Last week, I wrote a post sharing the results of 3 credit card retention calls, and many readers (including new-reader, Anastasia – welcome!) have reached out asking me for some of my tips and best practices when dealing with retention calls.
Managing 16 active travel credit cards is a lot, so I am diligent about logging into all of my credit card accounts every few days to make sure they are paid-off entirely, ensuring that none of them slip under the radar, resulting in a late payment fee.
Of course, I am human (an often sleep-deprived one), and it’s happened to me in the past, but luckily it usually only takes a quick phone call to have those fees reverse if you’re a customer in good standing.
When I logged into my American Express account today, I saw a balance of $95 on my Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and I knew right off the bat that meant my fee for another year had hit… time flies!
Before this year, I haven’t had much luck with receiving generous retention bonuses from American Express, but it never hurts to try. When I made the call, I explained to the account specialist that I didn’t know what the future of the card would be now that Marriott and Starwood have merged, and I currently have both this card and the Marriott Visa, where I also just paid an $85 fee.
To my surprise, I was offered a $100 statement credit (which exceeds the $95 fee), and right as the word yes rolled off of my tongue, he added and said “or, I could offer you 10,000 Starpoints for keeping the card open(!!)” I typically value Starpoints at 2 cents each, so taking the points was a no-brainer to me!
My Retention Call Strategies
Timing: I usually make the call the week I see the annual fee post to my account. Some people prefer making the call a month before the year renews. It’s your choice.
Quick Tip: Your card’s expiration month printed on the front of your card is the month you’ll expect your fee to post, which makes it a bit easier to keep track of what’s coming up.
Be a Customer in Good Standing: Everyone’s retention offers (if any) will be different, depending on the spend you put on the card, your credit history, relationship with the issuer, etc. To increase your odds of a favorable offer, such as a waived annual fee, statement credit, or bonus points, be a good customer, which translates to paying your bill on time and in full each month.
Transfer to an Account Specialist: When I call, I tell the customer service rep that I am considering closing the account and that I’d like to speak to an “account retention specialist”, whose job is specifically to encourage you to keep your card open.
Know Your Card Benefits: Soak in as much info as you can about your card-member benefits and share your knowledge with the rep. For example, mention that you love the 4th night free hotel benefit, but are sad that the terms are changing in July. A prepared call is always a good call.
Mention Devaluations/Program Changes/Mergers, etc: Any change in programs outside of what your card offers is a good bargaining point. For example, if there was a stealth award chart devaluation not too long ago, or a merger is in the works (such as the current Starwood and Marriott merger), the issuer may extend a retention offer so that you have some time to use the card during the program adjustments.
Choose the Right Offer: It can sometimes take some fast math to pick an offer right on the spot. I’d recommend being prepared with what you value points vs. cash, for instance. In my example from today, 10,000 Starpoints points is worth ~$200 to me, so I knew right away to choose that over the $100 statement credit (which is still a great offer).
Know When To Pay the Fee: There’s been many times where the card benefits have been so valuable (such as a free annual IHG night for a $49 annual fee and a Hyatt free night for a $75 fee), that I really would never close the account, even without a retention offer. Like anything in life though, the answer is always no if you don’t ask ;).
Lastly, Be Friendly: I’m sure connecting with your customer service rep counts for something.
It’s nice to have a nice mix of travel credit cards with diverse benefits, but paying a lot of fees each year can start to burn a hole in your pocket, especially if you’re not truly making use of the card benefits. Retention offers are like biting into a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get!
What have your retention offers been like recently? Any other strategies worth mentioning? Feel free to share in the comments!