The last few months have seen one blow after another to the miles & points and credit card churning games. From devaluations, to mass shutdowns, to reports of MSers being detained at their favorite store, to disappearing award seat availability, it’s just ugly out there. Easy churning and MS, combined with a plethora of sites getting the word out about our hobby, have brought an unsustainable number of people to it.
But… I’ve written about 4500 Avios North American shorthaul awards, but only ever booked one trip using them. My Serve is one of the newish ones that was spared and I won’t care when it does get shut down. I rarely liquidate cards at Wal-Mart, and I’ve moved most of my spending activity over to the reselling arena anyways. I never liked doing what everyone else was doing, hence the focus on local opportunities in the one post I’ve written on manufactured spending. Virgin Australia pulled pretty much all of their business class award seats, but we booked our trip before then and flew them Thanksgiving week. One way or another, we’ve managed to squeak through without these awful changes affecting us much if at all. You could say we’ve led a charmed travel hacking existence.
A long time ago…
In 2002, we saw a promotion at a Shell gas station for a card that sounded good. I think it was 5 cents back per gallon at Shell stations, 3% back at grocery stores and 1% back everywhere else. Or maybe it was something totally different, but anyways we opened one and put pretty much all our spending on it for a couple years until they changed the earning structure. That card was issued by what would, over the course of a long beautiful relationship, become my favorite bank. You know, Citi. We had such great times!
We opened a couple more Citi cards over the years. In 2012 while trying to figure out how to get to Europe affordably, I stumbled onto miles and points blogs along with Flyertalk, and the Citi AA ‘two-browser trick’ was just what we needed. From there, Citi and I just couldn’t get enough of each other. I would wind up talking to their wonderful CSRs in South Dakota at least every couple of weeks to get an application processed, make a payment or get some retention offers.
On January 22, 2016, I got the following letter:
Yes, it’s clear enough. Citi is trying to break up with me! Bonnie got the exact same letter. From conversations with others who had been shut down by Citi in the past, I was pretty sure we would lose all of our Citi credit cards around the same time as they had promised to cancel our debit cards. Over the next week, I spent our ThankYou points, paid off any remaining balances, moved my reselling spending to other cards, and began proactively closing our Citi credit cards. Last Sunday I logged in to download some statements and close a card or two, and found those cards already closed! Like more than a few friends, our household had attracted Citi’s attention. I guess they didn’t like what they saw. We got a few of these on Friday:
Not cool, Citi, not cool.
There has been lots of speculation on the web as to why Citi closed the accounts they did. Was it churning cards? If so, how much? Manufactured spending? If so, what level triggered the shutdown? Was it this thing they call WMBP? What the heck is WMBP, anyway? Was it cash or money order deposits? Oh, then Citi closed the opportunity to fund checking and savings accounts with credit cards! That must be it, right? Abusing account funding opportunities?
The following is my opinion. It may be correct. It may be wrong.
Citi closed our accounts for credit card payment activity that they view as suspicious, and for no other reason.
While our activity was amateur compared to the epic level described in this Miles Per Day guest post, we churned some cards. Quite a few of them. We did some manufactured spending on a few of them, but rarely for more than a month or two. And we paid them in every way possible. Debit cards over the phone, checkfreepay (that’s what WMBP is by the way: Wal-Mart bill pay), checks, money orders, ACH pulls from lots of different banks, transfers from Citi checking accounts, ACH pushes from even more banks. From a statistical standpoint, this makes us appear to be a risky credit-card user, and Citi decided to get rid of some risk. The fact that we have held Citi cards for 14 years without missing a payment made no difference. We were paying our accounts in too many ways that Citi couldn’t trace, and they decided they’ve had enough of that!
But some people did all of these and didn’t get shut down?!
Yep. Lucky buggers. I hope they aren’t next! I also heard from several people didn’t get shut down, but in the past couple of weeks they got calls from Citi asking about the source of funds used for payments, usually checkfreepay payments at Wal-Mart or other stores.
This letter I also got from Chase last week makes me wonder if the major banks are feeling pressure to crack down on payments that could be used to mask risky or nefarious use of credit cards:
Again, I may be way off base. But if your cards remain open, I would recommend getting the number of linked banks in your Citi credit card accounts down to two or three, use those for payments, avoid overpaying, and keep all your payments out in the open where Citi can see them. The same goes for Chase, but I’ve felt that about them for some time.
Some people, including me, had all of our Citi cards closed but one. On that one remaining card I’ll keep my payment activity very simple, and hopefully Citi will let me product change that one card to one that’s useful for ongoing spending. The closed card I’ll miss the most (hopefully temporarily) is the AT&T Access more card, with its 3X online earning. I have no idea if or when we might be able to open a new Citi card account. The prognosis, based on past datapoints, is not good at all.
Citi is still one of my favorite banks.
How could they not be? These are a few of the memories that came courtesy of Citi, and we have earned more in signup bonuses from Citi between 2012 and 2016 than we likely ever will from any other bank!
Let’s all hope Citi is done with their shutdowns! But if you get a bank account shutdown letter anything like the one in this post, you probably should have no ThankYou points within a day or two. Most who were shut down (found the available credit on their cards reset to $0) on Sunday with no warning had around 24 hours to redeem their ThankYou points, and those who didn’t are looking at fighting or suing Citi to get some value out of their lost points.
Unlike credit card relationships, some relationships really matter. This week Bonnie and I will celebrate the first 16 years of our marriage, and with or without this game we look forward to many more! On that note, happy Valentine’s Day!