I'm taking advantage of 2 retention offers. Here's how I'll spend 27,500 points
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here. .
At the beginning of 2020, I thought I had my entire credit card strategy figured out for the year. After spending much of 2018 and 2019 building up a diversified points and miles portfolio, I was ready to reap the rewards.
I’m talking about business class flights to Tokyo on ANA with American Express Membership Rewards points transferred to Virgin Atlantic, a three-day trip to Nicaragua’s Calala Island using World of Hyatt points and Qatar Qsuites booked using American miles.
And then...you know the rest.
Instead of opening new credit cards, I had to contend with downgrading premium cards or closing long-held credit cards altogether. I sat down and looked at the cards I used the least, and my American Express® Green Card immediately stood out. And then, as another card’s annual fee loomed, this time the American Express® Gold Card, I weighted whether I wanted to continue paying the fee or lose the perks I got from the card.
Before deciding to pull the plug, I figured I’d give Amex a ring first to see if I had any retention offers. I’d had mixed success with the retention line before, and I wasn’t sure I’d get lucky this time. I was pretty surprised to receive a 20,000-point retention bonus to keep my Amex Gold Card open with no minimum spending requirement. A week later, I called Amex again about my Amex Green Card and got a second bonus for 7,500 Amex Membership Rewards points. While these aren’t the highest bonuses out there (more on that below), I can still use these points for travel redemptions.
The information for the Amex Green card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Here are three ways I can spend my retention bonuses.
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Book short-haul domestic American Airlines flights with Avios
I’m lucky to have most of my friends and family based on the East Coast, where I also live. That means I pay close attention to British Airways Avios.
Avios are the best way to book domestic flights operated by American Airlines. The program has a distance-based award chart. That means you’ll pay more Avios for longer flights, but short and mid-haul domestic flights are the award chart’s sweet spots.
You can book American Airlines nonstop flights that are 1,151 miles or shorter for just 7,500 Avios. From New York, that’s many destinations along the East Coast, giving me a cheap way to see family in D.C. or Southern Virginia post-pandemic. If you recently got a small Amex points bonus (like a retention offer), this is a solid way to use them if cash flights are pricey.
For instance, this flight from New York (LGA) to Norfolk (ORF), where my family lives, is only 7,500 Avios one-way. I could easily spend my retention offers on flights home and still have points left to transfer to another program.
Related: Here’s why you should care about British Airways Avios
Book Delta flights with SkyMiles
Delta is my airline of choice, and it’s pretty easy to transfer Membership Rewards points to Delta SkyMiles. Unlike British Airways, Delta has dynamic pricing. So, prices change by route, date and when you search, which is why I listed it after using Avios.
That said, domestic flights or shorter flights to the Caribbean are generally one of the best ways to get value from the program. Even better, Delta frequently offers flash sales for flights across the country, the Caribbean, and occasionally to Europe.
For example, check out this flight from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX), which costs 7,000 SkyMiles one-way in basic economy. This is a pretty excellent deal for this route, especially if cash fares are expensive. Main Cabin for 20,000 SkyMiles round-trip is also a pretty solid deal.
You can also score great deals on international flights to the Caribbean and South America. For example, this flight from New York (JFK) to Bogota (BOG) costs just 22,000 miles round-trip in Main Cabin or 28,000 miles in Comfort+. This is an excellent redemption for an almost six-hour flight and an easy way to burn my retention offers.
Related: Your complete guide to earning and redeeming Delta SkyMiles
Book Choice Hotels luxury properties
I’ll admit, I haven’t given much thought to Choice Hotels’ Choice Privileges program in the past and usually stay in World of Hyatt or Marriott Bonvoy properties when I travel.
However, Choice is a 1:1 Membership Rewards transfer partner, and you can find cheap award nights all around the world that usually start at 8,000 points. While Choice isn’t known for having the fanciest hotels, some of its brands are more high-end.
For instance, if I wanted to spend my retention offer at Choice, I could do a New York City staycation at an Ascend Collection hotel like The Draper, The Carvi Hotel or the Union Hotel, all starting at 16,000 Choice points a night in February.
Related: 19 ways to earn more Choice Privileges points
What are retention offers?
Some issuers will offer you a retention bonus to keep your card open instead of canceling or downgrading. I’ve had luck with Amex, but not with Chase.
These bonuses can take the form of points, statement credits or even reductions or waivers of an annual fee — anything that helps persuade you to keep the card open (and, in the issuer’s eyes, keep spending on the card).
Related: Your ultimate guide to credit card retention offers
For example, multiple cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express have reported annual fees being partially waived with a statement credit when they call to tell a representative that they are considering canceling. Before I accepted the points offer on my Amex Gold Card, the rep on the phone also offered a $200 statement credit to offset the annual fee.
Retention offers can be hit or miss, and you’re not guaranteed to get one at all. My colleague Ethan Steinberg put together a helpful script if you’re unsure what to say when you call:
“Hi, I noticed that the annual fee on my ______ card just posted, and I’m really not sure I can justify paying it for another year. I really like (insert your favorite benefits), but I’m just unsure about this annual fee. Could you check if there were any retention offers available on my account that might help me make up my mind?”
But don’t think you can game the system by taking the bonus and closing the card shortly after. Before you accept a retention offer, the rep on the phone will read some terms and conditions. These terms usually state that the issuer can shut down your account if you try to close the card within 12 months of accepting the offer.
Related: 4 easy strategies one TPG contributor uses to earn over 500,000 points and miles a year
I scored 27,500 points just for calling Amex. So, there’s no harm in at least giving your issuer a ring if you're struggling to justify keeping your card. The call may go in your favor, but you have options for canceling or downgrading if it doesn't.
Sure, 27,500 Amex Membership Rewards points is not a big bonus (I’ve heard of some cardholders getting 50,000-point offers), but it’s still something to work with. Whether I want to get far away or stay close to home, having a few more Amex points in my account makes it much easier.