Your ultimate guide to credit card retention offers

Aug 23, 2020

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

As travel continues to be put on hold for many in the U.S. due to the coronavirus pandemic, more and more people are taking a hard look at the cards in their wallet — including many TPG staffers. If we’re not traveling, many of the cards we keep for specific benefits stop being useful. And as we all switch spending habits — some temporarily and some more long-term — some bonus categories become less or more valuable to us. If you’re paying an annual fee, a card that you no longer use may not be worth keeping.

However, before you make a final decision to cancel or downgrade as your card renewal approaches, you should talk to a customer representative to see if you can score a retention offer that makes the card worth keeping for another year.

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In This Post

What are retention offers?

Once a credit card issuer has spent hundreds of dollars (in the form of a cash or points welcome bonus) to entice you to open a card, they need to find a way to recoup that investment. If you close your card after only a year or two, the issuer will lose money on you.

So some (but not all) issuers will offer you a retention bonus to keep a card open longer. 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).

For example, multiple cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express have reported annual fees being partially waived with a statement credit or a points bonus when they call to tell a representative that they are considering canceling. More recently, one TPG reader told us they were able to get a $100 credit to not close their Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card.

While you’re not guaranteed to get a retention offer just because you ask for one, it’s not uncommon to receive one when you know how to ask.

Related reading: 5 ways the global recession is affecting credit cards and banks — and the upside for some cardholders

(Photo by Tashdique Mehtaj Ahmed/Getty Images)
Card issuers sometimes offer certain incentives to keep a customer, especially on cards with high annual fees. (Photo by Tashdique Mehtaj Ahmed/Getty Images)

How to ask for a retention offer

One common misconception about retention offers is that you can only get them if you’re trying to close a card. It’s true that you’ll generally have the most success asking for a retention offer right around the time your annual fee posts (since that’s when many people decide to cancel a card), but you can try your luck at any time.

Related reading: My Amex Platinum retention bonus: 20,000 Membership Rewards points

With more companies using automated phone systems, how you phrase your request is very important. Instead of saying, “I’d like to close my credit card,” and hoping the agent makes you an offer, you need to say, “I’m considering closing my card,” or, “I’m not sure I want to keep paying the annual fee on my card.” I’ve heard horror stories of people who said they wanted to close their card and the automated system shuttered the account before they could ever speak to a human being about it.

Each issuer handles retention offers differently. Some, like American Express, have a dedicated retention department you can ask to be transferred to. For other cards, a front-line customer service representative might be able to help you. You can adapt the script to suit your own needs, but my calls usually go something like this:

“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 not sure about this annual fee. I was wondering if you could check if there were any retention offers available on my account that might help me make up my mind?”

At this point, you can expect the corporate marketing to kick in and the agent will read you some talking points about why the card is so great and worth keeping. You’ll need to deflect, which you can do by bringing the discussion back to the annual fee you don’t want to pay, by mentioning that you have other cards with similar perks (especially if you have multiple Marriott/Delta/Hilton cards, for example), or by saying that you just don’t find yourself spending much on the card. Remember, at no point should you actually say, “I want to close the card” — only that you’re thinking about it.

This is purely anecdotal, but I’ve found Amex to be the most generous with retention offers. Chase almost never gives them out (though it’s more common on co-branded Chase cards than their branded cards). Other card issuers may do so, but much less frequently.

Photo by 10'000 Hours/Getty Images
Getting a retention offer on your credit card could be as easy as calling. (Photo by 10’000 Hours/Getty Images)

What types of offers are there?

Depending on the issuer, there are three different offers you might receive:

  • Annual fee reduction or waiver: Depending on the card, this can be as good as cash. Even if you don’t plan to use the card much, if you get an annual fee waiver, you can keep the card open for another year, boosting your credit score. When you factor in perks like statement credits or elite status, an annual fee reduction may be enough to push the card past its break-even point.
  • Bonus points: Sometimes you’ll simply be given points for agreeing to keep the account open, though more often than not it will be an offer similar to an initial welcome bonus: Spend X amount of money in the next three months in order to earn bonus points.
  • Statement credits: Same as above, sometimes applied directly to the account but more often requires some spending to earn.

It goes without saying that the more you spend on a card, the more likely you are to receive an offer. Issuers want to keep their most valuable customers. Sometimes you might even be given a choice between a statement credit or bonus points, in which case you can quickly pull up TPG’s monthly valuation series and decide which offer is better.

As an example, I recently received a retention offer on my Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card after reminding the representative that I spend more than $100,000 a year across all my Amex cards. I was given the choice between a $100 statement credit or 30,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the next three months. TPG values those points at $240, and I value them even higher with my Marriott Titanium status, so it was a no-brainer for me to pick the points.

A number of readers in the TPG Lounge also shared some retention offers they’ve received in the last year:

  • Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®: I’d otherwise spend zero, but [I received] a $100 statement credit for spending $1,000 a month on the card for three months (which I’ve done for two years now).” — Brandon P.
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: 30,000 Membership Rewards® points for $4,000 in spending; American Express® Gold Card: 20,000 points for $3,000 in spending in three months. — Martin F.
  • Amex Platinum: 30,000 for $3,000 in spending in three months. “I’ve had the card since 2007 and this is the first time I asked, based on reading Lounge posts! The points posted immediately. I put next to no spending on this card; I only use it for the 5x airfare*.” — Loren G.

The information for the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.          

*When booked directly with the airline or via Amex Travel. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.

Bottom line

Every time an annual fee hits on one of your cards, you have to make the decision to keep it open or cancel it. Even if you think you know what you want to do, you can’t be sure until you have all the information in front of you. Spending five to 10 minutes on the phone might net you enough points for a free one-way flight to Europe on a card you already wanted to keep open. In terms of pure return on time, there aren’t many deals better than that.

Additional reporting by Madison Blancaflor.

Featured image by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy.

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