American Express May Start Imposing New Limits on Signup Bonuses, And Why It’s Not a Huge Deal

Dan’s Deals has a discussion suggesting that American Express is going to begin enforcing a rule that customers will be able to receive the bonus for a credit card signup only once per product. He’s reporting that if you’ve had a given card in the past you won’t be able to get a new signup bonus effective May 1.

There’s much consternation over this, as though it fundamentally changes something in the miles and points hobby. But I don’t think that it really does. Although if the rumors are true and you’re interested in a card you’ve had in the past it could be a worthwhile idea to sign up before the end of April

It isn’t really a big deal though. It doesn’t spell gloom and doom.

  1. Limiting access to bonuses is something American Express has already been working on. I frequently click on American Express offers now and see the following message (likely because of browser cookies):

    You have been identified as a current American Express Card Member. You may have seen an offer advertised for this product previously, but the offer is not available to current American Express Card Members.

  2. It’s how others do it already. Years ago Chase would give you the same bonus for the same card over and over and over every few months, even for cards you already had open (you could earn the bonus on a United Visa when you already had a United Visa). Then they changed to only award a bonus once per product in a lifetime (unless a product was considered ‘new’) although they’ve certainly made exceptions to this.
  3. It’s how Amex used to do it. When I got started in this hobby American Express would only award a bonus once. The exception was that if they increased the signup bonus for a card, they would give you the difference between the new offer and the one you previously received.
  4. American Express signup bonuses have been pretty modest recently anyway. Except for targeted offers, we haven’t seen really big American Express offers in awhile. The new Amex Everyday cards, receiving big marketing push with TV ad buys during the Oscars, are launching with bonuses of 10,000 and 15,000 points for the two products.

Obviously a willingness to give fewer people signup bonuses isn’t a good thing from the perspective of a consumer who likes being given lots of miles. But this doesn’t signal a significant new shift in the hobby.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. What a surprise!!!!! Look, I love travel bloggers and you all do a great job in keeping people informed on great deals and strategies to get points and travel for free. However, by promoting all these credit card deals you also get people to take advantage of the deals more than they should. I guess the credit card company is not happy to give away thousands of points for someone that sign up for a credit card just to cancel it after hitting minimum spending and the same applies again after 12 months to do the same.

  2. @Gary

    The DD crowd is starting to post that your analysis is bunk. Frankly, I agree with you. At least on paper, AmEx has been well on their way to reducing churn, limiting bonuses on current products to “not within the last 12 months” AND limiting access to certain other consumer products within the last 90 days.

    So you are certainly correct with point #1.

    With #2, Chase has been limiting things to “one per lifetime” and while I’ve never tried to “test” the rule, I haven’t had any trouble finding new Chase products either. There was a stretch where there were 3 different Ink products with $5k spend requirements, so it took awhile got get through all of the bonuses.

    Citi is well on their way to tightening up churn, as well. So AmEx is certainly not alone, which was your point.

    #3. I don’t remember that far back. But one of the things the portfolio managers are going to have to do to remain competitive is either allow some limited amount of churn, or provide a strong incentive to pay the annual fee. Otherwise, I’ll have one or two cards that I can justify paying the annual fee for, and never go back to the others. And AmEx PRG is one such card — at $175/yr, I simply don’t value what it offers.

    I don’t know the economics of bonus offers with associated minimum spend, but I *AM* going to spend money each month. The only question is who is going to get that spend, and what they will do to entice me to spend on their card. It *is* a competitive market, and for me the gold standard is Chase IB/SP. If you want my spend (and it’s there for the taking) you gotta give me something for it.

  3. @Santastico

    You do realize that the travel bloggers are incentivized by the banks themselves to do all of this heavy promotion, don’t you? The banks are the makers of their own undoing.

    This whole thing was somewhat flawed from the get-go, and nobody thought through how they were going to incentive ongoing spend. It’s great to get the card in my wallet, but when EVERYBODY is getting their card in my wallet, I need some reason to put my spend on your card. They never thought that far.

  4. Gary —

    To be frank, I’m a bit puzzled by your analysis on this one.

    Yes, AmEx went from awarding bonuses willy nilly to once per 12 months last year. But how can you say that going from once per 12 months to once per lifetime of ~78 years is not a “significant shift?”

    Seems you’re out of touch with the realities that are the current state of churning, IMO.

  5. So does this only apply to AMEX cards your get AFTER April 30th? I currently have an SPG Personal. Could I cancel it in June and apply again in a year for the bonus? With that June 2015 Bonus being the last.

  6. I’m looking at getting in on Amex Biz Plat one more time. I wonder if this will apply. Looking at buying a 100K offer on eBay…

  7. This is terrible news. I just started Amex churn game now they want to setup this new rule ….

  8. I agree with AJK. I’ve received the SPG and Gold cards several times over the last few years. If that goes away it is a big deal. That’s 30k less spg and 50 or 75k less gold every year when counting biz and personal on a rotating basis. Plus times 2 when factoring my wife’s cards.

  9. But there are always rules that supersede other rules.

    For instance I have received the 50K bonus on the same Ink product a couple of times for two separate businesses I own. Sure, there was effort involved (2 separate business bank accounts – but I needed that anyhow to keep the money separate) but in the end they were happy to give me another of the same product and give me the entire bonus again. I specifically asked about the bonus and was upfront stating that I have one for one business and like the rewards for the spend but I will take my spend for the second business to another bank unless I get this bonus.

    I have three different Ink products for one business and one for the second. You can bet that I am working on a plan to get the 2 other Ink products for the second business. So far they don’t care about total number of cards I have but will begin to care about overall CL exposure across 2 businesses and personal.

    I have not yet attempted to work Amex this way as I know they have a strict total number credit cards allowed limits – and I am maxed out with Amex in that regard.

    But yes – one per lifetime will ruin this side of the game unless I begin to churn businesses and that’s not going to happen. Yet.

  10. I got my current Amex card before bonuses were even offered. So, Amex, if you’re limiting to once in a lifetime, come back to me and offer me that bonus I never got. It’s the least you can do for having earned a boat load of money off my spend!

  11. I agree with others Gary. Surprised you’re taking the position you are. I think its a big deal. Not the end of the world, but a big deal.

    Most of my Amex cards if I didn’t get regular bonuses for I would toss. Other than the Amex SPG pair. Certainly the Amex Gold might be interesting in theory, but $175 a year interesting? I don’t think so. And certainly I wouldn’t go near a Platinum card.

    If things go the way you suggest, the good news is my Amex card plan will become pretty damn simple. Keep the SPG Business and Personal and cancel everything else from Amex. Put all bonused spend on Chase UR cards. And next meet minimum spend on my latest Citi cards. Any money that’s left over I might put on the Business SPG. And honestly, the extra 5 nights the 2nd SPG gets me might not be worth the annual fee either.

  12. Part of me wants to just say that this was bound to happen with all the card churning that was going on….But, Amex, et al, encouraged this churning with the bonuses. On the other hand, when I think about it, what do the banks have, to get you to apply for one of their cards? They need some kind of incentive for people to apply. So, I want to say that this is just part of a cycle. The fact of the matter is: a huge part of the middle class does not qualify for any more credit. So, the banks will have to do something to get that 10% of Americans who do qualify, to apply.

  13. You will see American Express will start to lose money because of this lifetime bonus policy and the person who implement this policy will be out the job. I applied for Hilton Surpass card I was denied bonus because I apply for the same card in 2009. I am american express customer for last 10 years people like me will certainly shift to other bank. The fact in all credit card banks make huge profit on their business with the churning factor already taken into consideration which are very few.

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