Can Your Miles Be Taken Away When You Cancel a Credit Card?

That’s a common misconception that’s been floating around for years, and is occasionally fed by poorly informed customer service agents for credit card companies (or the occasional agent who make win points for preventing you from cancelling and who resorts to unscrupulous tactics as a result).

A former boss emailed me about 10 days back,

Tried to cancel my American Airlines credit card — nowhere near the Gary Leff quarterly churn, but trying to do better than once a decade — and the rep told me I’ll lose the miles I’ve earned with it once I’ve gone without using the card for 18 months. Does that sound right?

Of course, American Airlines miles will be forfeit after 18 months of inactivity. To keep an AAdvantage account active, and continue to extend the life of your miles, you just need some activity — any activity — every year and a half.

You can charge something to your credit card to earn miles, you can take a flight, you can credit a car rental, you can buy miles or transfer them into your account from someone else. There are myriad things you can do to generate account activity and push out the expiration date on your account by 18 months.

One of the really need things about Starwood’s Platinum level is that they will let you transfer miles in any amount to their airline partners. (Golds have to transfer at least 1500 points and general members 2500.)

That means a Starwood Platinum can drop 1 mile into an American or US Airways account every 18 months to keep their accounts active.

But cancelling a credit card does not forfeit the points in your account, the points earned from that credit card, or the signup bonus generated by obtaining that card. Except that some cards do contain language in their terms and conditions if you cancel within the first 6 months of cardmembership the bank may claw back the signup bonus.

This is very rare. There are very occasional reports of this, almost akin to urban legends. But it’s advisable not to cancel a new card within 6 months for this reason.

Of course it’s advisable in most cases not to cancel a new card within 6 months anyway. It’s usually a good idea to keep a card until it’s been nearly a year. As the annual fee approaches folks will often be offered something of value that makes it worth keeping the card. Or having the card can be useful as something to trade in exchange for approval of a new card. If you aren’t automatically approved, offering to give up the card you have can get you an approval (but cancelling a card first — while it may increase the likelihood of an automatic approval — doesn’t guarantee that a bank will re-extend the credit to you that you had before.)

I rarely ever cancel a card proactively without asking the issuing bank if there’s a reason to keep it (retention bonus), or using the credit in trade for a new card approval.

Still, I’m not worried about what happens if I do cancel the card. They won’t claw back the miles earned (though in some cases they have the little-used right to if you cancel during the first 6 months).

In other words, no worries. This canard circulates with some regularity, but it just isn’t so.

Update: to be clear this post is about an airline or hotel co-branded credit card, you don’t lose the points you’ve earned in the airline or hotel credit card program.

With a bank’s program — such as American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards — where the points are in the program that is associated only with having a credit card, then naturally you need to have a credit card account open to continue to access those points.

If you are going to cancel a Chase Ultimate Rewards card, transfer the points out to another open Chase card before doing so (and if you will have no more cards left, make sure to redeem before cancelling).

If you are going to cancel an American Express Membership Rewards card, that’s fine as long as you retain an open American Express Membership Rewards-earning card linked to that account. If you’re closing your last or only Membership Rewards-linked card, make sure to redeem your points first.

Same theory, more or less, applies to other bank proprietary programs (like Capital One, Wells Fargo, etc).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary ┬╗

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Comments

  1. I cancelled my United Presidential Plus Card in January out of anger and I never got the miles for the last statement. They told me that I would not if I didn’t wait for the statement period to end, which I did not. So, I never got them. It was probably 25-35,000 United Miles- maybe more, I can’t remember.

  2. Ultimate Rewards points are forfeited if you cancel and confiscated if Chase cancels. No compensation whatever. Never leave points in UR.

  3. In a similar vein, Gary, how about the BA Visa, where if you spend $10,000 in 12 months you get 25,000 AVIOS. If a person reached the $10,000 in the twelfth month and cancelled the card at the end of that month, would the 25,000 AVIOS be credited? I have more than aimless curiosity about this one!

  4. @Fishing4Deals – yes you retain your Starwood points in your Starwood account if you cancel the SPG Amex. Just make sure you have qualifying activity in the account every 12 months to keep it active.

  5. @HT – wait until the points post to cancel, Chase probably wouldn’t post uncredited points. You can always cancel AFTER the annual fee hits and not owe that fee (just cancel during the 30 days following the end of the billing cycle in which you are charged the fee)

  6. One way to create easy activity for various accounts, even without a credit card hooked directly to that account? Register the card with the airline’s dining program and eat out periodically with it at one of the hundreds of restaurants that participates. Programs exist for US Air, AA, United, Alaska and Priority card, if not more. I’ve had luck moving one card between the various programs; delete from one, add it to the next.

  7. Speaking of losing things……..I haven’t seen any blog material on how to get 5X when you pay your federal and state taxes……….while I am fairly certain there isn’t a economical way to do it there should be a way to use it for initial spending requirements that make some sense………..

  8. I believe the best strategy for federal taxes is the suntrust delta debit card because of fixed debit fees at payusatax.com

  9. I want to cancel my BOA Virgin Atlantic card because the annual fee is coming up in April (next month). I’ve asked about moving existing credit to one of my other cards so I don’t lose it, but they claim a hard pull is required anytime I wish to increase the limit on a card, even if it’s pulled form an existing card. I got the same answer through online chat and calling them. I also have the BOA and BOH Hawaiian cards, is there another BOA card worth getting and does BOA horse trade to approve new cards?

  10. Well, you’re not quite right there.
    If you cancel a Chase Sapphire cc, the points in the related Ultimate Rewards account will disappear. since you can only access your UR account thru your cc account.
    I found this out just recently the hard way — cancelled a Sapphire cc just _before_ the next stmt, and lost the points that I would have got on the next stmt. Just a couple 100 pts, but still…

  11. Not to mention that sometimes the customer service representative will incorrectly say you will lose your miles when you cancel your card. I recently cancelled the 2 Hawaiian Airlines card, and the representative for one of those cards said I would lose my miles when the account is closed. I knew that was not true so I just said yea sure no problem, but that could be really confusing for people who don’t know that.

  12. @Gary One last question. If I was willing to pay the 1.85% convenience fee to get minimum spending miles does Chase count that charge on the British Airways companion ticket 30k requirement?

  13. I@Gary – I think he wants to know if fees levied by Chase count toward min spend requirements. I don’t think they do since they’re not a purchase or BT.

  14. No the question is if I my Federal Tax with Pay USA Tax and the tab is $5k and the fee is $92.50 and it is charged on the Chase BA Visa how many miles will Chase credit me on the statement? 0 vs 115 vs 6,250 vs 6,366……..

  15. Do anyone know what happens to you aeroplan that you got my American express and cancelled in the first year can they be taking away from you

  16. Gary,

    I understand how to keep my airline/hotel miles from expiring, and also have a pool of Chase Ultimate Rewards points and AMEX Membership Reward points that I have retained through multiple cards- as long as I have one Chase UR/AMEX MR card open and active, I can keep my consolidated balance under that account.

    Does it work the same for Citibank Thank You points? I read somewhere that the points are linked to each card, not a consolidated account like with UR and MR. Coming up to an expiry on one of my Citibank cards soon, and so would like to figure this out.

    George

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