I hate making retention calls. I always feel the need to go through this ridiculous kabuki dance when I get on the phone with the retention specialist, claiming that I’m “ready to cancel” when in reality I’m just fishing for an offer. Sometimes it feels like the rep and I are both just waiting to see which one of us will blink first. Will he cough up a worthwhile offer? Or will I suddenly “remember” that I have to cancel an auto-payment while he’s in the middle of reading the closure disclaimer and meekly say I’ll call back?
However, lately the one call I don’t mind making is the one to Citibank’s retention department. Either I have terrific luck or they have the nicest people in the world working there. I’m guessing at some point they raided Disney World and stole three dozen or so of their employees in order to staff the retention phone lines with the happiest people on earth.
Of course, the other super great thing about Citibank nowadays is that there seems to be no end to the awesome retention offers. So when the annual fee appeared on my most recent Citi Prestige statement, I knew it was time to find out what Uncle Citibank brought me for Christmas.
Let’s just be honest here, shall we?
When it comes to Citibank, I feel like I don’t have to lie. So when I got on the phone, I told the customer service representative that I really liked my Prestige card (true) and really wanted to keep it (true) but that it had a really high annual fee (true) and considering that I have a lot of other credit cards (true) and should probably cancel a few of them (true), was there anything they could do so that my Prestige didn’t end up being one of the cancelled ones (completely false since I wasn’t going to cancel it, so yeah, okay, I lied a little on that last bit).
As soon as the CSR heard the word “cancel” escape my lips, he immediately transferred me to the retention specialist, who sounded as if she had just come back from playing with puppies. Calling her “chipper” would be an understatement — this woman was flying. I think her name was Trish, or perhaps I just assumed her name was Trish because, well, do you know any Trish-es who aren’t relentlessly bubbly? I have yet to meet one, therefore I assume they must not exist.
I explained my situation to Trish, who said she completely understood. She asked me if I traveled a lot and reminded me of all the great travel perks of the Citi Prestige. I said I did appreciate all the Prestige benefits (true) but that many of them are replicated on the Amex Platinum which I also have (true) and that I couldn’t keep both cards (true but there’s no way I’d keep the Platinum over the Prestige at this point so let’s score that as another lie).
“Of course!” exclaimed Trish. “Let’s see what we can do to help you out with that annual fee! Be Aggressive! B-E Aggressive!”
Cold hard cash!
Trish typed at her computer for a moment and then presented me with two different offers, one right after the other. They were as follows….
Offer #1 — spend $4,000 per month for the next 3 months and receive a statement credit of $175.
Offer #2 — spend $4,000 per month for the next 3 months and receive a statement credit of $200.
Now, if you’re good with numbers, you might notice that these two offers are identical in every way except that the second one is $25 better. So you might ask why in the heck any sane person would take Offer #1 when they could have Offer #2?
The answer is of course no one would. These offers are not supposed to be presented together. The retention specialist is supposed to start with Offer #1 and then, only after I’ve declined that one, move on to Offer #2. That way Citibank might be able to still retain me as a customer but save $25 in the process.
However, Trish didn’t bother with these sort of formalities. This is what I liked about her.
I told Trish that Offer #2 did sound promising and agreed that it would go a long way towards offsetting the $400 Prestige annual fee. Actually, it would pretty much get rid of the annual fee entirely. Since I’m a CitiGold customer, my Prestige annual fee is only $350 instead of $400. So add on the $250 annual airline fee credit, and with this retention offer I’d basically end up making $100 for carrying the Prestige for another year. Now that’s what I call customer service! Go Trish!
But wait. What about the points?
Before I decide on accepting a retention offer, I always like to make sure I’ve exhausted all the possibilities, and I had a feeling Trish wouldn’t mind reviewing any other options with me. So I asked her if there were any other offers, even if they didn’t lower the annual fee.
“Oh, absolutely!” she responded enthusiastically, and then proceeded to give me another offer…
Offer #3 — get 4x bonus ThankYou points (plus the 1x base ThankYou point) on all travel purchases for the next 6 months, up to 50,000 extra points.
Hmmmmm. I do like the 5x categories — just ask my Chase Ink Bold — but I don’t know that I’d have enough paid travel in the next 6 months to make that offer worth it. I did a quick calculation and determined that at 1.6 cents per ThankYou point (which is what you get when you redeem them for travel on American) I’d have to earn 12,500 bonus points to equal the $200 from Offer #2, which would mean spending $3,125 in travel on the Prestige.
On the other hand, Offer #2 would require spending $4,000 a month for 3 months straight, but that could be in any category and I probably put that much on my Prestige on a regular basis anyway. So while the travel offer was intriguing and might be better for some folks depending on their spend pattern, I wasn’t sure it was better for my personal situation.
But before I had a chance to explain my thinking to Trish, she found one more offer…
Offer #4 — get 4x bonus ThankYou points (plus the 1x base ThankYou point) on all grocery, drug store, and gas purchases for the next 6 months, up to 50,000 extra points.
HALLELUJAH!!! HALLELUJAH!!! HALLELUJAH, HALLELUJAH, HAL-LE-LU-JAH!
For the first time on a retention call, I believe I was speechless for a moment. Grocery stores and drug stores? I giddily wanted to ask Trish if she had gone searching for all the easiest places to manufacture spend and then put them into one easy to remember bonus category just for me?
But I kept myself composed and instead responded with, “oh, you know, I do buy a lot of groceries. That one sounds good! Thanks, Trish!”
The Devil’s Advocate picked the points over the cash.
A few months ago I wrote a post called “Why Are Points and Miles Better Than Cashback?” in which I suggested several good reasons one might collect points instead of regularly using a 2% cashback card. But today we see one more reason you might take the points — when they’re worth a lot more than the cash.
At 1.6 cents per point, 50,000 ThankYou bonus points are worth $800. Even if I spend $150 in gift card fees, I’ll still clear $650 in free travel. Heck, even if you don’t want to travel (though I’m not sure why you’d be reading this blog if you don’t), those 50,000 points could be turned into a $500 statement credit. Either way, it’s much better than the $200 credit for $12,000 in spend.
So Citibank, I have to be honest with you. I hate that the American taxpayers had to bail you out a few years ago to the tune of billions of dollars (true). As with all credit card banks, I know our relationship is likely to end in a messy breakup at some point down the line (true). But for the moment, I love all you’re doing with your credit cards (true). Just as long as you hang onto Trish, I think we’ll be fine (the truest truism I’ve ever written).Devil’s Advocate is a bi-weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by following him on Twitter @dvlsadvcate or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent Posts by the Devil’s Advocate:
- Delta SkyMiles Saves the Day! (Not an April Fools Post)
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Find the entire collection of Devil’s Advocate posts here.