How to salvage points earned on a failing business's corporate card
With a little bit of planning, you can make sure that points survive, even if the company does not
By Tony Mecia
Dear Cashing In,
I have an American Express card that was issued as a corporate card with my name on it. I am also the guarantor of the card. The card is current with its balance and will continue to be paid in full. Often, charges were made on the card that were for non-company expenses, and paid by sources other than the company.
This card in my name has a substantial number of Membership Rewards points associated with it. The company is considering closing its doors and may file for bankruptcy protection. If the company was to file bankruptcy, does a court-appointed trustee have any claim rights to the reward points as an asset of the company or do they remain my personal asset? -- Howard
As you have found out, business cards can be an important source of reward points. You can put business expenses on a card, and the points stay with you as an individual and are not subject to any tax. It is a nice benefit.
But when things are starting to go sour with the company, as it sounds like here, you're going to want to proceed with caution.
In your case, I would not worry as much about a trustee seizing your Membership Reward points. American Express explicitly states that reward points are not the property of the person or entity that earns them.
The bigger fear here is that even though you'll continue to make payments on the card, a corporate bankruptcy filing would allow American Express to freeze and maybe even cancel the card -- and revoke your access to the points.
I put your question to American Express spokeswoman Melissa Banas, who replied in an email: "If you are a Corporate Card Member with only a Corporate Card enrolled in the Membership Rewards program and your ability to make charges on the Corporate Card is suspended for any reason (including bankruptcy or insolvency of your employer), your ability to use Membership Rewards points in your program account will also be suspended."
Since you have the benefit of foresight in this instance, you have a couple of options if your only source of points is that corporate card. Banas says that if you have an American Express consumer card linked to the same Membership Rewards account, your points will be safe.
Therefore, you might consider opening a no-fee American Express card that earns Membership Rewards, such as the AmEx EveryDay credit card. Link that account to your corporate card Membership Rewards account (by using the same Membership Rewards information for it), and you should be fine.
If you don't want to do that, another option is simply transferring the Membership Rewards points into a travel partner, such as an airline, before the company files for bankruptcy protection. American Express has more than a dozen airline partners. In the U.S., your best bets might be to transfer to Delta or to British Airways. That might sound odd, but you can use British Airways miles to fly on American Airlines with a pretty good distance-based reward chart that starts at just 4,000 frequent flier miles one way for flights of less than 650 miles.
You should consider one of these approaches. It is possible that American Express wouldn't freeze your corporate card with a bankruptcy filing. But if you can take a couple simple steps to ensure that your points survive, that would be sensible.
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Published: May 26, 2015
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