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

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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:

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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!

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