Does upgrading a card count against Amex’s “once per lifetime” bonus rule?

Oct 8, 2019

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Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

There are a lot of factors that go into selecting a new credit card, but perhaps the most important (and certainly the most immediate) is the welcome bonus it offers. In some cases this might mean applying for a card that you like but don’t love, or applying for a premium credit card for its larger bonus when the entry level version would have suited you better (or vice versa). TPG reader Mike wants to know how upgrading a card will affect his future bonus eligibility…

I have an offer to upgrade to the Bonvoy Brilliant for 125,000 bonus points. If I accept the offer, would I still be eligible to receive a new welcome bonus on the Bonvoy Brilliant in the future?

TPG READER MIKE

This is a tough choice for Mike to make, and I’m not entirely sure what I would do myself if I was in his position. On the one hand, if he wants the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card he should jump at the 125,000 bonus points, as the public welcome offer on this card is only for 75,000 points right now (after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months). On the other hand, upgrading would mean losing his legacy Bonvoy Amex (closed to new applicants), and I try to hold as many Bonvoy cards as possible for the anniversary free nights they offer.

As tempting as an offer can be though, good for Mike for thinking through his long-term card strategy before making any important decisions. Each card issuer has its own rules around welcome bonus and card eligibility, and Amex’s is generally summarized as follows: You can only earn the bonus on each Amex credit card once per lifetime. While we focus on the bonus, Amex actually write the policy in a slightly more restrictive way:

“Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product or the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury 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.”

What this means is that if someone opened a new Bonvoy Brilliant card and didn’t meet the spending requirement to earn the welcome bonus, they wouldn’t be able to apply for the card again later in life and try again. You just get one shot. In Mike’s case, once he upgrades to the Bonvoy Brilliant he will have had that card, and would no longer be eligible to receive a welcome bonus on it in the future. Even if his upgrade offer didn’t include bonus points, simply possessing the card makes you ineligible to receive a bonus on it in the future.

Related: Am I eligible for a new Marriott Bonvoy card? This chart tells you yes or no

Note that the same process also works in reverse. If you open a Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express and decide after a year that you don’t want to pay the $450 annual fee ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020) (See Rates & Fees), you can downgrade it to the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. However, doing so would prevent you from ever being able to apply for the Gold Delta SkyMiles credit card in the future and earning a welcome bonus on it.

Bottom line

While we like to think of Amex’s eligibility rules in terms of how they affect our welcome bonuses, it might help to broaden our thinking a little bit. Bonus or not, you get one shot at holding each of Amex’s credit cards. If Mike chooses to take this upgrade offer (which comes with 50,000 more points than if he were to apply for the Bonvoy Brilliant directly), he won’t be able to downgrade in the future and then apply for the Bonvoy Brilliant directly. Ultimately it’s up to Mike to decide which course is best for him and his personal travel needs, but it’s smart of him to do so with an eye on the future.

Thanks for the question, Mike, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo by The Points Guy.

For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve card, click here.

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