American Express Tightens Terms to Discourage Churning
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Welcome bonuses are a crucial criteria to consider when deciding whether or not to apply for a certain credit card. American Express has one of the more restrictive policies in place when it comes to eligibility requirements for welcome bonuses. The issuer has made its terms even stronger in discouraging people from taking advantage of its system.
Most Amex card bonuses include language that a person is only eligible for a bonus "once in a lifetime." However, the issuer added the following language to the welcome bonus terms for the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express:
"If we in our sole discretion determine that you have engaged in abuse, misuse, or gaming in connection with the welcome bonus offer in any way or that you intend to do so (for example, if you applied for one or more cards to obtain a welcome bonus offer (s) that we did not intend for you; if you cancel or downgrade your account within 12 months after acquiring it; or if you cancel or return purchases you made to meet the Threshold Amount), we may not credit the welcome bonus to, we may freeze the welcome bonus credited to, or we may take away the welcome bonus from your account. We may also cancel this Card account and other Card accounts you may have with us."
Essentially, Amex is warning cardholders by telling them that it has the right to not honor a welcome bonus and cancel other accounts you might have with the issuer if you do anything that might be interpreted as taking advantage of the system. For example, if you cancel or downgrade your account within 12 months of opening it, if you cancel or return purchases in order to meet a minimum spend or if you apply for a bonus offer that wasn't intended for you, Amex is reserving the right to terminate your account or not give you the points.
While the language is only on the Delta Gold card right now, there is the possibility that it eventually makes its way to the terms of other (or all) Amex cards. For consumers who apply for credit cards without the intention of churning, there shouldn't be anything to worry about. It's worth noting one questionable term — Amex states that if you "cancel or downgrade your account within 12 months after acquiring it," it could terminate the account or not honor the bonus. This could prove to be challenging, as some cards waive the annual fee for the first year, and some average cardholders are inclined to downgrade or cancel before that fee hits.
Since this terminology is only included on one co-branded card at this time, it shouldn't exactly dissuade you from applying for any new Amex cards. However, the beefing up of its terms and conditions signal that Amex will take this issue seriously and fully intends to penalize those who want to abuse the system.
H/T: One Mile at Time