Is Amex Limiting Repeat Signup Bonuses?

I wanted to provide an update on a situation that seems to have been developing for the past few months: there’s been more and more data points recently of American Express not granting the signup bonus on a few personal credit cards if you’ve held the card before.

Now, the ability to sign up for the same card and take advantage of its signup bonus over and over again sounds too good to be true, but somehow, that’s indeed what has tended to happen across American Express and all the other major issuers.

Within the past few months, though, it definitely appears that American Express has taken a few steps to counteract this practice. Let’s take a closer look at the situation and what it means for us as points collectors.


The Story of “Churning” Credit Cards

For most of the time that credit card points have existed, the issuers didn’t even give a second thought to the idea of repeat signup bonuses. It was assumed that if anyone who had held the card before was applying for it again, that person simply must’ve decided to close the card in the past and then were genuinely tempted enough again by the card’s bonuses and perks to change their mind. So why shouldn’t they receive the signup bonus?

The idea of repeatedly opening credit cards purely for the signup bonuses has only really taken hold in the more recent past. Indeed, it was in July 2015 when American Express Canada first added language to the terms and conditions of its personal cards as follows:

For current or former Cardmembers, we may approve your application, but you will not be eligible for the welcome bonus. 
— American Express

I actually remember reading about this development on that day many years ago, and feeling pretty discouraged about it.

But as it turns out, typing up an extra line in the terms and conditions is one thing, whereas actually implementing the IT solution to check whether a cardholder had held the card before and deny the signup bonus is quite another. 

And so for many years, we continued to see repeated signup bonuses being granted despite the terms and conditions saying you wouldn’t be eligible, because Amex had basically only implemented that language as a scare tactic to deter people from opening and closing their cards solely for the points, rather than putting it into practice.

That remained the status quo until late 2018 or early 2019, when the first data points of people no longer receiving the bonus began filtering through, mostly on the American Express Gold Rewards Card or the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Card. For example, below are a few emails from my readers detailing their experiences:

Quick question for you; I was recently denied the welcome bonus for the Amex Gold card and the last time I signed up and canceled this card was in 2016. They cited that was the reason I will no longer be eligible to receive it again. You’ve mentioned this was one of the cards you regularly churn, and so i was wondering if you had any run ins like this and if there a work around.
— Prince of Travel reader
SPG refused to grant me reward sign up bonus points for opening an SPG card, stating that I had a card before (which I had closed over a year ago in January 2018). I was told this is a one time life time bonus... Do you know who I should escalate my complaint to?
— Prince of Travel reader

Unfortunately there’s not much you can do in these situations, since the “letter of the law” does indeed state that only first-time cardholders are eligible to receive the signup bonus. If you apply for the card again, you might get the bonus a second or third time, but you also might not, and there’s no real recourse for you in that situation.

If you’ve opened a new Amex Gold or Amex Bonvoy card having held the card before, and you don’t see the points posted to your account after meeting the minimum spending requirement, keep in mind that the terms and conditions also state that it may take up to six weeks to receive your bonus, so you shouldn’t give up hope immediately. 

Indeed, I remember a few years ago there was a data point on FlyerTalk where somebody had opened new Amex Gold cards for both themselves and their spouse, both having held the card before. The signup bonus didn’t post immediately on either card, so the person decided to call Amex to see what was up, and was informed they wouldn’t be receiving the bonus since it was a repeat application. 

However, a few weeks later, the signup bonus did show up on the spouse’s card (which the person hadn’t called about), but it indeed never showed up on the person’s own card. This leads us to believe that Amex might well be manually identifying repeat cardholders and limiting the signup bonus rather than having any sort of automated system in place.


Which Cards Are Affected?

Most of the data points I’ve been getting on the limited repeat signup bonuses are on the American Express Gold Rewards Card and the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Card. There seems to be no real rhyme or reason to these incidences – people have been denied repeat signup bonuses whether closed their old card very recently or many years ago, and whether they’ve signed up through a referral link, the Perkopolis offer, Great Canadian Rebates, or another source. 

 
bonvoy_aec2.png
 

And yet, many people have also been successful in getting the repeat signup bonuses on these cards as well. I personally applied for my second iteration of the Bonvoy Card recently, and received the 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points on the first statement. 

The Churning Canada Reddit forum and the RedFlagDeals forum are both great places to hunt for individual data points from other points collectors. Someone on the Reddit forum even put together a detailed analysis of all the data points so far, although it doesn’t seem to have arrived at any discernible pattern.

Overall, I would say that the repeated signup bonuses on these cards should be considered highly “YMMV” going forwards. If you’ve held the cards before but want to apply again, just be aware that it’s a bit of a gamble as to whether or not you will receive the bonus or not.

For the probabilistically-minded readers out there, you can view the signup bonuses on these cards as being reduced to an “expected signup bonus” after the first round of, say, 12,500 MR points or 30,000 Bonvoy points (instead of the usual 25,000 and 60,000 respectively), depending on what you consider to be the probability of being denied the signup bonus as a repeat cardholder.

Don’t forget that referral bonuses will still be granted on these applications even if the signup bonuses are not handed out, so you won’t be left entirely empty-handed. For example, if your application for the Bonvoy Card doesn’t net you a signup bonus, you still get to keep the 10,000 Bonvoy points as a referral bonus from your partner’s Bonvoy Card (in two-player mode) or from the Amex Bonvoy Business Card.

I haven’t seen any data points on the other American Express credit cards to indicate that repeat signup bonuses are being limited, so I’d consider those to be fair game for now. That’s just as well, because the business credit cards are really where the big bonuses lie, so it’s great that we can continue earning them for the time being. 

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if what we were seeing with the Gold Rewards Card and the Bonvoy Card are part of a larger trend towards once-in-a-lifetime bonuses across the board here in Canada, similar to the tight ship that Amex runs down in the US. The sun may well be setting on the golden age of “churning” Amex credit cards here in Canada, so now’s the time to maximize those bonuses to the best of your ability. 


Conclusion 

Consider this a public service announcement of sorts. If you’ve never held the Amex Gold Rewards Card and Amex Bonvoy Card, you’ll have no trouble getting the signup bonus the first time around. After that, it’s a bit of a gamble as to whether or not the signup bonus will be granted again.

Best as I can tell, the limiting of repeat signup bonuses remains very much a manual process over at Amex HQ, so quite a few of us will continue be successful with repeat signup bonuses. If you’re shooting for one of these cards for the second or third time, feel free to use the comments below to share data points with your fellow points collectors.