Back in March when I first wrote about US Bank's introduction of "Real-Time Rewards" to their Flexperks Travel Rewards and Altitude credit cards, reader Chris left a comment warning about a problem he'd encountered:
"So I just learned the hard way that there seems to be a temporary glitch with real-time rewards. Or at least, this is what I experienced on a purchase a few days ago and how it was explained to me by a CSR. Apparently there is a current glitch in the system where it views (at least some) travel at only 1 cent/point rather than 1.5 cents/point. While you may be able to actually process payment at the correct rate, if you don't have a high enough balance of points in your account, the system will think you don't have enough points (even though you do) and not send out real time text. In other words, say you have a $100 flight. That should cost you 6.667 points. However, the system thinks you would need 10,000 points to buy this flight and thus won't trigger real time rewards unless you have at least 10,000 points. The CSR was also unable to manually process this either. The solution for now is that they gave me enough points to make me whole on the transaction, although I have to wait for the correction to post with my statement at which time I call back and have them make the manual adjustment. There was no word when the correction would occur so be warned - I would say don't use real time rewards unless you also have enough points in your account (at least until there is a correction)."
Being a travel hacker, I sensed an opportunity: if US Bank (or the company they've farmed their rewards programs out to) is aware of the problem, and has a procedure in place to correct it, this had the potential to be a points machine. You could book travel you have enough points for at 1.5 cents each, but not at 1 cent each, call in, have the points manually added to your account, and profit.
The Flexperks Rewards Center has no idea what's going on
I recently thought I spotted an opportunity to try out this technique, booking a $300 hotel stay in Philadelphia, with a little over 20,000 Flexpoints in my account. As expected based on Chris's comment, I didn't receive a Real-Time Rewards text message, since I didn't have enough Flexpoints to cover the purchase at 1 cent each (but did at 1.5 cents each).
I called into the Rewards Center, and the front-line representative told me that Real-Time Rewards were only available at 1 cent each, not at the higher 1.5 cent travel redemption rate. I told him that wasn't right and asked for a supervisor. The supervisor had, if anything, even less of an idea of what was going on, and as she frantically flipped through her troubleshooting manual ended up on, "it says here that you can't use Real-Time Rewards for travel."
At that point I told her we weren't getting anywhere and to open a support ticket for me.
I forgot the "lodging" minimum!
Eagle-eyed readers have no doubt already spotted my mistake: the $500 minimum for "lodging" purchases to trigger Real-Time Rewards!
I don't have any excuse for forgetting about it, except that I was focused on finding the right hotel at the right price, and calculating the Flexpoints I needed to trigger the experiment Chris's experience suggested might be possible.
However, based on my experience with the Rewards Center, I think even if I had purchased a $300 flight or train ticket instead of a $300 hotel room, I would have been out of luck given the incompetence demonstrated by both the front-line representative and supervisor I spoke with.
I still think Real-Time Rewards is a fine idea, but I won't attempt to use the system again for travel purchases unless I have enough points to cover the purchase at 1 cent each, at least until I hear that Chris's problem has been fixed.
And, needless to say, I won't try to use Real-Time Rewards for lodging purchases under $500!