Will I Lose Points or Miles When I Cancel My Credit Card?

Since I’ve been asked this question a couple of times, I thought I would do a blog post to help out newbies (since that’s who I like to help with this site).

Will I lose my miles if I cancel my credit card?  Will I lose my points if I cancel my credit card?

It depends. (Gotta love that answer.)

It depends on the card and program.

Airline Mileage Based Credit Cards Issued by a Bank

These would include cards like the United issued by Chase, the Delta by American Express, or the American Airlines card by Citibank.  There are obviously a ton more examples, but I hope you get the point.

In each of these cases, two separate companies are working together in an effort to keep your business.

You buy something with Chase, and Chase awards you with United miles.

In those cases, you will not lose your miles if they have already been transferred to your frequent flyer mileage account.  Those miles have gone outside of the control of the credit card company and now rest in the control of your frequent flyer program.

The one possible exception is when you get a card and cancel it very soon after getting the bonus.  In those cases, I’ve heard (theoretically) that miles will be taken back.  However, I’ve never personally had that happen, nor have I ever had it confirmed that it does happen.  It may just be a scare tactic to make you keep the card.

If you are ever concerned about it happening, the solution is simple.  If you are legitimately concerned that the credit card company might take your miles away, then just make a booking.  You will eventually need to cancel that booking (which most likely will incur a fee), but the miles will be protected if they’ve already been spent on a booking.

Earlier this year when I was forced to cancel my Continental plastic to make room for my British Airways plastic, I transferred all my Continental miles to United to be sure there was no way the credit card company could touch those miles.

I have never heard of anyone (correct me if I’m wrong) having miles taken back after having a credit card for 10+ months.

Rewards Program Owned by the Credit Company

Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards

Programs like the Ultimate Rewards Program (Chase) and Membership Rewards (American Express) are different.

With those programs, you need an active card to be able to participate in the rewards program.  In those cases, when you cancel your account, you will either automatically forfeit your points, or you will have 30 days from canceling the account until you need to use the points.

My approach here is simple – always transfer your points out of the account before canceling your account.

The only exception to this is if you have another account that uses the same account and will thus keep the account open and active.

Since both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards points can be transferred out, you should always do that before canceling your credit account.  Remember, once the miles are transferred out, the credit card company won’t go chasing after your frequent flyer account to get those back.

You only lose them if you keep the points in the credit card reward programs account.

Capital One Venture Rewards

Venture Rewards is a little different because you cannot transfer your points out.  Thus, before canceling that card, you will need to spend your points or you will lose them.  One thing you might not know is that Venture Rewards allows you to refund the same trip expense multiple times.  If you have a $300 balance and a $100 hotel charge, you can submit that for reimbursement and get the $100 back.  Then submit the exact same hotel stay for reimbursement and get another $100 back.  Do it a third time, and you’ll have the full $300 balance of your account back.

Conclusion

Your miles are almost always safe if they have already been transferred out of the credit card company’s control.  I have never once had miles taken out of a frequent flyer account after canceling a credit account, and my usual pattern is to hang on to cards for about 11 months and cancel them before the annual fee comes due.

Have you ever had any similar or differing experiences?

Comments

  1. patrick howe says

    Craig : Good article. Here are my real world experience ;

    Citi-Visa ThankYou Points
    I was under the impression that these were separate entities but after I cancelled my Citi-Visa I lost all my points (100K).
    I phoned both Citi & Ty – Ty pointed me to Citi – the Citi rep was going to help me out – but when they found out it was 100K they turned me down quickly.
    This was a costly lesson to learn.

    Amex-Spg
    My experience is the SPG points are not effected if you cancel the Amex-Spg card.
    The SPG points will disappear after 1yr if there is no activity.

    • Craig says

      Patrick,
      Yes, Citi owns ThankYou points so that would indeed fall under the second category where you need to transfer points out before canceling. Man I’m sorry! That probably wasn’t a very good feeling.

  2. Sean says

    Chase bank close
    My sapphire preferred card. Can i redeem my points ? I tried online redeem website. It seems not working

    • Craig says

      Sean,
      I’m sorry to say this if you didn’t transfer your Ultimate Rewards out of the account before you closed it I bet you won’t be able to use them. You could call customer service just to confirm.

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