Amex blocking referral links for past self-referrals
Every credit card issuer has its own rules to try and balance out the cost of attracting new customers by offering valuable welcome bonuses with the need to separate customers with long-term value from those who are only in it for the quick points. Among the major card issuers, American Express is well known for being the strictest, with a dedicated rewards abuse team (RAT) that cracks down on any perceived violations of Amex's terms of service. RAT will often claw back points from people who are suspected of abusing or gaming the system.
This week we saw one of the most aggressive actions ever taken by the RAT team concerning the questionable practice of self-referrals.
When Amex redesigned its card referral system a while back to make it possible to refer people to almost any Amex card — even ones you didn't currently hold — it opened up a loophole that allowed users to refer themselves to a new card, double-dipping on both the referral bonus and the welcome offer.
According to Danny the Deal Guru, a number of people who'd previously self-referred to Amex cards have had their points clawed back and their Amex referral links deactivated. Customers who are caught up in this action might see one of the following messages when they try and generate a referral link for an Amex credit card:
"Your Card is not eligible to participate in this campaign" or "Additionally, your Card account’s eligibility to participate in the Refer a Friend program is based on your creditworthiness and other factors including your account history with American Express."
Amex includes very broad language in the terms and conditions of all its credit cards that gives it the power to act in its sole discretion when it believes people are abusing its products. As an example, the language below appears on the application for the Platinum 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 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 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 Membership Rewards points to, we may freeze Membership Rewards points credited to, or we may take away Membership Rewards points from your account. We may also cancel this Card account and other Card accounts you may have with us."
Most credit card applications include a lot of legal disclaimers, but when it's coming from Amex, you know it's not an empty threat.
This is not the first time we've seen the RAT team cracking down on people who try and skirt the rules to earn extra points. In the past, people have had welcome bonuses clawed back when they used expired application links from old deals or when they bought cash equivalents such as Visa gift cards in order to meet their minimum spending requirement.
More recently, we've seen Amex claw back points from people who downgraded or closed their account at the one year mark in order to avoid paying an annual fee on a card they never intended to keep.
When it comes to American Express, it's worth playing by the rules. Even if it looks like you've gotten away with some trick to earn bonus points, just remember that Amex can (and likely will) come after you and try and claw those points back, even if it's months later.