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Does upgrading a card count against Amex's "once per lifetime" bonus rule?

Oct. 08, 2019
5 min read
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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...

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[pullquote source="TPG READER MIKE"]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?[/pullquote]

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.

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

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 6X points
6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
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Earn 100,000 points75,000 points
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Annual Fee

$125

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees