I received an email from American Express Membership Rewards yesterday titled, An Important Update About The Membership Rewards Program. Eek. An important update.
When I opened the email the graphic said, “A Quick Update” and the email simply read,
We are writing to let you know that the most recent version of our Terms and Conditions is available online.
You can also learn more about the Membership Rewards program, including how to get and use points, at membershiprewards.com/abouttheprogram.
I figured they’d changed something in the program terms, the subject line was alarming, but scrolling through I’ve found only one thing that’s obviously different than what I had understood before: that the “points advance” feature of American Express Membership Rewards cards is “Available until June 30, 2013.”
American Express lets you borrow points beyond those you’ve earned in your account. This feature used to be automatic and accessible on the Membership Rewards website (you could just transfer more points than you had to a frequent flyer program, and the website would take care of the rest). Now you have to call if you want to access a points advance. But it’s a useful feature of the program.
Depending on the card you have you can borrow 5,000, 15,000, or 60,000 points.
The generally lower-end cards have a 5000 point cap, common mid-tier cards like Premier Rewards Gold and Business Gold Rewards are capped at 15,000, and the Platinum and Centurion cards allow advances of 60,000 points.
When you borrow points you have 12 months to earn those points back. Any points not earned back within a year are supposed to be charged at the points purchase rate of 2.5 cents apiece.
The ability to borrow (rather than outright buy) points was a useful feature, though not one I’ve personally taken advantage of. I don’t see the harm since American Express would bill cardmembers who didn’t earn the points back. Perhaps they saw risk of putting out the expense for redemptions and not being able to collect from cardmembers who cancelled their cards.
Regardless, it’s sad to see flexible options like this one disappearing.
Separately I also see that the option to purchase points is limited to 500,000 in a year for most cards. Somehow I didn’t realize there was a limit so it’s possible this is new but more likely that I had viewed buying 500,000 points at 2.5 cents apiece as akin to unlimited. And even if new it’s not a significant restriction.