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credit & debt

Watch for Stingier Rewards Cards

What to do when your points lose value.

Robert Cymbalski was recently (unpleasantly) surprised when redeeming points he’d earned with the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature card. The points required to get a $250 prepaid debit card had jumped to 29,500, from 25,000 a few months earlier. And the maximum number of points cardholders can earn on certain purchases was slated to drop at the start of 2014. Cymbalski now says that he may remove the card (once his first choice) from his wallet.

PenFed isn’t alone in diluting rewards points. Starting March 31, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program will require 70 points per dollar (up from 60) to book Wanna Get Away travel tickets.

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Last year, some hotel chains -- including Hilton, Marriott and Starwood -- made unfavorable changes to their rewards programs. Customers of PerkStreet Financial lost their unclaimed rewards balances when the banking service shut down in September.

To get the most from your points, redeem them regularly rather than stockpiling them. You’ll have less to lose if values fall or the program terminates. Check out programs, including those for some Chase and American Express cards, that let you transfer points to partner programs. If your rewards lose value, complain to the issuer. It may waive your card’s annual fee or toss in another perk to keep your business, says Brian Kelly, founder of ThePointsGuy.com.

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