What Happens to Your Credit Card Points When You Get a Refund?

Earning rewards on credit cards are great, but what happens to those points when you get a refund? Here’s what you need to know, and 5 cards that will help you replenish those balances.
11/26/19 | By Erin Hurd
Woman lost in thought

FinanceBuzz is reader-supported. We may receive compensation when you click links to products or services mentioned in this story. The opinions and recommendations are the author's own and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. Learn more about how we make money.

Refunds are often a good thing. For instance, after a wave of shopper’s remorse, you return that overpriced sweater and breathe a sigh of relief after the money is safely returned to your account. Or, after getting a small refund check from the IRS, you treat yourself to a night out on the town. Fun, right?

However, refunds are not always a good thing. One question that comes up frequently among rewards credit card enthusiasts is, “when you get a refund on a credit card, do you lose points?”

Jump To

What happens to your points when you get a refund?

The unfortunate answer is that, in most cases, the points you earned on the purchase will be deducted from your credit card points balance on your next statement. That means that if you spent $100 on your credit card for that red sweater and you earned 100 points, those 100 points will be subtracted when the refund hits your card.

And for good reason. Credit card issuers need to do good business in order to offer high earning cards with lucrative bonuses. If they didn’t keep a close eye on points from refunds, they’d become easy fraud targets.

While its a bummer to see your points balance go down when you get a refund, it can be downright devastating if you get a refund on a new credit card.

Let’s say you get a shiny new card that offers a juicy bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. You spend $1,000 per month on the card, and you’re on track to hit that $3,000 mark in three months. All is good until you return that $100 red sweater. The refund hits your card, and when that statement closes in your third month, you’ve only spent $2,900. You’ve now missed the spend requirement, and you don’t qualify for that nice bonus — facepalm!

Is there ever a situation when I can keep the points?

Yes! But you can’t have your proverbial cake and eat it too. Here’s what I mean.

In the case of the red sweater, there is a way that you can return it to the store and still keep the points — if you choose to get refunded in the form of store credit instead of putting the balance back on your credit card. In this scenario, since the credit card is only involved in the purchase side of the transaction, they never know that you changed your mind about the sweater. Therefore, they can’t take the points back.

You can come back and choose a different item that you really want at this store, and you get to keep your points. But if you really needed that money back into your account, instead of tied up in credit at a specific store, you’d be out of luck. This isn’t a strategy to earn a bonanza of points, because your cash will still be tied up in the store credit.

Another interesting scenario is if you book travel through a credit card rewards program. If you book a refundable flight or hotel with your Chase Ultimate Rewards points, for example, Chase collects your points and then pays the airline or hotel cash on your behalf. Since the airline receives your booking from Chase, they don’t know if you’ve used points or cash to book. If you cancel your flight, the airline will send the refund in cash instead of crediting the points back to your account.

5 rewards cards that help you rack up a lot of points

Even if you lose some points with a refund, there are lots of easy ways to replenish your stash. Next time you go shopping, you could “stack” your rewards by collecting points not only from your credit card but also from a lucrative shopping portal. (More details on stacking here.) You can also choose to sign up for a new card that will help you rack up points fast.

Here are five options to help supercharge your points balances.

Card name Welcome offer Annual fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months $95
Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months $95
Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months $0
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Card Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months $95 (waived first year)
Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard Earn 30,000 Flying Club bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days $90

Chase Sapphire Preferred

This now-classic card consistently ranks as a favorite year after year, and it’s easy to see why. For starters, it boasts a generous sign-up bonus. New cardholders can earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months — that’s worth $750 of travel!

One of the reasons that the Chase Sapphire Preferred is such a crowd favorite is because Chase Ultimate Rewards points are straightforward and easy to redeem. Just use them to book your travel directly in the Chase portal for a fair value of 1.25 cents each for hotels, airfare, rental cars, cruises, and experiences. Or, you can choose to transfer directly to many large travel partners like Marriott, United, and Southwest.

While this isn’t the top-earning card out there, cardholders earn 2X points on eligible dining and travel, and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases. If you want a nice sign-up bonus and flexible points that are easy to earn and redeem, the Chase Sapphire Preferred deserves a spot in your wallet.

Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express

Talk about an eye-popping welcome bonus! American Express has three different versions of the Hilton Honors credit card, and the mid-range Surpass is a great choice to earn a lot of points. You’ll earn 125,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, and the points just keep coming after that.

Surpass cardmembers earn 12X points when spending directly with an eligible Hilton hotel or resort; 6X points on purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; and 3X points on all other eligible purchases. Many cards only earn 1X points on many categories, so this is substantially higher.

But here’s where it gets really good: when you combine your 12X earnings at eligible purchases within the hilton portfolio with the promotions that Hilton regularly has going for double or even triple points on hotel stays, you’ll soon have enough points for a fabulous Hilton vacation.

As a cardmember, you’ll be granted automatic Gold status with Hilton, which gives you great perks like free breakfast, room upgrades, WiFi and late checkout. Plus, you’ll get the 5th night free when you book your stay with points.

Wells Fargo Propel American Express

3X points on eligible dining, transportation, travel, and streaming services and a $0 annual fee? Sounds too good to be true! But this credit card dream is a reality with the Wells Fargo Propel card.

New cardmembers can earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months with the Wells Fargo Propel card. These points, called Go Far Rewards, are worth one cent apiece and bring the value of the bonus to $300.

Go Far Rewards aren’t as well-known as Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, but they’re pretty easy to use. You can redeem them for statement credits that can be used toward your Propel credit card bill (or even directly into your Wells Fargo checking or savings account). For travel, you can use your rewards to book flights, hotels, or car rentals by logging into your account and visiting the Wells Fargo travel portal. Or, you can even use them directly for cold, hard cash back if you have a Wells Fargo debit card.

The Propel card even covers your cell phone for up to $600 of protection when you use it to pay your monthly bill. Most higher-end cards (with hefty annual fees) don’t offer this protection!

This card will help you rack up points quickly, and it won’t cost you a cent to carry in your wallet.

Capital One Venture Rewards

Easy to earn, easy to use. The Capital One Venture Rewards card is one of the best-known and best-loved cards out there because it’s just so simple.

After the great kick-start you can get when you earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, it’s easy to keep racking up the Venture rewards. Cardholders earn 10X miles on bookings with Hotels.com through January 2020 and 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

It’s just as simple to redeem your Venture miles as it is to earn them. You can use them to book new travel directly through Capital One, cash-out miles for gift cards, or use them to “erase” travel purchases with statement credits. All of these redemption options give you the ability to lock in a fixed value of one cent per mile.

With this card, there are no seat restrictions, no worry about award availability on certain dates, and no special partner portal to navigate. Just log into your account, click on your miles balance, and redeem right there.

Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard

The Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard is often overlooked — and that’s a pity because this card can earn you a lot of miles quickly.

New cardmembers can earn 30,000 Flying Club bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. After that, cardholders earn 3X miles per dollar spent directly with Virgin Atlantic, and 1.5X on all other purchases.

Plus, you can get a free flight for a companion by spending $25,000 a year on this card. When you redeem Flying Club miles for a Virgin Atlantic reward ticket, you’ll get a free companion reward in the same cabin class. That means if you splurge and redeem your Virgin miles for a luxurious upper-class ticket, you’ll get to fly with a friend right next to you for free!

Even though Virgin Atlantic is not officially part of one of the large airline alliances, they do have several partners. You can use your Flying Club miles to book flights on Delta Airlines, Singapore Airlines, or Hawaiian Airlines, to name a few.

The bottom line on credit card refunds and points

The bad news is that you can’t double-dip when you return something for a refund — you can’t get the cash back and keep the points too. And if you have a new card and you’re working on earning a welcome bonus, be vigilant about refunds that may hit your card. Always spend a little more than the bare minimum, to be safe.

But when your rewards balances do go down, there’s always a way to build them back up! The five cards we outlined above can help you grow your points and miles quickly, if you spend wisely.

#1 Travel Rewards Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits
  • No foreign transaction fees
Advertising Policy

FinanceBuzz.com is an independent, advertising-supported website. Some of the offers that appear on this page are from third party advertisers from which FinanceBuzz.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear).

FinanceBuzz.com does not include all financial or credit offers that might be available to consumers in the marketplace. FinanceBuzz.com does not include all companies or all available products.

FinanceBuzz has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. FinanceBuzz and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone.