Debunking credit card myths: Do you keep your points and miles when you cancel a credit card?

Feb 3, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information. 

We talk about travel credit cards quite a bit here at TPG. Applying for and utilizing these cards strategically can unlock incredible travel experiences like premium class flights or luxurious hotel rooms. However, there are a number of misconceptions out there when it comes to credit cards, so we’re debunking some of these myths in a series of posts.

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Myth:  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:

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 loyalty program 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.

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.

Related: What to do before you close a credit card 

One easy way to prevent this from happening is to redeem your points before canceling the card. However, there are 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 and some of those exceptions and workarounds.

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)

American Express Membership Rewards

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

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

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

Canceling a credit card may be worth it to avoid an annual fee if you no longer use the card, 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.

Related:

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!

Additional reporting by Madison Blancaflor. 

Featured image by jacoblund/Getty Images. 

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