They confiscated 201,780 points — can you help me get them back?

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Question: I recently applied and received a co-branded credit card from Chase and AARP. The card had in introductory offer of 5 percent for the first six months of card usage. I used the card and earned 201,780 points. Every single charge was legitimate and I have receipts. Furthermore, every single charge was authorized by Chase.

This week, I logged into my online account to find my account was closed and I would not be getting the points accrued the last fiscal month of activity. I called Chase and they told me because the card was not “used as intended” they had closed my account.

I have a personal checking account and a business account with Chase. My Chase bank manager tried to help and hit a brick wall, figuratively speaking. I also asked AARP to help me, but they haven’t been able to do anything either.
I believe Chase closed the account so they would not have to pay 201,000 points, which are worth about $2,000. I am consider taking this to court. Can you help me? — Robert Weisberg, Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Answer: Affinity cards like the one you used are a popular way to earn miles and points quickly. But you have to read the details before you take advantage of an offer: there’s lot of fine print that can foil your efforts.

One of the standard program rules that most cardholders aren’t aware of is that the points don’t belong to you, strictly speaking. They’re the property of the company issuing the card. Also, the contract says they can change the rules whenever they want to and for whatever reason.

When it comes to affinity cards, a bank will pay a travel company a penny or less per mile but will get a dollar or more of your purchase in exchange. That benefits the card issuer and to a lesser extent, you. But when you figure out a way to game the system — which it looks as if you did — then the company can simply pull the plug on your point-collecting efforts.

It shouldn’t be allowed to do that. But one reason the courts have been so reluctant to step in and tell a credit card company that it can’t, is that these programs are so complicated, only a select few experts can make sense of them. So, while you may have been able to sue Chase and AARP, it wouldn’t have set any precedents. You’d just be another cardholder who played the game and lost and persuaded a court to intervene.

Personally, I think these affinity cards are dangerous because of the way they influence your spending. I mean, would you have otherwise made enough purchases on your personal or business account to accumulate 201,780 points? You may have benefitted from that, but Chase and AARP probably benefited more.

I contacted Chase on your behalf. It declined to comment on your case, but contacted you cut you a check for $2,400, the approximate value of the points you lost.

Update: Since many of you have asked about the circumstances surrounding the suspension of Weisberg’s card, I’ve decided to publish a copy of the letter from AARP that explains Chase’s decision:

Your recent e-mail to the Association was forwarded to this office for response. The function of this department is to work as a liaison between our members and our providers. AARP Services, the wholly-owned subsidiary of AARP, is aware of the account closures, but due to federal privacy regulations we do not have access to the details surrounding the closures.

Chase has informed AARP Services that its closing of these accounts is within the guidelines of the AARP Rewards Program Rules and Regulations and the Card Member Agreement. Chase believes that its action therefore is valid.

These guidelines include but are not limited to the following:

• Ability to Earn and/or Redeem Rewards Earning Restrictions
• Program Restrictions
• Right to Change/Modify/Cancel

If you would like a more detailed explanation of the action taken on your account, please contact: Chase Lending Department at 1- 800-219-0015 These calls will now be routed directly to an advisor that deals with these types of accounts.

With all AARP programs, the AARP Board periodically reviews and re-examines the provider offering the service under the program. Generally speaking, there is only one provider per program at any given time. At this point in time, Chase is the provider that the board has selected to provide the AARP Credit Card.

When AARP establishes a relationship with a provider such as Chase, we work very hard to ensure that we are getting the best value for our members and that we are working with a reputable organization. We take seriously our commitment to the membership and make every effort to offer programs that will provide excellent service to our members while meeting their needs. Thank you for taking the time to inform us of your experience and for your membership with AARP.

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