Understanding the American Express UK welcome bonus restrictions

Dec 31, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with additional information.

A quick and easy way to boost your points balance is by applying for a credit card with a generous welcome bonus. If you’re approved for the card and meet the minimum spending requirement, you can be rewarded with a large chunk of points to help you reach your travel goal sooner.

For this reason, among others, some travellers will apply for multiple credit cards to receive the welcome bonus for each. Some cards have restrictions on how these welcome bonuses are awarded. For example, you may not be eligible for a card’s welcome bonus if you’ve held that particular card at any time during the last six months, or you may not be eligible for the bonus if you currently hold any cards from that same card issuer.

Related: How to plan your UK credit card portfolio

Some savvy points collectors carefully read the terms and conditions of the welcome bonus of each of their cards, cancel the card as soon as they receive the bonus and then reapply for the exact same card as soon as they’re eligible to earn another welcome bonus.

This is known by some people as ‘churning’ credit cards. Or, continually applying and cancelling cards in order to obtain the welcome bonuses, while still carefully remaining in the confines of the sign-up rules.

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(It should go without saying that churning — like applying for a credit card — isn’t for everyone. Don’t do it if you think you’ll abuse the spending power that comes with credit, if you can’t keep track of the cards or if you won’t be able to pay your bills in full every month.)

American Express, both because it offers a range of different rewards cards and because welcome bonus amounts have historically been generous, used to be popular with those looking to ‘churn’ cards. Plus, its rules for eligibility have also been fairly generous.

However, American Express U.K. in 2019 made some big changes to its welcome bonuses and churning is now largely a thing of the past in the U.K. You are now not eligible for a welcome bonus for any American Express U.K.-issued personal credit card if you have held any personal Amex U.K.-issued card in the past 24 months (though note a few exceptions below).

This means that if you cancel an existing card today in order to be eligible for a welcome bonus for another Amex card, you have to wait 24 months before you could apply for any other card to receive the welcome bonus.

And that 24-month period of not earning any points on an Amex card may well outweigh the welcome bonus you could be eligible for in 24 months. For example, if you are considering cancelling a card that earns 1 point per £1 spent in order to receive a 20,000-point welcome bonus in 24 months time, but would otherwise be spending £1,000 per month on that card in the same time, you’d be missing out on 24,000 points during that period in order to obtain the welcome bonus of only 20,000 points.

And you would receive the monthly points much faster than the welcome bonus in two years time.

Related: How many points and miles can your family earn in a year?

Some exceptions to the rule

However, it’s not all bad news. Two of the best personal Amex U.K. cards have an exception to this rule — The Platinum Card from American Express U.K. and the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card from Amex U.K.

You can still receive the welcome bonus for the Platinum Card provided you have not held any of the following American Express U.K. personal cards in the past 24 months:

So if, for example, you currently hold a Marriott Bonvoy Card from American Express U.K. or British Airways American Express Card, you could still receive the welcome bonus for the Platinum Card without having to cancel your existing card and wait the 24-month period.

If you wish to apply for the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card from American Express U.K., you cannot have held either this card or the more basic British Airways American Express Credit Card in the past 24 months. But, you could still receive the welcome bonus if you’ve held other personal Amex U.K. cards, such as the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card.

Also, American Express U.K. business cards are not affected by this change — only personal cards. Business cards retain their current eligibility restrictions, meaning there’s a much shorter period of only six months before you can apply for and receive the welcome bonus on a new business card.

It’s worth noting that you can still apply for the cards even if you do not meet the stricter requirements for the welcome bonus. However, if approved, you will not be eligible for the welcome bonus. It’s also worth noting that being a supplementary cardholder does not rule you exempt from welcome bonuses.

So, where to from here?

This isn’t the end of generous welcome bonuses, but you will need to be more strategic in how you go about planning your credit card portfolio and try to think and plan long-term, if possible.

If you’re considering applying for an American Express personal credit card, it’ll be worth giving the decision some extra thought, given the possible restrictions on future bonuses.

Featured photo by John Gribben / The Points Guy.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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