Fine print, Protecting yourself, Rewards, Travel

Susie’s Super Bowl adventure: a cautionary tale

Matt Schulz

The weather was a mess. Cabbies went on strike, making it tough to get around. And worst of all, her most hated team won the championship.

But none of that mattered to Susie Supalo. Her trip to the Super Bowl — earned by redeeming more than 300,000 rewards points from her NFL credit card — was still a thrill.

About six months ago, however, it seemed unlikely that Supalo, a rabid Chicago Bears fan, would be able to redeem her hard-earned points. That’s because the NFL moved its credit card business in September 2010 from Bank of America, with which it had partnered for 15 years, to British-owned Barclays Bank.

The big switch
In the months leading up to that change, BofA and the NFL had gotten the word out to NFL cardholders via snail mail, e-mails and that rewards points had to be redeemed by Aug. 31, 2010, or they would be lost. They even had a countdown clock on below a giant graphic saying, “LAST CHANCE TO SPEND YOUR POINTS!”

However, since the Super Bowl was six months away at that point, the tickets weren’t available to get through the website. This left Supalo panicked. She had built up rewards points for seven years, spending on everything from meals at McDonald’s to down payments on a car, in hopes of eventually cashing in with a free ticket to the Super Bowl. She had enough rewards points to buy upper-level seats to the 2010 Super Bowl but chose to wait a year to get lower-level seats to the 2011 Super Bowl.

Nervous, Supalo contacted in early August after reading a blog I had written about the NFL’s partnership with Barclays. Struck by her story, I got in touch with her and then with a BofA spokeswoman. Within 24 hours, the bank assured her that she’d get her Super Bowl tickets.

“This never would have happened without you,” she told me in an e-mail at that time. “I can’t stop smiling!!!!” Aw, shucks.

Supalo at the Super Bowl
Fast forward to 2011. Susie’s beloved Bears fell one game short of the Super Bowl, falling to their hated rivals, the Green Bay Packers.

“I have contemplated about not going to the game because it is Green Bay,” she said in an e-mail before the game, “but I had worked so hard to get these tickets (accumulating the points for over seven years and then trying to get them after the program ended) that I CAN’T justify not going. I am still fighting the pain within myself because it is Green Bay.”

Then, game week finally arrived. Much has been made of the issues around the Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas — including awful weather, a cab driver strike and thousands of seats that weren’t up to code — and Supalo faced some of those issues herself. (Thankfully, her seats weren’t a problem.) But Supalo said she didn’t let it mar her experience.

“I am a HUGE football fan and being at the Super Bowl is always a thrill for me,” she said.

She also saw the value of what her rewards points had earned her.

“There were so many fans that wanted tickets, it was crazy,” she said in an email following the game. “People were willing to pay 5 times face value on the day of the game.”

Supalo kept her hard-earned tickets, however, and enjoyed the game, despite the Packers’ win. She even sent along to us a few pictures from her experience with her thanks.

A cautionary tale
Supalo was one of the lucky ones. Judging by the regular flow of responses that we’ve gotten from other BofA NFL cardholders, others weren’t so fortunate. Many of them simply lost their points, saying that had never received word from anyone about the redemption deadline. BofA says they reached out to all of their NFL cardholders.

Whatever the case, this should serve as a reminder that consumers need to be diligent with their accounts, especially with rewards accounts and gift cards. Companies go bankrupt or close — including Borders, Bennigans, Sharper Image and more — and their gift cards may lose their value if you don’t act quickly. Or it can simply be that a partnership changes, as was the case with the NFL and Bank of America.

So don’t just immediately tear up that envelope that your credit card issuer sent you. It may be carrying important information, and if you don’t read what’s inside, it might even keep you from going to the Super Bowl.

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