Is Calling for Retention Offers Immoral? Are You Cheating the Banks?

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credit card retention morality
Photo courtesy of Plantronics Germany.

Morality of Calling for Retention Offers

Last week I wrote about Citi’s new practice of shutting down people’s account when they say “cancel” into the automated system. Previously doing this would result in you getting transferred to a retention rep who would look to see if you have any available offers. For that reason many people said “cancel” without really wanting to cancel. They just wanted to see what offers were available.

In the comments of that post a lot of people chimed in with their opinion that saying you want to cancel without an intention to do so is immoral or wrong. They also said that people who had their accounts cancelled by the automated system deserved it. I was surprised by those comments and it got me thinking on a deeper level. Is playing a retention “game of chicken” wrong?

Companies Have BIG Data

I used to work for a very large company. This company bought and collected a huge amount of data on each customer. Let’s say the customer would call in for technical support. Guess what? That technical support rep would be given information on how to upsell that customer into another product based on their age, demographics and past dealings with the company. Some of this information was collected in-house and some purchased from third party firms.

They Are Looking Into Their Best Interest

Similarly, banks are collecting huge amounts of data about you and constantly formulating and re-formulating your value to them. If they see you are valuable based on their own data and algorithms, then they will have offers available for you. Sometimes those offers are proactively given (i.e. direct mail or email) and sometimes they are reserved to save your business (i.e. retention).

Anyone who has ever gone to business school knows the number one job of a CEO is to act in the best interest of the company’s shareholders. The CEO then works within the organization to make that happen and it trickles down all the way to the bottom. In other words, the bank is always looking out for itself over you. Of course that is to be expected, but it is an important point.

Look Out For Yourself

If the bank is looking out for itself constantly, then why shouldn’t you? As I always say, you should constantly be evaluating your relationship on a bank by bank and account by account basis. Which cards work for you, which don’t and where can you get the maximum value? This philosophy is fundamental in my opinion and brings me back to the main issue once again.

The bank is looking out for itself and in doing so has created a program to keep you as a customer. Of course they hope you never call and use that program, but it is there. The offers are there waiting to be claimed. (*If they have offers for you.) You just need to claim them and if you don’t, the only one losing is you. Sure you can try to take the moral high ground, but the truth is that others are getting better value, because they are claiming their offers.

Is Lying Wrong

One of the issues others had with this practice is the act of lying and saying you want to cancel your account. I never personally come out and say I want to cancel, but instead say I am thinking of cancelling and tell them why. The conversation then goes from there. Remember, in that conversation both sides are competing in a sense. We are trying to come to an agreement that is beneficial to both. Sometimes that doesn’t happen and the card/account is cancelled. Sometimes it does and the relationship continues. It is a negotiation on the most basic of levels.


In my opinion, if you aren’t taking advantage of retention programs, then you aren’t getting the full value out of your credit card relationships. Does that mean you absolutely should call? No, of course not. Everyone does things within their own comfort zone and there is no right way or wrong way.  With that said, if you are looking to “maximize everything” then a solid retention strategy is a part of that.

What do you think about this topic? Vote in the poll!

[poll id=”7″]

Shawn Coomer
Since 2007 Shawn Coomer has been circling the globe with his family for pennies on the dollar. He uses that first-hand knowledge and experience to teach others how to achieve their travel dreams for the least amount of money possible.

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  1. 1. Don’t mention “cancel”. Ask what offers they have now.
    2. If the retention person won’t make an offer, the customer service person might. Often true with Barclay cards.

  2. When I call the retention department, I always yell:


    This forces them to send me their Nigeria money.

    Wait, what are we talking about here?

  3. ps, to reframe your question a bit, I do the mental/ethical calculus rather differently. In the month ahead of annual fees, I call to see what’s possible, what bonuses may be available — THEN I do my own updated “calculus” on whether to keep the card or not. honest. 🙂

    • The retention offer is a discretionary budgeted business expense planned well in advance. Asking for one is no different than finding the best signup bonus. You are giving the bank the option of keeping or losing your business. Calling to cancel to get something from retention isn’t immoral because you are giving the bank a choice. And you are not guaranteed anything. So, it can’t be “wrong” if the end result is that you get no benefit from it (based on evaluating your past relationship in terms of what you spent, if you paid on time, etc.). It would be immoral, however, if (for example) you deliberately made a large purchase that you wanted the bank to “see” prior to calling retention and then returned it after receiving the offer.

  4. Nice post Shawn and even the discussion here too. We can discern rather nicely those of us who would be more inclined to watch, say, Sean Hannity, vs. those getting their cues from Amy Goodman. 🙂 I might have been raised in the former realm, but somewhere along the way, eyes were opened….

  5. Nothing that we small customers do to banks is immoral. What the government does when they provide corporate welfare is immoral. Have you ever lost a house or witnessed a dear one going on foreclosure? Did the banks have any regards on them? We are being robbed by banks daily. What do you think they do with your money when your company direct deposit it in their banks? They are loaning it with huge interest and you get nothing. So… to those of us that get a couple thousand dollars a year in bonus, I raise my glass.

  6. I called to cancel my citi Hilton and they told me “we’d be glad to to help you with that.” And canceled. Haha

  7. I think the tendency is to “jump on the bandwagon” when we read about strategies rather than pause to consider what our actions mean. Many of your readers won’t like this, but I sometimes evaluate my decision in terms of “What if EVERYONE behaved the way I do?” and “What was the intent of the promotion?”. IHG in its recent promo didn’t “intend” to give away thousands of reward points from members responding by simply submitting dozens of mail-in entries. The promotion was devised to be an added perk from stays. But people like exploiting weaknesses and look for loopholes, They even feel insulted when they don’t get their flight to Europe for $25 as a mistake fare and actually consider suing. So be it. It’s part of a widespread belief that businesses rip us off and we get a measure of revenge this way. But eventually the good times end. So, now an AMEX Serve card can no longer be used simply to manufacture spend (which is never what AMEX intended). People feel sad and move on to the next scheme. Kind of sad, in a way.

  8. Don’t forget the billions in tax funds that went to bailing out the banks, the lack of lending that followed, and the subsequent bonuses paid out. Also, John Thain (former CEO of Merrill Lynch) took the bailout and renovated his office with $1.2 million including a $25k table!! So yes, retention calls are fair game lol.

  9. I was one of the people commenting on that thread and I just took another look. No one made any normative declarations about how “wrong” it was to ask for a retention offer. It’s kind of odd that you’d infer that and frame your discussion around it. Everybody seemed to be pointing out the same thing. If you say “I want to cancel” and your account gets canceled, you got exactly what you asked for. No one should be dumbfounded or indignant when they get the result they pretended to want.

    “Say what you mean, mean what you say” =/= “Asking for a retention bonus is morally wrong!”

    • I was in agreement with you in the last article and I am again this time. I don’t see anything at all wrong with asking for a retention offer. I don’t recall ever doing this myself but definitely see that it could be very beneficial. My issue is with people that want it both ways (such as Shawn’s reader which the other article was about). They lie by saying they want to cancel and then when the bank does that exact thing they want to take it back. Even though most people lie at one time or another it still doesn’t make it right.

    • Hey David. The overall sentiment of the comments was that saying you are going to cancel without actually meaning it is wrong. I wasn’t trying to put words in anyone’s mouth and created this post to start a discussion since I think we all learn from hearing the opinions of others. I appreciate your opinion and participation both on this post and the other one.

      • I often see it mentioned that people in this “hobby” don’t make the banks any money (some possibly cost them money). In that case, why do you think the banks give retention offers to these people? I would think they would be glad to get rid of them.

        • Because banks are heavily regulated and move very slow. If they knew very quickly youre a loss leader / high risk / churning individual, they would cut you off but to cover their shit in a lawsuit, they need large amounts of compelling data to shut you out of anything. How would a retention specialist automatically know youre an abuser? With what evidence? While that evidence exists, banks are built on grandma legacy systems that dont streamline Big Data like current awesome startups. Thats why CC shutdowns take so long. They need to see a long history of abuse.

      • “The overall sentiment of the comments was that saying you are going to cancel without actually meaning it is wrong.”

        That’s what I’m challenging to begin with. I don’t see that anywhere in that post’s comment section. You said people chimed in saying this practice was wrong. Ok, where? Now you’re saying it wasn’t that overt but it was more of a sentiment you gleaned. Ok fine, from where?

        I get retention offers by telling the reps I’m on the fence about keeping the card. If you flat out say “I want to cancel” then can you really blame the computer/rep for trying to oblige that request? No, you only have yourself to blame for your poor choice of words. What does ethics have anything to do with this?

        If our comments inspired you to start a new discussion then that’s cool man, I’m on board with that. But you don’t have to fabricate a controversy where there wasn’t one. It really bothers me that you used our comments to prop up a morality narrative. It makes me uncomfortable and discourages me from posting comments in the future.

        You feel me?

        • Hey David, while Im not here to discuss about the merits of your rant/complaint, I just dont get why you even bother to care? For what? Are you the Robin Hood of blog posts and protecting the Eyes of the Public?

          While I dont agree with your statements and dont believe anything was fabricated controversy, what exactly goes so deep that you are PERSONALLY uncomfortable and discourages you from posting comments in the future? Seriously. Are you a shareholder of this public blog?

          So I guess you have extreme prejudice against TV commercials or anything that looks like an Ad or other fabricated bias news or read newspapers or magazines or other blog posts each with their own personal bias and spin on a particular subject.

          Anyway, dont know what youre feeling over there man. Just read and learn from all views.

          • Dude you kind of went off the rails with your own counter-rant there. I would’ve preferred it if Shawn put his own spin on the comments with his own biases. That’s what makes people, well, people. But facts don’t change. Facts have no friends and no enemies, they’re just facts. And the fact is, morality never came up in that comment section. And Shawn, be it through mistake or on purpose, misrepresented those facts. We’ll never know I guess. It’s probably too much trouble for him to clear it up at this point but I’m sure he knows what I’m getting at.

            As for why I care? I don’t know. I’m on the toilet right now and I’m having trouble pushing through this final piece of business so I’m distracting myself. Other times, I post because I’m bored at work. Whichever it may be, I enjoy exaggerating my point with a little drama. Truth be told, I’m only mildly annoyed that Shawn made that stuff up.

            Let me ask the same question back to you. Why makes you care about trying to meme so hard on a travel blog? Sparta? Nigerian money? You know this blog’s target audience is pretty old, right? I kind of cringed at that comment, dude.

            Stay frosty yo.

          • I actually think I stayed pretty on track, but all good man. Not to mention that Shawn’s own interpretation and feelings about any comment section is his own. This is not some paid subscription man. So any misrepresented info doesnt have massive impact on your life. I mean, would you go out of your way to file a civil complaint against National Enquirer or OK Magazine for misrepresenting some crap? Wait, Im going off the rails again huh?

            Anyway, so what makes me care? I care about chillaxin here on this awesome blog and learning 24/7/365 so I maximize my shit while throwing in random nonsense in there just to even out the supreme ridiculousness that goes on here. I mean, do you really enjoy exaggerating a point with a little drama in the comments section? Aint nobody got time for dat. I guess… if you really like that kind of stuff, but youre taking a shit and releasing the Kraken so I understand where youre cuming from. See what I did there?

            And WTF makes you think the blog’s target audience is pretty old? Is that what Shawn said? Where did you get that data point from? I believe the target audience is anyone who wants to be an Optimus Prime traveler. Not only that, if youre using the internet and still physically able to MS or travel then you are not old enough to be called pretty old dude. Are you collecting Social Security? Taking Min Req Distributions? Nursing Home is your playground? No? Then we are all young studs having a party, keeping it Fresh & Frosty Frito-Lay.

            Its just a shame Shawn is already married with kids. Otherwise, we should have a meetup in the Champagne room.
            And all the moms can feel free to visit the Magic Mike XXXL HORSE Show. Tee-Hee.

  10. There’s nothing wrong about saying you want to cancel. In a negotiation it’s accepted that you’re taking positions that you may not truly have. However, you have to accept the consequences of the position you take.

  11. The same people who think it’s immoral to call for a credit card retention call probably think it’s fine to bring your emotional support elephant on the plane. #hypocrisy

    It’s called negotiating. Bringing your emotional support elephant because you are too cheap to pay the fees is called dishonesty. Totally different things.

    • I’m not familiar with the term “emotional support elephant”. Are you saying they bring a stuffed animal with them on the flight? Why does that save on fees?

      • Basically its for losers who need help. jk.

        I think its totally ridiculous, but the term is legit. Anyone needing emotional support carries around something with them like a stuffed animal on a plane or whatever. Sometimes it gets ridiculous where people bring stupid ass shit on board planes like a live turkey and have documentation to prove it.

        I am currently trying to get clearance and approval for Emotional Support NAKED PORNSTAR to carry around public areas to make sure I dont go into a seizure.

        • Thanks for answering my questions. I’m quite used to people on these blogs/forums ignoring my posts/questions but it still annoys me. I still don’t understand how bringing the “support elephant” saves on fees. Do you know?

          • Yes they save on fees by abusing the law which is what AnonCHI is saying. A fucking joke.

            Emotional support animals, as the US Department of Transportation defines them, are “animals that assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional support.” Even worse is that a 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act states airlines cannot inquire as to why a person requires a service animal. So idiots abuse that shit by bringing stupid crap on board. No offense to those who ACTUALLY need it, but sometimes its totally crossing the line.

            Obviously the law was enacted to protect the truly disabled, but it’s also created a HUGE loophole for those without a disability wishing to cheat the system and avoid the $100+ fee that airlines levy on people traveling with a pet. Basically, anyone can pass their stupid animal as an emotional support animal by purchasing a super cheap “Service Animal” ticket or whatever its called. Whats even WORSE is that you can have a shitload of animals with you for a FRACTION of the cost.

            AND… get this, the Department of Transportation urges “carriers not to require documentation.”
            So you can say whatever you want.

            Next time, I will bring my emotional support dildo and vibrator and 3 escorts and have a threesome on an airplane as emotional support cuz everyone loves Snakes On a Plane right?

  12. I like the approach of saying you’re “thinking about cancelling.” That’s what I do too. I often say that I’ve been enticed by another bank’s offer (true) and just want to see if they have any special offers to keep me using their card.

    Agree with you the the relationship (or “game”) with the bank is a two-way street.


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