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

Dec 15, 2020

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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 credit and charge cards.

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Not only does American Express limit the number of cards you can have and how often you can apply, but it also tries to ensure that applicants are only eligible for one welcome offer per lifetime on each of their card offerings. Here’s what you need to know about Amex’s one-welcome-bonus-per-lifetime rule.

In This Post

What is the Amex once-per-lifetime rule?

American Express restricts eligibility for a card’s welcome offer to “once per lifetime.”

In other words, you can apply for The Platinum Card® from American Express and earn a welcome offer once and only once. The current bonus on the card is a generous 75,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in your first six months of card membership. You also can earn 10x points on up to $15,000 in combined purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets during the same first six months of card membership.)

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

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 language about previously having the card before.

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

In general, though, Amex’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 credit cards are affected by this rule?

All cards — personal, business and charge 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)
(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.

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 four Amex consumer or business credit cards and, at most, 10 Amex cards going forward, including the American Express® Gold Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express.

For example, you may have three personal credit cards, one business credit card and the Amex Platinum. Since four of the five are credit cards, you have reached your cap on credit cards with Amex. Overall, Amex seems to be tightening and formalizing its rules on how many credit cards and charge cards it will allow its customers to hold at once.

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

How can I still 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 credit 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’re not sure you’re eligible for the welcome offer on a card because you think you have had it before, Amex will alert you with a pop-up message at the time you apply.

A possible exception to the rule for Amex welcome offers is embedded in the language on a card’s application terms and conditions. Amex usually includes the following wording on the landing page of an application:

Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card. 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. 

If your card application does not include this restrictive language but you have had the card in the past, you may be targeted for the card by American Express. 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 look again before submitting your application for the pop-up message by Amex alerting you if are ineligible for the welcome bonus.

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. Normally the language on the terms and conditions highlights the ineligibility of the welcome offer, but doesn’t restrict approval.

There have been reports of people getting approved for a sixth or even seventh card, with or without the welcome offer, because Amex offers a strong portfolio of cards that earn valuable points and miles.

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 100,000-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 the 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. 

Featured Image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy

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