American Express Updates Signup Bonus Terms and Conditions to Discourage People from Gaming the System

American Express is updating their signup bonus terms and conditions to stop people from gaming the system. The updated terms allow Amex to freeze accounts and claw back bonuses if you break any rules. h/t Flyer Talk

You can find the updated terms and conditions on most of the cards:

"... points will be credited to your Membership Rewards account 8-12 weeks after you have met the purchase requirement. If we in our sole discretion determine that you have engaged in abuse, misuse, or gaming in connection with the welcome bonus offer in any way or that you intend to do so (for example, if you applied for one or more cards to obtain a welcome bonus offer (s) that we did not intend for you; if you cancel or downgrade your account within 12 months after acquiring it; or if you cancel or return purchases you made to meet the Threshold Amount), we may not credit Membership Rewards to, we may freeze Membership Rewards credited to, or we may take away Membership Rewards from your account. We may also cancel this Card account and other Card accounts you may have with us.

American Express reserves the right to modify or revoke offer at any time.

Your account must be in good standing and not in default at the time of fulfillment of any offers.

*Qualifying purchases are purchases for goods and services. Qualifying purchases do NOT include fees or interest charges, purchases of travelers checks, purchases or reloading of prepaid cards, purchases of gift cardsperson-to-person payments, or purchases of other cash equivalents. Additional terms and restrictions apply."

There are three main changes:

  1. Applications: Using signup bonus links that are not targeted to you
  2. Methods used to hit minimum spend
  3. Product changing or closing the card within 12 months

For all three of these topics, they can either freeze your points, cancel your cards, or claw back the signup bonus. We've seen this in the past with leaked Amex Platinum cards. People who manufactured spend for the leaked link had their signup bonus clawed back and account closed.

Applications: Using signup bonus links that are not targeted to you

The first major change to the terms is that if you apply for a credit card, you have to be targeted for it. If you want to apply for a particular offer, be sure it's not a leaked link.

Don't use links that are not publicly available or not targeted towards you. Most leaked links are only available for a few hours before they're shut down. Last year, there was a leaked link with a 100,000 signup bonus. 

All of the offers we talk about on AskSebby are publicly available. Increased offers are okay to use. For example, if we talk about how the Amex SPG card normally has a signup bonus of 25,000 points, and there's an increased offer of 35,000, then this is okay because it's publicly available.

Methods used to hit minimum spend

The second change in terms is related to hitting minimum spend. Amex wants you to make real transactions. Some people buy $3,000 in items and refund the items once the bonus posts. Be sure if you do purchase an item and return it, there is enough remaining balance to cover the minimum spend requirement.

The other change in regards to hitting minimum spend is related to gift cards. Amex can see third level data, meaning they can see exactly what you purchased. The main issue is buying Visa gift cards because they are cash equivalents.

Product changing or closing the card within 12 months

If you do a product change or cancel the card before 12 months, they can claw back the bonus. Amex refunds the annual fee if you product change or cancel the card within 30 day of the fee posting. 

Don't cancel or downgrade the card until after the second the annual fee hits. For example, if you apply for the Amex Platinum card on July 31, 2017, wait until after July 31, 2018, to cancel or product change the card. In this situation, you can downgrade or product change starting on August 1, 2018.

If you are considering canceling a card, be sure to call the retention line first to see if they can offer points to make the annual fee more reasonable. 

Again, you're free to downgrade or cancel after the one year mark. As long as you call within 30 days of the second annual fee posting, they will refund the fee. 

Bottomline

These changes seem reasonable and fair because the people who are taking advantage of these loopholes are the ones that are doing it to an extreme. Amex is cracking down on individuals who abuse their programs and benefits.

Each card issuer is different, but I do foresee other banks taking a similar stance to combat people gaming the system. For me, I think it's fine to pay the annual fee during the first year because I only apply for cards that have a generous signup bonus that outweighs the fee.