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The Secret Menus Of Credit Cards

by Jason Steele

Yesterday, I was listening to an NPR story about the success of the fast food franchise In And Out Burger.   One of the things that makes it so popular among it’s fans is it’s “secret menu”.    Apparently, there are items that you can order that do not actually appear on the menus in their restaurants.    Of course, the secret menu does appear on their web site.

Credit Cards Have A Secret Menu Too

Imagine you are working as a customer service representative for a credit card company.   Come on, it is not as bad as it sounds.   Many of my classmates at the University of Delaware were part time employees of a major credit card issuer nearby.  For them, this was a great place to get hands on experience at a major bank.

As a credit card customer service rep you are trained in how to deal with common problems and offer solutions.   As a college student, overseas subcontractor, or entry level bank employee you are not empowered to come up with your own financial schemes   If you were, who knows what that would lead to. Instead, you get to offer your customers items as needed from the bank’s secret menu.

Let Me Show You How It Works

Yesterday, I called CitiBank and told them I was considering canceling my American Airlines MasterCard.    I was then transferred to a different department that only deals with cancellations.    I explained to the representative that I don’t use my card much, and I was considering canceling it, but I was wondering if there is anything that he could offer me.    I knew from a discussion in a forum on FlyerTalk, that they were offering double miles for three months if you told them you wanted to cancel your card.    Sure enough, the representative checked his secret menu and found the offer.    I placed my order, and he did everything but ask me if I wanted fries with that.

In the case of my American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card, I “ordered” the 3,000 bonus points when I renewed.    That is enough for a free night’s stay at many locations, and I got it just for knowing what’s on the secret menu and making a quick phone call.

What Else Is On The Secret Menu?

It depends on the bank, and it might depend on  your status with them, but the menu is pretty long.    There are lots of examples of increased rewards.    Capitol One called me and offered to increase my cash back percentage.   How could I say no?   Certainly you can get your interest rate lowered by asking.     Penalties and late fees are frequently removed merely by asking.   The sky is the limit, so think creatively.   Perhaps you would like your due date changed?   No problem, just ask.

Sometimes The Secret Menu Is A Secret To Them As Well

In my CitiBank example, I knew the details about the entire offer, but the agent himself did not and he had to look it up!    The key is to be patient and polite.     Another important factor is to make sure you are talking to the right person.     When you mention that you might cancel your card, you are then transferred to a department known as retentions.   Their job is to keep you from canceling your account.   Make sure that you get someone in retentions before you place your order.   Of course, sometimes the steps that a retentions customer service representative will take can be absurd.

In my case, they were mutually beneficial as the company retained it’s customer and I got a better deal.

How Do You Find Out What’s On The Secret Menu?

Flyertalk forums are a great start, as is using “the Google”.     Take your favorite credit card and search for “retention bonus” or “renewal bonus”.    With my Starwood Amex, I received my bonus in return for renewing a card that I had held for years, yet in the case of CitiBank, the card was virtually brand new!   I knew to ask for the bonus because I had read other people’s account’s first.

The Bigger Lesson

These days, the media is trying to popularize the credit card industry’s  notion that “Obama passed the Credit Card Bill of Rights, so now banks are clamping down on customers.”      Don’t believe it! There is still a highly competitive market for credit cards, and banks will still bend over backwards to make their good customers happy.    When banks stop filling up mail boxes with credit card offers, then you will know things have changed.    Until that day, if you are the type who pays your bill on time, give your bank a call.     They probably won’t say no to any reasonable offer and they may even make you an offer you can’t refuse.

I’ll take a few thousand frequent flier miles over a “Double Meat Animal Style” any day!

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One Response to “The Secret Menus Of Credit Cards”

  1. Ganesh Says:

    Can you give an example of such a search? How does one “search” for increased benefits for a card like Amex Costco cashback card?

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