Monday Morning Miles Talk – Mining For Lost Rewards

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Redeeming Abandoned Credit Card Rewards

Monday Morning Miles Talk is a regular series that has some smaller, more quirky ideas to kick off the work week.  These are essentially random ideas that I wanted to share with you.  Here are the previous entries.

Redeeming Abandoned Credit Card Rewards

With banks implementing anti churning rules and denials on the rise I started looking for other avenues to increase the return on my spend.  And after reading Grant’s recent app-o-rama results I thought I would share what I ended up coming up with.  I have been focusing on redeeming/unlocking previously abandoned credit card rewards in between applications.

Unlocking Lost Rewards

I am not a huge fan of MS’ing for sport.  I don’t like paying a reduced rate for points.  My MS is typically to meet minimum spend requirements, where the return is 10-40%, or where the profit is more substantial (Future Monday Morning QB post 😉 ).  I had begun seeing more denials on my applications so I decided I needed to slow down and let my inquiries cool off.  Since I don’t like MS’ing at 2% I started to look for other options.

A little while before this I closed one of my Bank Of America business card accounts that offered a $200 statement credit after $500 in spend (40% return!). When I went to close it the BOA representative said I still had around $6 in rewards left that I would lose when closing.  I didn’t really care at the time and said go ahead with the closure.  While I was thinking about this months later I wondered if I should have cared.

Certain cards give you a statement credit instead of reward points which leaves you with a random rewards balance after earning the credit.  Some rewards systems have a rigid redemption set up where you have to redeem in exact amounts, like $25.  Other rewards systems have redemption minimums which starts to leave random, small awards balances on your cards.

So I decided to dig a little deeper and see if these lost rewards would be worth pursuing.

Redeeming Abandoned Credit Card Rewards

The Breakdown And Examples

I used to think of the stranded/lost rewards as a sunk cost of of churning.  They were small amounts and I never gave them much of a second thought.  But when you have a lot of them, over multiple cards, those small amounts add up.  I started to look at the lost rewards from a different perspective.  Since they were a “sunk” cost should I include them in future earnings to calculate my return?  Let’s use the BOA business card as an example.

I had $6 in stranded rewards and the BOA business card’s best earning rate is 3% at gas stations and office stores.  I use my Ink Plus at office stores for 5x UR points so that wasn’t really an option but 3% at gas stations wasn’t too bad.  To unlock the $25 minimum redemption I would need to spend another $634 at a gas station earning me $19.02 in rewards.  This would put me over the $25 minimum redemption threshold.  But, since the $6 is essentially “lost” should that be included in the calculation?  I believe it should.  That would mean you are essentially getting $25 for $634 in spend or a return of 3.9% – a nice improvement.

Here are a few examples of other cards I found this to be the case on as well:

  • Chase Disney Card – I signed up for these to pair with a Hyatt application to combine the pulls and to get the $200 sign up bonus.  It was a statement credit so it left me with around $11 in stranded points.  The Disney card has a minimum redemption of $20.  The card earns 2% at grocery stores so I bought a Visa Gift Card with a $5.95 fee.  I also had a 70 cent money order fee for liquidation.  That put me over the $20 minimum redemption threshold.  The VGC purchase earned $10.12 in rewards which left me with $21.12 in rewards. If you take of the costs of the buying the gift card and liquidating it I received $14.47 in rewards on $505.95 in spend (including the inital $11) – at 2.9% return.  Not great but not horrible.
  • American Express Blue Cash – I got this card when the sign up bonus increased to a $250 statement credit after $1000 in spend.  This has a minimum redemption of $25 and after meeting the $1000 in spend I had around $15 in points.  The cards best earning rate is 3% at grocery stores.  You need to redeem rewards for this card in $25 increments so I wanted to be as close to that figure as possible.  I purchased a $335 target gift card from Kroger to put my rewards balance at $25.05 and brought me a 7.5% return on that purchase.

The more I looked at my old cards, especially fee free versions, the more abandoned awards I discovered.  This gave me something to work on in between applications.

Other ways I have Increased My Application Success Rate

Some other things I have been doing to increase my application approvals are:

  • I have been rotating banks during small app-o-ramas (one bank per period).  This seems to work better for me vs one or two cards from a few different banks.
  • I also rotate app periods between myself and my wife.  Rotating them between us helps widen the gap between applications for each person.
  • Lastly, I have been signing up for cards with larger minimum spending requirements so that it takes me longer to acquire the points.  The Virgin Atlantic card and the British Airways cards are an example.


While some may not agree with including lost rewards into the return calculation I think it is a valid play.  One of the perks of doing this is it has made me more patient in between applications.  It gives me something to focus on vs just working on another sign up bonus.

Even if you don’t agree with this method I hope it at least opens you up to looking at things in a different way.


Do you have any trapped rewards in your account?  Have you ever focused on recouping your lost rewards?  Let us know in the comments.




Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

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  1. I recently discovered same…. brilliant minds think a like. Now when I’m getting close to obtaining my $ promo I look to see how many points I’ve additionally achieved and how close I am to the $25 goal before cashing it all in for $. Thanks.


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