Reward Card Challenges
Today, there are rewards credit cards for just about anything. Just by using your card you can earn cash or discounts for buying books, gas, cars, toys, pet supplies, crafts, trips, coffee, etc.
But sometimes, consumers have complained that these cards are just not very rewarding. Cardweb.com, a Web site that monitors the credit-card industry, reports on a new survey by Disney Rewards Visa (another rewards program, of course), which found that while 41 percent of moms have rewards credit cards, 53 percent of this group have not redeemed their points. Why? The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that many were frustrated by the restrictions their card carries while one-third were unsure of the rewards that their credit card offers.
Consumer advocates have long complained that credit-card companies have made it difficult to redeem the rewards--that the burden is usually on the cardholder to request the reward. So, recently, some cards have been automatically granting the rewards when the credit-card holder reaches the requisite number of "reward" points. That's supposed to be one of the benefits of the new American Express Clear card; cardholders get an Amex shopping card worth $25 for every $2,500 of eligible spending. As the card's Web site says: "Cardmembers will enjoy a nice surprise when they open their mailbox and find their shopping card has arrived." That's also the principle behind Amazon's Visa card. A $25 Amazon gift cerfiticate is automatically sent to cardmembers once they reach 2,500 points.
Sounds great. But does it work? That's what Washington Post reporter Chris Lee asked in a recent e-mail:
"Here's a pet peeve of mine. Perhaps some of your readers share it. It's about credit card companies who hook you with a promotional feature of their card -- and then fail to follow through on the promotion. In my case, I signed up several years ago for a major credit card offered through Amazon.com. The hook was that every time you spent a total of $2,500 on the card, they would ship you a voucher for $25 to be used on Amazon.com. At first, the vouchers came like clockwork. But in the last year or two, they've been as scarce as the ivory-billed woodpecker. I've repeatedly hit the $2,500 mark and not received a voucher. When I've called the credit card company to inquire, they unfailingly say that their records show that the vouchers went out. They've got my correct address, so missed mail isn't the issue. Strangely, in this world where retailers love to do everything online, neither Amazon.com or the credit card company would agree to my request that they simply send me an e-mail with a promotional code good for $25 at Amazon.com whenever I hit the magic $2,500 mark. It's no surprise I guess. While they want to make it easy for me to spend my money, they'd like to make it hard for me to spend their money. I signed up for the card because the voucher hook sounded like a good deal. Now I just feel frustrated."
Lee said he's had to call about five times to report a missing voucher, and "only once did a promised voucher actually show up as a result." He called again earlier this month when the voucher promised in his statement in May or June never arrived. "Weirdly, the credit card company rep. transferred me to an Amazon.com rep, who seemed to think I was calling about a purchase I had made. He kept asking for my order number. I explained the situation and he said they would look into it and get back within a day or two."
Eventually, Lee heard from Amazon, with this e-mail response: "Thanks for writing to us at Amazon.com. The Amazon.com card is issued by Chase for Amazon.com customers. When you use your Amazon.com card, you receive 3 reward points per dollar for almost all Amazon.com purchases (except for items sold by Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, Spiegel, Ultimate Outlet, Borders, Waldenbooks, and Newport News, for which you'll receive 1 reward point per dollar) and 1 reward point per dollar for all other purchases..." The e-mail went on to describe the card but not address Lee's specific problem.
So Lee again called Chase, the issuer of the Amazon card. He finally found a slightly more helpful representative who promised to "refund" his points and then send out another $25 voucher. "I'll believe it when I see it," Lee said. Meanwhile he asks, have other readers had similar problems? Speak up now--one way or the other--and give any tips to make the redemption process easier.
I have one tip--based on Chase's in response to Lee's problems. Chase spokeswoman Jessica Iben said Amazon's reward certificates come in unmarked envelopes for security purposes. Lee said he doesn't understand the reason for that, since his credit-card bill--"loaded with security-sensitive information--comes in a recognizable envelope." Even so, that means you need to open all your mail, even letters you think are junk.
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