Here’s How to Get a Massive Retention Offer (With Focus on SPG AMEX)

Are you about to cancel your SPG AMEX, or another card, because the annual fee is hitting?  Hold your horses.  First, you’ll want to pursue what’s known as a retention offer.  In this post, I’ll share info on retention offers in general, how to get one, and details of offers being made to SPG AMEX cardholders these days.

Banks Paid A Lot To Get You So They Don’t Want to Lose You

Banks pay a lot of money in advertising and fees to pull in a new customer.  Given that investment they don’t want to see a current customer become a former customer.  So oftentimes when you call to cancel a credit card the bank’s telephone agent will try to persuade you to keep the account open.  I previously posted about my personal experience getting a retention offer for the SPG AMEX.  It turned out excellently!

Get to the Point In Your Phone Call

If you’re seriously considering canceling your SPG AMEX, or any other card, you can save yourself some time by saying so when you call in.  I usually phrase my comment as follows:

Hi, I see that my card’s annual fee was recently charged.  Though I like the card I’m considering canceling because I have other great cards with no annual fee so it’s very hard for me to justify paying the annual fee for this card.  Would it be possible for you to waive the annual fee as a courtesy?

The agent usually responds by emphasizing the benefits of the card.  Oftentimes the agent will say that he/she cannot waive the annual fee.  That’s semantics to some extent.  If the agent says that I’ll respond with:

Ok, I understand that policy.  Is it possible for you to apply a credit to my account to offset the annual fee?

Note that the initial agent you speak with may make you a retention offer but more times than not, a general phone agent doesn’t have authority to offer you the best retention offers.  You’ll often need to be transferred to a retention specialist to get the best offers.

Information is King on a Retention Call

It’s good to know what to expect when you call in to a bank for a retention offer.  It’s a bit of a negotiation.  The agent is trying to get you to keep the account open at minimal cost to the bank and you’re likely trying to get as valuable an offer as possible.  Knowing the details of the retention offers the bank is making to other customers is a bit like knowing the invoice price of a car when you’re negotiating to buy it (though there’s a lot more to car prices than invoice these days!).  If you’re offered 2,000 points to keep a card account open you may think that that is a great offer.  If you knew though that other customers were being given 10,000 points you would be emboldened to request, and likely receive, a much better offer.

American Express is Offering Some Strong Retention Bonuses for the SPG AMEX Cards Right Now

Like almost everything in life, retention bonuses wax and wane.  If a bank is reeling in new customers left and right they’re not going to throw around bushels of points/dollars to keep an existing customer.  That’s not the situation for American Express though.  They’ve been bleeding major contracts and customers.  They lost their partnership with Costco.  Then many of their key customers were poached by Chase with its release of the Sapphire Reserve card.  So American Express seems to be willing right now to go to great lengths to keep the customers they have.

One of the best sources of info on retention bonuses is a site named FlyerTalk.  The forum nature of the site makes it excellent for sharing retention offer details.  I follow the SPG AMEX retention offer thread and have noticed a consistently high level of offers lately.  Here are a few examples posted by members of the site…

JonKarol wrote…

Called and was offered 10k points to pay the annual fee (opened card last year so this was the first annual fee charge) and keep the card open. I accepted. 12k spend last year.

Acid wrote…

1st yr Personal Card with minimal annual spend. Twice last month was denied retention. Annual fee posted this week and was offered 10K or $75/$2000 spend. Took 10K points and was asked politely if I could spend more on the card as the points are super valuable. Call ended in less than 2 minutes

tvmatt wrote…

Had the personal card for 1 year – $95 annual fee hit last week. Wasn’t successful with online chat; they told me to call retentions at 855-857-7657 .
Minimum spend 1 year ago, almost no use until the March-May double points on $5k spend promotion. I let retentions know that I also had the Marriott card & was trying to justify keeping the SPG card with the higher annual fee & no free-night benefit.
They offered 10k points to keep the card, no spend required!

Those are some extremely valuable offers!  I value SPG Starpoints at about 2.6 cents in my latest valuations, so a 10k point offer is worth about $260!  If you’re able to redeem your Starpoints for that sort of value, American Express essentially paid you about $165 ($260-$95 annual fee) to keep the card open!

Some SPG AMEX cardholders are getting retention offers of 10,000 Starpoints. That’s enough to get a free night at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel, pictured here. © The Honeymoon Guy

Retention Offers Are Particularly Important for American Express Cards

Banks have different policies on churning – the act of canceling a card and then reapplying for that same card to get the signup bonus again.  If it’s possible to churn a card, getting a retention offer for that card is less critical.  If the bank doesn’t give you an appealing retention offer you can simply cancel the card and then reapply for it a couple months later (or whenever their policy allows) and get the signup bonus again.  That signup bonus is likely much greater than the retention offer you would have received so you’re better off in that case.

However, American Express has a once-in-a-lifetime signup bonus rule.  If you get a signup bonus for an AMEX card, you can never (or maybe only after seven years) get a signup bonus for that product again.  So it usually doesn’t make sense to cancel an AMEX card if it has no annual fee.  For AMEX cards with an annual fee, lobbying for a retention bonus makes a ton of sense.

Rebate-Like Offers Are A Reason to Get/Keep Your AMEX Card Open

Every credit card, travel cards included, has its pluses and minuses.  They’re often card-dependent.  American Express though runs an “Offers” program that spans many of their cards.  Through their website and app you can offers for various merchants.  It’s common to save $20 or even $50 with these offers.  If you were going to make a purchase with that merchant already, this is basically free money!  For this reason AMEX cards are a bit more valuable to me than they would otherwise be.

AMEX offers some great rebate deals through their website. I’ve saved literally hundreds of dollars in a single year with these sorts of promos.

Though American Express may not have these sorts of offers for every one of their cards, I know from personal experience they’re available for the following cards:

Personal version of Starwood Preferred Guest AMEX (secure application link w/ 25,000 point signup bonus)

Business version of Starwood Preferred Guest AMEX (secure application link w/ 25,000 point signup bonus)

Hilton HHonors American Express (secure application link w/ 75,000 point signup bonus)

Remember the Adage HUCA

Now the reality is that not everyone will receive a retention offer.  Sometimes that is because you really aren’t offered one in the bank’s system.  However, there is an acronym – HUCA – that’s well known to veterans of this game.  It stands for Hang Up, Call Again.  It’s well known for a reason: Asking multiple phone agents the same question will often yield a different response.  So if you don’t get an appealing retention offer, it may be worth the five minutes to make another call.  In this day and age comments are usually stored on your account so I’d probably call it a day after one or two callbacks.

Don’t Wait Too Long to Call

You can usually only get an annual fee refunded for one or maybe three months (depends on which bank issued the card) after it is charged.  So if you call in beyond that, you’re doing so from a position of weakness.  The bank has already collected your annual fee so there’s really no logical reason for you to cancel your account until the next annual fee hits.  I usually call in within a few days of the annual fee being charged.  You can go even more proactive and call before the annual fee is charged but it’s seemed to me in the past that the agents may not have quite the full retention offer set that they do once the annual fee is charged.

The key here is to call in within 30 days of the annual fee being charged.  That should be soon enough to get a refund of the annual fee if desired, for most, if not all, banks.

If You’re the Big Cheese, Your Chances of a Strong Offer Improve

If you spent a lot on your card recently, you’re a wanted customer.  That’s because credit card issuers take a cut from every credit card purchase.  That’s referred to as the transaction fee and it’s usually in the neighborhood of 2-3%.  The retention agent you speak to will have all the info in front of him/her.  This is not a definitive determinant though.  Many people who haven’t spent much still get great retention offers.  If that description fits you, try turning the argument around by telling the agent that you’re willing to accept a challenge offer – one where you’ll get a certain number of points if you spend a certain amount of money in a set period of time.

Who to Call

You can oftentimes find a direct phone number to a retention department for a specific credit card issuer.  Those numbers do change though.

As of writing, here are two phone numbers for the retention department at American Express: 1-800-452-3945 and 855-857-7657.

The standard approach is to simply call the phone number on the back of the card and state that you’re considering canceling the card.  That will likely get you transferred to the retention department.  If you feel that you’re stuck talking with someone who has limited ability to give you a retention offer, you should ask to be transferred to someone in the retention department or simply to someone with the ability to provide additional offers.

The Summary

Before you cancel a credit card you should request a retention offer.  The offers are often lucrative.  At the moment, American Express is offering some especially enticing retention offers, according to multiple reports.

Personal version of Starwood Preferred Guest AMEX (secure application link w/ 25,000 point signup bonus)

Business version of Starwood Preferred Guest AMEX (secure application link w/ 25,000 point signup bonus)

Hilton HHonors American Express (secure application link w/ 75,000 point signup bonus)

Have you received a retention offer recently?  Share a note on your experience in the comments below!

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