Rewards mistake almost cost thousands

January 20, 2009 7:20:59 PM PST
If you share a credit card with your spouse do you share the reward points too? Many people are surprised by the restrictions.

This is a heartbreaking story about a woman who lost her husband and was left to pick up the pieces, but the reward points they'd built up on their credit card together, were suddenly gone with him.

After 36 years of marriage, Shoushan and George Tashjian set out to build their dream home in Mountain View -- a big place where friends and family could gather.

"He wanted the openness, he wanted to entertain. That was the main purpose of having this style," said Shoushan Tashjian.

The couple also decided to charge the building materials on their credit card, so they could accumulate enough reward points to take a long awaited vacation together.

But just as construction started, George suddenly died from a massive heart attack.

"It was his dream to have a house that he designed himself," said Tashjian. "It is hard but life has to go on."

So Shoushan carried on alone. He finished building the house, she moved in as planned and she booked a vacation. But when she claimed those reward points, Shoushan got another blow.

"They said we're sorry we cannot issue you the reward points. I was shocked, I said this can't be I am an authorized user of this card," said Tashjian.

CapitalOne took away all of the reward points they had built up because her husband's name was the one on the account, not hers.

About 180,000 points were lost -- nearly enough to earn four flights to Europe and back.

For Shoushan, it was like taking away another part of her life with george.

"We built it together. I mean how can you separate a husband's and wife's earnings after one of them dies?" said Tashjian. "If I'm responsible for paying the bills, then I am entitled to the rewards I mean it's very simple."

Do they count as community property which goes to the spouse automatically?

ABC7 Legal Analyst Dean Johnson says reward points and frequent flyer miles do get split up evenly in divorce cases. But courts haven't ruled whether a surviving spouse automatically inherits reward points issued to the other spouse.

"You would think that the person who gets the burdens of the credit card should also get the benefits but that's not the case. It all comes down to the terms and conditions of the contract itself," said Johnson.

Turns out, the CapitalOne rewards contract does not address what happens after a customer dies. So 7 on Your Side contacted CapitalOne.

It said even without a specific term in the contract, its policy is to transfer points to the authorized user of the card. In this case, Shoushan was the authorized user, and taking away her points was a mistake.

"I got to channel 7 and I'm glad I did, and sure enough I got my rewards and they issued me a new card and everything is fine," said Tashjian.

A check of other rewards programs shows that many do allow a transfer of points to a surviving spouse. If you sign up for a rewards program, whether it's for a hotel chain, or airline or credit card, read the terms and conditions first.