-- Question:In July 2008, I called American Express to ask why my Hilton HHonors Diamond VIP Account, which is linked to my American Express card, wasn't being credited with my purchases. I was told that 320,095 points had been credited to a HHonors account that I never knew existed.
I spent several hours on conference calls with American Express and the HHonors staff trying to resolve the issue. I learned that HHonors had created this new account because I wasn't the primary person on the other Diamond VIP account. My wife and I had combined our accounts in 2001, and her name was primary on that account.
HHonors told me the points would be transferred to my Diamond VIP account, but that never happened. I have repeatedly called American Express and Hilton to ask for the points and for an audit to track where the points were transferred and when. American Express blames HHonors and vice versa. Please help.
— Vince Cassani,Tampa
Answer:Consumers who apply for co-branded American Express cards are asked to supply their HHonors numbers if they have existing accounts. American Express then verifies last names and account numbers with HHonors before linking charge activity to the points program.
That started Cassani's problem. He and his wife use different last names but share an account after consolidating their points in 2001. When HHonors can't verify the last name and account number provided, American Express mails a letter and includes notices on the cardholder's billing statement, asking for clarification. If the customer doesn't respond after two months, HHonors automatically opens a new account, credits the accumulated points to the new account, and sends the customer a frequent-guest card bearing the new number.
"We open a new account so their points have somewhere to go," explains Adam Burke, Hilton's senior vice president of customer loyalty.
Somehow, Cassani didn't get the notification and was perplexed when his points didn't materialize, then irritated when he found they'd been shuffled to a doppelgänger account. I sent his complaint to both companies. Their customer-service departments uncovered the double-account confusion. The records showed that he was correctly credited and had mistakenly received more than 25,000 extra points, which he was allowed to keep. HHonors agreed to send a printout of his non-stay activity back to 2003.
"This was a frustrating experience, and we regret what he went through," Burke says.
HHonors transferred all his points into his main Diamond VIP account and closed his second account. It also gave Cassani 10,000 HHonors bonus points as a goodwill gesture.
How can you avoid trouble?
•Be sure you have only one loyalty account. It's possible that you're accruing points in multiple accounts under different names (your maiden or middle name, for example) or under both your work and home addresses.
•If you apply for a co-branded loyalty credit card or take advantage of a points-earning promotion, be sure to enter your member number correctly.
•Keep statements and receipts so you can track credits.
Linda Burbank first began troubleshooting travelers' complaints for the Consumer Reports Travel Letter. She now writes regularly for Consumers Union publications and is a contributing editor for National Geographic Traveler. E-mail her at email@example.com. Your question may be used in a future column.