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

Nov 15, 2021

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Editor’s note: This article is part of a new weekly column to answer your credit card questions. If you would like to ask us a question, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

The airline industry is in a volatile state at the moment. Airlines are canceling flights for myriad reasons and many travelers are postponing their travel plans until further notice.

What happens when the trips that get refunded were ones you used to help you earn a credit card sign-up bonus? That’s an excellent question, and one our readers have been asking about.

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 November. The entire trip ended up getting canceled … 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 credit card 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 Stephanie

 

The information for the Amex Hilton Aspire has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

With many people have been canceling trips and getting refunds for them, some are worried about what will happen to the credit card sign-up bonuses 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.

Unfortunately, Amex does have a different policy compared to most of the other major issuers.

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 American Express-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 Amex’s policy in their terms and conditions state that in the case of a refund, rewards will be rescinded.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 helped 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.

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.

Capital One

We reached out to Capital One, but we did not receive confirmation about its 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 as deductions against the minimum spending target. Customers would have to make up that spend in order to earn the welcome bonus.

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.”

That, of course, leaves some wiggle room – in that if Wells Fargo doesn’t deem your reason related closely enough to Covid-19, it potentially could claw back the 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), make sure that you aren’t abusing these policies. Issuers will flag you for suspicious behavior, such as applying for a card, making large purchases to earn a sign-up bonus and then turning them in for a refund after you receive your bonus. Chase is especially known for shutting down accounts with little warning when it suspects foul play.

If it’s a random and understandable occurrence, you should have nothing to worry about. But don’t use these policies to cheat the system — you’re only risking a shut-down and encouraging issuers to adopt stricter policies, which hurts everyone.

Bottom line

The airline cancellations and pandemic-related issues have 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.

Let us know if you have any head-scratchers you’d like answered for our weekly reader question series. You can tweet us @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

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Featured image by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.

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