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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.

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.

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?

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. 

31 Comments
  1. Avatar
    princeaha

    So I have one DP to share. It turns out that when I linked my AMEX biz gold card to other cards prior to receiving my bonus, it wont grant me the welcome bonus right away after I hit the minimum spend. I had to wait the 6-8 weeks for the system to recognize. Further, I had to call them to investigate (since I never held the card before) to confirm this was happening as it still didn’t post automatically.

    Lesson learned: link card after you receive your bonus.

    Anyone else got this similar experience?

    1. Avatar
      Eric

      I am having a similar situation, I churned my business platinum card last month.
      After I made a couple of purchases (not 7000 yet), I called AMEX to link it to my personal platinum card. Then I finished my 7000 dollars purchases yesterday but the welcome bonus did not show up. As I am wondering why that happens, I called AMEX and asked them which welcome bonus I will get, she confirmed I am eligible for the 75k points with 7000 purchases, I did not ask too much in case draw the attention.
      After that, I notice three of my biz plat card transactions did not get the regular points. Since the linking cards caused me to lost my 200dollars travel credit before (which get fixed), I am assuming there is always some errors when AMEX link cards.

      So I agree, DO NOT link card before receive bonus.
      I am going to spend more to make sure transactions over 7000 after linking and see how it is going.

  2. Avatar
    R

    Hey Ricky, thanks for all the great info. Would you suggest making a new online banking services account when churning the AMEX cards? Mostly to same card (IE Amex Business Gold) being associated multiple times?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      I personally don’t think that would make a material difference.

  3. Avatar
    Dash

    Would linking cards to the same login account have anything to do with it?
    I am looking at churning the gold and business gold.
    Like after having a gold card for 3 months and done with min spend, I will apply for the business gold then rinse and repeat with those two. Maybe throw in plat when I have a bigger spending month coming up.
    But should I link them to the same login or have a new login each time?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Don’t think that has anything to do with it. Seems like a pretty random manual process to me based on the few data points that have come through.

      1. Avatar
        Dash

        Cool. It just seems like trying to get the min spend done in the first statement has a bigger chance of getting the welcome bonus from what I read.

        And before cancelling can I get them to combine/transfer the points to the one I am keeping?

  4. Avatar
    Matt

    My wife just got the signup bonus for the 2nd time with the Amex personal Gold card using the Perkopolis promo (first time using Perkopolis). The points posted the day after the minimum spend was achieved. Time for me to try for a 3rd bonus with the Gold card using Perkopolis for the 2nd time.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      That’s encouraging to hear!

  5. Avatar
    Steve Jones

    Both were at least a year ago… and I didn’t use the perkopolus link

  6. Avatar
    Steve Jones

    I have churned numerous Amex and other cards. Most recently I got the gold (again) for my wife and Platinum ( again) for myself. Just met minimum spend for both… my wife got the bonus, and I did not. I know it says it could take 6 or 8 weeks (the two have different language?), but my experience has been to receive the bonus immediately after satisfying the minimum spend. I’m not holding me breath for the platinum bonus, and am leery of re applying for the gold and platinum business cards… though I typically change the business name when re applying.

    1. Avatar
      Eric

      Did you link your personal plat card with your biz plat card before you satisfying the minimum spend?

    2. Avatar
      Tut

      I m just curious: When did you and your wife cancel your previous cards before to reapply? And did you wife apply thanks to the Perkopolis link? Thanks!

  7. Avatar
    elle

    I was wondering about this- I had the old marriot card through chase, which I cancelled in Feb 19. However, when I log in to the Amex portal it shows my current active amex cards, as well as a "cancelled" bonvoy card- which there appears to be no way to delete this cancelled card (eventhough the one I had was not the Bonvoy card). I feel this is a sign I will be denied the sign-up bonus (eventhough I’ve received targeted offers for it- so confused.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      That’s really strange. I’ve never seen cards that I’ve never held before showing up on my Amex online account. You sure you’ve never had a Bonvoy card before?

      In any case, you should be able to go to "Remove Card from Online Services" in your Amex dashboard to get rid of it.

  8. Avatar
    JL

    Great Canadian Rebate’s credit card cashback for the Marriott Amex cards seems to be gone.
    Do you know what happened here?
    Are they gone permanently from that website?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      According to GCR, Amex has asked them to take down the offers for now, but they "may be back in early May".

      1. Avatar
        Alex

        Just an FYI, GCR AMEX Bonvoy and Business Bonvoy are back. Its a $10 credit for either card and minimum spending of $1500 to get 60k points. Checked it this morning, Tuesday May 14

  9. Avatar
    Lisa

    I wonder if people who once in a while refer new customers are less likely to be denied bonuses than those who don’t. I am trying to understand what’s the interest of American Express to accept that people reapply and get bonuses many times. Do you think the annual fee in itself justify it?
    I am new to this game and I really hope I will be able to continue earning bonuses.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      They’re paying out more in bonuses than the annual fees, so I wouldn’t say that annual fees alone justify it. They probably rely on customers who use their Amex cards on a regular basis in order to earn profits.

      If a customer only opens the card, gets the signup bonus, never uses it again, and cancels before the first year is up, then Amex stands to lose money. When enough people start doing that, they’ll be looking at implementing tighter controls on repeat signup bonuses for sure.

  10. Avatar
    C

    Hey Ricky- do you know if the perkipolis link will still get us the gold rewards first year fee waived even if we’ve cancelled and are applying for the gold personal the night before? Just thinking if I cancel and try for a second one if I could at least get this part of the deal even if the 25k bonus points didn’t come through? Thanks!

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Yes, the annual fee rebate should still work the second time around, since there’s nothing to say that the statement credit is only for first-time cardholders. But I’d take it with a pinch of YMMV as always.

    2. Avatar
      C

      Night before? I meant second time!

  11. Avatar
    Neil

    After churning the Air Miles Amex Platinum 14 times over the past few years, I finally didn’t get the 2000 bonus Air Miles. I’ve been expecting them to send a hit-man looking for me! I also was denied the monthly bonus on the Cobalt Amex…..just my second time there. Woe is me! I might have to start buying my airfare.

    1. Avatar
      Alex

      WOW
      14 times that is quite something. I have looked at getting the AirMiles credit cards since I do collect some AirMiles but between that and the other programs I find the other programs more worthwhile and easier to accumulate. Plus with my natural spending (no manf spending unfortunately) I am barely able to church my current selection of credit cards.

      How do you find AirMiles for redeeming for travels (airfare, accommodations) or do you use them for groceries, gift cards, etc.?

  12. Avatar
    susan

    Ricki, Do you know if the "Gold Business" is having the same issues as personal ? Also, have you heard this happened with "bank" cards , like TD Aeroplan ?

    Thanks ! Susan

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      I haven’t heard any data points with the Business Gold. The other Big 5 bank cards are fair game for now as well, as long as you respect any rules they’ve stated (e.g., one bonus in 6 months with TD).

  13. Avatar
    Lidya

    Somewhat related to this topic… I opened a Gold Rewards Card a month ago and reapplied, trying to see whether they would send me a second card. Unfortunately I got a letter in the mail saying that they will not move forward with my application since I already have a gold rewards card.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Yes, Amex hasn’t ever allowed more than one of the same personal card to be held at the same time.

  14. Avatar
    Jeff

    Hopefully, what people gather from this is not to call Amex if you don’t get the repeat bonus points.

    1. Avatar
      J

      Accurate… reading the two quotes here made me cringe.

Ricky

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