Reader question: Do refunds count against spending toward a sign-up bonus?

May 25, 2020

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Coronavirus has disrupted the travel plans of thousands of people. Some have taken advantage of more lenient cancellations policies to postpone or cancel trips while others have had plans canceled by airlines or other common carriers. But what happens when the trips that get refunded were actually used to help you earn a credit card sign-up bonus?

I recently got the Hilton Aspire Amex card and had to spend $4k in order to receive the 150,000 bonus Hilton Honors points. I spent well over $4k on the card in the first month alone on flights, rental cars, and hotels for a trip I had coming up in March. The entire trip ended up getting canceled because of the Virus, and almost all of the spend I had generated was refunded back to me. However, I had already been awarded the Hilton bonus points and they were in my Hilton account.

My question is: Was this just a fluke? I have to imagine CC companies usually take your points away and make you spend more…if I already transferred the bonus from the card to a partner airline, would the card company then get the airline to send back the miles?

TPG READER

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex 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.

This is a question we’ve gotten often over the past couple of months. Since trips have been getting canceled and refunded because of the coronavirus pandemic, many people are worried about what will happen to the credit card sign-up bonuses that they earned by booking these trips.

The good news is that by and large, credit card issuers don’t typically rescind a sign-up bonus after they’ve awarded it, no matter if the purchases being refunded were used to help meet a spending requirement. But unfortunately, Amex does have a different policy compared to most of the other major issuers.

Related reading: Credit cards we’ve applied for since coronavirus

I reached out to the major U.S. issuers for their policies on the subject. Here’s what each said:

American Express

This particular reader question specifically asks about an Amex-issued Hilton credit card. Amex’s policy in their terms and conditions state that in the case of a refund, rewards will be rescinded. Unfortunately, this extends to welcome bonuses as well. An Amex representative confirmed that if a refund is issued for purchases that help you reach a welcome bonus spending threshold, that welcome bonus will be rescinded unless you meet the spending requirement through other purchases before the deadline.

Welcome bonus deadlines have been extended by an additional three months for those who applied for cards between Dec. 1, 2019, and May 31, 2020. This helps give cardholders more time to meet spending requirements, should a refund be issued.

Chase

Chase confirmed that it doesn’t rescind credit card sign-up bonuses after they are awarded. So if you complete the spending requirements, receive the bonus and then end up getting a refund for purchases that may have helped you meet the requirements, you would still keep your bonus.

Related reading: Chase extends sign-up bonus spending deadline for select cardholders

Capital One

We reached out to Capital One, but we did not receive confirmation about their policy regarding sign-up bonuses in the case of refunds.

Citi

Citi confirmed that if you’ve met a spending requirement and received your points before a refund hits your account, you would keep your sign-up bonus. However, the representative I talked with did point out that refunds made before you received your bonus would be recognized. Customers would have to make up that spend in order to earn the welcome bonus.

Related reading: Citi announces changes to help cardholders maximize benefits during coronavirus

Wells Fargo

A Wells Fargo representative did confirm that a welcome offer wouldn’t be retroactively taken away in situations such as this:

If a customer booked a trip that resulted in the customer earning the welcoming bonus after the account cycled and they later had to cancel the trip because of COVID 19 issues, they will retain the welcoming bonus.

Bank of America

Like most of the others, Bank of America confirmed that you would not have your welcome bonus taken away if you received a refund for purchases that helped you attain the bonus.

Warning: Don’t abuse these policies

While this is great to hear (with the exception of Amex, which is the only card issuer on this list that will take away a welcome bonus retroactively), make sure that you aren’t abusing these policies. Issuers do not make a habit of taking away welcome bonuses when you end up getting a refund after the fact. However, this isn’t an open door to try and abuse the system. Issuers will flag you for suspicious behavior, such as applying for a card, making large purchases to earn a sign-up bonus and then getting a refund after you receive your bonus. Chase is especially known for shutting down accounts with little warning when they suspect foul play.

If it’s a random and understandable occurrence (such as the current situation, where people’s trips are being canceled and refunded because of COVID-19), you should have nothing to worry about. But don’t try and use these policies to cheat the system — then you’re only risking a shut-down and encouraging issuers to adopt stricter policies,  which hurts everyone. We’ve all heard Taylor Swift’s “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” — don’t be that person.

Related reading: Credit cards we’re using most during the pandemic

Bottom line

Coronavirus has caused a lot of travelers to drastically change their travel plans. In the best-case scenarios, those travelers have been able to secure refunds. But even that has caused some stress around what could potentially happen to bonuses that hinged on the purchases being refunded. The good news is that for the most part, your sign-up bonus should be safe.

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Featured image by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy.

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