American Express Is Clawing Back Points from Self-Referrals

Jul 13, 2019

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Last year, American Express made an incredibly positive change to its refer-a-friend program. Instead of only being allowed to refer from one card to the same product, it was suddenly possible to refer friends to a wide variety of Membership Rewards earning and cobranded credit cards. In fact, Amex even made it possible to refer from personal cards to business cards and vice versa.

This change opened up a unique loophole to the discerning award traveler: Because you could refer from card A to card B, it was suddenly possible to refer yourself to a credit card and earn both a new welcome bonus and a referral bonus. Amex has long had a history of cracking down on abuses of its Membership Rewards program, and many who knew about this loophole advised that it simply wasn’t worth the risk.

It seems that Amex has finally caught on, and begun clawing back Membership Rewards points earned via self-referral. Both Doctor of Credit and Reddit are filling up with multiple data points on this clawback. On the high end, some people have had more than 100,000 Membership Rewards points removed from their account, while others have been dinged as little as 30,000 (2-3 referrals, depending on what card you use).

Users have reported clawbacks when self-referring from Membership Rewards earning cards to other Membership Rewards-earning cards, as well as from core Membership Rewards cards to co-branded cards such as Delta, Hilton or Marriott. The point is that Amex is casting a wide net here, and even if you only self-referred once or twice, there’s a good chance your points are at risk.

Users affected by this clawback should have received the following email from Amex, vaguely explaining this action (emphasis mine):

“We are writing to let you know that, after careful review of your Membership Rewards® account activity, we have removed points in your Membership Rewards® program account. Please ensure that any Additional Card Members who are authorized to redeem points from your account are notified of this change in your Membership Rewards balance.

Why we are removing these points We recently noticed point accrual or redemption activity on your Membership Rewards program account that indicates an effort to obtain or use points in a manner that is not appropriate. It’s important for you to know that the Membership Rewards program terms and conditions state that “If we in our sole discretion determine that you have engaged in abuse, misuse or gaming in connection with earning or using points or that you may attempt to do so, we may:

Take away any points in your program account, Temporarily suspend your ability to redeem points, Temporarily suspend your ability to earn points, Cancel your program account, or Cancel any of your American Express Cards”

Whether or not you ever referred yourself to an Amex card, or even knew that this was possible, this is a good time to familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of your Amex credit cards. Your user agreement with Amex gives the issuer very broad power to claw back your points or close your account if Amex, in its sole discretion, believes that you have abused or attempted to abuse the system.

Bottom Line

This is not the first time Amex has come knocking, collecting points from people who earned them “inappropriately.” Amex has been known to claw back points from people who meet their minimum spending requirements in ways that violate the terms of their card agreement, or from people who use application links that were not targeted to them.

Of all the major card issuers, Amex and its dedicated RAT (rewards abuse team) is the most active when it comes to taking back points. The important lesson to be learned here is that while some people were able to manipulate the system to earn bonus points, their actions have caught up with them. Any time you break the rules set by a card issuer you risk forfeiting your points and seeing your accounts shut down, so it’s important to do a thorough risk reward calculation.

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