Did you survive the Amex 100K clawback?

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Somebody at Amex must have been really pissed that a 100K offer for the Amex Platinum card was erroneously let loose on Reddit back in May.  With similar situations in the past Amex has taken down the offer, but fully honored the deal for those who got in on it.  This time it was different…

The first indication that something was wrong was from those who earned the bonus right away and then tried to redeem points for airline miles.  Many found that their Membership Rewards accounts were frozen while Amex investigated those accounts.

100K Clawback

100K Clawback
Later, reports of clawbacks began trickling in.  Amex was actively taking back those 100,000 points.  They sent letters that stated the following:

We are writing to let you know that, after careful review of your Membership Rewards account activity, we have removed points from your Membership Rewards program account.  Please ensure that any Additional Card members who are authorized to redeem points from your account are notified of this change in your Membership Rewards balance.

Why We Are Removing Your Points
We recently noticed point accrual and redemption activity on your Membership Rewards program account that indicates an effort to obtain and use points in a manner that is not appropriate.  Please recall that the Membership Rewards program terms and conditions state that “if you attempt to use or obtain points in a fraudulent way, we may:

  • Take away all points in your program account,
  • Cancel your program account, or
  • Cancel any of your American Express Cards”

Your Options
If you have any questions about this letter, or if you believe that the points have been removed in error, please contact us at 1-800-AXP-EARN (1-800-297-3276).

Fact Check: Do the Membership Rewards terms & conditions really say that?

I found the Membership Rewards terms & conditions online here: membershiprewards.com/terms.  On that page, I clicked on the tab titled “ADDITIONAL TERMS” and did indeed find the above quoted language.  If you attempt to screw with them in a fraudulent way, the terms do indeed say that they have every right to screw you back.

Why the clawbacks?

While I have no inside knowledge of this, it seems to me that someone high-up at Amex has decided to go after the Reddit Churning crowd with a vengeance.  People have reported to me the following reasons given by Amex for the clawbacks:

  • Manufacturing spend
  • Improper returns
  • Once per lifetime rule
  • Closing the account too early

Each of the above requires a brief explanation:

Manufacturing Spend

Amex doesn’t actually have any explicit rules against manufacturing spend per se, but their new card bonus terms routinely state the following (underlining is mine):

The following charges do NOT count towards the Threshold Amount: fees or interest charges; balance transfers; cash advances; purchases of travelers checks; purchases or reloading of prepaid cards; or purchases of other cash equivalents.

Many manufactured spend techniques involve buying and liquidating Visa or MasterCard gift cards, which are prepaid cards.  So, those who met the offer’s $3000 spend requirement by buying gift cards are out of luck.  Even though Amex has never enforced these terms before to my knowledge, they have every right to do so now.

Improper Returns

Some people have been known to meet spend requirements by making large refundable purchases and then returning those items after receiving their points.  If that is done deliberately, then I’d agree that it was an attempt to obtain points in a fraudulent way.

The problem here, of course, is that returns are often legitimate.

Once per lifetime rule

Some people were told that their points were reclaimed because they had a Platinum card before.  The signup bonus terms do indeed state: “Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product.”

While Amex does usually enforce that rule, they don’t enforce it when you’ve had a different Amex Platinum product before. In several cases, I’ve heard from readers who previously had the Platinum Mercedes card or the Platinum Ameriprise card and were told that their 100K clawbacks were due to having had a “Platinum” card before.

This is a tough one.  Amex has never before treated the different Platinum products as the same product, but I can’t think of any rule that would prevent them from doing so if they wanted to.

Closing the account too early

Some credit card churners like to cancel their new cards as soon as they’ve received the signup bonus.  If done fast enough, its possible to avoid annual fees this way.  Some who did so had their points clawed back.

Personally I’ve never done this. When a card issuer offers a big signup bonus I’ll only take it one if I feel that the signup bonus outweighs the first year annual fee.  Then I’ll keep the card for a year before deciding if I want to keep it longer, downgrade it to a no fee card, or cancel it altogether.

My wife got the 100K Clawback despite never qualifying for the 100K offer in the first place

In the post “My 100,000 point Membership Rewards mistake,” I wrote about how my wife signed up for the 100K Platinum offer, but never received the 100,000 points.  The reason was that she actually had the personal Platinum card in the past. My records saying otherwise were wrong.

We were surprised when she received a letter identical to the one copied above.  “…we have removed points from your Membership Rewards program account.”  Uh, what?

We quickly logged into her account to see what had happened.  Apparently they were so hell bent on withdrawing 100,000 points that they did so before checking first to see whether she had ever received them.  Luckily, someone or something realized the mistake and quickly put the points back:

amex-100k-take-away

What had my wife done to deserve this clawback?  She had not bought any prepaid products with the card.  But, we had used her card to pay fees on a number of award tickets:

amex-100k-delta-spend

And, since she had picked Delta as her airline of choice, she received her $200 in airline fee credits:

amex-100k-delta-spend-amex-fee-reimbursement

But then we realized that the award flights didn’t work for us after all, so we cancelled them and got a refund from Delta:

amex-100k-delta-spend-refund

I can certainly see why this pattern would appear to be fraudulent.  Since they quickly replaced the 100K points, we don’t have any reason to question Amex about this.

What can you do?

If you fulfilled the offer’s spend requirement through means other than purchasing prepaid products or cash equivalents, and if you didn’t do anything fraudulent in obtaining points, then you have every right to those 100,000 points, in my opinion.

I’d recommend the following steps:

  1. The letter states “if you believe that the points have been removed in error, please contact us at 1-800-AXP-EARN (1-800-297-3276)”.  Do that.  If necessary, demand to speak to a supervisor.  Most likely they’ll open a case for investigation.  I think it is worth doing that and giving Amex some time to resolve this on their own.
  2. If that doesn’t work, submit a claim notice to Amex (found here).
  3. If that doesn’t work, consider filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Their website for filing complaints can be found here: www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/
  4. If that doesn’t work, try mediation.  Details can be found on the Arbitration tab of the Membership Rewards Terms & Conditions web site.
  5. If that doesn’t work, try arbitration.  Details can be found on the Arbitration tab of the Membership Rewards Terms & Conditions web site.

Reader Experiences

Were your points clawed back?  If so, have you had any luck getting them reinstated?  Please comment below!

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