ToP Guide to Credit Card Retention Offers

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For banks, retaining customers can be just as important as attracting new ones. This is why banks sometimes offer customers an incentive to keep a card open instead of closing it when the annual fee comes due. These offers are called retention offers. Retention offers can come in the form of a waived annual fee or some other incentive to keep the card open. For example, banks can offer you X amount of bonus points if you keep your card open and spend Y amount within a number of months.

So how can you get a retention offer? When should you ask for one? And what is a good offer to accept? This ToP Guide to retention offers answers these questions and more.

What is a retention offer?

When a customer is set on canceling a credit card, banks may try to convince the cardholder to keep the card open by offering a retention offer. There are two common types of retention offers. The first is to waive the card's annual fee. This might not seem like much at first, but some cards have pretty big annual fees, like the Amex Platinum Business card, at $695.

The second common type of retention offer is a bit like a welcome bonus. The bank promises you a certain number of points if you keep your card open and spend a certain amount within a number of months. Among card issuers, Amex is the one that most often has this type of retention offer.

How do retention offers vary among banks?

Card issuers approach retention offers differently. Amex is by far the most generous. They are known to offer retention offers for just about any of their major credit cards. These include both cards that earn Membership Rewards, like the Amex Gold card, and co-branded hotel or airline cards.

Chase is more stingy with retention offers. Retention offers for cards that earn Ultimate Rewards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve are virtually unheard of. But Chase has been known to grant retention offers for some co-branded cards, like its Southwest credit cards.

Citi, like Chase, appears to be more generous with co-branded American Airlines cards than with its flagship card, the Citi Premier (a ToP favorite).

How to ask for a retention offer

We recommend calling for a retention offer once the annual fee posts on your account, but before that month's payment is due.

To ask for a retention offer, you start by calling the number on the back of your credit card. With an Amex card, you can also use the online chat function. Whether on the phone or via chat, refrain from saying outright that you want to cancel the card. This should avoid the bank's automated system canceling your card before you ever get to speak with a human. To avoid this, I usually say “annual fee” or something similar that does not involve the word “cancel.”

Once you do get a human on the line or on chat, you can simply start the conversation with something like: “I noticed that the annual fee posted for my [name of credit card]. I’m considering closing this card because of the annual fee, but before I make a decision, I was wondering whether there were any retention offers or spend bonuses available?” If a card's benefits have changed in a negative way or the card's hotel or airline program has had a devaluation, you can mention that as well.

Many representatives will try to walk you through the benefits of the card to show how valuable the card is. When asked if you are familiar with the benefits of the card, you can politely reply that you are well familiar with the benefits but still do not find that they justify the annual fee.

Once the representative finishes reviewing the benefits of the card, or if you managed to bypass their speech, the rep should check whether your account is eligible for any retention offers. If they say your card does not have any retention offers available, you can thank them for their time and call again at another time to try again. We recommend trying at least twice before giving up. Should you decide to keep the card, make sure to crunch the numbers to make sure the annual fee is worth it for you.

If the representative gives you a retention offer that you're not happy with, ask if there is anything else available. If there isn't, you can call again later and try your luck again.

Lastly, if representative gives you a good retention offer, you can go ahead and accept it. The rep will read you some terms and conditions and ask you to agree to them at the end. If you accept a retention offer, you should keep the card open for another 12 months.

How to decide whether a retention offer is any good

Retention offers are kind of like sign-up bonuses. You need to decide whether the offer is good for your specific situation. But unlike sign-up bonuses, retention offers have much lower stakes. First, there is no impact on your 5/24 status because you are not opening a new card. Also, there is no credit inquiry to affect your credit score.

The simplest type of retention offer is when the bank offers to waive the annual fee. This is as easy as it gets. You get to keep the card open for another year for free and enjoy all of that card's benefits. This is a great offer for cards with high annual fees like the Amex Platinum or the Amex Business Platinum. Both these cards come with so many benefits and statement credits that you now will get for free because you are not paying an annual fee. That's free money in your pocket. Sometimes, the easiest offer can be the best offer.

Meanwhile, spending bonuses require a bit more thought. Questions to ask yourself include: how hard will it be to meet the required spend? Does this card earn bonus points on any category to maximize that spend? How long is the deadline to meet the spend bonus? What kind of points are being awarded–transferable points such as MRs, or hotel or airlines points, which are usually less valuable? Bottom line here is to make sure that the spending bonus is worth your time and effort.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes a good retention offer can be just what we need to keep a card open for another year. It's always helpful to know the kinds of offers folks have been getting, so share your data points in our Facebook group! We all benefit from learning from each other. Knowing that another member of our Facebook group received a great offer can help you avoid accepting a mediocre offer when it's your turn to call. So be sure to search the ToP Facebook group those out before your next call.

Have you scored a good retention offer lately? Come share your experience in our Facebook group!

Travel on Point(s) has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel on Point(s) and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.