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A complete guide to Amex's one-bonus-per-lifetime restrictions

March 27, 2022
9 min read
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American Express has an array of rewards credit cards with generous welcome offers and worthwhile benefits. Although Amex doesn't impose a hard rule like Chase's 5/24, the issuer is fairly restrictive when it comes to application rules and lifetime limitations on their cards.

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Not only does American Express limit the number of cards you can have and how often you can apply; it also tries to ensure that applicants are only eligible for one welcome offer per lifetime on each of their card offerings. This makes it critical to carefully choose when you apply for a new Amex card, as doing so may disqualify you from earning an even higher welcome bonus in the future.

Here's what you need to know about Amex's one-welcome-bonus-per-lifetime policy.

What is the Amex once-per-lifetime rule?

Many years ago, American Express would allow you to earn welcome offers on the exact same card multiple times. However, since 2014, the issuer has clamped down on applications and began limiting customers to one bonus per card per lifetime, regardless of how much time had passed since they last applied for that card.

In other words, you can apply for The Platinum Card® from American Express and earn a welcome offer once and only once. If you open the offer details link on the card's application page, you'll see the following language:

"Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card or previous versions of the Platinum Card."

The current bonus on the card is a generous 80,000 Membership Rewards Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases within the first six months of card membership. However, you could be targeted for a higher welcome offer through the CardMatch tool (offer subject to change at any time). As a result, if you apply for the 80,000-point offer and receive a higher one at a later date, you'll almost certainly be ineligible for it.

Caveats

There have been reports of people getting approved and earning the welcome offer again several years later. Additionally, you may be approved for the bonus if the terms of the offer don't include the above language about previously having the card before.

Finally, American Express also introduced a warning several years ago as part of its online card application process. If Amex deems that you are not qualified for the card’s welcome offer, you will likely see a pop-up box stating so.

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In general, though, the issuer's one-bonus-per-lifetime rule was put into effect in order to discourage applicants from applying for Amex cards solely for the bonuses.

Related: Choosing the best American Express credit card for you

What cards are affected by this rule?

All of Amex's cards are covered by this rule. Regardless of the family of cards (cobranded hotel and airline cards, business cards, cash-back cards, rewards cards), American Express maintains a strict rule of one bonus per card for life.

Although all Amex cards are covered by this rule, you can earn the welcome offer on personal and business cards of the same type.

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

For example, the American Express® Gold Card and American Express® Business Gold Card are from the same card family, but one is a personal card and the other a business card. Amex allows you to earn the welcome offer for each card — as long as you have never been a cardholder of that card in the past.

Note that this also applies to rebranded or updated cards. For many years, the Amex Gold Card was called the Premier Rewards Gold Card, and the current offer — 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership — explicitly references that older product:

"Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card or the Premier Rewards Gold Card."

Related: Credit card showdown: Amex Gold vs. Amex Business Gold

How many Amex cards can I have?

Officially, American Express does not have a cap on the number of cards you can have.

The newest unofficial policy from Amex says, however, that most cardholders will be restricted to at most five Amex consumer and business credit cards. They'll also be limited to no more than 10 Amex cards with no preset spending limit (formerly known as charge cards). This latter category includes the Amex Gold Card and Amex Platinum Card.

For example, TPG's Nick Ewen has the following American Express cards currently open:

The information for the Hilton Honors Apire has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Since five of the seven are credit cards, he has reached his cap on credit cards with Amex.

Related: Chase’s 5/24 rule: Everything you need to know

How do I know if I qualify for an Amex welcome offer?

Tracking which Amex cards you have applied for in the past will obviously give you a better idea if you are eligible for a certain card's welcome bonus or not. If your organizational skills aren't up to par, don't fret. In 2018, American Express introduced a welcome bonus qualification tool to warn applicants if they are ineligible for one.

Here’s how it works. When you apply for an American Express card that you’ve already had in the past, you’ll receive the following message before your credit is pulled:

Because you have or have had The Platinum Card, you are not eligible to receive the welcome offer.
We have not yet performed a credit check. Would you still like to proceed?

In essence, if you think you had a card before and thus are not sure if you're eligible for the welcome offer, Amex should alert you with a pop-up message at the time you apply.

There is a possible exception to the rule for Amex welcome offers. Typically, you'll see the verbiage noted above on the landing page of an application:

Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card.
(Screenshot courtesy of American Express)

If your card application does not include this restrictive language but you have had the card in the past, this could mean that you've been targeted for the card by American Express and are this eligible for the offer. Check your email for targeted offers or log into your American Express account and look for preapproved offers with no lifetime language.

Just make sure to double-check before submitting your application for the pop-up message by Amex alerting you if are ineligible for the welcome bonus. It's also a good idea to take a screen shot just before clicking apply. That could help if you run into issues receiving the bonus after you meet applicable spending requirements.

Other Amex welcome offer restrictions

Although American Express has restricted welcome offers to one bonus per lifetime per card, cardholders can still apply and get approved for a card without the welcome offer. The language in the offer terms highlights the ineligibility of the welcome offer, but it typically doesn't restrict approval.

However, it's also worth pointing out the additional verbiage from the above screenshot:

"We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility."

This overly-broad statement essentially retains Amex's ability to use additional factors from your credit report and history with the issuer to determine if you qualify for an offer. This shouldn't impact most applicants — but if you've shown a pattern of opening cards, earning welcome bonuses and then canceling those cards after just one year, that could be a red flag.

Given the wide range of American Express card offerings and once-per-lifetime restrictions, you should time your applications strategically to ensure you’re getting the highest possible welcome bonus. And don’t forget to check the CardMatch tool to know if you qualify for a possible up to 150,000-point targeted offer on the personal version of the Amex Platinum and a 75,000-point targeted offer on the Amex Gold (offers subject to change at any time).

Related: The ultimate guide to credit card application restrictions

Bottom line

American Express has an impressive portfolio of cards with generous welcome offers for first-time applicants. Their once-per-lifetime rule, although restrictive, has certain exceptions that may allow customers to earn a welcome offer again after a period of time.

Along with the welcome bonus qualification tool, Amex makes it easy for applicants to track and understand their eligibility for welcome bonuses on American Express cards.

Additional reporting by Chris Dong and Christina Ly.

Featured Image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.

Featured image by (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
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    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

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    740-850
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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more