(The following horror story is intended for mature audiences only. It depicts scenes of dealing with Cartera customer service that may be too intense for younger readers.)
If you collect miles and cashback through shopping portals, you likely know that most of the major airline portals are run by a third-party company called Cartera Commerce. You likely also know that once in a while (meaning “much more often than once in a while”) the miles from your shopping portal transaction end up not posting correctly. And you likely also know that Cartera does not exactly have what we would call a stellar reputation when it comes to high quality customer service.
So a few months ago when a significant purchase I made via the United shopping portal didn’t track, you can imagine the dread I felt. The horrifying stories about trying to get Cartera to credit missing miles are quite legendary. In fact, the original 1980 screenplay for Flash Gordon portrayed Ming the Merciless ordering prisoners to chase down Cartera customer service for legitimately earned shopping portal miles, a fate considered worse than death itself. (This was later changed to the “bore worms” during rewrites).
With all that in mind, let me share with you my most recent experience dealing with Cartera…
A (relatively) legitimate $400 Sears purchase.
The tale begins, as many shopping portal stories do, with a holiday bonus offering from Sears. As they often do during the month of December, Sears had temporarily increased their United MileagePlus shopping portal payout to 12x for one day only. More importantly, Sears specifically allows gift card purchases to count for shopping portal transactions, so bonus payouts like these are excellent opportunities to accumulate lots of extra miles.
(On a side note, if you’re interested in ways to maximize Sears holiday shopping portal payouts in conjunction with 4th quarter credit card bonuses, you may want to check out my post “Bet You Didn’t Know: 5x for physical Sears gift cards” from last year. Given the current financial situation of Sears Holdings, I suspect we’ll be seeing the same lucrative payouts this December as well.)
I had previously taken advantage of similar Sears deals several times in the previous few weeks, and each time the transaction had posted properly. I’ve found that Sears transactions post relatively quickly, so this time when my $400 transaction didn’t show up after two weeks, I became rather concerned.
I was even more concerned when I remembered that my $400 purchase was actually a $400 reload to an existing Sears gift card. Granted, gift card reload transactions had tracked successfully in the past, and technically the terms and conditions allowed it to count. Yet somehow I had a dreadful feeling that this was not going to be easy to rectify.
So with a lump in my throat, I sat down and submitted a claim for missing miles via the United portal…
After submitting my claim, of course I made a note in my calendar to resubmit my claim, as I knew there was no way anyone at Cartera would possibly even read my submission the first time around. Based on past history, it would likely take between 3 and 8 attempts before I’d even get a first response.
But lo and behold, I did in fact get a response just one day later…
Nothing surprising here. They’re putting me off until 30 days have passed. They do specify that it can take up to 30 days for miles to post, so even though this response was essentially a way for them to ignore me, it was also completely fair for them to ask me to wait. Still, it took a great deal of restraint to not write back and say “look, I know you always say it can take up to 30 days for miles to post but I’ve done about 100 of these Sears transactions with your portals and when it doesn’t post in 3 days it’s never going to post so can we just get on with this please?”
But I relented. I decided I’d play it their way. Instead, I submitted the e-receipt as they had requested, certain that it was destined for the netherworld which is the Cartera customer order research system.
Then a funny thing happened…
Exactly one week later, after I had become distracted with how quickly I could manage to break my New Year’s resolutions, the following completely unsolicited e-mail appeared in my inbox…
Wait… really? Cartera is automatically following up on my claim? Without me having to do anything?
I assumed it had to be a mistake. I guessed that some naïve intern at Cartera was trying to impress his bosses, not realizing that this kind of proactive customer response is highly discouraged at the company and is in fact grounds for termination.
In any case, I figured I couldn’t really complain if they said they were working on it. So I made another note in my calendar, again anticipating I would need to resubmit my entire claim from scratch in 3 months time. By that point I assumed Cartera customer service would deny ever having had any knowledge of me or my claim, or even admit to the possibility that they ran shopping portals.
But then it gets even weirder!
By March I had completely forgotten all about the situation, which is usually the sign that Cartera has won. So it was a rather nasty shock when I received this message…
OK, now this is getting ridiculous. Cartera is giving me a status update? What the heck?! What happened to the Black Hole of Missing Mileage? Or the E-mail Zone of Silence? You’re in danger of turning your reputation around with all this proactive communication, Cartera. Is that what you really want???
Yet they just wouldn’t let up. A week later…
And a week after that…
Oh, come on now. You’re escalating my claim? Just stop it, Cartera. Seriously. At this point I’m obviously being punked. Your customer service representatives are giggling at the other end of these e-mails, just imagining what it will be like when they vanish from the face of the earth with my missing miles in tow. I’m onto your game, Cartera, so just knock it off.
Of course we all know how this ends.
Eventually two full weeks went by without any further contact from Cartera. I figured the gig was up. Cartera had had their fun with me, and I probably wasn’t entertaining enough for them. Perhaps if I had sent some nasty sounding e-mails demanding to know what was taking so long for my miles to show up, they might have kept toying with me for a little while longer. But they had bigger fish to fry, and my 15 minutes were up. No more e-mails from Cartera customer service for me.
And then one day, without so much as a warning… the absolute unthinkable happened.
My miles posted.
There they were in full. All 4,800 of them. Sitting there innocently staring at me as if to say “Look at us! We’re worth 4.36% of a one-way first class ticket on Lufthansa!”
So that’s my story. Yes, I know some folks still have trouble with Cartera. Some folks will always have trouble. But to me, they’re the hard working Elves of the points and miles world, toiling away endlessly to find and return missing miles to all the good boys and girls the world over. And each night as I drift off to sleep, I dream of what the Cartera Elves will bring to my mileage accounts tomorrow…Devil’s Advocate is a bi-weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by following him on Twitter @dvlsadvcate or sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
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