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Credit Card Rules: How Often Can You Apply?

Credit card welcome bonuses are the easiest way to earn rewards quickly. As such, you might be eager to apply for as many new cards as you can, as fast as possible.

However, if you take that approach, you’ll run into resistance before you know it. Banks may decide not to award you a welcome bonus if you’ve already received one recently, even if they approve your application.

Each bank has its own policies in place. Some rules are more strict, and some are more strictly enforced. Many are laid out in the credit cards’ terms and conditions, while others are patterns we’ve identified.

Here are some rules you should follow to avoid being deemed ineligible for welcome bonuses.

In This Post

TD: 12-Month Rule

Let’s begin with TD, with one of the more complex and easily-misunderstood rules.

TD doesn’t have any firm rules around credit approval, but their terms and conditions do “reserve the right to limit the number of accounts opened by one person, and the number of [points] awarded to any one person.”

Basically, TD outright tells you that they might be draconian for any arbitrary reason. In practice, though, their credit cards clearly state the rewards you should expect to receive. I’ve never seen them be less generous than these specified limits.

Here’s the wording of the fine print on the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card:

If you have opened an Account in the last 12 months, you will not be eligible for this offer.

On the surface, this still seems quite restrictive. It sounds like you can only get one welcome bonus from TD every 12 months.

TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card
Welcome Bonus
25,000 Aeroplan points + Buddy Pass
Annual Fee
First Year Free
First-Year Value
$1,176

However, notice that “Account” is capitalized as a proper noun. Elsewhere in the very same terms and conditions, the “Account” is defined as the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card.

This means that if you’ve opened this particular product, the Aeroplan Visa Infinite, in the last 12 months, you’re not eligible for the welcome bonus. But it’s not a problem if you’ve opened a different credit card product, such as a different Aeroplan card or a card that earns another type of rewards.

Therefore, you could conceivably earn a welcome bonus on every TD product within 12 months, as long as they keep approving you for more credit.

Complicating matters, the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card follows a six-month rule instead:

This offer is not available customers who have activated and/or closed a TD First Class Travel® Visa Infinite* Account in the last 6 months.

Frustratingly, the First Class Travel card considers the date you last closed the card as the start of the cool-down period. Luckily, the Aeroplan cards use the date you last opened the card, so you can continue to enjoy the card’s benefits until it’s time to reapply.

Ultimately, one product won’t affect another, so it’s just a matter of keeping the subtle differences straight between them.

RBC: 1/90 Rule

On the other hand, RBC’s rule is not officially stated, but it’s very simple.

RBC will only approve one credit card application every 90 days. You’ll be automatically rejected if you try any sooner, and this is almost always very firmly enforced.

RBC Avion Visa Infinite
Welcome Bonus
35,000 Avion points
Annual Fee
$120
First-Year Value
$545

Some people have had limited success by calling to push the second application through. If you try this, I’d suggest applying for two cards that earn different rewards, like one Avion card and one WestJet card, so you can make a compelling case if they ask you why you want both.

It’s possible that RBC uses a different approval process for online, phone, and in-person applications. Furthermore, their business lending team operates independently from their consumer credit division.

However, I’ve never felt compelled to push the boundaries here. The online application is quick and painless, and you’ll likely be approved as long as your credit profile is in good order. Besides, applying via different methods would trigger multiple credit inquiries, defeating one of the major benefits of blitzing the same financial institution for several new cards in a short span of time.

Fortunately, this rule is only for new credit applications, and it doesn’t govern rewards at all. You would be able to apply for a new RBC card and product switch a second pre-existing RBC card within the same 90-day period, and you’d receive the appropriate bonuses on both, because product switches are not credit-seeking events.

Other Big 5 Banks

CIBC, Scotiabank, and BMO don’t have any firm rules around credit card applications.

Scotiabank’s terms and conditions say that you’re not eligible for a welcome bonus if you’ve had any Scotiabank retail credit card in the past two years. In practice, I’ve found this to be partially enforced: you’ll get the points, but you might not get an annual fee waiver – and because you’re not entitled to one as a repeat cardholder, you don’t have much ground to stand on if you escalate to a human to sort out your incomplete welcome bonus.

American Express Platinum Card
Welcome Bonus
105,000 MR points
Annual Fee
$699
First-Year Value
$1,393

CIBC also doesn’t have an official exclusion period. In fact, if you’re approved for a high credit limit, you can often open multiple new cards with the same credit inquiry. I’d say that overall, CIBC is more picky about credit approval than they are about points being awarded.

While BMO doesn’t have cards that inspire an aggressive approach, I know some Air Miles collectors who are looking for one last hurrah before the program presumably introduces dynamic pricing soon. Again, the terms are partially enforced here:

BMO AIR MILES World Elite Mastercard applications must be received between May 1, 2020 and December 6, 2022 (the “Offer Period”) to be eligible for the AIR MILES Bonus Miles and Annual Fee Refund offers … Bonus Offers are limited to new accounts. Existing BMO AIR MILES World Elite Mastercard customers who cancel their card during the Offer Period, and existing BMO Mastercard customers who transfer into this product during the Offer Period are not eligible for the Offers.

BMO is well-known for not awarding bonuses on product switches. However, BMO has extended the “Offer Period” countless times, and I know many people who have cancelled and reapplied since this offer began and are still receiving bonus miles.

American Express: Once-in-a-Lifetime Rule

In their terms and conditions for almost every product, Amex clearly states that they won’t award repeat welcome bonuses:

These offers are only available to new Platinum Card® Cardmembers (‘Cardmembers’). For current or former Platinum® Cardmembers, we may approve your application, but you will not be eligible for these offers. If you receive points in error, we reserve the right to deduct them from your points balance.

For many years after this clause was introduced, it wasn’t enforced, but more recently Amex has been cracking down on repeat welcome bonuses. Indeed, many cardholders who had applied for and received repeat welcome bonuses have seen their relationships with Amex turn sour.

Thankfully, the once-in-a-lifetime rule applies separately for each product. You’ll receive the welcome bonus if you’re approved for a new Amex product that you’ve never had before, even if you currently or previously had many other cards and welcome bonuses.

You can even apply for these as fast as you want, with one notable exception…

American Express Business Cards: 90-Day Rule

You’ll be automatically rejected if you apply for the Business Platinum and Business Gold cards, Amex’s two MR-earning business charge cards, within 90 days.

Business Platinum Card from American Express
Welcome Bonus
105,000 MR points
Annual Fee
$499
First-Year Value
$1,426

In some respects, Amex treats these two cards as variants of the same product on the back-end. Somewhere in the system, your second application will be flagged as a duplicate.

I’d say this isn’t a huge inconvenience, though. It doesn’t affect any other Amex cards, so you could do, say, a Business Platinum together with literally anything else except for a Business Gold.

The appeal of the Business Gold has significantly dipped with the loss of the preferred suppliers program, while the lower-fee Business Edge has shot up with MR Select points now being transferable to Aeroplan. Even if you’re blowing through the Amex Flowchart at light speed, there are more than enough other personal and business Amex cards to keep you busy until you can get the Business Gold.

MBNA: 5/6 Rule

This is perhaps Canada’s most well-known credit card application rule. We’ve written a full post on the 5/6 Rule, so I’ll briefly recap here.

This rule is a bit different, in that it has nothing to do with new accounts or applications at MBNA. Instead, MBNA will reject your application based on credit-seeking behaviour with other institutions.

MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard
Welcome Bonus
30,000 Alaska miles
Annual Fee
$99
First-Year Value
$783

Basically, if you have five or more TransUnion inquiries in the past six months, including the inquiry they do for the card you’re presently applying for, MBNA will reject your application.

There is a way around this, however. If you’re an existing MBNA cardholder, you can push the application forward by splitting credit from another card. Once you do so, you can expect to receive the welcome bonus. Like many other issuers, MBNA is more concerned about credit risk than they are about repeat rewards.

Note that unlike its namesake, the Chase 5/24 Rule in the US, this rule refers to credit inquiries in the past six months, rather than new credit cards opened successfully. Therefore, a failed application would be a knock against you in MBNA’s eyes – all the more reason to follow these rules with other banks to ensure the greatest chance of success.

HSBC: 12-Month Rule

HSBC is one of the more strict banks with respect to repeat bonuses, and they have a reputation for enforcing this policy to the letter of the law:

These offers are available to successful applicants who have not, in the 12 months prior to submitting the application, held an HSBC World Elite Mastercard, HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard or HSBC Jade World Elite Mastercard credit card account.  Only one new or upgraded account per customer is eligible for these offers.

This is the worst of both worlds compared to TD’s various limitations. There’s a long 12-month waiting period, but the clock doesn’t start ticking until you’ve closed the old card.

HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®
Welcome Bonus
Up to 100,000 HSBC Rewards points
Annual Fee
First Year Free
First-Year Value
$736

With a flexible rewards currency and a 100,000-point welcome bonus coming around about once a year, the HSBC World Elite Mastercard is one you might want to apply for again and again.

However, the challenge with HSBC is that the cycle takes a long time. You have to wait at least six months after getting the card to receive the bonus points (even if you meet the spending thresholds sooner), so you can’t cancel or downgrade the card quickly. Then, there’s the 12-month wait to reapply. Finally, consider that the process of getting an HSBC credit card can be less than smooth, sometimes with multiple branch visits, and you might be wondering if you should bother reapplying at all.

Instead, the HSBC World Elite Mastercard presents a strong case for being a long-term keeper. Against a net $49 annual fee after using the annual travel enhancement credit, it’s rare to see a card with its unique blend of benefits: no foreign transaction fees, strong rewards on all purchases with industry-leading rates on travel, and worldwide Mastercard acceptance with the convenience of being issued by a Canadian bank.

Besides, with the current welcome bonus, some of the points won’t even be delivered until the second year. Now would be a great time to apply, especially if you’re interested in adding and keeping the card for years to come.

Conclusion

Each bank uses a slightly different policy to limit how frequently you can earn welcome bonuses on new credit cards. This list is far from comprehensive, but by observing what the banks tell us with their words and actions, we can develop our own strategy as consumers to avoid making any missteps as we seek to maximize our rewards.

Sometimes the terms and conditions will explicitly say if you’re entitled to another bonus. Alternatively, some banks use their algorithms for detecting risky credit-seeking behaviour to de facto throttle your rewards by simply rejecting you for new credit cards.

Either way, I encourage you to go as fast as you can without overclocking your credit engine on your way to supercharging your travel rewards.

8 Comments
  1. Kenrick Chang

    Just wanted to double check.

    If I have a TD Aeroplan Visa card that’s $139 annual feee and I get one that’s $599 annual fee, since they’re different products I will get the Welcome Bonus right? TD defines “account” as each specific credit card product?

    Thank you

  2. Clare

    Hi Ricky. I downgraded to the RBC rewards + ($0fee) when my annual renewal date was coming up for RBCAvion to avoid paying the $120fee and keep my points. Now I want to get the RBC Avion card back but not clear if I can just apply outright for it (it has been over a year) and get the welcome bonus and FYF offer, or if I would have to product switch? RBC keep sending me pre-approved offers to upgrade but through those offers I would only get 15K points and still put $120 as opposed to the new sign up bonus of 35k. Do you know if I can just apply for the Avion on my own and get the welcome bonus and then call to cancel my RBC Rewards+ card? Or is product switch/upgrade the only way?

  3. gboe

    For TD, what happens if you do a recent product switch from Aeroplan Infinite? Does the 90-day rule apply to when you last had an open card of that type or just since the last application?

  4. Kenny

    Good all encompassing summary. For US Amex, is there a similar 90 day rule for business card applications?

  5. tom meyland

    thanks for the input, mr points could be transfered over to avios when needed or do before to give more options? (hitting 1 million aeroplan, 250k td rewards, and about 300k mr so far) should be up substantially in mrs when time to go as concentrating on those now.

    1. MG YYZ

      There are several,ways to accumulate Avios in a short time, so you wouldn’t need to touch your MR points. The RBC cards offer 35K Avios cards for $120 with no minimum purchase. This offer ends on November 15th, so you may want to focus on that first. Easiest way to find cards that accumulate Avios is to go to the Credit Cards section, and filter cards that earn Avios points. Good luck Tom!

  6. tom meyland

    I was wondering what would be a good mix of “currencies” to bring to the table when getting a prince of travel consult for a round world trip for 2, as I have mr points, aeroplan, and td rewards, (stockpiling for when things open up) ps. my deepest thanks for all the content that has made this a reality!

    1. MG YYZ

      I think that also adding some Avios points would benefit you on a round-the-world trip. Especially for some short haul flights (e.g. within Europe).

Josh Greenberg

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