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Consumer Alert

Bank won’t budge in denying perk for air miles

Q. I have a Chase Visa card that offers a price protection guarantee on items charged on that credit card. I purchased United Airlines miles for about $1,050. Then I get an e-mail from United that they are selling miles at a 35 percent discount (saving me around $350). I therefore submitted my claim to Chase, which they rejected. First, they said the guarantee didn’t apply to airline tickets — I didn’t buy tickets, I bought air miles — then they said the price protection excludes air miles because they are a “negotiable instrument.” I do not see that air miles fall under the definition of a negotiable instrument. What should I do?

DIPTI CHOKSI, NORTON

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A. When these sorts of situations arise, it’s often because the consumer doesn’t realize that some supposedly great perk has so many exclusions that hardly anything is really covered. Sometimes, it seems that the main function of those who administer these programs is to come up with reasons to deny claims.

Many credit cards specifically exclude travel spending from what could be eligible for their so-called price protection. But such an exception doesn’t appear to exist in this case. And despite your extensive efforts — including elevating your dogged pursuit of a reasonable answer — the company doesn’t seem willing to budge.

It certainly does seem to be a stretch to consider airline miles a “negotiable instrument” — a term usually associated with checks, money orders, and similar items that can be converted into cash.

So I asked Chase, which has been quite helpful in the past, to look into this. When presented with these sorts of dilemmas, even when they don’t agree, most companies will at least make some concession. Not in this case. And company spokesman Steve O’Halloran said that he can’t discuss any specifics about a customer and declined to even explain generally how the program is supposed to work.

The result: A very unhappy customer who has been forced to spend way too much time dealing with this. Next step: File complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Trade Commission, and perhaps the state attorney general’s office, too. They have lawyers who can sort out whether calling air miles a negotiable instrument is reasonable.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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