Estimating risk in Amex’s new rule

As Nick reported yesterday in the post “Amex launches a sneak attack in the war on gaming,” Amex has added new terms to their credit card offers.  Previously almost all Amex welcome offers included the terms: “Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card.”  We refer to this as their “lifetime” language.  As in, we can get the bonus on an Amex card once in a lifetime (except when a targeted offer doesn’t include those terms).

New: Amex kept the lifetime language and added additional rules:

We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.

That’s extremely unfortunate language.  To me it basically means that you may or may not get the welcome bonus depending upon whether or not Amex likes you.

This presents a big problem for those of us who have been signing up for cards primarily to earn points and miles.  If we signup for a new card we won’t know whether or not we are eligible for the bonus until after we complete minimum spend.  Even then, the only way we’ll know for sure that we were eligible is when we see the bonus appear.

Guessing the Rules

Amex already has language in their offer terms against meeting spend requirements by buying gift cards, buying & returning items, etc. (The Amex war on gaming heats up).  So, let’s assume that the primary new gotcha here is the “number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed.”

Obviously, if you have a history of opening lots of cards and closing them soon after receiving the welcome bonus, then it’s easy for Amex to identify you as the type of customer they don’t want.  That pattern means that you’re reaping the rewards of welcome bonuses without really offering Amex your business.

On the other hand, if you’ve opened lots of Amex cards, but kept them and have continued to use at least some of them regularly, I’d think they’d be pretty happy with your business.

Somewhere in the middle are those who have kept some cards, but cancelled others.  In other words, most of us.

Going out on a limb here, I’m guessing that Amex will consider these factors:

  • Primary negative factor: Number of cards closed less than a year from opening.
  • Moderate negative factor: Number of cards closed one year after opening (e.g. closed in order to avoid second annual fee).
  • Primary positive factor: The extent to which you use Amex cards for regular spend, over time.
  • Moderate positive factor: Average age of your Amex cards.
  • Non-factor (I think): Number of times product changing from one card to another

Evaluating Risk

My credit card tracking spreadsheet shows that I’ve successfully signed up for 20 Amex cards over time.  Out of those 20 Amex cards, I’ve cancelled 11 of them: two were closed less than a year from opening; five were closed right at a year; and the rest were closed after more than a year.

Here are my still-open cards.  The first set of cards are used often:

  • Delta Platinum consumer card: Opened November 2009.  I’ve product changed this card many times between the Platinum and Reserve version of the card.  I use this card frequently for spend in order to earn high level elite status.
  • Delta Reserve business card: Not sure when opened (probably mid-2011). I’ve product changed this card many times between the Platinum and Reserve version of the card.  I use this card frequently for spend in order to earn high level elite status.
  • “Old” Blue Cash: Opened Jan 2014 for its 5% cash back at grocery stores and drug stores. No annual fee.
  • Hilton Ascend: This recently converted over from the Citibank Hilton Reserve card.  I won’t count this one in my risk analysis, but I did use it pretty regularly to earn a free night with $10K spend under the old Citi version of the card.
  • Amex Blue Business Plus: Opened June 2017.  No annual fee.  I use this one regularly to earn 2X everywhere.

These are rarely used for spend except with valuable Amex Offers:

  • Amex Everyday Credit Card: Opened June 2017. No annual fee.
  • Platinum Card for Schwab: Opened December 2017.  Will likely cancel when next annual fee hits.
  • Green Card: Opened December 2017.  Will cancel when next annual fee hits.
  • Ameriprise Gold: Opened December 2017.  Will cancel when next annual fee hits.
  • Business Platinum: Opened as a Business Gold card in June 2016.  Received upgrade offer to Platinum. Next annual fee will hit any day now so I’ll have to make a decision about this one soon.  I’ll probably downgrade it to a low-fee Business Green card and hope for another upgrade offer.

So, here’s my estimated risk profile:

  • Number of cards closed less than a year from opening: 2 (that doesn’t seem too bad)
  • Number of cards closed one year after opening: 5 (hopefully they’re not too worried about this metric)
  • Use Amex cards for regular spend, over time: Pretty good considering long time use of Delta cards
  • Average age of Amex cards: About half of my current cards were opened within the past year.  That’s not great.  On the other hand, it’s good that I haven’t yet closed them.  Plus, I have a couple of cards that have been open for 7 years or more.  Overall, I think Amex would see this as a positive.

Based on all of the above, my best guess is that I’m pretty safe to sign up for new Amex cards.  Yes I’ve signed up for more Amex cards than the average bear, but I don’t have a regular pattern of closing cards soon after receiving the bonus.  True, I will soon add two more cards to the “cancelled after a year” pile, but I don’t think that’s the primary thing that Amex is watching for.  It’s normal and expected to evaluate whether to keep a card when the next annual fee hits.

Bottom Line

My best guess is that the new terms primarily affect those who have a pattern of opening and quickly closing cards after earning the welcome bonus.  As shown above, it’s possible to evaluate your own Amex card history to get a sense of whether or not Amex is likely to enforce the “no bonus for you” rule.  Unfortunately, all of this requires guessing.  We don’t yet have any hard information to help understand this new “rule”.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

17
Leave a Reply

avatar
12 Comment threads
5 Thread replies
8 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
12 Comment authors
Answered: Amex will tell you in advance if you're not eligible for welcome bonus - Frequent MilerGeoNinjaXBFDTKW Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
Notify of
AlohaDaveKennedy
Guest
AlohaDaveKennedy

How can you possibly know when you are safe for a bonus when the blogs are reporting that AMEX has been opening cards for you that you did not apply for? This is one ratty bank, even by Wells Fargo standards. Someone needs to reign in the AMEX misbehavior and offer a bounty for bringing in rat tails like the French did did in The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre of 1902!

NinjaX
Guest
NinjaX

i see FT is not your only domain. you do leave your house sometimes…

toomanybooks
Guest
toomanybooks

“We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.”

I think they are also going to consider how many Chase and other credit cards you have received and canceled.

Why wouldn’t they? Chase does.

Ed C
Guest
Ed C

There is one big difference, however. With Chase, you will know up front that you will not get the bonus points or the card. With Amex, you will get the card, spend the money to earn the bonus, and potentially receive nothing as far as a bonus.

toomanybooks
Guest
toomanybooks

True.

Rick I
Guest
Rick I

I’m “guessing” based on my time in the hobby, you are being overly optimistic on your rating of “pretty safe”

My wife applied for a SPG Biz card and was approved with 35K bonus. She called Amex to confirm that she had never had the card BEFORE applying. did the spend and was denied bonus. So much for “recorded line” of past conversations and opening a case review.. Three calls later still nothing

Repeated reports of this type of behavior in the last couple months. They are now just getting around to telling us, the “party is over”

Dan
Guest
Dan

Do you know the date that they started adding this language to the applications? On May 2 I got a 25k offer on the amex everyday (free version) that I hopped on. Then on May 16 I hopped on the Delta Plat 70k offer. I had screenshots of the welcome offer saved.

There’d just be some additional piece of mind knowing that this went into effect after May 16.

wise2u
Guest
wise2u

I got another SPG personal before the bonus dropped, I have had it many times before but it had been about 6 years since I had the last one…approved and bonus earned…if you remember Amex does not always follow their own T&C, some are just meant to deter. They also only keep internal records on customers 5-7 years and then you can get another “lifetime” bonus on a card. Personally when they came out with the lifetime language I said screw them and now only have 1 card with them…if they cancel it, they owe me a refund on their crazy annual fees, and I won’t cry at all….I’ve been saying it for years AMEX and their management suck and I hope their customer unfriendly policies cause them more losses and a few execs their jobs!!

BFD
Guest
BFD

Are you saying if you opened these cards 5-7 years ago, you can get reward again even though they say receive reward only one time?

tro
Guest
tro

I don’t expect to personally be affected by this, as I just opened my 4th Amex card last week, the previous 3 are still open, and I’m now 4/24 across all issuers. ie I’m not a churner. Then again, with the way it’s written, who knows?

Regardless, as a consumer, the vague language and lack of procedural clarity is what’s really disturbing. It would be one thing to deny the card outright or immediately inform the applicant that they are NOT eligible for the bonus and ask if they still want to open the card. Ideally they would do this without a hard pull but if that’s not technically feasible, fine. On the other hand, to NOT give any warning and just not award a bonus seems amazingly misleading and, even if legal (?), like something that would completely ruin customer trust.

I can’t blame Amex for protecting their business interests & limiting churning (although of course I can wish they wouldn’t), but this approach really bothers me from a consumer protection perspective.

trackback

[…] is re-jiggering their anti-churning language once again, and as Frequent Miler points out it’s sinisterly […]

escot
Guest
escot

Part that’s so outrageous about this boils down to the “guess” factor. We simply won’t know if Amex will honor their end of the deal until after we do the requisite spending…. I propose we organize a good ole-fashioned boycott of all this. (esp. timely with July 4th coming up — for those who remember what that was all about) If all of you good chaps who get commissions from Amex for promoting their cards would keep up with this intense and deserved criticism of the new changes, and even better, would urge readers to think twice, or even boycott, maybe then the 9 figure gang at the top of AMEX just might get the message. (that plus a serious class action lawsuit or two re. the capricious nature of the way this will or won’t be applied — Alex, you out there?)

NinjaX
Guest
NinjaX

greg. this is a good first try at guessing what amex will do. however, its not sinister enough. u have a background in software development. so you have to go deeper into BI and machine learning w/ the potential for RAT algo screening your profile. you have to think like an auditor. you only scratched the surface.

the new RAT and the PC team will look for consistent abuse behaviors that no other “typical customer” profile will follow. for example, they will look for people who keep apping for multiple plats. consistently closing cards only after 1 yr or less and avoiding the AF. repeat abuse of the no lifetime language. repeat abuse of PC up and down. etc etc. normal customers have no reason to do this. if u are not shut down immediately, your profile will be flagged for “at risk”. i could go on forever.

this is a dangerous time w/ recent amex account wide shut downs.

TKW
Guest
TKW

Reminds of Section 15d for those who remember how the good ol’ Serve days came to an end. Section 15d was nothing but drivel, what it really said is We reserve the right to do whatever we want and say 15d is the reason. And so it is with thIis new AMEX language. It’s just a catch-all carte-blanche. AMEX employee has a bad day, guess what you don’t get your bonus. AMEX employee fights with wife, has a hangover, can’t get laid, guess what? Heck most of em’s there in Utah, the gettin’ laid bit is a real obstacle for you getting your bonus.

I had this prudish bitty from AMEX review my case. She cancelled all my cards for having too many risky $1.00 charges. Imagine how I said “WHAT??!!!. Turns out I had absolutely no $1.00 charges. Though, afterward I did dispute every charge less than $1.00 working my way up to $5.00 before a V.P. called me to get the situation fixed. AMEX has little respect for the rule of law. CFPB is no help. BBB is no help. Heck BBB will give AMEX 30 days to respond and when they do you have to respond before end of the business day (like in two hours).

AMEX has a business model where they are able to stay in business. But there is always the push for more. They are on the verge of pooping all over their business model. Maybe I will use AMEX to suck it dry,. I cannot recommend to anyone.

NinjaX
Guest
NinjaX

plz tell us more about the $1 charge shut down. im concerned. is this amazon? ur account got flagged for repeat small purchases and shut down everything? not sure how you disputed when ur accounts were shut down.

Geo
Guest
Geo

I don’t ms so most of my gain is on regular spend. The cluster known as Plastiq has caused a problem as I was paying my mortgage as qualifying spend.
I think I’m going to cancel the Mercedes Plat and just run wit The everyday and see how it goes.
Maybe reapply for something else later and put a big ticket item on it.

trackback

[…] eligibility status before meeting the minimum spending requirements (and Greg wrote his analysis: Estimating risk in Amex’s new rule). We now have an answer: Amex will tell you that you are not eligible for the welcome bonus before […]