It’s wise to periodically look at the credit cards you hold and gauge the value they provide. Sometimes, cards you may have opened for specific benefits stop being useful. And other times, bonus categories can become less (or more) valuable if there’s a shift in your spending habits. If you’re paying an annual fee, a card 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.
Here’s what you need to know about these valuable incentives to hold onto your top credit cards.
What are retention offers?
Once a credit card issuer has spent hundreds of dollars (with a welcome bonus in cash back, points or miles) to entice you to open a card, it needs to find a way to recoup that investment. If you close your card after only a year or two — especially if you aren’t using it regularly — the issuer will likely lose money on you.
So some (but not all) issuers will extend targeted retention offers to encourage customers to keep a card open longer. These offers can take the form of bonus points, statement credits, reductions or outright 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 the $695 annual fee (see rates and fees) being partially waived with a statement credit, or they were offered a points bonus when they call or chat using the app to tell a representative that they are considering canceling. One TPG reader has told us they got an offer for $95 credit after spending $95 on the Citi Premier® Card (see rates and fees).
While you’re not guaranteed a retention offer just because you ask for one, it’s not uncommon to receive one when you know how to do it.
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. Indeed, 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.
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Related reading: My Amex Platinum retention bonus: 20,000 Membership Rewards points
With more companies using automated 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 to which you can ask to be transferred. You can also use the chat feature online or on the mobile app with Amex. 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 or online chats 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.
Try mentioning that you have other cards with similar perks (especially if you have multiple Marriott, Delta or Hilton cards, for example), or consider saying that you 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 American Express to be the most generous with retention offers. I’ve received retention offers on three Amex cards in the past year. Chase rarely gives them out (though it’s more common on cobranded Chase cards than the issuer’s Ultimate Rewards-branded cards). As a data point, I was denied a retention offer on my Chase Sapphire Reserve and decided to downgrade it. Other card issuers may do so, but much less frequently.
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, which could boost 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 or miles: Sometimes you’ll be awarded 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 a certain amount of money in a specified period to earn bonus rewards.
- Statement credits: Same as above, sometimes applied directly to the account but more often come with a spending requirement.
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 Amex Platinum after saying I didn’t feel like I was receiving good value from all of the benefits to justify the high annual fee. I was given the choice between 40,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $3,000 in the next three months, a $400 statement credit for $3,000 in spending or a $150 statement credit with no spending requirement. TPG values those 40,000 points at $800, so it was a no-brainer for me to pick the 40,000 points.
Some TPG staffers also shared some retention offers they’ve received recently:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card: “I got an offer of 20,000 points for $2,000 in spending in three months — was hoping for a bit more since I was on the fence about keeping the card but decided to keep it for one more year!” — Becca Manheimer, senior director of marketing and communications
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: “Renewal came up, and they offered a $150 statement credit.” — Tom Grahsler, director of video
- Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card: “I was given the option to earn a $200 statement credit for adding an authorized user and spending $2,000 on the card in the next six months — effectively a return of 10%.” — Nick Ewen, director of content
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: “I had just one offer, which was 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the next three months, so I immediately jumped on it! — Danyal Ahmed, credit card writer
Every time an annual fee hits on one of your cards, you have to make the decision to keep it open, downgrade 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 one-way flight to Europe or South America on a card you already wanted to keep open. In terms of pure return on time, there aren’t many deals better than that.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, please click here.
Additional reporting by Danyal Ahmed, Ethan Steinberg and Madison Blancaflor.