36,000 points in 8 minutes (sort of) and what I learned

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Without a doubt, the easiest way to earn miles and points is through credit card bonuses. The welcome offers on many cards are huge and often represent multiples in the 10-20 points per dollar range compared to the minimum spend required. After sign up bonuses are earned, many people skip right to category bonuses as the next means of maximizing their mileage. However, there is another option in between: retention bonuses. Yesterday, an eight minute call scored me (what will eventually be) 36,000 miles (no, I didn’t earn those points in eight minutes — but I will earn them thanks to a short call). And I learned a couple of things in the process.

Citi Prestige Retention Call

The annual fee recently hit on my Citi Prestige card. I got grandfathered in to a $350 annual fee on that card several years back. The Prestige card has an annual $250 airline credit, which I’ve never struggled to hit. So long as I would otherwise spend $250 a year on airline tickets, and I certainly have for as many years as I’ve had the card, it’s really like a net $100 annual fee.

While I don’t use the 4th night free benefit often, I have used it a handful of times. I also had one big trip delay reimbursement that paid out $500 for my expenses on an overnight delay. Citi hasn’t been covering missed connections like mine for quite some time now, but the fact is that between that reimbursement, the occasional 4th night free, some Citi Price rewinds, and the ability to transfer points earned from my AT&T Access More card to airline partners (since I pool my points), it would probably be foolish to cancel it.

But maybe the retention team doesn’t know that.

And so a few days ago, I called the number on the back of my Prestige card. A friendly agent (“Mary”)  answered and I let her know that I think I’d like to cancel my Prestige card because they keep trimming benefits and I’m only earning 1 point per dollar on most of my purchases. “Unless there is some sort of special offer to entice me to keep the card,” I told Mary that I’m leaning towards cancelling it.

Mary said that she could take a look and see if there are any offers and then maybe get a specialist on the phone who could work some magic. She put me on hold for a couple of minutes and then came back with what she had found: there were no offers on my account. Surely, Mary had to be wrong. I asked if I could speak with one of those magical retention specialists she mentioned a few minutes ago. She told me that there were no offers on my account, so they wouldn’t have anything to offer…She offered to go ahead and close the account for me.

Noooooo!

I stopped her there and said that since the fee had just posted, I’d mull it over for a bit longer. I hung up the phone a bit deflated. I never seem to do as well on retention offers as others report despite the fact that I consider myself a fairly charismatic guy on the phone. Part of me wondered whether the rep I’d spoken with knew what she was talking about. In other past calls, I’ve always had to get the retention specialist on the phone to hear about offers (with any issuer). I thought that perhaps Mary didn’t know what she was talking about. I figured I’d give it another shot in a day or two.

Then, I saw this Milenomics post in the interim. It’s worth a read, but the gist of it is this: Robert (and several others) reported a similar experience – Citi’s front line reps seem to be able to see if you have any retention offers available. You still need to get transferred to a retention specialist in order to get the offers, but the front line rep can see whether or not they exist. This actually makes a lot of sense; it probably saves the retention specialists hours of time in not having to deal with the customers who have no offers. Retention offers themselves usually aren’t determined by the rep — the computer populates the offers. The rep can choose which one to offer you first (if the computer populates more than one), but they can’t make up an offer if one doesn’t exist. And so it makes total sense to let the front line rep know whether transferring your call is worth the time.

But of course that meant that I was disappointed to know that Mary probably did know what she was talking about after all. That said, Robert at Milenomics reported on an awesome retention offer I’d seen mentioned elsewhere recently, so I figured it was worth one more call.

AT&T Access More Retention Offer

You’ll note that one of the reasons mentioned above for keeping my Prestige card is that I pool with it the points that I earn from my AT&T Access More card. The AT&T Access More card is no longer available for new applications. For a long time now, it has only been available via product change. However, this past week I’ve received at least one report from someone who said he was told by a rep that product changes to the Access More card are no longer allowed. Whether that was a rep making up a story to explain something they didn’t know how to answer or it’s a true lockout on getting this card, I don’t know. Either way, I kinda felt like a fraud when I called the number on the back of my card and told the human who answered that I wanted to cancel my AT&T Access More Card.

I felt like she could see through my ploy. Who cancels the Access More Card? It earns 3x for online purchases. Sure, it’s a bit of a pain since not all online merchants code at 3x. But I think most people would be happy with 3x Amazon or eBay (even though you could probably buy gift cards for those merchants and earn a better category bonus).

Still, I explained that not all of my purchases are coding at 3x and as such I’m just not earning enough points on the card to keep it.

The rep put me on hold. This time, when she came back, she had a retention specialist on the line. Bingo! “George”, my retention specialist, saw me coming from a mile away. I told him I just wasn’t earning enough points and he said he’d take a look and see if there was anything he could do. He immediately sounded happy and said, “Oh, that’s a good one.” He went on to tell me that I had an offer to earn 2 additional Thank You points on all purchases (aside from cash advances/balance transfers/etc) for the next 6 months, up to 35,000 bonus points. Ding, ding, ding! Looks like a winner to me! That offer was the reason for my call, so I had half a mind to end it right then and there. But for the benefit of Frequent Miler readers, I pushed onward: “Are there any other offers available?” I kind of felt like a slimeball for asking, but wouldn’t I be thrilled if he came back with a 4x everywhere offer? Alas, he didn’t. He said that yes, there were other offers, but they weren’t nearly as good. He then gave me all three offers:

  1. 2 extra points on all purchases for 6 months, up to 35K bonus points (more simply: Spend $17.5K, get 35K bonus)
  2. Spend $3K in 6 months, get 10K bonus
  3. Spend $1K in 3 months, get 7.5K bonus

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmnumber 1, please. He said, “Yeah, I knew that was obviously the best offer, that’s why I didn’t even bother with the other two.” I like the cut of George’s jib.

But he wasn’t done. After I said #1 was good and I’d keep the account open for that, George said he could do one better: he told me that they give him a bank of points to use and he hasn’t been using any of them today, so he could give me 1,000 points just for my “inconvenience or whatever”. I expressed my appreciation for George’s fine work, listened to him read the required disclosures, and wished him a great day….hanging up the phone in less than eight total minutes.

The truth is, I was already going to spend on this card. Getting two more points per dollar on top of the 3x online or just getting 2 extra points to once again earn 3x total on gift cards or Plastiq payments — it’s gravy. Just this week, I redeemed 15K Avianca LifeMiles (transferred from Citi) for a domestic United business class ticket with a (ridiculous) cash price of $500. With this bonus offer, spending just $3K online would replenish those points (3x online purchases + 2x through the retention offer). And it makes it nearly impossible to get rid of the Prestige card since I wouldn’t be able to transfer my points to partners without it. Basically, this is just an extra 36K points that materialized from picking up the phone. If I do the entire $17.5K spend at online merchants for 5x total, I’ll earn 87,500 points from that spend…which I’ll put to good use.

One more lesson: you don’t need a zero balance to get an offer

When I’ve made retention calls in the past, I’ve always figured that I needed to have a $0 balance (or just the annual fee unpaid if it just posted) in order to seem like a serious threat to cancel. I logged in to make sure my balance was $0 before making my call yesterday, but when I logged in I saw that I actually had a balance of nearly a thousand dollars for a bill that had been automatically charged to the card. I almost paid it right away — but then I wondered to myself whether or not it mattered (mostly because I figured I wouldn’t get a juicy offer anyway).

As it turns out, neither Mary nor George said a word about my current balance. Nobody attempted to call my bluff. Apparently, you don’t need a $0 balance to get a retention offer — which was news to me since I haven’t noticed that mentioned previously.

Bottom line

There’s a great (targeted) retention offer out there on the AT&T Access More card (+2X on all purchases for 6 months / up to $17,500 in purchases), and it’s an excellent reminder that it’s worth calling now and then to see how highly the bank values your continued business. It never hurts to be nice on the phone: my retention specialist even kicked in an extra thousand points for the heck of it. It just so happens that front line Citi reps can now tell whether or not there will be any offers for the retention team to offer you, saving you at least a little time (but remember that you should not tell the automated system that you want to cancel, but rather tell the computer that you’d like to speak to a representative about your account until you get a human on the line, lest the automated system close your account immmediately). Finally, I learned that you don’t need to have a $0 balance to get a retention offer, which saves me a step in logging in and paying the bill before my next call — and you’d better believe that after 36K easy points, there will be more calls to come…

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