Debunking Credit Card Myths: Do I Get to Keep My Points if I Cancel a Card?

Sep 11, 2016

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that travel rewards credit cards are a popular topic of conversation here at TPG. Utilizing top sign-up bonuses and using the right card for various bonus categories can open up fantastic redemptions like premium-class flights and luxurious hotel rooms. However, there are a number of misconceptions out there when it comes to credit cards, so today I’ll continue our new series that debunks these myths and allows you to begin planning for your next vacation. Previous entries include having too many cards, closing a card you don’t use, how permanent of an impact an application has on your score, not paying your balance in full and paying an annual fee. Today I’ll move onto a myth related to the points or miles you’d earn.

Myth #6: I can always keep the points or miles I’ve earned when I cancel a card.

During my time in this hobby, I’ve read many reports of inexperienced travelers being surprised when they cancel a credit card and suddenly see that they no longer have access to tens of thousands of points they had earned on the card. You may assume that a credit card issuer is like a bank. You’d never expect Chase or Bank of America to simply keep your cash if you close a checking or savings account. Surely the same logic applies to credit card rewards, right?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not necessarily. Generally speaking, you can divide your credit card rewards into two categories:

  • Points or miles for a specific airline/hotel (an example would be the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, which accrues Starpoints)
  • Points or miles from a specific card issuer (an example would be the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which accrues Chase Ultimate Rewards points)

For the most part, you will not lose your points and miles when you cancel cards that fall into the first category. This is because they will typically post to your frequent traveler account within a week or so of your statement closing. Once they are there, it can be challenging (or impossible) for the card issuer to claw them back if you cancel the card.

Use the Starpoints you earn from these cards' sign-up bonuses to stay at properties across the globe, like the W Retreat & Spa Maldives.
Earning airline miles or hotel points from a credit card generally means you can keep them if you cancel the card, retaining the option for luxurious redemptions like the W Retreat & Spa in the Maldives.

However, canceling a card in the second category can easily result in a forfeiture of your points. This is due to the fact that these accounts (and their contents) are owned and controlled by the issuing bank. Once you no longer have an account associated with the given currency, you not only won’t be able to earn more points; you may also see your account balance zeroed out.

One easy way to prevent this from happening is to redeem your points before canceling the card. However, there also some other methods that can extend the life of these points, though some do carry restrictions of their own. Let’s take a quick look at the major programs to which this applies, some examples of credit cards that participate in those programs and some of those exceptions and workarounds.

American Express Membership Rewards

  • Cards: The Platinum Card from American Express, American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card, Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express, Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express
  • Policy: Membership Rewards points are immediately forfeited when you cancel a card and don’t have another card that earns Membership Rewards points associated with that account.
  • Exceptions/Workarounds: Per the program’s terms and conditions, you have a 30-day grace period in which to redeem your Membership Rewards points if you have at least one other (non-Membership Rewards) American Express card.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • Cards: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Ink Plus Business Card, Ink Business Cash Credit Card (The Chase Freedom is no longer open to new applicants)
  • Policy: Ultimate Rewards points are forfeited when your account is closed.
  • Exceptions/Workarounds: If you, a spouse/domestic partner or business owner (for Ink cards) has another card that accrues Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer your points before closing the account. This is also a great way to convert cash-back points into full Ultimate Rewards points.

Citi ThankYou Rewards

  • Cards: Citi Prestige Card, Citi Premier® Card
  • Policy: Citi ThankYou points are immediately forfeited if you cancel a card and don’t have another card that earns ThankYou points associated with your ThankYou Rewards account.
  • Exceptions/Workarounds: First of all, it’s important to note that even if you do have another card that earns ThankYou points, all points earned with a specific card will expire 60 days from the date of cancellation. In addition, ThankYou Rewards does allow you to share points with a friend or family member who is also a ThankYou member. However, you’re limited to 100,000 points per calendar year, and all shared points must be redeemed within 90 days.

Bottom Line

wallet credit cards featured
Before you cancel a card, make sure you know what’ll happen with your points!

Canceling a credit card may be worth it to avoid an annual fee, but it’s essential to know how that will affect the points or miles you’ve earned (but haven’t redeemed) on that card. While most airline- and hotel-specific cards won’t take back the points that have already posted to your account, many cards affiliated with a specific issuer won’t be as forgiving. Redeeming those points before canceling is your best bet, but you also have a few additional strategies to keep them in your possession. Hopefully this post has given you some guidance on when this applies and how you can accomplish it!

Have you ever forfeited points by canceling a credit card?


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.