Some credit cards come with pretty steep annual fees upwards of $500. While these fees might seem high, they can often be offset if you take full advantage of all the benefits the card offers, such as annual statement credits, generous welcome bonuses or exclusive cardmember perks.
However, your spending habits can change over time, which might lead you to second-guess whether the high annual fee is still worthwhile.
I found myself in this situation as the one-year anniversary of my American Express® Gold Card was fast approaching. I decided to reevaluate whether the $250 annual fee was worth the dent in my wallet. Originally, I opened the card for its rewards program, travel perks and a targeted welcome bonus of 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 within the first three months of card opening. Currently, American Express is offering 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months from opening a new Gold Card. (See rates and fees, terms apply.)
However, over the course of the past year, I've opened several other credit cards, and I've been using the American Express® Gold Card less, as some of the other cards in my wallet offer rewards that better suit my spending needs.
As a result, I wasn't so excited to fork over $250 for the American Express® Gold Card.
In my work as a reporter at CNBC Select, I had heard that retention offers and fee waivers exist, and I know people who have lucked out multiple times, so I figured I'd give it a try. After all, it never hurts to ask. Little did I know when I started out, it would take multiple tries to get an offer close to what I was looking for.
The first time I tried to get my annual fee waived, I opted to use the live chat feature on the Amex app. I didn't feel like speaking to a representative — typical millennial right?
I quickly learned live chat wasn't the way to go. The customer service representative told me the annual fee is something that can't be waived, as it supports the features and benefits of my card.
Then the rep asked if I wanted to downgrade my card to the American Express® Green Card, which at the time had a lower $95 annual fee and fewer rewards — 2 Membership Rewards® points per dollar on travel booked at Amextravel.com and 1 point per dollar on everything else. (Update Oct. 24, 2019: The American Express® Green Card relaunched with new rewards, benefits and fees.) I declined because it doesn't suit my spending habits and asked the rep if there was a way I could receive bonus points to help offset the fee.
The rep said there was "no such provision," which I knew wasn't true. I ended the chat and did some Google searches to see if there was a better way to get my fee waived. Nearly every article recommended calling customer service. As much as I didn't want to pick up the phone, I knew it would better my chances.
(Information about the American Express® Green Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.)
I called Amex customer service and made my case to the representative. I leveraged that I've been an Amex cardholder for over five years, frequently use various Amex cards and have perfect payment history.
I also explained that since recently opening the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%), I no longer use my American Express® Gold Card because the rewards rate isn't quite as good (Amex Gold Card members earn 4X Membership Rewards® points, on up to $25,000 per year in purchases at U.S. supermarkets, then 1X).
The representative reiterated that there are no such retention offers available to cardholders and listed the benefits provided by my card, also noting that I recently took advantage of some, such as the monthly $10 dining credit at select restaurants and annual $100 airline fee credit. I was again offered to downgrade to the American Express® Green Card. Since the representative was firm on that being the only option, I declined again and ended the approximately 15 minute call.
After my second attempt, I was quite discouraged, but decided to reach out to a few friends who I knew have had better luck receiving retention offers. They encouraged me to call again and said that it can take several calls. But they also warned that I may still not get an offer, no matter how many times I call.
They also gave me a really helpful tip: Ask for the retention department.
This was great advice as it ensured the right party heard my request. When I called the second time, I immediately asked for the retention department. Before I was connected, the general customer service representative asked why I wanted that department, and I provided a quick overview of my reasons. Additionally, I mentioned I was considering closing my Gold card in favor of a card with lower fees and similar rewards offered by competing issuer.
Before connecting to the retention department, I was yet again asked if I wanted to switch to the American Express® Green Card, and I politely declined.
The general customer service representative put me on hold and spoke to the retention representative on my behalf. A few minutes later, I was told there was an available offer on my account for 10,000 Membership Rewards points after I spend $1,500 on my card within the next three months.
To determine the dollar amount of the offer, I used AmEx's helpful points value calculator. The value of points varies based on redemption method, with 10,000 MRP worth $100 towards flights or gift cards, $70 for prepaid hotels and $60 as a statement credit.
I was then connected directly with the retention rep and asked whether I'd like to accept the offer. While I didn't receive a fee waiver, I accepted the offer since it was better than nothing. Before it was official, the rep read through some terms and mentioned that the three-month time period starts immediately.
At the end of the call, I asked if I would receive an email confirmation of the offer, but was told that wasn't an option. If I want to check my progress toward earning the offer, I'd have to call back to inquire.
All in all, the call took about 20 minutes, and I walked away with the ability to earn 10,000 points. It may not have been the offer I was hoping for, but it was sufficient to make me feel OK about paying the annual fee for another year.
If you have a credit card with an annual fee and are no longer receiving enough value to make the fee worthwhile, consider asking for a retention offer before downgrading or closing your account. If you receive an offer, it may offset the annual fee for another year.
If you don't receive an offer, you can ask to be downgraded to an alternative no annual fee credit card or a card with a lower annual fee. Financial experts don't recommend closing credit cards since it can potentially have a negative impact to your credit score, but there can be exceptions if the cost of the card outweighs its benefits.
While I walked away with a retention offer, it wasn't the waiver or lump sum of points I was hoping for, but still better than nothing. Next year I'll be sure to try again and may luck out with a better offer!
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Green Card, click here.