Expert Q&A

Do you lose your miles if you cancel your rewards card?


When canceling a frequent flier credit card, make sure you know how your miles are cached or you just might lose them.

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Question for the expert

Dear Cashing In,
I am using presently a Citi AAdvantage credit card and plan to cancel this card and leave the company. Will I lose my collected flier miles by doing so? Thanks in advance. — Frank

Answer for the expert

Dear Frank,
This is a question I get a lot. Let me answer specifically for Citi‘s AAdvantage program, and then share some insight about another frequent flier program where the rules are quite different.

First of all, you have nothing to worry about with Citi’s AAdvantage program. This card is the “official” affinity card of the popular American Airlines AAdvantage program, which means that miles earned from any purchases are converted into actual AAdvantage miles. There is no holding account at Citi from which you would move miles to American. Any miles you earned from spending with the Citi card are not Citi’s, they are yours at American AAdvantage.

While you do not have to fear any repercussions from Citi for canceling the card, you may want to take into account the fact that canceling a credit card that you’ve had a long time may negatively impact your credit score. Plus, you may even encounter resistance from Citi when you call to cancel. My general advice in the past has been to “silently” cancel the card by burying the card in your safety box. Once your balance is paid off, you also have the upper hand in negotiating out of paying the annual fee.

Another reason to keep the card is this: Miles in the AAdvantage program expire. One of the easiest ways to keep miles active — other than actually using them to fly — is to use the card once in a while as even the smallest purchase keeps the miles from expiring.

One final note on canceling your Citi card: The safety of your AAdvantage miles is dependent upon you making sure that the final balance is paid. Citi can and does withhold miles when an account becomes delinquent. Miles are also deducted if you choose to return a product that you charged with your Citi card. But if your balance is clear, and you are set on closing the card and willing to take a credit score hit, then go ahead and cancel.

Citi actually operates a little differently than some other programs. For instance, American Express cards enrolled in the popular American Express Membership Rewards program can earn frequent flier miles. In this program, the card actually acts like a bank and stores your points based on your purchases until you decide which airline, hotel or merchandise to which you want to transfer the points. The terms and conditions of this particular program spell out that if you voluntarily cancel enrollment or cancel all linked accounts enrolled in the program, but keep at least one AmEx card open and in good standing, you have up to 30 days from the date of cancellation to redeem the points accrued. Also, if you cancel a linked account and cancel all cards that are issued by AmEx or its affiliates, all points accrued in the program will be forfeited immediately. And, of course, if any linked account is not in good standing, your enrollment in the program may be canceled or the points accrued in your program account forfeited. The Diners Club rewards plan works similarly.

The rule of thumb is to make sure that if you are canceling a credit card account that has a “bank” of your points or miles, plan to use and redeem those points or miles before canceling the account.

So, there you have it, a lesson of how Citi’s AAdvantage program works, and how it would have a similar, but much different ending with another airline rewards card. Hope this helps and thank you for the question.

See related: Are credit card rewards taxable? Probably not, 7 ways to get the most from rewards credit cards, Tracking rewards program changes before they happen, Maximizing value in reward redemption

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