I’m a 1K with UA for something I had to do anyway

    I think its worth it.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I’m one of those “small town flyers” and my airport choice is Tucson, period.  The airline with the most flights out is Delta so I usually end up on them.  Thus, I belong to SkyMiles and have gotten free tickets and upgrades along the way.

    IMHO, it’s worth the extra $20 or so to keep with one program to rack up the points.  I generally fly back east and will gain 3,000 to 5,000 points each time I fly so I get the perks quite a bit – probably more so than a tourist traveler.

    But – you are absolutely correct – some people benefit financially from using different airlines at different times.  Southwest is a huge carrier out of Tucson but, until they merged with AirTran, I was excruciatingly limited as to where I could fly on them so…  No Southwest.  But my husband, who routinely flies to the places SW goes LOVES them.  For me, flying on SW was more expensive than other airlines.  For him, it wasn’t.

    In the end, I believe it’s a matter of preference.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Marriott is the BEST!  My husband and I use them for free rooms four or five times a year.  And we get 200 points every time as a bonus for his being Platinum.

  • TonyA_says

    Just a quick observation. The question asked by the poll is whether airline points or miles are worth collecting. Since you really don’t pay anything to EARN them, then the answer is simple – YES! But the whole story is about someone paying to move points or miles between frequent flier programs. For me, that’s a whole different topic.

  • TonyA_says

    Maybe just doing some grocery shopping on the loyalty credit card might solve the problem.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Unless a person is using 15+ trips a year for air, car, hotel, or whatever else there is in travel, it is a waste of effort. The United card promises free luggage if you use it on United, but not if you are on Delta. These cards cost an anual fee. Points are good for 1-5 years depending of company or status. I donated over 1 million points two years ago to families with spouses in the military to visit. I through away all of my pay-for airline cards and went to a 2% cash rebate card. I get more $$$ back and can afford to buy my supersavers instead of using 2 or 3x’s the base amout of miles to travel. I get my miles still, but give them away every 50000 and get to deduct them as charity. Airlines never have seats available to the popular destinations for their advertised 25000 miles, so I plan ahead and buy cheap. Upgrading for the huge traveler using the same airlines, is well worth the extra perks. Don’t get conned into Frequent anything by the 1-2 trip a year traveler.

  • lorcha

    If you’ve got plenty of time, that’s a decent option. Problem is that points are not typically credited to your account until after the credit card statement has been generated and payment has been posted. So if you are toward the beginning of your billing cycle, it could be a good 30-45 days until those “grocery store” points are ready for redemption.

    Personally, I only use cash rewards cards, not points/miles. The problem with points cards is I often encounter difficulties in redeeming those points. Cash, on the other hand, I’ve never had any trouble figuring out how to spend!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/AKQHYTOIEP2C3DBOZEPWVMYU54 Burt

    Frequent flyer awards are especially useful if you accumulate enough for international business class.  These international  awards are much more valuable than 2 cents per mile. 
    It is especially helpful in collecting points to sign up for credit cards that are being pushes with 40000 miles and more just for signing up. And first year is free so cancelling before fees are charged makes sense.

  • Chasmosaur

    I’ll concur.  I don’t know we’ve ever used my husband’s Delta points, but Marriott has been generally awesome about my husband’s loyalty status.  We haven’t paid for a holiday-time hotel stay in years, and frequently get upgraded gratis.

  • Chasmosaur

    I’m sort-of small town – I have to fly out of Minneapolis/St. Paul.  So not a small town, but since MSP used to be NWA’s HQ before the merger, the airport is estimated to be about 85% Delta.  So there are some other airlines, but the times and connections are nowhere as good as Delta flights, so we are Delta flyers.

    We use points not for free flights but upgrades (not as many as we used to since my husband is Gold and we get them on occasion) and the Sky Club fees.  The latter makes the points worth it – the Sky Club makes layovers highly tolerable.

  • TonyA_says

    I used to live in Memphis when I worked for FedEx. It was a NWA small hub (unlike DTW), too. Back then, either I jump seat in the cockpit or I fly NW commercial. Now I live in the NYC metro area, and Delta has become the de facto giant here, I still use my old NW converted to DL Skymiles card. My favorite destinations are Asia, Italy and France – all three dominated by Skyteam from the USA. Flying to Asia, I shop around for a better airline so I’ll try to keep my Cathay Pacific Marco Polo as long as I can.

    Upgrading International on Delta Skymiles is too expensive for me since I need to start with an M class ticket. On the other hand, getting award tickets are very difficult with Delta (or with Skyteam for that matter) unless you are willing to travel when they want you to travel. Fortunately, Delta Skymiles do not expire.

    Since I am not (or no longer) a road warrior (thank goodness), then this whole mileage game has become irrelevant to me. When I travel or when I create travel plans for other people, I now concentrate on de-risking an air itinerary.

  • TonyA_says

    One exception, if you have a family traveling to Asia, then some Asian carriers allow you to pool your miles together. Since you can easily make 12-15K miles roundtrip to Asia, then if you pool miles, it is easy to get that FREE trip.

  • http://www.ultimateselfrealization.com/ Sankarshan Das Adhikari

    Frequent flier miles cost more than 1 cent each.  The normal price for AA; miles is $165 for 6000 miles.  That is 2.75 cents per mile. Plus you pay a processing fee as well. So $100 for 6,000 miles, which is1.6 cents per mile, isn’t that bad of a deal.

  • mbgaskins


    My wife and I fly to Hawaii first class every other year on nothing more than points. The miles don’t expere until 18 months after my last flight. Fees? No fees to do this. We also use hotel points for two weeks for ocean front rooms. Cost? Zero.

    How can it not be worth it?  We get to go to Hawaii every two yeats in first class and spend two weeks in an oceanfront room at a 5 star hotel for no cash outlay.

    I am loyal to one hotel and always stay there when I can.  They are always competitive with any other similar hotel. I always fly one airline but always check others to make sure the fare is not out of line. Most of the time they are always within $20-$30 of each other. If not I might have to fly the other airline. Worth the extra cost? By being a premium in both I get better treatment for problems happen.  Well worth what little cost premium I pay. I flight problem could save me thousands in time and costs if not taken care of.

    One time I had a flight and made the first leg just fine. Second leg was cancelled, due to weather, and the alternative flights would have gotten me in mising the first of a two day conference. Airline was able to get me on a flight back home, saving me a night in a hotel AND they refuned my entire fare within 24 Hours without asking. While I didn’t get to attend the conference, I got a credit since the airline couldn’t get me there in time, was able to spend three productive days in the office instead of just flying back and forth for nothing, and got all of my fare and hotels refunded.  Would that have happened without being a loyalty program member? Dont’ think so.

  • TonyA_says

    Isn’t that comparing apples to oranges? It’s true I often read that flyertalk folks put the cost of FF miles at about 3 cents/mile. But the OP was NOT BUYING miles. He was merely MOVING them.

    If he was going to lose them or he deemed his AAdvantage miles has ZERO value, then sure the out-of-pocket cost to move was cheaper than to buy points. But that’s also assuming he can get something out of his points from Jet Blue, He needs to know if he could get more for his money since they sell some routes pretty cheap (less than $100).

  • john4868

    The annual fee that I pay on my Delta AMEX card (yea got more than 1 Airline mile card) is paid for on the first DL trip I take where I check a bag.

    I collected enough miles on my UA (then CO) card to pay for 4 first class and 2 coach class round trip tickets to Europe plus multiple domestic tickets. Almost any of those tickets were worth more than the 2% in cash that I would have received for the miles burned.

    Oh and I scored 5 round trip tix to Orlando in July at the bottom cost and 5 additional round trip tix just after christmas (outbound at lowest cost return at high) this year. All due to miles or benefits from a card.

  • TonyA_says

    I don’t think moving 6,000 points for $100 is worth it.
    You can buy a BOS-JFK on Jet Blue for $77 or  5,000 True Blue Points + $2.50 security fee. So your True Blue points was effective worth $0.0159 each. Why not just pay Jet Blue $77 and pocket the $23? He is paying points dotcom about 1.67 cents/mi just to MOVE it. Why?

  • $16635417

    Agreed..and If you live in a small town. (Think about my GFK example and bereavement fares a couple weeks ago) your choice is also dictated to a degree by who serves there rather than a loyalty club.

    Now…for itinerary planning…I agree that “de-risking” is a sound approach…and if you are flying them anyway go ahead and join. 

    My wife has 2500 miles in AA, that’s it, and they are expiring next week. She is getting a one year subscription to Time and Entertainment Weekly before they disappear. :) 

  • Joe Farrell

    I only have 583 american airlines FFB miles left.

    I STILL have a letter I got  from American during the TWA merger that said that of all my points – 68750 to be exact –  would not EVER have an expiration date.

    I accrued more miles-  and then used them to get a 25000 mile tickets and upgrades.  Leaving me 583 FFB miles that are tracking using an old system they had showing where the miles come from were used.

    I got an email about 5 months ago from AA saying that my miles were going to be reduced to zero.  I sent them back the records and their promise telling me the miles would never expire.

    After some back and forth – they said that it did not matter – that they had canceled my miles for inactivity despite saying that they would never expire.

    I filed an objection and a claim in their bankruptcy proceeding.  The bankruptcy law firm said that FFB were not part of the bankruptcy and moved to dismiss my claim.  I then filed a motion for relief from the stay so I sue American for breaching their promise to me.

    Their corporate response was that there was no consideration for their promise to have non-cancellable miles and thus it was not valid.   My motion is still pending – but it has to have cost $3000 at least in attorneys fees and the time of executives and lawyers to come up with a challenge to my claim.

    So folks, remember the miles belong to them and they will do what they can to do things their way.  Airlines will tell you one thing and then do as they please and argue that you never contracted with them to get their unilateral promise . ..  I am so glad that I can avoid US airlines in most cases.  I have also stopped playing the FFB game and have converted my credit cards to cash back – its just easier.

  • djp98374

    Price comes first when I am looking at airline travel. I have loyalty with united, delta, and southwest. I don’t have much with American.

    If I am close to some sort of reward status I may choose that airline over another if the price is within reason.

    I live on the west coast and have family on the east oats so I travel 4 times cross country each year. I’ll do 2-3 shorter weekend getaway travel.

    Sometimes I travel for work.

    Price is by far the bigger factor.

    For example I’m in the low 20s with Alaska so I know after another cross country flight with them I could get over 25000…thus a potential free trip someplace else.

    Hotels are different…the reward offer is what drives me. Some places may offer stay 2 or 3 times you get a free night stay. Others offer a $50 gift card and I’m like….whatever.

  • TonyA_says

    I like those hotel offers, extra day free. In reality I am much more loyal to a particular hotel than I am to any airline. It’s hard to give up a hotel’s location, safety and cleanliness for almost anything else. While I will fly almost any SAFE airline, I am quite picky about beds and bathrooms. Nothing destroys my vacation more than a rotten hotel (points or no points).

  • Extramail

    I find it interesting that several folks like the hotel loyalty programs. I’m not sure how to calculate value for hotel reward programs like you can airfare miles but I do know that the year we got transferred and managed to stay at a Hilton property for a total of 179 nights one year (at approximately $139 per), we only received enough “loyalty” miles to receive 10 free nights. we did manage to use one of those nights in a college football city for a game but, other than that, not real impressed with the hotel loyalty program.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UES4TUPI6NRPTG2DCB4YCX6R4U wyoming1949

    I suspect most airline frequent flyer programs could not exist if they were subject to state consumer fraud laws–which they are NOT.  I can’t help but think that there are either a lot of naive or masochistic people who are the main support of frequent flyer programs.  Booking a FC seat with points is essentially a roll of the dice.  If there is an involuntary denied boarding situation, do you get your points back, or do you get s*****d?  What happens if an off-duty crew member wants your seat?  “Move to coach or I’ll have you arrested!”  What about the possibility of being pulled-off the plane so a super elite customer can have (steal?) your seat.  Then there are all the “fees” associated with using points.  Air travel, using points, is anything but free!  One benefit to frequent flier points is that some programs allow you to transfer points to a hotel’s “frequent stay” program.  Another good point allows discounts, or free memberships, in your airline’s “airport club” network.  The latter is probably ok assuming the given airport club isn’t staffed with former burnt-out flight attendants!

  • Nigel Appleby

    In my opinion, any rewards which can be collected because you would use the store, hotel chain, airline or anything else anyway because of location or pricing are worth collecting. We tend to use Best Western Hotels, which started nearly 20 years ago because our travel agent booked us into one in Seattle which had a stay and fly deal – free parking for 7 days and they their shuttle took you to and from the airport. So I joined Best Western rewards and since then have had several free nights including 3 in Europe. Unfortunately there is now a charge for the parking but it’s less than Park and Ride.
    I also have a MasterCard which gives me cash back and I use it for everything.
    So it is possible to benefit, but like eveything else it’s buyer beware.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I”m guessing by your questions that you don’t participate in programs,  but to answer your questions.  Booking a FC ticket is not a roll of the dice.  If you book a FC ticket it is treated the same as a paid ticket wit full IDB compensation.  A crew member can take your seat in the same way as with cash, i.e. if they are contractually entitled to be in first.  Super elites have no ability to “steal” your seat.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UES4TUPI6NRPTG2DCB4YCX6R4U wyoming1949

    @Carver Clark Farrow II:  “… if they (crew members) are contractually entitled to be in first…”  Since there is nothing in the Contract of Carriage which specifically refers to an off-duty crew member being allowed to steal your seat I must assume your usage of the word “contractually” refers to the collective bargaining agreement between the crew members’ union and management.  Last time I checked no airline (where crew members are organized, and FC service is offered) has displayed this agreement on its website.  Thus, we are back to a “roll of the dice.”  I could be seated, in my FC seat–paid for with points–and an arrogant bully off-duty crew member can order me into coach with a threat of arrest.  Again, for those who can’t kick their addiction to frequent flier programs they would be better-off if they confined their point usage to “ground” rewards–like airline club memberships or transfers to hotel reward programs. Accordingly, all of my FC trips have been paid for with cash, not points.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/27EV3E3OHWN2S2G6PNHHVFFTVU Goodidea

    ‘doesn’t seem fair to Jet Blue and i see their prices climbing.  points.com should not be able to ruin another airlines’ business;  i use jet blue card therefore get jet blue points for jet blue flights because i liked their service and their prices…….seems like that is bring ruined for people like me who are loyal and do fly etc with one good airline who use to be able tokeep their pirces down. why should one airline bear the brunt of no cash in? there goes the private airline business….going to the way of the pale and non unique. you can’t have it all! too bad some want it all, it ruins it for the sane.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/27EV3E3OHWN2S2G6PNHHVFFTVU Goodidea

    gee, why don’t we just get everything for free?!!!!!! 

    People OWN that stuff and they are in business to serve and make money for their families too you know!  geezze.  what selfishness this world is ciming to.  i thought everyone was against slavery?!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/27EV3E3OHWN2S2G6PNHHVFFTVU Goodidea

    good grief…….your airline is lousy apparently.  i’ve never had trouble, except on southwest when they purchased from air West.  that was a long long time ago.  no wonder this guy switched to Jet Blue.  again…………..you shouldn’t be allowed to ‘have it all’.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/27EV3E3OHWN2S2G6PNHHVFFTVU Goodidea

    yeah……….because crew members are usually ‘big bullies’.  (NOT)…………  ‘good grief’

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/27EV3E3OHWN2S2G6PNHHVFFTVU Goodidea

    all that fuss over 583 miles…………good grief, your pathetic.

  • Ed B

    wow.  valid case for need for medical marijuana in your state…