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American Express Tightening Sign-Up Bonuses – No Past Cardholders Allowed Starting In May (And Maybe Sooner)

by on March 26, 2014 · 78 comments

in American Express

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There’s been a lot of buzz lately that American Express was going to change its sign-up bonus policy in the coming months (it looked likely to be May 1, 2014). Whereas the policy to this point has usually been that if you had a particular consumer card in the past, but no longer had it and did not have it open for at least 12 months, you could apply for it again and get the current sign-up bonus. The terms usually stated something like: “Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months or any other Consumer ____ Credit Card account within the last 90 days.” That blank space I left would just be the name of the specific product, like the Platinum Card or a Delta SkyMiles card.

Has Amex changed its entire welcome bonus policy?

Has Amex changed its entire welcome bonus policy?

However, American Express has indicated that that would no longer be the case, and that if you ever had a particular card, you could only ever get the sign-up bonus once, no matter how long it had been between canceling it and applying for it again.

The official statement from American Express is: “In order to ensure fairness and clarity with our Card Members, we will be making a change to our acquisition incentive control rules for American Express Consumer Cards. Beginning May 2, 2014, welcome bonus offers will not be available to applicants who have or have had the Card they’re applying for. For example, if a Card Member once had or has a Platinum Card, they will not be eligible to receive a welcome bonus offer on a new Platinum Card application.”

That’s terrible news for folks – the majority of whom are legitimately applying for new cards with great current bonuses that they might not have had for years at this point. What’s even worse is that, looking at the benefits terms and conditions of several major consumer cards including the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex, the Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex and the Premier Rewards Gold – it appears as though the terms have already changed. All three of those cards have the following language in the official terms and conditions:

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 10.32.26 AM

As you can see, they say: “This offer is offer is also not available to applicants who have or have had this product.” No mention of a specific time frame, let alone 12 months. I talked to sources at Amex for clarification and they said that though they have been changing the terms of the benefits on applications already, that May 2 is still the date where if you have ever had a specific consumer credit card open, no matter how long the account has been closed, you will not be able to get the bonus again.

This is also why it’s going to be more important than ever to pay attention to the bonuses out there and to get in on especially good ones while they are around (sometimes just for a matter of days or even hours) because they might not come around again, and once you have a card, you’ll only have one shot at getting that bonus. Check out my tips on Maximizing Targeted Credit Card Offers on the Card Match Tool for more strategies and tips.

Amex already did something like this with its family of Platinum Cards, where if you had, say, the personal Platinum Card, you could not then receive a welcome bonus for applying for the Mercedes-Benz Platinum card. I’m not really surprised by this new change, but I am sad because it will limit the sign-up bonus potential in the long run. That being said, I can see more changes from other issuers focusing on consumers to focus less on sign-up bonuses and more on everyday usage. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Amex’ new cards are called EveryDay!

My information is taken specifically from the credit card terms currently available on Amex’s line of major consumer credit cards, but I’d be curious to hear any reader experiences applying for bonuses recently. Have you applied for a new offer on a card you might have had previously? Were you eligible? Share your experiences below!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Ben Price

    NOOOOOOOOOO

  • teachuslove

    This is bad news. I recently closed all of my (many) Amex cards down. I guess that’s the last time I’ll be using those…

    HELLO CHASE!

  • Dustin Moody

    I had already planned on canceling my Delta Platinum Amex at the beginning of April because of the higher annual fee and Delta’s changes to Skymiles. I can see where this could be a detrimental change for many people, but it’s less of an issue for me because I don’t anticipate ever working toward status again with Delta.

  • Danielle

    I got a 50,000 point bonus in 2012 for getting the AmEx Gold. I cancelled it before the annual fee for the second year was charged. Just a couple of months ago, I got another offer for 50,000 points for AmEx Gold. I had no problem signing up, or receiving the bonus points. This is so upsetting that they are changing their policy!

  • Gary Leff

    This is a return to what the policy used to be. When I started Amex was the only issuer that didn’t allow you to get bonuses more than once on a given card (although if there was a bigger signup bonus than what you had, they would give you the difference between what you had received in the past and what was now on offer). While it’s a bummer, it’s also (more or less) how we all used to play the game.

  • Martin

    I think they are saying that you cannot apply for the SAME product twice to get another sign on promotion. The key word is “SAME”. Correct me if I’m wrong. Each card that doesn’t look the same is considered a DIFFERENT product. I don’t care much about AMEX products, other than the SPG card.

  • alexk512

    I just applied for the everyday card with the 10K bonus yesterday. I have a Gold Card already and have had a Platinum Card in the past. I really hope I still get the 10K bonus. I am upset because I was going to get the platinum card again for the current bonus.

  • Justin

    Bri this seems to only apply to personal cards from what I’m reading? They’ve been sending some pretty lucrative targeted bonuses business wise to me and I’ve really built up a pretty heavy balance of MR points so I wonder if this also applies to biz.

  • Urbanist

    Well this blows. Given the heavy amount of co-branding that exists between Delta & AMEX, this is pretty catastrophic to anyone who lives in a Delta hub city and likes to play the points game. Let’s just hope that Chae/United and Citi/American don’t follow suit. I can’t go back to flying coach on international flights.

  • steviemcd1

    Last Jan 2013 I cancelled the Hilton Honors AMEX when my annual fee came due… I reapplied last month and met the spending requirements and just yesterday received my statement with the sign up bonus

  • shinebock

    Guess they’re wising up to the borderline abusive credit card churning just for miles and points. Wouldn’t be surprising to see the other banks follow suit. As disappointed as some people will be, it will really only be the miles and points burners. I’d guess 99% of credit card users won’t ever notice the change.

  • Journey4Happy

    I hope I’m not being dense here, but I’m still not clear on what “same” means. So I heard that you couldn’t get the Platinum sign up while holding the Mercedes Platinum… but if you cancel the MB Plat, are you still now ineligible for all Platinum sign up bonuses? (and I think I read this doesn’t effect biz cards)

  • remy

    Does anyone know which cards are considered part of the same “family” of cards? Are the premier rewards gold and the platinum cards considered part of the same group?

  • Darth Chocolate

    Agreed. The folks who churned are the ones who ruin it for everyone else. The cards were supposed to be an enhancement to a program, not the primary way of earning status.

  • Graydon

    No problem, we can play that game Amex. I hope you are working on new retention offers because once I am gone it’s going to be tough to get me back without a bonus offer. Worth noting I actually spend on my cards, not just farm bonuses. Last year Amex saw about $400K across 2 business and 4 personal cards. Not huge but I bet better than most churners.

  • iahphx

    “Forever” is a long time. From a business perspective, I can certainly see why you’d want to make the “down time” more than a year. The current policy encourages serial applicants — it sure encourages me! But “forever” is too long. People’s circumstances change. Like maybe you weren’t staying in many Starwoods, but now you got a new job (or got rich or something) and now you love Starwood hotels. You’d also like to get the card and use it, but the lack of a bonus dissuades you. I would think somewhere between 3 and 5 years would be a logical time to restart the bonus clock.

  • jtgray

    not sure what you are adding to the discussion here. Good for you?

  • Susan

    No, not necessarily the SAME card. I clicked on a link yesterday for the Platinum application (just to see) – and a little pop up said that since I was already an AMEX cardholder, I would not qualify for the bonus.

  • http://clintonblackburn.com/ Clinton Blackburn

    Is the Starwood 15K after $5K offer still in effect? The site is only advertising 10K after first purchase.

  • Brian C. Lee

    Agree with both of you. AmEx isn’t an ATM machine for frequent flyer miles.

  • Trav

    From the article above – “I’d be curious to hear any reader experiences applying for bonuses recently. Have you applied for a new offer on a card you might have had previously? Were you eligible? Share your experiences below!”

  • Arlington Traveler

    I don’t think this is the end of the world folks. Chase basically has the same policy. The thing is with at least some Chase cards, despite their written policy you can get the bonus again as long as you wait 24 months from when you cancelled the card. Yes, I know Chase could change the rules at any time, but I think @iahphx has a good point, in that three to five years is a good waiting period. It makes it difficult for the habitual churners, but allows someone who maybe cancelled a Delta Gold Amex, because they were no longer flying DL, but say moved or switched jobs and is flying DL again and wants the card.
    Here’s hoping that Amex realizes they will be shooting themselves in the foot, and changes their policy to be a three to five year limitation before earning a card opening bonus. Oh, and unlike Chase which doesn’t seem to have a long memory Amex does. In the early 2000′s, I remember I applied for a Delta Gold Amex after having closed a Gold Delta Amex in like 1998. They denied my bonus, and after arguing with them I was able to get the incremental bonus as the offer I had applied for was for a 35K card opening bonus and the card I had cancelled had only a 20k opening bonus.

  • Ed

    I just means people will be forced to “Manufacture Spend” in overdrive…

  • Alcwj

    But we still can get biz card if we have the consumer card right? eg. SPG personal & biz.

  • rachel

    Can you imagine actually paying for your travel expenses? LOL.

  • Savvy Consumer

    There’s a trick to that. Open the application in a different browser. You will see the new offer. Take a screenshot of that offer and apply! Worked for me with Amex SPG to get the 25,000 bonus :-)

  • John

    You’ll also see less pimping of the Amex Platinum card and more of the Chase ones until Chase does the same thing.

  • LAKnight

    It seems we better “fish” for better AMEX sign-up bonus offer in the future such as 100,000 MR points, not the current 40,000 MR points offer from AMEX Platinum card

  • http://clintonblackburn.com/ Clinton Blackburn

    Ah! Thanks. I printed a PDF of the terms and conditions.

  • thepointsguy

    Correct- business cards seem to not be affected… yet

  • thepointsguy

    TBD… but it seems like they are grouping the benz and regular platinum cards together. Not sure if that will be the same for Delta cards- I doubt it

  • thepointsguy

    Yea, it would be nice to be able to encourage targeted offers, but it is a bit of a lottery at this point

  • thepointsguy

    The horror!

  • thepointsguy

    Correct, so there are still ways to maximize

  • thepointsguy

    I was told existing cardholders would be eligible to get EveryDay bonuses, but I’d screenshot your applications just to have proof of the offer you applied for (you should do that with every credit card app)

  • alexk512

    That’s good news! And I will definitely start doing that, great tip thanks!

  • Kevin

    “That’s terrible news for folks” – Not as bad as it will be for Amex. They must be taking Anti-Customer clues from their BFF Delta Airlines.

  • jahsoul

    I think Chase already has something similar in place..

  • Goal Sugar

    This is good news. Maybe all those churners that want to fly Biz and first 3-4 times a year on points, will have to scale down and leave some damned flights available for the people that have been saving points for an anniversary, honeymoon or special occasion !!!

  • StockShooter

    > I’m still not clear on what “same” means

    And will AMEX phone rep be able to tell
    us in advance of a sign-up whether it is
    a “same” or not…?

  • dean

    I think the ? becomes, will the sign-ups be better post may 1? Or just “same old same old” and best to get in 1 last one before the change? As an “old standby” is the SPG, and best perhaps to get in 1 last time, if you can, before the date??

  • eli104

    A tidbit/idea… if it will work (not sure). I had/have an Amex platinum business card from a 100,000 targeted offer last year (11 months ago). Last month, I received a new offer for 150,000 ($10k spend in 3 months for 100k points, another 50k points if I can spend another $10k in the same period). But I already had a Platinum business card (my own name) and was not sure how to get it. THEN I remembered that I had an EIN from a few years back when we were pulling taxes for the nanny taking care of my daughter. I applied, and was APPROVED simply based on the EIN being separate from my SS# (even though I had to put my SS# on the application)! So… there are (at least now) to navigate around this, and maybe they’ll hold for a while. I don’t see myself getting another Platinum card anytime soon (except maybe the personal card). After that, if this holds, it’s going to be rough.

  • Matthew Taylor

    Same here. The platinum benefits are such garbage now. We are not renewing come summer (Despite $500 offer for AA lounge) Not exactly sure what the business strategy is for Amex, but it appears as though they are starting to fall in line with the traditional card issuers.

  • Darren

    Have you actually received the bonuses? I also was approved for a 100000 bonus platinum card for a separate business from the one that I currently have a gold card for, confirmed with them that I would get the bonus, did the spend and received no bonus. Fought with them for 5 months and lost, will not receive any bonus for the platinum card. There was no problem being approved for the card, no problem confirming eligibility for the bonus, big problem actually receiving the bonus. From the looks of the BBB complaints, I am not the only one that they have taken advantage of.

  • Dan

    And I thought I was spending a lot at $110K last year (on one card). When I called about a retention bonus they gave me nothing.

  • Graydon

    Might be the case – Amex ignoring retention offers AND closing down same card app bonuses. They will feel it when we leave and don’t come back next year. In fact it’s clear to me now as I will come back when they bonus me for coming back. That’s the cost of luring me away from another bank. Citi just lured me away with the AA Exec card 100K bonus. See how that works Amex?

  • blanca

    If the churners can’t get the bonus they won’t apply. Non-churners, for the most part, think applying for a credit card is about as desirable as going to the dentist or having a gynecological exam. Who will be their customers now? I am predicting a 90% drop in new applications. Can they outsource customers…

  • eli104

    I suppose we’ll see. I have all the paperwork (physical and electronic) and am spending away. When I get to the end, if there’s a problem, I’ll fight as I can. Meanwhile, I have to cancel my original Platinum business: a) don’t need a second, b) the $450 is coming due (and the call for a Retention bonus did not fair well the first time).

  • DubZ

    I had the Delta Amex Gold a couple yrs ago that I cancelled before the anniversary came up last summer. Does this mean I can no longer apply and get the sign up bonus once this goes into affect (before my 12 months is up)?

  • DubZ
  • RobertS

    I think he is giving an example that one can still earn bonus points even after canceling the card. That was the whole point of the article, was it not?

  • Darth Chocolate

    And then they might place caps on miles earned through spend. Then the caps will be lowered. And other airlines/CC companies will follow suit.

  • Darth Chocolate

    I think that AMEX will do quite well without people who sign up for a bonus and cancel right before renewal. Take your ball and go home already!
    And what will you do when Citi starts to follow AMEX’s lead?

  • Graydon

    @ Darth I would find another credit card and bank who want $400K or more of legitimate spend per year and go to them as long as the offer is good. They reward me with a bonus and I reward them with $50K+ spend per year on that card. The game is they try to keep me by offering a reason to stay. Good enough reason and there will be no need for me to look for other signup bonuses. Don’t make me call and ask to stay, you call me or send a letter offering me a reward for being loyal at year end.

    Amex could get smart and offer retention or loyalty bonuses based on yearly spend but offer minimal sign up offers. I already get 60K miles and 60K MQM from the Delta Reserve card after $60K yearly spend so it’s not a new concept. Do it on all of your cards and you can continue to “take my money”.

  • teammjs

    TPG, your conversation with the Amex rep is begging the question why are they putting it in the T&C so early then? Did your source know this was happening, or were they surprised by it? You sound from your talk that the source is confident (and the fact that a specific date is mentioned leads to some hope they do have a plan). But Amex is a big company– how is your source so sure the IT Department has clear instructions not to code before that, despite the T&C? Since someone has to flip a “coding switch” on May 2, why wouldn’t the T&C just go in then?

    Further, you seem to hedge by adding “(and maybe sooner)” to your title but your source seems like they know what they’re talking about. Yes, nothing can be 100%, but can you add further clarification on whether your source knows what’s going on with the T&C, confident the plan is for IT (or another department) to coordinate the switch for May 2, and why you still hedged with your title.

    Thanks!

  • Paul

    Give me a break. What is this some communist country where we all need to be equal? If you are too lazy or dumb to take your family on vacation more often why should the rest of us suffer. Amex make way way more off me than the 500 dollars they spend in points every few years.

  • Paul

    I have 2 Plat cards that each see 200K plus spent on them plus another 200K spend on the SPG in mfg spend. I will glady move my biz to banks who give me more back. The folks saying this is a good thing are hypocrites as they will shop a few different stores to find a better deal on an item. Those of you who keep trying to get stuff cheaper than me are ruining it for everyone. Ya that makes a lot of sense huh? If a bank or CC is going to kick me back money to use their product why would I not shop there instead?

  • Paul

    I do pay for them. Just less than most others. Same goes for my car, my groceries, etc.

  • Fanfoot

    And then they’ll probably start charging usurious fees if you keep any kind of balance on your cards each month… oh wait…

  • Darth Chocolate

    Big difference. One activity is against the law. Please show me a law where a CC issuer must have a rewards program.

  • Darth Chocolate

    Graydon, the AMEX might make 3% on your spend through interchange fees. That plus your annual fee is what they make off of you (and if you cancel before renewal, they don’t even make the annual fee). They would rather have 10 people who charge less and carry a balance (interest charges is where they really make their money). For example 10 holders who charge $10 K each would result in 10X $450 + 10X $10K X 0.03 + 10X $10K X 0.13 = $4500 + $300 + $13000 = $17800.

    So, your “benefit” to them, while not insignificant, does not really generate cash for them in the quantities that balance carriers do.

  • jahsoul

    Communist? I don’t think that really lines up with what GoalSugar was saying. In Communism, you churn the cards for points, which then becomes common property, and all of TPG shares them but I digress…lol.

  • Kirchgoens

    They did it to me last summer, denying the bonus on a Gold Premier because I had had a Gold Rewards for the past 12 years. Made me mad enough that I did that Canada Air/USAir swap through points.com and then used the rest to get a new computer. Then I canceled both cards. They lost a 23-year customer. Not a good return for the points, but I had no upcoming travel that I could have used them for, and was about to be hit with annual fees.

  • A,J.

    Amen!

  • shay peleg

    Never!

  • shonuffharlem

    I think AMEX is going to be doing targeted offers that waive these requirements and that is what this is all about. Just like Chase says never again (but its really 24 months). I know I saw somewhere AMEX even said they would make exceptions for “good customers depending on the situation”. Now, there may be a delay until management sees some pain in new apps and business that they are getting – but they aren’t going to turn away people who make them a profit in the end…in fact, they may target bigger bonuses since they save from unprofitable churners.

  • George Rolas

    Does this apply to those that have a personal edition of the card, but then apply for the business card? For example, I have the Amex SPG personal card, but want to apply for the business card. Thanks!

  • jake

    Had the Amex platinum, canceled it in 2012. Tried today for the 40k signup bonus on the platinum and they said if i have EVER had the platinum in the past, the signup bonus does not apply. Looks like the new policy is already in place, at least for the platinum.

  • Mike Jacobson

    Amex is using bait and switch tactics for their premier rewards gold card. I was enticed by an advertisement on the amex site indicating I would get 25k membership rewards points after spending $500 with my new gold card, but after I signed up, they tell me there is no record of that promotion connected to my application and I get 0 points! Totally unacceptable and unprofessional.

  • Tom

    Warning: I think this may now already be in effect!

    I went to sign up for the SPG 25K card this morning. I have not had that card in years. However, I DID recently sign into my AMEX Business Gold account last night on the same browser. I got the message:

    “You have been identified as a current American Express Card Member. You
    may have seen an offer advertised for this product previously, but the
    offer is not available to current American Express Card Members.” (See Image)

    It seemed like an internet cookie thing. So I tried a different browser, and I DID NOT get the message.

    There’s some discussion on FT about it in the AMEX forum. But no data points. I’ll give it a shot.

  • Tom

    UPDATE: I applied in a different browser and was approved. The only thing I couldn’t do was sign up for my online ID. I will wait until the card arrives, spend a bit, and email to confirm the signup bonus.

  • AC

    likewise i applied using chrome incog and was approved. called in today to confirm that i am eligible for the bonus and just need to wait for the card to arrive! one last go at this.

    i had the card 1 or two times i think but canceled both. last time i held the card was like 3+ years ago.

  • Tom

    UPDATE #2: Got the card and confirmed with a chat rep. The promotion was applied to my card.

  • justthebest

    The way I calculate it, at a card a year, I can go about 10 years without an Amex. We expect bonuses. These companies make a not-so-small fortune from our biz, and we expect something in return. Bye, bye, Amex.

  • JM

    I wish Amex will start to lose money because of this new policy on bonus so the person who made this new policy can be fired.

  • YM

    You will see American Express will start to lose money because of this lifetime bonus policy and the person who implement this policy will be out the job. I applied for Hilton Surpass card I was denied bonus because I apply for the same card in 2009. I am american express customer for last 10 years people like me will certainly shift to other bank. The fact is all credit card banks make huge profit on their business with the churning factor already taken into consideration which are very few.

  • tinyk

    I am experiencing a similar problem. Signed up for the SPG Amex deal in January 2014 and got the 10,000 points on first purchase. But after spending $6K in 3 mos I never saw the additional 15,000 points that should have been awarded after $5K within the first six months. I finally called to find out when the points would be awarded, only to be told I had signed up for the 10,000 point deal and wasn’t getting any more points. But there is no 10,000 point deal! My sister was given the same story and they further lied to her by telling her she was supposed to spend $5K in 3 mos. The deal terms are still online, yet it seems Amex is fabricating terms and agreements at will. I opened an inquiry and after three weeks called again, only to be told that I had agreed to a 10,000 point deal, and the investigation was closed. I opened another inquiry and noted that I am awaiting the balance of points. 15,000 or they will have alienated a longstanding Amex cardmember who is going to be busy posting and publishing the details of these outright lies and underhanded practices. Agree, totally unacceptable and unprofessional! And I am not done with them!

  • SM

    This EXACT same thing happened to me and my wife. We applied for an untargeted, open offer, half an hour apart, and I got the bonus but they are LYING to her saying she didn’t sign up for the same offer – I WAS RIGHT THERE! Literally I cannot believe they are calling us liars. I filed a case with the CFPB and will hound them forever until they give her her bonus. In the long run, they’re losing our business – plenty of other fish in the sea.

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