Targeted reward offers: What to do when they go bad


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I have a Citi American AAdvantage card and received an offer a few months ago that said I would get 10 times the usual number of American miles if I used the card with Apple Pay for dining, shopping, groceries and travel, up to 2,500 bonus miles. I enrolled in October, then used the card more than usual to get these extra bonus miles. I checked my statements and there were no bonus miles credited.

When I called the bank, the representative told me that the program had been canceled because of an issue with the airline, after the promotions had been sent out and even after people like me were enrolled, but no one was notified. They offered me 1,000 miles "for my troubles," and I accepted, but it seems to me the bank is collecting merchant fees and possibly interest based on false promises to customers that they will be getting bonus miles. Does this violate any security or banking laws? -- Steve

Answer Dear Steve,
In the world of reward credit cards, these are known as targeted offers. You often don't read about them, for the simple reason that if you don't receive the offer, you probably don't know about it. But if you receive one, it can be worth checking out the details and perhaps shifting spending onto a certain card for the purpose of collecting reward miles or points. 

Often, banks make offers available to existing customers to incentivize them to spend more money on their cards. As you note, when you spend more on a card, the bank makes more money, through transaction fees and perhaps interest and late fees, if you don't pay off your balance every month.

If you have multiple reward cards, there is probably one that you seldom use. The issuer of that card would probably like you to use it more. And it probably worries that you will eventually cancel that seldom-used card. Finding new customers can be expensive, so if there is a way to hang onto existing customers, banks tend to prefer that approach. That's where these targeted offers come in. Sometimes these offers come in the mail or via email. Sometimes you have to register for the offer, and others you don't. 

In your case, it sounds as if Citi, perhaps in conjunction with Apple, wanted certain card customers to try out Apple Pay, Apple's mobile payment platform, and it was willing to pay a hefty bonus in American miles to make that happen.

For some reason, though, your miles didn't post. From your description of your conversation with the bank, I can understand your frustration. If somebody makes an offer and you accept it, you expect that deal to be honored. 

I shared your experience with Citi's public relations department and asked for an explanation.

By email, Citi spokeswoman Jennifer Bombardier said: "I can confirm that this targeted offer of 10 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent when using Apple Pay for eligible purchases with select Citi AAdvantage credit cards is still valid for those who received the offer directly from Citi through Dec. 31, 2015." 

She offered to follow up with you directly to help resolve the situation. When I then emailed you to ask permission to share your contact information with her, you said you had checked your most recent statement and that the full 2,500 miles had been credited.

I can't tell exactly what happened, but it now sounds as though there was some breakdown in communication somewhere along the way. However, you did receive the miles you were owed -- after apparently several weeks and a frustrating phone call. 

A few general points to keep in mind on targeted offers:

1. Keep a record. If you accept an offer, hang onto the details by saving the email or letter or by taking a screen shot. That way, if there is any doubt later about the offer -- or if you forget exactly what it is -- you will have a paper trail. 

2. Expect delays. Even in today's automated and digitized world, the rewards can sometimes take weeks to post on your account. Sometimes the offers will say how many weeks or how many billing statements.

3. Complain if necessary. If the results don't post, call the issuing bank. They will typically be accommodating. If you are not satisfied with their response, you always have the option of filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or federal bank regulators.

See related: Travel cards' best sign-up point offers require excellent credit, Weighing rewards cards in aftermath of airline changes

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Published: December 29, 2015

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