Remember that mass expiration of Google Play credit that happened last month? Google later explained that this was because credits were set to expire one year after they were issued, but that explanation in isolation didn't justify exactly why so many people saw such a big chunk of their balance disappear all at once — this isn't a regular yearly occurrence. Some assumed it was a rule that was simply never enforced, but it turns out that a very specific change in Google's terms and conditions as of November 8th, 2018 is to blame.

Google's USA terms and conditions for Play promotional balances were updated late last year (almost precisely one calendar year before this issue first reared its head), changing a particular section of the terms that describe how credit expires. The pertinent details regarding the original terms and conditions, which allowed for credits to essentially rollover or "reset" as more was earned, were:

...3. If you redeem more than one promotional balance into your Google Play account:

  • a) Google will add the value of your prior balance to any promotional balance that is redeemed later;
  • b) The terms of any newly-redeemed promotional balance will apply to the total balance, superseding the terms of any earlier balance; and
  • c) the latest expiration date of your redeemed balances will apply to your total balance.

Last year, this section of the terms changed, specifically removing this effective "reset" through acquiring new credit:

...3. If you redeem more than one promotional balance into your Google Play account, each balance will be treated, and will expire, separately and in accordance with the terms and conditions of its issuance. You may apply multiple promotional balances to a single purchase you make, with those promotional balances expiring earlier to be applied to the purchase first.

(Note: Emphasis added in both cases to make the relevant change more clear.)

In short, before November 8th, 2018, any of us carrying a balance saw the expiration date for the total balance reset every time we earned more credit. At the rate that Google issued new surveys via the Rewards app, that meant some of us had built up large credit balances that were years old, and which never expired. Once last year's change kicked into gear, though, the clock started ticking, culminating in the mass expiration which occurred earlier this month; All that credit that had been rolling over for years (in excess of $20-50 for some) now had a single date attached to it, and it expired all at once.


You can see when credit was earned (left) but not when those quantities individually expire (right).

The big catch here and Google's mistake is that the way the information was presented to users never changed. Behind the scenes, the individual quantities of our promotional balance now have different expiration dates, with tiny numbers contributing to that total each tied to a specific death-day, and no way to know when they'll individually go. Although Google shows you the sum total of your balance and the date of your next "deduction," it doesn't tell you either how much is set to expire on that date, nor when the next dates are. It's a balance sheet governed by the individual details of dozens or perhaps hundreds of transactions, yet you only know the sum and a single expiration date.

Although the specific details inside terms and conditions are rarely common knowledge, the previous terms that saw credit expiration dates regularly reset were generally known. At many forum venues, it would come up in passing as the particulars of some other Play Store credit promotion were argued over, and based on the theories bandied around after the mass expiration, Google's change in policy clearly wasn't communicated to customers well enough.

Perhaps that confusion is part of why Google suddenly pulled its brief and vague explanation of the issue the Rewards app and reverted the "Help! My credits disappeared" section regarding the mass expiration issue in its associated help documentation, in which Google also told customers, "if you have been adversely affected by this, please check back next week for an update," though the promised follow-up information doesn't appear to have been provided.

At least Google claims that a fix for how your balance and expiration dates are displayed/notified is coming, though it hasn't happened yet, and plenty of folks have lost lots of Play credit with real value in the meantime due to that lack of transparency. While it's too bad for those of us that lost big numbers to these changes, at least we have a proper explanation now.

We reached out to Google previously with some of our questions — like will customers that had no way of seeing the quantity set to expire eventually get their lost credit back, how were customers notified of the original policy change in 2018, and why did the company suddenly pull the promise of follow-up updates regarding the issue from its help documentation and the warning message from the Rewards app — but the company has yet to respond.

In the meantime, if you lost Play Store credit as part of this change in policy, it looks like you're just out of luck.