Ben Neumann’s hard-earned family vacation ended with him angry and disappointed — so disappointed that he wants his 173,116 Chase Ultimate Rewards points refunded.
Is that allowed? No it isn’t — but when has that ever stopped our advocacy team from trying?
Warning: If you’re a rules-are-rules kind of reader, you probably will hate this case. But when I heard from Neumann, I wanted to help him immediately. He put his faith in his credit card rewards during a trying time in his life and ran afoul of program and airline rules that cost him thousands of dollars when he could least afford it.
I had to do something for him.
We’ve had a moratorium on credit card reward cases for years, but Neumann’s problem convinced me to lift it. So if you’ve been ripped off or hoodwinked by your credit card rewards, contact us. We’ll be happy to help if we can.
A COVID scare and a canceled flight
Neumann is a public education administrator. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and their two-year-old son. They’ve been collecting Chase Sapphire points for years, hoping to take a vacation together. Finally, this spring, his family in New York offered to take their son so Neumann and his wife could have some time together. They decided to spend their points to fly from San Francisco to New York, drop off the boy, and then continue to Stockholm.
“Two days before our flight, we found out that the family members we stayed with tested positive for COVID,” says Neumann. “At the same time, our two-year-old son got extremely sick — 103.5 fever, constant vomiting — which we assumed was COVID. For very obvious reasons, we canceled our flight, both to ensure that we would not potentially infect countless travelers and airline employees, but also to take care of our son, who was very sick at that time.”
It turns out none of the Neumanns had COVID, so they could travel to Sweden after all. But by then, KLM had already canceled their flights. Neumann spent hours trying to rebook the tickets through Chase, without success.
“We figured that our vacation dreams were over, and we were both pretty depressed,” says Neumann. “We specifically used Chase Sapphire points to book this trip because we have no accessible money in our accounts to pay for a flight.”
But the Neumanns decided that this setback wouldn’t end their vacation. Even though they didn’t have the money, they decided to book new flights to Stockholm.They put the purchase on their Chase credit card and decided to pay it back over time, even though they would incur late fees and interest. Ironically, they were on the same flight they would have been on if they hadn’t canceled.
“I decided that what Chase did was completely wrong and would request our points refunded,” he says.
Chase: “We cannot honor your request”
When the Neumanns returned from Sweden, that’s exactly what they did.
Here’s the response from Chase:
We cannot honor your request for additional points
Dear Benjamin Neumann:
We are responding to your complaint about Chase travel booking for your credit card account. We appreciate the opportunity to assist you.
We reviewed your account and confirmed no bank errors occurred. We cannot honor your request for a refund. The booking was non-refundable; however, you received a travel credit that is valid until June 1, 2023.
We also reviewed the calls that took place and found no errors. The reservation was canceled on June 25, 2022. Unfortunately, we were not able to rebook the preferred flight for you.
The airlines control pricing and availability for new bookings and rebooking flights using travel credit. Flights listed online are for new bookings and will not always have the same availability as flights booked with travel credits.
We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused.
Neumann says he’s unlikely to ever use a KLM flight credit.
A very special case for a Chase points refund
You’re probably wondering about the sense of urgency that made them rebook their flight so quickly. Why spend money they didn’t have? And why would they never be able to use KLM’s flight credit?
Neumann’s wife has Stage 4 cancer.
“It has metastasized to bones throughout her body, particularly her back and spine,” says Neumann. “That has resulted in three major back surgeries this year alone — and indescribable pain.”
Neumann told me the pain is worse when she sits upright. So flying feels like “borderline torture.” They had been in New York to see her oncologist. Her current chemotherapy regimen requires her to get an infusion at the beginning of every month, so they don’t have a lot of flexibility in their schedules.
“The side effects of these chemotherapy treatments are horrific,” he says. “They include constant bouts of nausea and fatigue. My wife’s doctors suggest that she not engage in rigorous activity for at least one week, and we have discovered that the side effects sometimes last longer than that.”
So they only had a one-week window to go on a long-anticipated vacation.
Can you get a refund for your Chase Ultimate Rewards points?
Are Chase Ultimate Rewards points refundable? Sometimes.
Chase’s terms and conditions are a little complicated. The company has its own program rules, but it also relies on the refund rules of its partners to determine what is — and isn’t — refundable.
Like airlines, Chase Ultimate Rewards gives you 24 hours to cancel and receive a full refund of your points. But after that, Chase transfers the points to the travel company. That’s an irreversible transaction and can’t be canceled, according to its terms. After that, you are at the mercy of the travel provider’s cancellation terms.
As the terms note,
Returns and point refunds are subject to the policies of the third party.
Any additional terms, conditions, disclosures or agreements provided by us or the third party related to the use of points will be part of this agreement.
So ultimately, your travel provider says whether the points are refundable. During the pandemic, Chase had an entire portal (now closed) for points refunds. Chase Ultimate Rewards points don’t expire, but if you close your account, or if your account is closed for some reason, you will forfeit the rewards.
If your Chase Ultimate Rewards are refundable, you should receive them back to your account within seven days. Otherwise, you can expect to receive a “Sorry, can’t do it” letter like Neumanns.
So as you can imagine, booking travel through a credit card portal can be problematic. The strict “no refunds” rule means that if you run into problems, you may be out of luck. You don’t have to look too far to find someone online who booked a hotel with Chase Ultimate Rewards, only to discover that the hotel was closed. And Chase just quoted its policy: Once the rewards are transferred, they’re gone.
How to get your Chase Ultimate Reward points back even when it’s against the rules
Let’s take a step back from this case. You’ve spent years paying for everything with your Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Now, for some reason, you want a refund for a travel purchase made through Chase Travel — and it’s saying “no.”
Is there a way to turn the “no” into a “yes”? Maybe. Here are a few strategies.
Go through channels and start a paper trail
You need to do your due diligence when you’re trying to get an exception to Chase’s rules. I describe the process of creating a paper trail in my complete guide to fixing any consumer problem.
Contact the travel company and repeat
Start another paper trail (I know, so much bureaucracy!) and allow the airline, car rental company or hotel to respond. Get the response in writing.
Appeal to a Chase executive
I list the name, number and email address of every Chase customer service executive on this site. A brief, polite email to one of them might convince them to make an exception to their rules.
Appeal to the company
If Chase doesn’t see things your way, try contacting one of the customer service executives at the travel company. Here’s our database.
Ask Expedia to intervene
It’s not just the travel company where you can apply pressure. In 2018, Chase partnered with Expedia to offer fulfillment for its rewards program. And that means you have another place to appeal your case: Expedia’s executive contacts.
Why I have mixed feelings about this Chase Ultimate Rewards points case
I empathize with the Neumanns. The trip to Stockholm may have been their last vacation together. Chase failed to offer them compassionate customer service when they needed it the most. Reading the messages between the company and Newmann is almost too much for me to bear.
But I have mixed feelings about this case. While Neumann absolutely deserves a waiver of Chase and KLM’s rules on medical grounds, I’m concerned about two things. First, if I help him, other needy cases will come forward, asking for assistance with a refund. Our small nonprofit doesn’t have the resources to handle a deluge of Chase Ultimate Rewards points refunds.
I wonder if Neumann could have avoided this by using a cash-back card or another payment method or just saving his money for a vacation. I’m on the record as being a rewards program skeptic, and I find it agonizing when people put their faith in a credit card and then end up as the Neumanns did.
Worse, there’s no enforcement agency to appeal a problem like this. The federal government doesn’t regulate credit card rewards in a meaningful way. You can try appealing to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but I’ve never seen it take any major action on credit card rewards. Maybe that’s because credit card rewards are so complicated that even the government doesn’t fully understand them.
Here’s what happened to the Neumanns’ 173,116 Chase Ultimate Rewards points
I contacted Chase on behalf of the Neumanns. I noted that the terms were clear — that he does not deserve a refund of his points — but I thought that his wife’s medical condition might merit a second look at this case.
In response, a manager called Neumann.
“He said that he will absolutely refund our Chase points,” Neumann told me. “I honestly can’t thank you enough for helping us cut through the bureaucratic maze. We have been through so much that this treatment by Chase felt humiliating and dehumanizing. Talking to the manager reminded me that there are decent people who work for corporations.”
“Most importantly, I want to thank you again for the amazing service that you provide. Social media is a scourge in so many ways, but I would have never known about you had it not been for Facebook,” he added.
I’m glad Chase decided to refund the Neumanns’ 173,116 points — and I wish Ben and the family all the best.