We all hate the annual fees associated with credit cards and they’re especially hard to swallow with all the cards out there that offer the first year free.  So why not just cancel your credit card and move to another card?  Well nothing, except that credit card companies often try their very best to retain you as a customer.

I thought that I knew a lot about retention offers but it turns out I was wildly mistaken on some fronts.  I’m going to walk you through the background of what happened to me and then give you some interesting insight into the behind the scenes decision making process at American Express so you also understand how retention works.

The Background

In the past I have churned American Express cards in order to collect the sign-up bonus again and again, but about 2 years ago, AMEX changed the language in the terms and conditions of their rewards cards to state (emphasis mine):

For current or former American Express® Gold Rewards Cardmembers, we may approve your application, but you will not be eligible for the welcome bonus.

This effectively stops people from churning their cards for points but you could still cancel your card and re-apply, and assuming the card product your are applying for has a first year free offer, you could still escape the dreaded Annual Fee (AF).

Often times when I called in to cancel my card, I would be either transferred over to their retention group or be made an offer by the representative on the phone to keep the card.

My experience has been that each card would have its own offer depending on the spend on the card, your payment history and a bunch of other factors that I don’t have full insight into.

About a month ago, I had three cards that had their annual fees post, the American Express Gold, Gold Business and SPG Business.  When I called in to cancel the cards, the representative I spoke to told me that there was no retention offer available for my SPG Business, which made sense because I hardly put any spend on that card.

The other two cards had offers available.  The Gold Personal had an offer of 25,000 Membership Rewards and the Gold Business had an offer of 20,000 Membership Rewards.

I cancelled the SPG Business and retained the Gold Personal and Gold Business and expected 45,000 Membership Rewards points to be posted to my account.

Well, it never happened.  And here’s why.

Did You Know?

When front line reps are faced with a customer threatening to cancel their cards, they refer to their computer systems to give them guidance on what can be offered to the customer to retain them.  Now each card has it’s own offer and often times, there’s two offers available.  The first offer is the one that is initially offered, and the second offer is offered if the first is refused.  Your mileage may vary here but that’s been my experience.

Typically, once you accept the offer, you commit to keep the card for another year but here’s your fair warning.  If you accept the offer, you may not necessarily receive the offer, as was the case with me.

You see, what happens is that any offer that is made that is over a set amount of points (I believe that number to be 10-15,000 Membership Rewards), gets referred to a Supervisor or Team Lead for approval.  These level of management have the ability to overrule the offer made by the front line representative.

Why Would They Overrule?

When I noticed that the points hadn’t been credited to my account, I called into AMEX to get an explanation.  I actually was expecting to get an ETA on when the points would be deposited rather than be notified that I would not receive the points.

I was told that the matter had been referred to a Team Lead and that the Team Lead had rejected my retention bonus because I had been made a retention offer of 40,000 Membership Rewards in May for my American Express Platinum Business Card.  That was an offer I had accepted.

Based on that offer, I was no longer eligible for another retention bonus for 1 year from May 2017.

Now this goes against everything I thought I knew about AMEX retention offers and I was obviously perplexed so I asked for the Team Lead that made the decision to call me back for an explanation, especially considering the fact that I was made an offer of 25,000 and 20,000 Membership Rewards to retain my Gold and Gold Business cards respectively.

The Call

I received a call from a Team Lead named Peter this morning and over a span of 22 minutes, we had a discussion about what had happened and why AMEX was not willing fulfill their offer of 25,000 and 20,000 Membership Rewards points.

What came from the call was that I was made aware that the representative that made the offer was not properly trained.  What should have happened is that the representative should have looked at the previous retention offers that were made to decide whether or not an additional offer could be made.

That obviously didn’t happen.

Am I happy about the explanation?  No.  But i was interested to pick up the following tidbits:

  • Retention offers are made on a per client basis, not a per card/product basis
  • A retention offer can be claimed once per year
  • Any offer that is made to a customer is automatically logged in AMEX’s systems.  In order for a representative to see the offer, they must click a link and that click is logged so anyone that is doing an audit on a customer file sees exactly what has been offered
  • Representatives can see at a glance how many cards have been opened and closed on your card over the lifetime of your relationship with AMEX
  • Representatives know how many Membership Rewards you have earned on your account and can see the breakdown (spend, referrals and signup bonuses).  Based on my interactions with Peter, it is clear that this information is at their fingertips
  • Escalations of issues with AMEX goes from the Customer Care Professional (front line staff) to the Supervisor and then to a Team Lead.  The Team Lead is the highest level you can escalate a phone call to according to Peter.  The next level of escalation is at the President’s Office level and that must be done in writing.  The mailing address for the President’s office is:
    • AMEX Bank of Canada
      PO Box 7000, Stn B
      Willowdale, ON
      M2K 2R6
  • Representatives have the ability to “write off” amounts on your account
  • AMEX views their points to be worth 1¢/MR
  • AMEX refers to their retention offers as “Saver Card Offers”
  • AMEX uses a call centre in the US and in the Philippines

Next Steps

I’m unsure how to approach the next steps … perhaps you have some thoughts that you would like to share with me?

The issue I have most heartache over is the fact that the offer was made and then resided.  All levels of management at AMEX admit as much.  I’ve actually had a few errors made by other vendors in the past.  Shaw Communications had a representative make an offer that was wildly incorrect to my benefit and after reviewing the call, they decided to honor the offer because it was the right thing to do.  AMEX is going the other direction and while I understand that it is a business, there should be some level of accountability.  Even a goodwill gesture of something like half of the offer would have been better than how this issue has been handled.

On one hand, I very much like American Express and their credit card products, as has been evident in my posts, but on the other hand, the way this has been handled has left a sour taste in my mouth.

Am I blowing this out of proportion or am I right in my frustration?





Jayce is the founder of PointsNerd, and avid traveller and a teacher by nature. He prides himself on flattening the learning curve through step-by-step guides because everyone needs to start somewhere.


  1. I am curious about the SPG card. I had more than $30000 on it last year and I couldn’t get a measly point out of them, even trying twice. I wonder if it is because they are SPG points. Perhaps the MR points they have more leeway as they are theirs? I didn’t cancel my card as I use it a lot but just seemed strange they would let it go.

    • That makes sense, Steve. Essentially Amex BUYS SPG points from Starwood Preferred Group ( née Marriott ) at a discounted rate and then offers them to you. Given that they don’t waive the annual fee for the SPG card, it’s likely that the COST for their own AMEX MR are lower than SPG. Also, take into consideration that AMEX MR transfer to SPG at 2:1. So… when you are receiving 25,000 SPG points, it’s essentially like 50,000 AMEX MR.

      AMEX can devalue or make up the difference in points through a variety of methods, including charging 20,000 points for a $200 / night hotel, while only actually paying the $150 bulk rate for the room.

    • Hi Steve,

      As a data points, I have never received a retention offer for any SPG product in the past and I think Gaz nails the explanation. SPG points are points that AMEX needs to purchase and likely are more expensive to them than MR points and as it’s a SPG card, the only thing they can do to retain you is offer a rebate on the AF or SPG points, neither of which seem very likely. Cheers


      • Well this isn’t true (well as far as the US cards go). I just received a retention offer for 7k spg points for 1k spend for my US personal SPG card.

        • Hi Jason,

          I have actually heard stories of people receiving SPG retention offers but they tend to be quite small (<10K). I personally have never received an offer for SPG as a retention. Cheers


  2. The error was clearly on their part so If you have the energy, I would politely escalate the issue all the way to the president if necessary. You have the advantage of being able to also emphasize your long history with the company, the number of customers you have referred to them, and the advertising and support you give to their products. If you they are unable to resolve the situation to your satisfaction, then I would cancel the card(s) in question. After all, you can always reapply at a later date. Best of luck!

    • Hi Teddy,

      For the Platinum Business Card, I didn’t put much spend on that card at all. I fulfilled the minimum spend requirement and put the card in a drawer. Based on that fact, the offer of 40,000 MR to keep the card seems to align with the information that I was provided, namely that the retention offer is made based on spend as a customer rather than on a per card basis.

      Hope that helps.

  3. No I don’t think you are blowing it out of proportion. If they are empowering their reps to offer a retention bonus, and the training is deficient then it certainly isn’t your fault. They need to accept accountability for their front line people and if not trained properly, then perform the gap training and move on.
    I would cancel the cards for non compliance of their offer. no need to give them more business than necessary.

  4. I have had my Business SPG card for 5 years and every year I have received a retention offer. The past several years it has always been 7,000 SPG points. This year I was only offered 5,000. I spend $40K a year to ensure I get the free weekend night award.

  5. Hey Jayce,

    Concur with the collect thoughts above. Curious as to how long folks hold the cards before calling to cancel to receive an offer (ie. after min spend, 6 months, prior to the year and before the annual fee, years down the road of receiving the card).

  6. Amex made an offer and you accepted that offer. That constitutes a verbal contract, and is legally binding.

    If Amex made a mistake, that’s Amex’s fault.

    I would escalate.

  7. I have had the regular SPG for years. I’m new to this game so last year was the first year I attempted asking for a retention offer. It was 12,000. I put approximately $30 000 on the card per year. This year will be interesting as I have a few more AmEx cards than years past.

    On your other issue, I was wondering if they waived your annual fee for the 2 cards they offered you retention offers on? They clearly knew that the points were offered, which they agreed upon. You then agreed to it, you then, I’m assuming paid an annual fee based on that offer, and now AmEx is saying sorry our customer service representative wasn’t trained properly to offer you those points. I would escalate in a heartbeat. An cc. the CEO in your written letters. This poor customer service likely explains their serious loss of market share lately!

    • Hi Stg,

      You are correct in assuming that I paid the AF in exchange for the points offered and this is the most frustrating part of the situation. I haven’t decided how I will handle the situation as of yet as there are many factors to consider, including my ongoing relationship with AMEX. Cheers


    • I’ve never done it before but I do believe that they have a mechanism in place to claw back retention offers if you don’t keep the card open for a set period of time. Not 100% on this but I do remember an AMEX rep reference that fact some time ago.


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