Sometimes, you can keep the points when you cancel a card

Cashing In with Tony Mecia

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.

Ask Tony a question, or see if your question has already been answered in the Cashing In answer archive.


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If I cancel my credit card, will I lose my points? 

If you cancel a general rewards card, which is not associated with a specific airline or hotel, you will likely lose your points if you don’t transfer them before canceling. However, you won’t lose your points if you cancel certain cards, such as: 
  1. Airline cards
  2. Hotel cards
Expert Q&A

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Dear Cashing In,
I have reward miles on American that have been attained mainly from my Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard. I do not want to renew the card for another year and pay the $95 annual fee. How can I transfer these miles before my anniversary date? Who can the miles be credited to? – Glenn

Dear Glenn,
Those of us who write about credit card rewards spend a lot of time addressing the features of new cards and how to use them to your advantage.

But you might not always think about what happens when it comes time to close an account. Sometimes, you’ll find that you’re just not using a reward card that much, or your circumstances change so that what initially attracted you to the card no longer applies. The annual fee is a stark reminder of the price that you pay for keeping open a card that you seldom use.

If you find you are no longer receiving enough value from a card to justify the annual fee, then by all means you should cancel. But first, make sure you pay attention to the rules about what happens to your reward miles or points. Different programs have different rules.

Rules for separate loyalty programs

Airline cards.

Generally, any card that deposits reward points or miles into a separate loyalty program run by another company can be canceled without wiping away unused points. This includes most airline and hotel programs.

In the case of Citi and American Airlines, you earn American AAdvantage miles when you use your Citi card. Citi sends the information over to American every month, and American credits miles into your AAdvantage account. They are then American AAdvantage miles and subject to the terms of American’s frequent flyer program.

For details, see our story, “When do credit card reward, airline miles, hotel points expire?

If you cancel the card, which is administered by Citi, the frequent flyer miles that you have earned remain in your American account. Citi does not take them back or tell American to wipe them away.

Tip

Tip: If you cancel a co-branded airline card, be sure to keep your airline loyalty program active enough to retain your points

Of course, those miles can still disappear eventually. American and United require that you have some kind of activity in your frequent flyer account at least every 18 months. When you have and use an affiliated credit card, the miles that are deposited into your account every month keep your account current.

If you cancel a card, make sure you know the expiration policy and are earning or using rewards regularly. Delta miles don’t expire. Other airlines tend to range between a year and two years.

Hotel cards.

Hotel points work the same way: You won’t lose them if you cancel an affiliated credit card, but be mindful of keeping the account active.

Hilton points don’t expire as long as you have account activity every 12 months. With Hyatt, it’s every 24 months. Other hotel reward programs tend to be in that range.

For general rewards cards, transfer or use points first

However, with other kinds of reward programs, you will lose your reward points if you cancel your card. This happens typically with reward programs that are wholly run by card issuers, such as Capital One points, Chase Ultimate Reward points, American Express Membership Reward points, and Citi ThankYou points.

With those cards, you earn points when you use the card, but the key difference is that the bank administers the rewards program. If you cancel one of those cards and have no other cards that earn those kinds of points, your reward points will be eliminated.

When you call to cancel, telephone agents will usually ask you to confirm that you know that will happen. A lot of these programs tout that their reward points never expire, which is true … as long as you hold onto their card.

Before canceling one of those cards, use the points or, if the program allows, transfer them to somebody who will still have a card.

In your case, Glenn, you can cancel your Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard without losing your frequent flyer miles. But continue to be mindful of them. If you leave them alone for 18 months, they will disappear.

See related: Avoiding your reward card's annual fee, How to cancel a credit card


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Updated: 09-21-2018