ThankYou Citi, can I keep my points?

Lately, whenever I post anything about earning 5 points per dollar with Citibank ThankYou cards, commenters point out that there are risks of being shut down.  Some have pointed me to this FlyerTalk thread: “Citi cards closed for Perk Abuse.”  In that thread, people have reported having their Citibank accounts abruptly shut down.  Some account closures seem to have been triggered by excessive spend.  Some may have been triggered when customers called to redeem points for mortgage payments. 

I would like to be able to write-up a definitive guide to what has happened, but it is unclear. As is usually the case with such things, Citibank hasn’t offered any useful explanations for closing accounts.  And, there’s no telling whether all of the self-reports on FlyerTalk are even true.  Sometimes people purposely spread fear to try to keep the best deals to themselves.  Is that happening here?  I don’t know.

How to keep your points safe

Nobody wants to earn points and have them abruptly taken away.  Nor does anyone want to have Citibank close all of their accounts and potentially blacklist them from new offers.  At the same time, the allure of 5 points per dollar is tough to resist.  Here are my best guesses of how to stay safe:

  • Limit total spend: Frugal Travel Guy suggests limiting spend to half of your credit limit each month.  That sounds like a good rule of thumb to me.  If you have a very high limit, I’d further argue that you’d be wise to stick with less than $5K per month.
  • Mix in regular spend: If all of your spend is at a drugstore (where you’ve been buying reload cards or gift cards) that would probably look suspicious.  There’s nothing illegal with doing that, but you still don’t want to raise any warning flags.  I recommend using the card for your day to day groceries and gas purchases as well to help mix things up.
  • Be wary of mortgage & student loan redemptions: Other than redeeming for flights at 1.33 cents per point (see “ThankYou!“), the next most valuable options are to redeem for mortgage payments or student loan payments at 1 cent per point.  Unfortunately, there have been some reports of people being shut down when they called for these redemptions (which are not available online).  If you’re nervous, go with flights or gift cards instead.
  • Redeem often: The best way to protect yourself from losing your points is to use them as soon as they’re available.  Some people have taken to cashing out their balance each month by ordering gift cards.  This is the one piece of advice listed here that I probably won’t follow myself.  I like getting 1.33 cents per point value when redeeming for flights, and so I’ll wait for those opportunities to use my points.

I need to reiterate that the above guidelines are just guesses.  If you follow these guidelines, there is no guarantee that your points will be safe.  Similarly, if you go outside the bounds of these suggestions, there is no proof that you will be in danger.  We simply do not know for sure.

Reader Experiences

If any readers here have had their accounts shut down by Citibank, please let us know the circumstances.  Did you go outside of the guidelines suggested above?  If so, in what way?  Or, have you successfully exceeded these guidelines without getting shut down (yet)?  How far have you taken things?  Please comment below!

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About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. A related, but not exact, data point: Citi used to let you transfer credit lines between accounts. I wanted to transfer credit to the 5x thank you from another Citi card and was told they no longer transfer open credit. You have to close a card and apply for a new one.

  2. I’m still surprised how some stories spread (whether with good or bad intentions), such as Citi coding Amazon Payments as a cash advance. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the shut downs are true this time based on recent events – crackdown of AA multiple browser, removal of the rogue 5X application, etc. At the same time, I also feel that the uncertainty of the situation has caused people to be more conservation than they actually need to be. If they normally spend 100% of the credit limit, now they go 50% etc.

    These are just my thoughts and like everyone else, I have no idea what the best action is to maximize expected value since everyone’s situation is different.

  3. Might it be that the shutdowns are limited to accounts opened from the rogue application? Only the manufactured spend community would have located that application. I applied, though haven’t heard back yet, at a bank branch for the 5x card FM wrote about earlier this week. Hoping that this more legitimate route will avoid shutdown.

    • ICD: Interesting theory. That’s possible that they’re targeting people who signed up with the rogue application. My guess though is that their fraud & loss prevention people have ways of flagging suspicious spending patterns and that it doesn’t matter how you signed up.
      Dave Op: I haven’t heard of anyone getting shut down by Chase for maximizing the quarterly 5X categories. That’s capped pretty low and so I feel like it is quite safe.
      Preacher: I don’t know how long it takes for the points to appear. I’ve never tracked it that closely.

  4. How about on the Chase Freedom? Do the readers and forum members get shut down for using it just on the 5x items?

  5. Well, if someone does 1/2 their CL and someone else does 3x their CL. You only have to last 2mos to beat the slower spender. Who’s willing to take that chance 🙂 ?

  6. Statement closed yesterday. TYP earned showing in my CC account today. But…they’re not showing in my linked account at thankyou.com. How long do they take to get transferred over there so I can redeem them?

  7. If you are worried about cash advance fees, just call your credit card company and tell them to reduce your cash advance limit to $0 on all of your cards. That might also stop them sending you cash advance checks in the mail. Maybe…

  8. Citi shut down all my cards last week, so this is definitely happening.
    250,000 Thank You points down the drain.
    There is absolutely no hope to reopen an account one they close it.
    Every Citi dept will stonewall you and send you in circles.
    I used the rouge link to sign up a few months ago.
    And I had cashed out with checks.

  9. Just opinion but I don’t think you’ll get shut down if your doing normal spend and aren’t abusing the application process. I know this is simple minded. If Citi or Chase or whoever looks at your spending history and see thousands in gift card purchases, etc. they stick out like a sore thumb. They may even have this automated to trigger from abusing spend at certain stores. For example if you spend $5000 a month at CVS it might be a red flag. Spread your spend around. Don’t get so greedy because the only weapons they have is to shut you down and/or keep your points. In addition this could negatively effect your credit score if you loose the available credit and it could show closed by card company on your reports.

  10. I think the story is missed here and in the FT thread. The story is not Citi. The story is our community.

    We often think of ourselves as a single community. That is not the case. There are silent divisions in our community. There exists a quiet minority. Some call them the ‘hard hitters’. Some are noted by their lack of presence on the boards. They favor PMs. Their conclaves are not public but private. They disseminate disinformation. They can instill caution and fear.

    Their objective is the accumulation of points and miles for themselves without regard for others. Community is a source or information. A means to an objectives. They are not participants they are pariahs.

    Think I’m being harsh? Put yourself in the banks position. You’re a lending institution that sees a brand new account exceeding it’s $25000 credit line by 20x in a single month. Every month. Risk assessment is the core of banking. What do you do? Stay pat and watch $25,000 in mortgage checks walk out the door per month per account? Nope. You shut the whole thing down.

    It’s happening. Read the FT thread. Read the PMs. Read between the lines.

    They even have a pride in being first in and first out before the collapse that they precipitated occurs. Get what you can. Everyone else be damned.

    But I’m not really writing this mini manifesto to suggest we take up torches and hunt them down in the night. I only wish to say two things. First, don’t fool yourselves. They’re out there.

    Second, in the community there has been argument on the transparency of these deals. When argued, the bloggers are often the target of derision for posting details.

    Don’t. Step into the light.

    Those that argue for shadows have an agenda that is hidden from this community and benefits themselves, not the community. In fact it is in opposition to the interests of this community. The solution is transparency.

    This hobby of ours is only sustainable in the realization that all parties gain. We gain. The provider gains. The banking intermediaries gain. Credit card earned miles directly hit the bottom line of airlines and hotels. Banks generate merchant fees. We get free trips in unused seats.

    It’s time to wake up to this division and realize that the app that was pulled, the points that were frozen, the card that was closed was an imbalance in the system being corrected not an evil corporation reneging on a contract. More often than not due to the attention brought about by the quiet minority of point mongers who’ve already taken their $50,000. in checks and gone on to play in another sandbox.

  11. @Dia,
    Sounds like BS to me. Perhaps Citi has recently decided not to transfer credit to these 5X cards, but it would be a very recent decision. Just a week or two ago, I called Citi to close an AA card for which the annual fee was about to become due. After it became apparent to the Citi rep that she could not convince me to keep the AA card (the retention offer was crap by the way), the Citi rep herself offered to move 50% of my CL from the AA card to my 5X Thank You card. I smiled and told her “yes please” and the credit was transferred instantly.

  12. Thank you for that heart felt response, anonymous. Maybe us “hard hitters” should be more community oriented and split our resources amongst everyone else. Perhaps you could come up with rules and guidelines for the community so the “hard hitters” do not earn too much and the community’s needs are satisfied. Maybe you could even tell us when and where we can accumulate our points and miles and be the enforcer if rules are broken. That sounds very motivating. I nominate you to lead the community.

  13. Thanks for talking about this. There are members of FT who charge enormous amounts per month just for the points, and could care less if they are shut down or not. “Hawk75” and “Marathon Man” come to mind.

    Citi TYP, the OP says he charged over 160k in six weeks. I cant even conceive how he got that many VR at CVS , but he claims that Citi closed everything including gift cards he already redeemed — not sure how that is done.

    Several FT members have serious gambling problems but instead of casinos, they are using CC abuse to ruin the party for all of us.

    Amex, there are people who bought 20k of gift cards during TCP 2.5% sale and have had their accounts frozen and have been subjected to FR.

    Sorry but that is not the way this goes and those sob are killing the golden goose.

  14. @theflyermilerpost, what I’m saying is the cash advance on Amazon Payments for Citi isn’t a valid story but somehow, the story got spread. I don’t doubt that it did happen to someone, but they probably hit cash instead of goods/services in AP.

  15. @anonymous – i agree, good comment. As a rule of thumb, i take the “my account got shut down and i lost X thousand dollars or Y hundred thousand points” with a grain of salt. There are too many greedy trolls trawling these blogs, guided solely by their avaricious agendas.

    @jewson- u apparently misread (or didnt read at all) the comment. @anonymous never once advocated for a socialist system or for rules – we all know this is absurd. It appears hes suggesting that readers look more deeply into other readers’ comments with an eye for the aforementioned trolls and an appreciation (or lack thereof) for their motives.

  16. Citi closed all my cards… Was doing about .5x credit line in churn per month…

    Based on what I have read on past citi bans fromt he cashreturns card eta, the ban lasts from 1-3 years. Although some people still are not unbanned.

  17. As I recall, depending on which store you buy items, the bank may be able to read your receipts line-by-line. It’s Levels I to III, if I remember, with III indicating stores (which surprisingly included some Staples) where the credit card company/bank gets the line-by-line.

    That may have something to do with it. As I remember, the level of information/transparency sometimes varies store-by-store within a chain.

  18. The Citi clampdown is very real. It is, perhaps among others, coming due to redemptions from high balance (6 digit) TYP accounts. One case being argued as I type involves a miles collection pro who didn’t even have a Citi 5x card, and most of whose TYPs were earned four years ago via legit activity. Tried to redeem 5,000 points for a $50 check and now is caught in an undeserved quicksand.

    Unsure where this winds up as Cii can’t just cancel years of TYP accumulations for no reason.

  19. I’m not sure why people find the Citi shutdowns that hard to believe. Anyone signing up for this card now or recommending others spend 0.5x of their credit line is an idiot. If you have a significant stash of TYP I’d be thinking about an exit plan with the least collateral damage, not how much to safely spend in a month.

  20. All my credit cards with Citi were closed yesterday. The rep said this morning that I had huge spendings on my Citi Thank You CC and that’s why all my cards w/ Citi were closed. My spending was about $400-600 a day for VRs and GCs at CVS, Walgreen’s, grocery stores and I used only 50% of my CL. I opened my Citi TYP CC in January 2013 through a valid link. All previous points were redeemed for mortgage checks. Lost about $400 in rewards. Oh well.

  21. @Jason (comment #20)

    Get your facts straight. From where did you get this GC nonsense? I never once redeemed on GCs, let alone have them clawed back. In fact none of my awards were clawed back, thank you very much. But, it has been reported that checks have bounced.

    Oh, and sorry for ‘ruining the party’ on you.

    It’s also rumored that I eat kittens for breakfast.

  22. @Sam and @HikerT – im not saying all or most stories are fake, but there’s likely more to the story (and some probably are fake too). For example, the commenter may have started spending 10k/month at CVS or something ridiculously suspicious. The lack of information and the unscrupulous commenters out there make these posts, as a whole, less credible.

    Further, Citi cannot legally justify yanking points (which effectively are money) because a consumer has been merely “spending too much.” This is undoubtably insufficient. However, perhaps there’s something in the contract that allows (eg http://hosted2.ap.org/RIPRJ/37624898f7fc47e881149bd4a0c12011/Article_2013-05-23/id-e5581126b4990db353ef2bed75dbfcb3).

    Unless there’s something more to the story, Id be lickin my chops if I were a lawyer.

  23. Re: Oldguy

    Citi is (I think) relying on the various T&Cs (for the cards and for the program) that state that is the TY account is closed for any reason, all points are forfeited. And, the TY account is closed if all sponsor accounts are closed. And a sponsor account is closed if there is fraud or “abuse”.

    Those fighting argue that since GC/VR etc are not mentioned, whereas other issuers do prohibit them in their T&Cs, this is not fraud or abuse. Then there is the legality of forfeiting points, putting it in T&Cs doesn’t make it valid. Citi couldn’t close a bank account “for any reason” and just take the cash.

  24. I am always amazed when I read the comments in stories like this. The community memebers turning and blaming their fellow FF’ers. So Citi isnt the bad guy?? We are to believe that our brethren that push the limits are the offenders? Very disapppointed in those with those views.

  25. TY points are also great for hotel redemptions, and 1 cent per point. I’ve been doing just that for the past 2 weeks using my 130k points I earned while churning $26k in 5 weeks.
    ..
    We’ll see if these stories of the boogyman are true.

  26. I am one of the contributors to that thread. I am not a misinformation poster. You can look up my posting history on FT and get a sense of my sensibilities. We got the 5x after learning about it here about 3 months ago. About 15k in spend over the first two montjhs, about 12.5k on VRs at CVS. My thank you account has been frozen and under review for a few weeks and my guess is account closure is imminent. That’s my story. No redemptions for mortgage checks or anything.

    • Thanks Lkar (and others who contributed their shut-down stories). You have me spooked. I still plan to wait this out and see what happens, though, rather than rush out and spend all my points.

  27. It looks like Citi is shooting left and right like a tornado. Will they blacklist us and put a dent on CR?

  28. I can still login into my Citi online account and see my accumulated points, balances and remaining CL but I get a pop-up window saying “account closed” for each of my Citi accounts. I didn’t have any balances on those other 2 accounts, only around $5,000 on Citi TYP. My guess is they try to reduce their expenses by not paying the rewards. I don’t think Citi had a legitimate reason to close my accounts other than they didn’t want to pay the rewards. But as their TOS say they can close any account for any reason or no reason. I don’t think spending between $400 and $600 a day is too much.

    • LaJollaV : sue them. Start by detailing your entire experience. then file with your state Atty generals office. this will show you attempted to mediate whether or not they can assist. If they can you may get lucky there. if not, Sue them in Small Claims court for the max ammt of money your state allows. prepare to wait a long time but go in confident and strong. This is bait & switch.

  29. “I don’t think spending between $400 and $600 a day is too much.”

    ….and what annual income did you write on your cc application?

  30. Some of these comments are comical. Needlesstosay, there were many shutdowns this weekend, from very little spending to a lot. I’m sure there’s a blogger out there that got axed also, but hasn’t spoken up yet.

  31. @ marathon – Thank you. I’ll see what I can do.

    @ PumpUp As I said I have been using up to 50% of my CL. Does it really matter to you what’s my annual income? If a credit card company gives me a certain CL they shouldn’t close my account for using it.

    • LaJollaV: I could be wrong, I think the reason the income question was asked may be similar to what many deal with when they have a FR at Amex. For example, if one says they make $45k a year but they somehow put say $70k in spend on the CC, it could be possible that Citi, like Amex, may take a look at that and randomly select such accounts for review. To me their action is not a good gauge of what someone may have for available funds–after all, people could have plenty of savings, or maybe they buy and sell items online and can quickly and easily pay back a CC that is used vigorously. Also, one could have just changed jobs or income since applying for the card. There are no known provisions to be able to update ones income with a CC company that I know of.

  32. @ marathon – I didn’t get a FR from Citi. My credit score is around 800 and my annual income is exactly the same number I used when applying for Citi TY.

    • LaJollaV I am not doubting you and like you, my score is 790 and my income is what I reported to Citi. I dont even know if Citi gives FRs like Amex does, but it is possible that they are trying to make up some correlation between what people say they make and what their spends on their CCs are. Then again you explained yours is not one of the huge amounts like some have done in any given month (self included) –but I agree with you: If they allow a CR line of X and we can also pay it back, why are they somehow miffed if we actually DO that?! It is to me a classic case of a company just not wanting to pay the rewards it promised to everyone, and they are using any excuse they can to prevent it. UFB bank is similar in this way although a lot smaller than Citi. I have run into it in many areas myself and it’s always the same: Shotty It and promotion design coupled with greedy and inept management that probably doesn’t have foresight–or the funds to back its own lofty endeavors. They take it out on us.

  33. I don’t think it’s income issue. The issue with Citi is GC and VR. Some people ran up the $$ so high Citi finally figured it out. Now they are on the brutal rampage. I am afraid they will report to FBI and IRS since Citi has all our profiles.

  34. I have nothing to hide either. All purchases were legitimate, there was nothing in their TOS that GCs or VRs are not allowed. I used all the GCs and VRs to pay for my eye surgery.

  35. IRS or FBI might be interested if cash of unknown origins were involved anywhere in the process. Credit card charges and EFT payments would only make them happy.

    • if you told the IRS or the FBI or any govt agency that you just used your CC to churn $$ for yourself the agent would probably laugh and want to know how you did it so they could themselves.

  36. It’s the process going though. The docs, interview and auditing, web sites visited, emails and time spent would be enormous. I am not sure if we want to tell the agent FT and FM blog if asked since we learn the technique there. It’s fine to lose a few Citi CC and points.

  37. The “crime” here is Citi’s continued incompetence in running their credit card business.

    I was one of the victims of this weekend’s Citi Preferred Massacre.

    We don’t know all the details, but pretty much anyone who’s ever used their Preferred card to buy a high value gift card or reload card is a potential victim of this witch hunt.

    There’s nothing wrong with Citi refusing to award points for these types of purchases. You can certainly argue that it makes good business sense. What doesn’t make good sense is offering a deal that can be “exploited,” realizing the problem, and then “executing” everyone who’s taken advantage of the trick. Far better to do what Citi’s competitors have done: learn from the tricksters and set limits on the manufactured spending.

    Sadly, Citi has never shown much sense in the way they’ve run their credit card business. This has obviously been very good for many members of the frequent flyer community, who have exploited their stupidity for years. This week, however, the stupidity has been very bad for this group. I guess you win some and lose some.

  38. Iahphx why are we called tricksters? You make it sound like a bad thing. Seems weird and one sided to say that dont you think?

  39. Marathon Man: would you prefer “gamers”? 🙂

    These are, of course, frequent flyer tricks. I’d say we’re tricksters.

  40. Im just trying to be clear on how you mean these things. Are we bad or good? I mean i think well of myself but what are your thoughts of what it is we do? Curious

  41. Marathon Man: IMO taking advantage of bargain deals can take a range of values, like eating for example. When you eat to sustain your productive life – it’s good. When your eating takes form of gluttony – it’s one of the 7 deadly sins.

    • Max : true maybe… but even that is all relative. For example, a soilder can plow down 3,000 calories a day and stay fit. A runner could also eat a lot of pasta because these carbos are needed for strength and endurance. You eat what you can burn and you shall stay fit too.
      .
      Gluttony in the sense that many may be thinking of it, might refer to that fat guy in the classic Monty Python movie, Life of Brian, who needs a bucket when he eats too much. He shoves food in his mouth like a pig with no manners or respect for others.
      .
      BUT is that what we are doing here? I don’t think so! What if for me, buying more and more on my credit card is the same as someone else only buying a few items? Again it is all relative. What if spending say $50k for one person is NORMAL but spending only $2k for another is TOO MUCH? What IS too much and how can you or any other person define it?
      .
      Finally, you bring up 7 deadly sins… Is that relevant to EVERY religion that people here may believe in?

  42. FM: Wow, this story is turning really bizzare! If Citi really declared gift cards a fraudulent category, then why on earth should retail consumers end up being the guilty party?! The reports do seem somewhat consistent, yet it’s hard to imagine why Citi would want to turn a somewhat successful promo into a PR disaster and years of litigation.

  43. We should all call all the gc companies and distributors as well as the stores that sell them and inform them that citibank has just called them all fraud!

  44. I mean im no expert but if you have a major bank telling its customers that the purchase of all the major gift cards with its credit card is fraud, i would think someone in government involved with consumer finance or the very engines that run our economy may want to have look

  45. I think this was a ill informed phone rep who didn’t fully understand whatever is really going on. I just have a very hard time believing that Citi’s stance is truly that buying gift cards is fraud. If they really believe that, they should go after the companies that sell gift cards, not their customers who buy them!

  46. Fm i agree but if thats what the rep told happy, then if she has the reps name, we all need to do this:
    .
    Utterly cause gc panic on purpose.
    .
    Yes, what we all need to do is go viral. Send a message to every cvs to every store ad to every entity that sells any gc to a customer with a citi cc that citi thinks its fraud and to stop selling them to everyone everywhere right now. Cause panic on the titanic scale.
    .
    This will be economic
    .
    And it will wake up those in power who know how wrong citi was.
    .
    Sound crazy? Well it would have an effect

  47. Finally the point of what im saying is that maybe we can scare everyone with any citi cc out there to stop buying anything with it. Even those who never heard of ft or this blog. Everyone and every citi card. Make people reluctant to trust it.
    .
    Even if only for a few days! Worth a try right?

  48. Yup! So now alls we have to do is incite a citi wide boycott! (For fear that something we buy may be fraud)!

  49. @Marathon Man: One correction, the Montey Python movie you are referring to is ‘The Meaning of Life’, not, ‘Life of Brian’

    Now back to our discussion…

  50. Thehawk75… You are right. Sorry. I knew id mixed something up lol

    And now for something completely different

  51. The next step must be taken by the alleged victims of Citibank (collecting documentation, etc). Those who have not had adverse interactions with Citi at this point are relying on hearsay — and that’s not enough to start a boycott.

  52. Citi is Citi, America’s great bank. They shutdown some cards. It’s no big deal. Let those people spread the fraud. Everybody is afraid and stop buying GC and VR. GC volume will go straight down from here. They don’t expect small group can do anything. Goal is achieved.

  53. Max: Do you not believe all these people? I do. And I am very worried about my own accounts even if I know I have done no wrong. Why? Because I have seen this played out many times before. What you are basically saying is, Well it aint happened to me, so it must be a problem with just those people. That my friend is exactly how Citi would win this!

  54. Marathon Man: I agree that the reports sound convincing. Yet it could be a very clever campaign by some competitor (e.g. Chase), since I don’t know those screen names. It’s just our traditional American way to dispense justice in the right sequence
    First, prove beyond doubt who’s the guilty party; then whack them with appropriate punishment, like a boycott or bad PR.

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