Why Credit Card ‘Zombie Links’ Continue to Work Long Past Their Sell By Date

There are some folks out there who warn readers off of ‘zombie applications’ — suggesting you shouldn’t use links that are ostensibly expired or don’t have landing pages describing an offer. Those folks are wrong.

Some folks promote links that provide them with referral credits even when those links aren’t for the best available offers. For instance, there’s been an American Airlines credit card link offering 30,000 points as a signup bonus. A few folks want you to use that link, when there have been several 50,000 point offers out there. The 50,000 point offers haven’t had a ‘landing page’ showing the offer, they just go to an application. That makes people nervous, but the links have simply continued to deliver the bonuses. I’ll explain why in a moment.

I give folks the benefit of the doubt that they simply don’t understand how these links work and that leads them to give bad advice. Although sometimes it’s hard to do that when there are even better offers that have been broadly promoted on television, taking the American Airlines case Cit had huge TV buys promoting citi.com/travel as offering a 40,000 point signup bonus. So it’s hard to argue that the ‘alternative’ to a 50,000 ‘zombie application link’ is a 30,000 point bonus which offers referral credit rather than a very public 40,000 point bonus.

I’ve just updated the 50,000 point offer for the American Airlines card on my Best Credit Card Offers page and on my Top 10 Deals page because the old one I had listed stopped working. By which I mean that the application was no longer available, not that the application stopped delivering results. But there’s still a 50,000 point Visa and small business Visa offer available.

Similar to these Citibank offers for big American Airlines signup bonuses, which don’t describe the offer you’ll be getting, there are also offers that are being marketed to a specific set of customers. Their offer pages say who they want to reach. Such as the best available US Airways Mastercard offer of 40,000 points after first purchase.

The offer says it is exclusively for US Airways Chairmans Preferred members, folks who fly 100,000 miles a year on the airline. Except that it’s not. I’m not a US Airways elite member at all and yet I’ve successfully gotten this offer. More than once.

The thing to understand is that if you apply for a given offer, and your application is approved, you will get that offer. Even if a credit card company didn’t intend to offer it to you in the first place. And even if they had intended to withdraw the offer prior to your application.

Credit cards are heavily regulated. Just look at all of the disclosures. Regardless of the bank issuing the card, the format is the same and the language very similar. If you apply for an offer that says ‘no annual fee the first year’ you are not going to be charged an annual fee.

Sure, it’s always possible that there will be an IT glitch of some sort with your application, such things don’t happen often but they do happen. So having screen shots is always best, with any non-standard offer. And with the Citibank applications that don’t detail the bonus you’re applying for, that’s a challenge. So there’s a small risk, but still a risk that you won’t get the offer you think you are supposed to receive as a result of an accident or glitch. But here your best bet is playing the odds, relying on the experiences of others. Banks do not intend to deny you offers that you sign up for when applying for a credit card. Making an offer to induce you to get a credit card which they then do not come through on opens all sorts of regulatory cans of worms.

In my experiences glitches rarely happen, and almost never with Citibank or Chase, but occasionally with American Express. Fortunately American Express doesn’t tend to have these ‘zombie applications’ which don’t detail the offer you’re getting, and which don’t allow screen shots. (And they’re also proactive about trying to fulfill offers properly — I once received a card where my bonus didn’t post in a timely fashion, I messaged them and they verified I should have received the points which were then posted manually. And then I received a letter a couple of months later about a glitch that caused them not to post my signup bonus — which they then promptly did… again.)

Applications sans offer pages is almost exclusively the province of Citibank, and it reflects the limitations of their IT systems. In fact, the very reason that the applications remain live even after their supposed expiration dates is because they feel they are obligated to honor the offers. Citi hasn’t been able to wipe offers completely when they want them to expire, they have a cumbersome process to fully remove offers. And if they continue to exist at all, then they need to ensure that the offers are honored.

There has been an effort at Citibank to improve their IT and develop systems which allow them to better manage their offers, including removing offers in a timelier fashion. Going forward I expect to see limited time offers that wind up actually being limited time. And when that happens, the ‘zombie applications’ will go away, you won’t be able to submit applications with them anymore. But as long as those applications remain live, applying for them will generates the offer attached to them.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. I have viewed your Best Credit Card Offers and Top 10 Deals before but couldn’t tell if they were current. It would help if you’d put a revision date at the top of each page so visiters would know how current it is. Thanks for this excellent summary.

  2. I have had many such links work. Up til June, a supposedly dead 70k Marriott one worked and I got the card for self and for wife. We now had 140k points and both of us did the Plat challenge you recently mentioned as well. (thanks for that btw) We used some of the points in Paris France and it was awesome, and we used some for a more local stay with the family.

    I think it’s worth trying to do a zombie link. At worst, you could get the lower offer, or maybe call in and find some sympathetic person who understands you may have made some blunder and gives you the bonus that is currently being offered anyway. That doesnt always work (it failed for me in some BofA promo but it was my fault for believing what I believed when I signed up) but sometimes it does.

    Thanks for the read./


  3. The link for the US Airways application has this as part of it:
    Employee Number
    Please enter your 2-character Airline Code followed by your Employee Badge number (no spaces). Only employees of US Airways and US Airways wholly-owned subsidiaries are eligible.
    Employee Number ___________

  4. Thanks for updating the Citi link! I was about to email you cause I was trying to apply for the card but the link wasn’t working. You should be seeing a referral from me cause I got approved for the card. Keep up the great work.

  5. @Gavin – no referral to me on the American card, I specifically do not offer a referral link on that one because the non-referral offers are better.

  6. @Suzy – strange I had not seen that before. The offer has worked for folks as recently as last week, but as I say I hadn’t noticed the thing about employee # which must be a mistake since the offer isn’t marketed to US Airways employees.

  7. Darn Gary – that sucks! But at least I’m hoping you’ll receive the referral credit for the recent SPG 30000 promotion. I had made 3 applications from your links. Either way, keep up the awesome work.

  8. I got in on the 70K Marriott off too but am waiting til mid November to go for the various Citi AA cards. Thanks for explaining the Zombie links 🙂

  9. I don’t understand what you are saying here –

    “Fortunately American Express doesn’t tend to have these ‘zombie applications’ which don’t detail the offer you’re getting, and which don’t allow screen shots.”

    You can always get a copy of what is on the screen via one means or another. So I’m guessing you are referring to something else?

  10. @rich I’m contrasting with Citi where the application itself is live — no reference to the bonus you will get — but the landing page is no more.

  11. Gary- With the benefit of hindsight and your years of experience, can you say that there has been any seasonality to increased sign-up bonuses by the big issuers? In planning a churn strategy, are there certain times of the year when one’s chances of scoring big hits are more likely?



  12. @davidr – I haven’t noticed seasonality so much — churning up until the past few years was really for modest signup bonuses. The very first 20,000 bonus I remember seeing wasn’t until 2003. The first ‘megabonus’ was in 2009. All post-financial crisis, banks coming back, competing for lucrative customers. Ebbs and flows. I do my churns basically every 3 months.

  13. Hey Gary, that citi link… citi.com/travel are they trying to combine all the card types? Its for a mastercard, but the picture does not show it and the wording says ” This Citi® / AAdvantage® card offer is only for new Citi® / AAdvantage® accounts”
    I recently had the visa and amex and was planning on getting the mastercard soon…. Do they no longer consider these three different cards and does having the visa and amex make me no longer a new customer?

  14. Thanks for this post! I cxld my USAirways M/C one month ago. Can I apply for the one in your post now, or do I need to wait a period of time like 12 or 18 months?

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