Polite Complaint Letter Frees Customer From Capital One's Hassle-Filled Rewards Trap

It seems that you can’t turn on a television without hearing about Capital One’s “no-hassle” credit card rewards. Haim learned that these rewards actually are, um, sort of a hassle. He wanted to use his rewards points to pay for part of his vacation, and pay for the rest himself. This concept was too much for the nice folks at Capital one, and he hit a customer service roadblock. Haim then used his finely honed consumer skills to send an executive e-mail carpet bomb emphasizing what a great customer he’s been. It worked.

I have a capital one “no hassle” rewards card, and after 4 years of accumulating points, I wanted to use the 38,000 points I have to get at least some savings on a trip to Puerto Rico. It says in their rewards program, use 35,000 points for a trip up to $350 dollars. What it didn’t say is that if it is more than $350 you need to claim the next tier, which is 60,000 points. The rewards CSR said there was no way to pay for part of the trip. After talking to 4 different CSR supervisors, I got upset. I am not getting the consumer protection that comes with AMEX, and I now have to keep these useless points until I meet the stringent demands. I launched an EECB with the following letter:

To Whom it May Concern

I have been a capital one member in various forms since the age of 15 (10+ years). In the course of that time period, I have never missed a payment and have always payed my balance off in full. I have never called in to dispute a charge, or take part in any of the additional services you offer. In that process I have accumulated approximately 38,000 reward points.

I wanted to finally redeem these reward points on a trip over Christmas to Puerto Rico. Each ticket was $393, and wanted to use those points to pay it off. When I tried to redeem the points I was told that because the ticket was over $350 I had to earn 60,000 points. I will have to double my current rewards points status, for $44, instead of another $300. There is no way to partially pay for the ticket.

The way your rewards points work is very one sided for being “No Hassle Rewards. The example in my case is: use 35,000 points to redeem $150 – $350 on travel. If my hotel room was $151, I would have to use all 35,000 points. So the best case scenario is to use all $350 or loose $200 worth of points, which equates to over 35,000 reward points using your conversion methods for cash.

For a company to offer “No Hassle Rewards,” and to have a customer have to call the rewards department, speak to both a first responder, than a supervisor, hang up, call customer service, executive customer service, to only be told, we can’t do anything for your, is quite the hassle.

What I am asking, and I believe this is a fair request is to use 35,000 points to redeem my $350 worth of travel. I do not want to redeem all 35,000 points for a trivial $175, which is what I’m being offered. I’ve already explained this to the rewards department, as well as senior customer support, and both times I was told, those are terms you agreed to. If I can’t use those points for travel, my next suggestion was to take the $175, and be given a credit in the amount of $175 to equal the $350.

These are the charges in question:

OCT 29, 2010 CONTINENTAL HOUSTON TX Airfare $394.20
OCT 29, 2010 CONTINENTAL HOUSTON TX Airfare $394.20

If this can’t be done, I will want to terminate my relationship with Capital One. I will redeem the $175, and take my business elsewhere. I can’t have a credit card who wants my business, but does not in good faith try to help out its on time customers. I also want to stop other people from falling into this trap, so I will contact the necessary consumer action groups.

Thank you for listening,

Haim [redacted]

Well, it worked. I got a call the next morning from someone saying, that she could not just credit me the charge. However, she will raise my rewards points to 60,000 miles, and then apply them all to one of the tickets. This will take 5 business days. She said in the future, call this number, and someone in the executive office will help me.

Haim didn’t send us the special number that Capital One gave him, but that’s okay. If you’re having trouble with the company, you can learn how to send an executive e-mail carpet bomb of your own.


Edit Your Comment

  1. savashley says:

    Heyyy I’m going to Puerto Rico for Christmas too, maybe I’ll see ya there

  2. georgi55 says:

    I don’t get it, why do people fall for “miles” and “points” crap.

    “What I am asking, and I believe this is a fair request is to use 35,000 points to redeem my $350 worth of travel.”

    My VISA card give ms $25 CASH for 2500 points. 35000 points / 2500 points = 14 rewards x $25 = $350. So simple and I can redeem for cash at any multiples of 2500 points at any moment.

    • edman007 says:

      My Chase card isn’t too bad, I got points instead of cash back, but they let me just convert the points to cash (in the form of checking account deposits) at a rate that works out to a hair over 1% cash back (their cash back seems to be 1%, while the points are 1/$+10 and then convert to cash at 100/$), and since the miniumn I can do is $20 it isn’t hard at all to break my points into cash such that I never have more than 2,000 points on the card. As long as they let you convert points to cash at a rate that equals the cash back card I don’t see a problem, you can always just convert it all to cash and put the full price on the card and then apply the credit to the card to do a partial credit on something (plus they usually have things where 100 points is worth more than $1 for some stuff).

      • Starfury says:

        We have an Amazon Chase card (hate chase but love amazon) and get points. They used to just mail a $25 amazon gift certificate when you’d hit that amount but changed it to where you have to log on and request either the gift cert or a check. The latest thing is you can apply your points to pay toward your bill.

    • Geekybiker says:

      Typically you get 1% cash on a credit card. When you redeem for points you can get double or triple that value, sometimes even quadruple. *plus* credit cards with miles often give you tens of thousands of miles just for signing up. I’ve redeemed 30k miles for flights to small islands in the Caribbean that would have cost $1200.

      If you use them on domestic flights, yah the deal isn’t great.

    • keepntabs says:

      I got an American Airlines Citibank American Express card, and the sign up bonus was 75,000 miles. I was able to use those miles for trips to the Caribbean and Europe. In addition to earning miles for my purchases, I can earn bonus miles when I use that card to make online purchases via AA’s shopping portal. The card also allows me to redeem fewer miles for certain domestic flights, and provides free travel insurance for any trip that is purchased with the card.

      I like the money rewards cards too, but the value of cash is somewhat stagnant. However, the price of an airline ticket fluctuates constantly, and miles may be able to get you a ticket that may cost more than the cash you can redeem for the same amount of credit card purchases made. For example, an airplane ticket may cost $350 today, and you would be able to buy it or use 35,000 miles. Next week, that same airplane ticket may cost $500, and the rewards money won’t be able to fully pay for the ticket, but the 35,000 will.

  3. TBGBoodler says:

    Great… tell him how to get around the rules instead of changing them. Nice job, Capital One. You still suck.

    This is one more reason I’m glad I just switched banks after 25 years with my local bank after they were bought by Capital One.

    • georgi55 says:

      Same here. As soon as the switch happened, they screwed our accounts and we were charged $35 NSF fee due to their error, and took 3 phone calls and one visit to local branch to fix it. The night before this happened, I was given wrong info to move money around between accounts to prevent it, so I carried $3000 in cash so I can deposit first thing in the morning. Sure enough before I even had the chance to go to the branch NSF fee was charged when I checked my account online. I took my $3000 cash to PNC bank to open a new account so I’m ready to close my dead Chevy Chase account at any time.

      Last straw was visit to a local branch a week later. They told me the system is down so I could not deposit my checks but they will gladly hold on to them and deposit them when system is back. I asked for receipt they said they couldn’t provide one. They wanted me to trust them with $300 of checks when they had just screwed me over a week ago? Are they out of their mind? Just last weekend withdraw our last $42 and closed the last account. I had the account for so long that I had the account number memorized too.

      • TBGBoodler says:

        Of course! And yesterday when I went in to deposit a check (long story, but I needed to make the transaction there vs. my new bank) I was told it would take two days to clear.

        For the past 15 years with Chevy Chase, they haven’t held a check to clear at all; it’s been instant cash, no matter the amount or on which bank it was written. They told me this is one of the new changes (that Capital One calls “improvements”) since the Capital One takeover.

    • SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

      Essentially cap 1 decided to make an “exception” instead of just applying common sense and taking his 35,000 pts and applying them to his trip, anyone else who chooses not to follow through the way the OP did essentially gets screwed

  4. MongoAngryMongoSmash says:

    I applaud the OP for being polite and I applaud Capital One for stepping up, but one thing escapes me. Do people really think that by putting in the phrase, “I’m a long time loyal customer who has never missed a payment, always been on time, yadda yadda” will make a difference? Does the recipient of this letter actually compare the history of the account with the claim the holder makes in the letter? I just wonder if you could be a really bad payer and make a pretty letter to get the same result.

    And, if I had a Capital One account I would want Don Gibb answering the executive office line.

    • TBGBoodler says:

      Also… “I always pay the full balance on time every month” means “You’re actually not making very much money off of me.”

      • kmw2 says:

        Not so- they’re still making the merchant fee, at least.

        • Gulliver says:

          The key phrase being “at least” The merchant fees go to VIsa, and MC. The bank makes it off interest.
          Two, I am confused as to how a 15 year old got a credit card. If he was banking there, it has NOTHING to do with his credit card or rewards.

      • icy_one says:

        It also means “I’m not a very risky investment, liable to accumulate thousands in debt and then default on it, while you sell my debt to a collector for pennies on the dollar.”

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      “…I’m a long time loyal customer who has never missed a payment, always been on time, yadda yadda” will make a difference?”

      I’m not sure if it makes a difference or not but I’ve found that when I have multiple accounts with a bank, they are very accommodating when it comes to resolving problems or refunding fees that are the result of my mistakes. Over the years, I’ve had a few overdrafts and late fees, and they’ve always been refunded with little effort. I’ve never had any problems with the big banks (Fifth Third and BOA), which is in stark contrast to most people on this site. I’d like to think it’s because a bank would rather refund a $25 fee than risk losing a few hundred thousand dollars in investments and mortgage/loan accounts.

      It’s the same thing with insurance. I know many people who’ve been in massive battles with their car or auto insurance companies over a few hundred dollars in claims. I have my homeowners, two autos, an umbrella policy, life, and several personal property riders with the same insurance company. If they dick around too much with a claim, I can take all of my business elsewhere.

  5. AEN says:

    PenFed card pays you CASH every month. That’s really NO HASSLE.

  6. haimtime says:

    submitter here: I didn’t have any special numbers. Did what the EECB said. Firstname.lastname@capitalone.com.

    I know how bad rewards points are, so I switched a while ago to my Costco Amex. I still had a ton of points to use, so this is how I used them.

  7. aidenn says:

    I don’t mean to be a jerk about spelling errors, but I think this EECB could have used a run through Spellcheck before sending it off. It’s a well-worded complaint, but the errors like “payed” and “loose” for “lose” wound it, IMHO.

    • Dover says:

      I agree that these sorts of errors are nagging, and there are a few more that you didn’t mention (missing quotation mark, for example). But still, payed and loose are not spelled incorrectly. And what does “wound it” mean?

      • theycallmeGinger says:

        I think those errors are so minor in a well-worded letter. You’re right that they wouldn’t have been called out on a spell check because they are both viable words in a different context.

        “Wound it” as in hurts it. The misspellings hurt the quality of the letter. (But I disagree, and I’m somewhat particular about spelling.)

      • theduckay says:

        “But still, payed and loose are not spelled incorrectly”

        Um…yea, they are spelled incorrectly. It should be “paid” and “lose”.

        • Bibliovore says:

          “Payed” and “loose” are not the right words, but because they are in fact correct spellings of other words, a spell checker would not have caught them. (Or perhaps a spell checker had incorrectly recommended “payed” as the correction for something like “paied”. Spell checkers aren’t very context-sensitive.)

      • omg says:

        I think that’s a typo for ‘would it’…which wouldn’t have been caught by a spellchecker.

        It might be preferable to loose a carpet bomb than to ‘loose’ reward points, but that wouldn’t have been caught either by a spellchecker.

    • ames says:

      and yet, it worked.

    • clarkins says:

      Let’s not forget that he didn’t capitalize Capital One in the first paragraph. He also didn’t add the ” at the end of “No Hassle Rewards.

    • TasteyCat says:

      Word spell czech catches payed, but not loose.

  8. AntiNorm says:

    This was not a situation that warranted an EECB. The rules are what they are, and if you don’t like them, tough. They weren’t even taking your money, either…they were giving you something for free.

    • Bibliovore says:

      The situation may not have been as bad as some others addressed with EECBs, but he’d tried the customer-service route with no success. He correctly and politely pointed out that the system’s rules made it nowhere near as “no hassle” as advertised and weren’t what he’d thought was implied (I tried looking up how Capital One lists the redemption option, but that info appears to be login-only), that customer service had not addressed his concerns, and that the hassle was enough to make him want to take his business elsewhere. They got potentially valuable feedback, and he got essentially what he asked for and fairly quickly.

  9. sirwired says:

    I don’t get it. Why not just convert the points into card credit (or a check)? That lets you use points in far smaller increments. So, instead of paying off “the tickets” with the card, you pay off the bill the tickets appear on instead.

    • sirwired says:

      As a side note, it’s obvious why Cap One was so accommodating… their gesture, at the cost of $44, freed up call center labor for what surely has already been hours of wasted time on the phone.

      It looks like the OP was being a little dense here… so Cap One made a pragmatic gesture to make her go away.

    • haimtime says:

      Their cash conversion is 0.5%. So $175 is what I would have gotten.

      • sirwired says:

        Weird. My cash conversion rate on my Cap One account is 1%. (I just checked last month’s statement: $1160 in spending, $11.60 in rewards earned.) And I don’t get any bonus for spending my rewards on anything besides cash. I can use them on gift cards or travel if I really want to, but there is no point.

  10. nopirates says:

    capital one made an exception and granted him mythical extra points due to his threat. the policy is unchanged. the vast majority of capital one customers who do not read consumerist will still have to abide by the actual cardmember agreement.

    one customer happy. many customers still screwed. nothing really accomplished.

    • Madman says:

      You nailed it. Capital One did nothingn but satisfy this single customer. And they didn’t even really give him what he wanted but instead just gave him additional pints. Not very impresedd

      • Bibliovore says:

        Not impressive on Capital One’s part, no, though maybe they’ll make their usage rules clearer on their web site because of this. The customer, however, got good response and essentially what he wanted, which is pretty impressive. 8)

  11. msky says:

    Is his last name Witz? As in Haim Witz ?

  12. Macgyver says:

    “those are terms you agreed to”
    Why do people think that the terms don’t apply to them?

  13. adamwade says:

    This is one of the lamest stories I’ve ever seen here.

    All it does is make Capital One look spectacular – “paying my bill on time and never late” is not something you do because you want them to do you favors, it’s YOUR AGREEMENT with them. So, BFD, you didn’t violate your agreement.

    I think “no hassle” with these rewards is about redeeming them easily, not getting around the rules. The rules are real clear. In fact, the consumer seems to understand them perfectly.

    So, I’m happy for him – he got what he wanted – but every CSR he spoke to did exactly what their company made them do : uphold the policies agreed to by both parties. This is not “bad customer service”. I work in a similar field and when I hear that I cringe; bad customer service is people being rude, not listening to you, not helping you to the best of their ability under the parameters of the contract/agreement you’ve made with their company. Following the rules is not “bad customer service”.

    The consumer in this case was really lucky – especially for being such a snot at the end of the letter. It’s very nice that Capital one did this – but they certainly did not have to. I’m surprised he isn’t complaining about not being able to use the full value of this new 60,000 point reward they upgraded him to and instead just getting the credit on the original amount if they had bowed to his demands to break the rules in the first place.

  14. blinky says:

    Really. Can’t he just get cash out of it?

  15. jleonar says:

    Umm, he doesn’t know how to use his account.

    Login to capital one.

    Click explore rewards
    Click Redeem Rewards
    Select Credit my account
    Select amount of CASH to be credited to your account up to the exact amount of rewards you have available.
    4-5 days, you get a refund of that amount to your card balance.

    This is a non-story except that Capital One was too stupid to call this guy a idiot for not knowing how to use his account.

  16. dush says:

    “I have never missed a payment and have always payed my balance off in full.”
    Which means you are completely unprofitable for them and they secretly hate you.

  17. kracken41 says:

    I’m on my second Capital One rewards card and have had nothing but good luck. The rules for using your miles for airfare are abundantly clear. I have now had 4 free tickets from my cards, one of them to Canada, and have not had any issues whatsoever. I am totally aware that I can’t use my miles for a ticket over my allotment of miles. I plan accordingly. It’s called reading.

    I have also had great luck with COs customer service when I had unapproved charges placed on my account on two different occasions. This is just me, so take that for what it’s worth.

  18. clarkins says:

    We have a Visa card that we are working on paying off. Last year while dropping a payment off at the bank, there was a sign advertising the interest rate for new customers. It was lower than what I was paying after having had their card for over 15 years. (7. something vs. my 8. something.)
    I called the bank to find out why and it was because I was part of the rewards program. I told them to drop it immediately then. “Sir, you’ll lose all your points” was said in a surprised manner like I was doing something unheard of to lose these valuable points.
    Dropping the rewards program dropped a percentage point off my interest rate. That’s better than any reward I could have gotten for using their card.

    • keepntabs says:

      You are very correct to remove the rewards feature on your credit card while you still have a balance. Rewards are truly only beneficial to people who pay off their balance every month. If you carry a balance on a rewards card, most likely the additional costs associated with the card outweigh any rewards you would possibly get.

  19. jolieduke says:

    After CAP One rose the hundreds of thousands member’s annual interest rate, what does it take to lower your personal rate to a legitimate number. Saving the company from defaults by others, the long standing card holders ate the increased fees over the past 20 months or so. Speaking w CSR’s and supervisors nothing is ever spoken outside the standard sheet of talking points.
    I found the CAP ONE corporate number in VA. It will be interesting to see what it takes to get a review of my account for a interest rate change. I would surely change CC companies even after 12 yrs w CAP One but my balance at the time is too large to transfer to a different company. I am in great standing, under limit, just the balance is too high due to a wedding in May. It is amazing how a company’s preview policy can raise the ire of a fiscal conservative…..

  20. PupJet says:

    Typo man spots many typos….and grammar man isn’t far behind….gagging along the way.

    /end obvious spelling/grammatical error comment

  21. skepticalbunneh says:

    I’ve had a CapitalOne non-rewards credit card for a few years now and they have always been more than willing to help me out in any problem I found myself in, and regularly would refund fees I accrued even if it was justified according to my cardmember agreement.

    I think the only credit(charge) card thats earns points that I will actually want to use and keep is my American Express Zync card.

  22. Sugee says:

    I wish I had seen the above post earlier, I might have fought my case further and saved $500 :-( What makes my case worse is that I was cheated. I had called them in advance of my ticket purchase to ask if they would cover my ticket in part, and they said they would. I had $1000 capital one travel credit (100,000 points). My round-trip cost $2000. They had promised to credit me $1000 against this purchase. They said they would split my round-trip in 2 legs in their accounting and pay for one leg. I therefore used Capital one card to buy my ticket (I could have used Amex which gives better points rate and apparently do reimburse part, its a newer card with much lesser points hence did not consider it for this purchase). And now Capital one turns around and says ‘Oh, no, we cant split your round-trip ticket, if it had been 2 one-ways we could have done something’. If I bought 2 one ways, the tickets would have cost me $3000, and after applying the generous capital one credit I would be paying $2000 net ! Now, how’s that for a laugh. I took a cash out of $500 and closed out my a/c. I dont want to deal with cheaters. Throwing the small print in your face is one thing but in my case they outright lied.