Amex, Chase, Citi: How to Keep Points Alive

Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards have a lot in common between them, besides their similar sounding names.  All three are transferable points programs in which it is possible to convert points to various airline and hotel loyalty programs, usually 1 to 1.  All three make it possible to buy airfare (and/or other travel) with points and get more than 1 cent per point value.  All three require the account-holder to have certain premium cards to unlock these “better than 1 cent per point value” capabilities.  Where the three programs differ drastically is in how points are stored and, how one can keep points alive when cancelling cards…

With Chase Ultimate Rewards, points are stored separately within each credit card account.  If you have both a Sapphire Reserve card and a Freedom card, for example, you’ll accumulate points separately within each of the two accounts.  Points in the Sapphire Reserve account can be transferred to airline and hotel programs.  Points in the Freedom account cannot.  Similarly, points in the Sapphire Reserve account can be used to book travel at a rate of 1.5 cents per point (other premium cards offer 1.25 cents per point: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Business Preferred, Chase Ink Plus).  Freedom points can also be used to book travel, but at a rate of only 1 cent per point.  Fortunately, Chase makes it easy to get full value from your points: simply move points from your Freedom card to your Sapphire Reserve card in order to get full value from your points.  To do so: log into your account, click on “Ultimate Rewards”, then select your Freedom card, then hover the mouse over the triangle next to your point total and click “Combine Points”.  The same process can be used to move points to a family member’s account or a business partner’s account.

Amex makes things easier.  All Membership Rewards points earned by one person across different cards are pooled together in one Membership Rewards account.  Your ability to transfer points or get extra value from points for travel is automatically available simply by having certain credit cards.  Of the three issuers, only Amex offers no-fee cards that unlock the ability to transfer points to airline and hotel programs (Amex EveryDay Card and Blue Business Plus).  On the other hand, Amex makes it difficult to get better than 1 cent per point value when using points to pay for travel: only Business Platinum cardholders get a 35% rebate when using points to pay for flights with their preferred airline, or business/first class flights with any airline.  For the record, a 35% rebate works out to just over 1.5 cents per point value.

Citi’s program is a bit of a hybrid between the other two.  Like Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points earned by one person across different cards can be pooled together in one ThankYou account (log into your ThankYou account and “add sponsor account”).  And, as with Amex, simply having a premium card pooled with others unlocks the power to transfer points and/or buy travel at a reduced rate.  The key difference is that Citi continues to track the origin of each point.  Points earned from a particular card will expire if you cancel that card.  Also, not all points are eligible for transfers.  Unlike Chase and Amex, Citi lets customers earn ThankYou points from their banking products.  Points earned from your banking relationship with Citi (e.g. from opening or maintaining a checking account) are not eligible for transfers to loyalty programs.

How to keep points alive when cancelling cards

Since each of the transferable points programs have different ways of storing points, the approach to keeping points alive differs by program as well:

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Preserve your points by moving points out of the account to be cancelled.  You can move points to another Ultimate Rewards card that you own or to a household member or business partner.  Make sure to stop putting spend on the card well in advance so that all points are accounted for before cancelling.  Another option for preserving your points is to downgrade to a no fee Ultimate Rewards card instead of cancelling.  A common approach, for example, is to downgrade the Sapphire Preferred card to the no fee Freedom card or Freedom Unlimited card.

Amex Membership Rewards

Preserve your points by always having a Membership Rewards account open.  You can accomplish this by opening a new card prior to (or even soon after) cancelling your existing card.  Or, better yet, get a no-fee Membership Rewards card and keep it forever.  This way, you can freely sign up for and cancel other Membership Rewards cards without having to worry about losing your points.  The best of the no-fee cards, in my opinion, are the Amex EveryDay Card and the Blue Business Plus because, unlike other no fee cards, these allow point transfers to loyalty programs.  The Blue Business Plus also happens to offer best in class points earning: 2 points per dollar, up to $50,000 spend per year.

Citi ThankYou Rewards

Due to the fact that Citi keeps track of where each ThankYou point came from, ThankYou points are the most difficult to preserve when cancelling cards.  Even though points appear to be pooled altogether, points that were earned from a closed credit card expire 60 days after cancellation.  Of the three programs, Citi is the only one that allows people to share points with anyone.  Unfortunately, sharing points does not prolong their life.  In fact, even if you keep the source credit card active, points shared with another person expire after 90 days.  To preserve your points, you could transfer them to an airline loyalty program.  Unfortunately, if you have multiple accounts pooled together, you won’t be able to pick and choose which points you transfer.  Also, of course, that would be a one-way transfer. You could never get the ThankYou points back if you changed your mind.

The best way to preserve your ThankYou points when canceling a card, in my opinion, is to downgrade to a no-fee ThankYou card instead.  There is a side benefit to this approach too.  Your no fee card may be eligible for occasional lucrative retention offers.  See: How one call led to a points bonanza and rethought plans.

For an up to date list of all transfer partners from each transferable points program along with my picks for the best transfer partners and indirect transfer options, please see the following pages:

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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Comments

  1. Citi ThankYou points website and tracking is horrible! You can’t see how many points are associated with a specific card nor does the regular email update provide that information! It’s one of the worst in terms of helping customers manage their points. If you cancel a card, they don’t inform you either as to how many points are associated with the card you’re cancelling!

    • I believe that as long as your account number stays the same (which it should unless they do something wrong in the product change), then the 24 month clock does not reset. I’ll admit that evidence is scarce in either direction on this question though.

  2. Since I’m not too familiar with these programs I’ll ask a question.
    If you get citi thank you points from banking and they cannot be transferred to other airline programs, what can you use those points for?

  3. Citi’s points tracking is unnecessarily frustrating and I only stick with their points because I use the Access More card so much. I’ve kept the Preferred for car or hotel redemption at 1.25, plus some unknown percentage of my points are from that card. When I called to maybe cancel or downgrade last week they offered me the annual fee back with a single purchase, plus 500 extra points with $500 monthly for 16 months. I was unsure whether downgrading would reset my Thank You family 24 month clock, too. Otherwise, it does seem like downgrading is the best option if you don’t want to deal with the retention offers every year.

  4. I have a Chase card (United) with my husband as a user. He has the same card with me as a user. We want to cancel at least one card but have rewards on both cards. I am not clear about how to accomplish this. Online, it looks like there is a fee to transfer points…. Thanks for your help.

    • Hi Pam! This post is about bank points programs that are run by each of the major issuers (Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, Amex’s Membership Rewards, and Citi’s ThankYou points). In those ecosystems, you earn points with the bank.

      With an airline card, the points you earn are with the airline, not the bank. You spend money each month and when your statement cuts, Chase essentially deposits airline miles in your United account. Those miles are in United’s hands once your statement cuts and are no longer connected to your credit card. They are then subject to the airline’s expiration policy. United’s policy is that you must have activity (earning/redeeming/transferring) once every 18 months. If you canceled your credit card today, your United miles will be alive in your account for 18 months. If you want to extend that, you could use the United MileagePlus shopping portal and click through to buy a pack of paperclips at Staples and earn 1 mile — resetting your 18-month clock. It’s pretty easy to keep the miles alive.

      As for transferring your airline miles, that’s not practical. United will charge you a fee that isn’t worth it to transfer miles between accounts. You’ve got your miles and your husband has his miles — your best bet is finding ways to use them separately (maybe book one ticket from each account?). If you don’t have quite enough miles in one account for what you want, you have some options:

      1) You can transfer some Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United. This is free — you can earn points with the Chase Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve, Ink Cash, or Ink Business preferred. As long as you have a Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve, or Ink Business Preferred, you can transfer those Chase points to United for free.

      2) You can use the United shopping portal. They often run bonuses — for example, they just ran a bonus where you would earn a bonus depending on how much you spent through the shopping portal (on top of the points you earn at your chosen merchant(s)). Here’s a post about those bonuses (since expired, but these come around now and then and are good opportunities to top off an account).

      http://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/2017/10/30/bonus-miles-shopping-online-holiday-bonuses-aa-ua-southwest/

      3) Hotel transfers — this is usually a bad deal, but in some scenarios maybe it would make sense. We keep a resource page on current point transfer bonuses:

      http://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/current-point-transfer-bonuses/

      There you can see that there is currently a 30% bonus on hotel points transferred to United. Again, that’s usually only a good deal in limited scenarios, but you can click the link to the United transfer bonus from that page to read more about it.

      Hope that helps give you some direction. The key thing to understand is that there is a difference between a “bank points” program like those in this post and an individual airline or hotel program (like United Mileage Plus). Bank points programs are more flexible — you can combine points with your spouse in Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points (but not Amex Membership Rewards). You can transfer those bank points to a multitude of airline and hotel programs for free. Cards with a specific airline or hotel brand (United, American, Hilton, Marriott, etc) earn points that are just within that particular loyalty program. Most airlines do not let you transfer your miles to other members for free (and make it prohibitively expensive to do so, negating the value of the miles in the first place). Some hotel programs let you combine points (Hilton = free w/ up to 10 members; SPG = free, up to 30K with someone in your household subject to some rules; Marriott = up to 50K per year, free for Gold/Plat members, can do more than 50K when booking a specific award; <--just some examples). Moral of the story: cancel your United card whenever you want; keep your miles alive by having some activity once every 18 months.

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