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AmEx loyalty customers get accidental points windfall

American Express (AXP) is considering whether to be the unexpected giver of gifts this holiday after some customers found themselves on the receiving end of far more Membership Rewards points than they were entitled to.

"Due to a technical issue, some Membership Rewards accounts showed incorrect point balances," said AmEx spokesperson Melanie Backs. "The issue was corrected over the weekend."

The company declined to specify how many customers got extra points or how many additional points landed in some accounts. "An extremely small percentage of our membership awards accounts were affected," said Backs, who advised account holders with questions to call the number on the back of their cards.

What will happen to the unintended points or to consumers who've already used them? "We haven't decided on a course of action at this time," Backs said.

The issue came to light on Thursday night on a user forum on the travel website Flyertalk, where AmEx customers posted messages about getting as many as 10 times the number of points as they should have and some opting to quickly use the windfall in case it might be rescinded.

That prompted frequent traveler Gary Leff to post a blog advising against the approach.

"It may not actually be the best idea or approach to transfer the points out before AmEx could find the mistake," Leff told CBS MoneyWatch. "You are cheating them if you have points you know are not yours, and in a battle between a consumer and American Express when AmEx has the moral high ground, guess who is going to win?"

AmEx, which values the points at 2.5 cents a piece, could charge customers for using points erroneously placed in their accounts, said Leff, who advises those in that situation to wait and see what AmEx does. As he put it: "If the points become yours, Merry Christmas."

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