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Frequent Flyer Miles & Credit Cards: A Cautionary Tale

Frequent Flyer Miles & Credit Cards: A Cautionary Tale

As I’ve alluded to a few times, I’m a big fan of frequent flyer miles and points as a way to reduce travel costs.  My family has used miles and points over the past 4-5 years to fund a reasonable amount of our travel.  The biggest way we earn points is through credit card signup bonus offers (here are a few posts about cards I’ve gotten in recent years).

I don’t blog about miles and points because there are plenty of experts in that crowded field already.  And frankly, I’m not really one of them.  My husband and I are incredibly financially conservative, and we don’t apply for dozens of credit cards just for signup bonuses and the like.  We probably average 2-3 new cards per person per year.  This is child’s play in the real credit card game.  We don’t keep up with every single trick, hack, or deal.  We do what works for us, and we are happy with that.

But fellow blogger Dia over at The Deal Mommy encouraged me to share a miles and points personal story as a cautionary tale to others.  So I’m breaking with my usual practice of not blogging much about miles and points to share just that.

Confession time.

I missed a credit card payment due date on a travel rewards card.  (Gasp!)

I’m 35 years old, and have never missed a credit card payment in my life.  No one in our family has ever carried a balance on a credit card.  We pay our cards in full each month.  I’m also insanely organized.  And last month, even I slipped up.

How did this happen?  Easy.  I have had the Marriott Rewards Premier Card from Chase for several years.  We have decided that it makes sense to keep the card and pay the annual fee for the annual benefit of a free hotel night (the card comes with 1 free night in a Category 1-5 hotel annually).  We also stay in Marriott hotels a few times a year, so earning 5x Marriott points on all our Marriott spending is nice too.  We’ve enjoyed using our Marriott points for a few free nights in the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe each winter during ski season.

We don’t use this card for any other purchases except Marriott spending.  Most months, this means I don’t have a bill to pay on that card.  For whatever reason, one of us put a small purchase on the card over the summer when we were doing a lot of travel and were quite busy.  I didn’t notice it and simply missed the bill pay window.  I spotted it only when an email alert came through that my account was past due.  Talk about a heart-drop moment.

I called Chase and the representative looked at my long history with them.  She quickly realized this was indeed just a harmless error by someone who was a very good and normally fastidious customer.  She agreed to waive the fees and I got the account back in good standing.  There is probably no harm done either to my credit file (most credit card companies don’t report late payments to credit bureaus until a bit of a grace period has passed, but you can’t count on this!).

Sure, it’s not a big mistake or even one that is likely to have any real consequences.  But it just goes to show how easy it is to slip up when playing the travel hacking game.  It can happen to you — even if you have systems in place to prevent it, even if you pride yourself on being incredibly organized, and even if you play the game conservatively and aren’t tracking a ton of cards.  This one minor misstep isn’t going to slow me down, but I’m definitely going to double and triple check things more often.  And I’m even implementing some additional auto-pay safeguards to prevent this from happening again.

It is heartening to see so many in the frequent flyer community blowing the whistle of caution about credit cards from different perspectives in recent months.  My little misstep is only one of most minor of things that can happen to people in this hobby.  Many can get in over their heads with credit cards very easily – spending more than they should and spending more than they can ever pay back.  Tread carefully.  Here are a few examples of cautionary messages from others of late:

Have you had any minor (or major) missteps in your travel hacking hobby?  Please share so others can learn from all of our mistakes.

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