Category Archives: American Express

Tighter Rules for Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses

I’ve been using the credit card tactic to earn points and miles for about 5 years now.  This tactic has earned me thousands of dollars in cash and tens of thousands of dollars worth of free travel.  I’ve had a good run!  The vast majority of the points and miles I have earned were not from regular spending, but from the credit card’s sign-up bonus.  But the rules for credit card sign-up bonuses are getting tighter all the time.

Each credit card has its own requirement in order to get the sign-up bonus.  The most common requirement is a certain amount of spending on the card in a given time period, typically the first 3 months of card membership.  The bonus on each card can change periodically and is advertised on whatever page you click through when you apply for the card.  However, just because you’re approved for the card and make the required spending doesn’t mean you’ll get the bonus!

Tighter rules on chase cards

An example of a card’s “splash page,” listing the bonus and other benefits of the card.  Chase’s rules only allow you to get the bonus on their Hyatt card every 24 months.  The 2 free night deal seen here has been replaced with a 40,000 point bonus, and the $50 statement credit comes and goes.

Most of the following rules only apply to someone who has already earned the bonus on a particular card once before.  Getting a repeat bonus on a particular card is called card churning.

Current rules for sign-up bonuses

Each issuing bank has their own set of rules for if and how often you can get a sign-up bonus.  These rules for credit card sign-up bonuses have changed a lot in the 5 years I have been in this game.  I can’t think of a single example of a rule loosening up!  Like most complex systems, things only tend to get more restricted and more narrowly defined.

Chase

Chase is a points and miles powerhouse, with co-branded cards with United Airlines, British Airways, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, and International Hotel Group.  Chase also has their own transfer points, Ultimate Rewards, which are highly valuable due to their transferability.  Even getting approved for a Chase card has its own extremely limiting rule called the 5/24 rule.  If you can get approved for a Chase card, here are the rules on getting the sign-up bonus:

  • You cannot get the bonus if you already have that card (i.e. you can’t have two copies of the same card).
  • You won’t get the bonus if you have earned a sign-up bonus on the same card in the past 24 months.  Keep in mind this 24 month timer starts when you received the bonus, not when your account was approved.
  • Only one Sapphire product at a time.  This is more of a card approval rule, but I’ll include it anyway since the Sapphire Preferred and the Sapphire Reserve are both popular cards for their 50k Ultimate Rewards sign-up bonuses.  If you apply for any Chase card with the word “Sapphire” in the card title and you already have any Sapphire card, your application will be denied.

Citi

Citi is another golden goose of sign-up bonuses.  As of this summer they no longer have Hilton co-branded cards but they still have American Airlines cards with 40-60k mile bonuses.  Citi also has their own transfer points called the Citi Thank-You points.  While Citi used to have very lax rules regarding sign-up bonus illegibility, they now have some of the most restrictive:

  • Like Chase, Citi has a 24 month timer between bonuses on the same card.
  • A few months ago Citi added some new fine print to their applications that pretty much makes the above-mentioned timer a moot point.  The 24 month timer is now shared among all cards within the same point species.  (For example:  if you earned a bonus on the Citi Thank You Premier, you are not eligible for the bonus on the Citi Thank You Prestige for 24 months since they both earn Thank-You points.)  The same goes for their American Airlines earning cards.

But wait, there’s more. . .  The new language also changed the triggers that activate the timer.  The timer is no longer started by earning a sign-up bonus.  Instead, the 24 months start when you open, close, or downgrade an account.  This is asinine because it offers extra motivation to close an account right after earning the sign-up bonus.  The one saving grace is that business cards are given their own separate timer.

Citi Title

American Express

Amex has a horribly harsh, yet refreshingly simple rule for bonus eligibility:

  • One sign-up bonus per card, per person, per lifetime.

If you have ever earned the sign-up bonus on a particular card, you are permanently ineligible to receive a bonus on that card again.  For example, if you had the Amex Delta Gold card 8 years ago and cancelled it 7 years ago, you might be approved again for the card today, but you would not get the sign-up bonus.

If the sign-up bonus changes (like when the Amex Delta Gold goes up to 50k, as it does periodically) it is still the same card so you will still be ineligible.  It’s different if they release a different version of a card with a different name.  For example, if they stopped making the Delta Gold and instead created a new card called the “Delta 24 Carat Gold Card” then you could earn that card’s bonus even if you earned one for the old version.

Most points and miles earning cards periodically come with elevated bonuses. Since Amex sign-up bonuses are once-in-a-lifetime, wait for the best known offer on a given card before applying for it.

Most points and miles earning cards periodically come with elevated bonuses. Since Amex sign-up bonuses are once-in-a-lifetime, wait for the best known offer on a given card before applying for it.

Bank of America

BoA is famous for it’s Alaska Airlines card, which has been the go-to card for compulsive churners for years.  There are reports of people getting a new card every 2 months and earning the sign-up bonus each time.  Bank of America just released it’s new Premium Rewards card, which indicates they may be making a foray into the more competitive group of banks issuing premium travel cards.

  • Some Bank of America cards have no specific fine print related to repeat bonus earning.
  • The brand new BoA Premium Rewards card fine print says you can’t earn the sign-up bonus if you have earned it within the past 24 months.

There is evidence that BoA is starting to get wise about abusive card churning, and several recent reports indicate a general clamping down, like the 24 month timer on the new Premium Rewards card.  It’s still fair to say that Bank of America cards are more churnable than not, but let common sense be your guide on when to try for a repeat bonus on cards without specific language.

Barclay

Barclay has several good points and miles cards including the Arrival Plus and the American Airlines Aviator series.  Barclay has no publicly defined policy on bonus eligibility for many of their cards  However, Barclay seems to have more of a human touch when it comes to approving new accounts.  Unless you leave some evidence of regular and legitimate card use, it may be difficult to get approved for a new card, especially if you appear to be doing it just for the sign-up bonus.



Is the situation getting worse?

Yes.  It’s not the Wild West anymore.  Many value tacticians who have been around longer than I have remember the days when you could get 4 different versions of an American Airlines card from Citi every 6 months, racking up 300-400k miles a year just from bonuses!  And of course there are the ancient heroes like Pudding Guy, who found a pretty big loophole that earned him over 1.25 million miles by buying and donating $3k worth of pudding!

In my 5 years in this game I have seen a lot of new restrictions come into play.  The most drastic of which have been from Chase and Citi.  This makes sense since these banks have some of the most lucrative bonuses out there.  They need some way of limiting people like us who pay attention to the details and want to maximize these offers.  Limiting bonus earning is a key way they can do that.  The other method banks use to limit churning is with rules on card approvals.  I’ll address this closely-related issue in another post.

How you can still beat the game

Credit card bonuses are an incredibly valuable resource.  But like all resources, they become harder and harder to extract as time goes by.

Signal Hill CA active oil field 2011

Signal Hill CA active oil field 2011. CC Image courtesy of haymarketrebel on Flickr.

Tighter rules on getting sign-up bonuses are just one factor.  Getting approved for some cards is becoming more difficult all the time as well.  Points and miles, like currency, are in a constant state of inflation.  Mileage devaluations and new award charts decrease the value of the points you’ve already earned.  Loopholes are closing across the board at a pretty steady rate.

The solution to all this is to adapt and update your strategy.  Speaking for myself, every card application for me or my wife is very carefully considered.  I have a long term schedule of cards we would like to get, but it’s also flexible.  Elevated bonuses come and go, rules change, and the value of particular points and miles change.

  • If you’re already playing the credit card game, pay attention.  If you got away with willy-nilly card applications in the past, you can’t anymore.
  • If you’re still sitting on the sidelines, get in the game.  I sound like a broken record but I can’t stress this enough.  The crazy world of credit cards, points, and miles is getting more complicated all the time.  But the opportunity is still there and still awesome!  Get in while the gettin’ is good!

🙂  For those of you still on the fence about the credit card game, here’s some general motivation to get your blood pumping: 🙂

Here are some other resources with similar information (minus the awesome motivational video):





Some images in this post made available through a Creative Commons license. Click here for info.

Small Business Saturday 2016 . . . Another Year, Another Disappointment

This year American Express has expanded Small Business Saturday to the entire holiday shopping season.  But, for the second year in a row, they are not offering any statement credits for AMEX purchases at small businesses.  In previous years, American Express enticed shoppers to patronize small businesses by offering $10-30 in statement credits after paying with your AMEX card.  Last year was the first since 2012 that no statement credit was offered.

Scraps from the table

In an effort to salvage what was undoubtedly a less successful effort last year, American Express is offering a consolation prize.  A few days ago I received an e-mail offer for double points when using an AMEX card at small businesses through December 31st, 2016:

Small Business Saturday 2016

My Hilton HHonors card from American Express

My Hilton HHonors card from American Express

Most American Express cards are included in this offer, but you have to register each card to activate the deal.  Cards that already earn more than 1 pt per dollar on regular purchases will also double their points.  For example, my AMEX Hilton Reserve normally earns 3 points per dollar.  During the promotion it would earn 6 points per dollar at small busineses.  However, the same is not true with category bonuses (such as dining or travel) that some cards earn.  Check out the full official FAQ here.

Not a remarkable deal

For some people this promotion will be worth something.  If you already frequent retailers on the small business list, it might be worth it for you to get the double points with your AMEX card.  On the other hand, you may still get better value using another card at the same store.  This is especially true at the many restaurants that are part of the promotion, since some credit cards already earn extra points for dining establishments.  This is not even to mention other bonus offers that might be running on one of your cards, like the frequent promotions the Barclay Aviator runs.

Do the math before automatically assuming your AMEX card is the best one to use at one of these small businesses during the promotion.

The moral of the story

As I wrote about in my post about last year’s American Express Small Business Saturday, there is a lesson here.  And it’s an important one at that.  For several years people came to expect the statement credit.  Now it appears to be permanently gone.  If you count on deals, offers, bonuses, etc. to be there for you in the future, you’re misplacing your confidence!  All value tactics change and some disappear.

I liked what I wrote last year so here it is again: The key to capturing and creating value is to recognize and take advantage of good deals when they exist, and to move on and adapt when the current opportunities change or disappear.

My Last Chase Card Application Ever?

A few nights ago I had an AOR (app-o-rama) and applied for 3 cards, including the Marriott Rewards Premier from Chase.  Unless something changes in Chase’s 5/24 policy, this may be my final Chase application for the rest of my credit card career.  As I discussed in this post, the policy says that if you have 5 or more new card applications (from any card issuer – not just with Chase) in the past 24 months, you will be summarily denied on any Chase application.

I have opened 9 new credit cards in the past 24 months, so I’m well beyond the 5/24 limit.  But the rule goes into effect for Chase co-branded cards some time this month (April), and I applied for the Marriott card on March 31st.  I didn’t particularly want this card but I figured it was my last chance to get any Chase card for the foreseeable future, so I picked the best current promotion that I was eligible for and gave it a shot.

My philosophy is to never apply for just one card so I shopped around for the best current promotions at other banks that I was eligible for, and here’s what I came up with:

  • The Chase Marriott Rewards Premier card: 80,000 Marriott Rewards points (+7,500 for adding an authorized user) after spending $3k in 3 months.  $85 annual fee not waived the first year.
  • The Spark Cash for Business from Capital One (gasp!): $400 cash back (+$90 for meeting the spend) after spending $4.5k in three months.  Annual fee waived the first year.
  • The Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express: An unprecedented 35,000 point bonus after $3k in 3 months spend.  MASSIVE FAIL (read about it here), so instead…
  • The Hilton HHonors card from American Express: 75,000 Hilton points after spending $1k in 3 months.  No annual fee.

And here’s how the applications went:
Marrior_chase_pending
spark_approve
hilton_amex_approve
Two out of three instant approvals at this stage in my card career isn’t bad!  If I end up getting denied for the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier it will be very interesting to see what the reason is.  Will the 5/24 rule be applied when the application is reviewed even though the application occurred in March?  When exactly in April will the rule go into effect?  Well, for my sake I hope these remain a mystery because I want to be approved 🙂

No matter what the result of the Chase application I have some serious spending requirements to meet in the next three months.  If I have to get creative it will probably be a good time to write an article or two on how to meet minimum spends.  As always, I’ll keep you posted…

Links to the card offers mentioned here:
Chase Marriott Rewards Premier
Capital One Spark Cash for Business
American Express Hilton HHonors card (offer expires 05/04/16)

2015 AMEX Small Business Saturday Statement Credit

In the past, we’ve seen statement credits ranging from $10 to $30 (3x $10) for purchases made with an American Express card at small businesses the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  The purpose of Small Business Saturday is to promote smaller retailers in the community.  American Express had previously offered the statement credits as a way to expose their card users to said small retailers by offering this nice little incentive.

My 2014 Small Business Saturday haul: 5 bottles of wine, 1 bottle of rum, 6-pack of beer, some jerky and meat sticks, frozen brats and burgers, $50 in movie theater gift cards, and a kid's birthday gift (gift-wrapped, not pictured) ... all for about $11 in odd store totals.

My 2014 Small Business Saturday haul: 5 bottles of wine, 1 bottle of rum, 6-pack of beer, some jerky and meat sticks, frozen brats and burgers, $50 in movie theater gift cards, and a kid’s birthday gift (gift-wrapped, not pictured) … all for about $11 in odd store totals.

This year, however, the statement credit offered by Amex is NOTHING, $0.00, nada, zip, zilch, and zero.  Here’s the excerpt from the Small Business Saturday faq page:
SBSfail

What gives, Amex?

As to why American Express turned the faucet off, the explanation seems simple: it was very expensive for them.  Between Nicoleen’s and my Amex cards last year we got $150 in statement credits.  But like many corporate cost-saving decisions, the long term effects may prove detrimental, at least with the cohort of card users who are the type to read this blog post.  Insignificant as this Amex card perk seems, it could have been the benefit tipping the scales for many card holders to keep their Amex cards.  I personally always factored it into assessments of Amex cards.  In fact, my wife and I got Bluebird accounts last fall specifically to take advantage of the Small Business Saturday offer.  Some of these thoughts are echoed in the comments of this blog post by the points blog behemoth, ThePointsGuy.

There’s a lesson here

To frequenters of travel, deals, and points blogs this revelation is not news.  Similar blogs to mine all picked up on the story as soon as this year’s Small Business Saturday page went live a couple weeks ago.  I wanted to chime in though, and point out what I think it the take-away: Good deals are never permanent, so take advantage of them when they’re around.  Don’t wait!

I’ve made as many mistakes as smart moves in this game, but one accomplishment I am proud of is having a healthy dose of urgency when I recognize a valuable opportunity.  Note: I said “healthy dose” which doesn’t mean being desperate or frenzied.  It means prioritizing your efforts to favor exceptionally good deals or deals which are known to be temporary.

And most importantly, the elimination of the Small Business Saturday statement credits by American Express should serve as yet another reminder: don’t be surprised when a valuable situation goes away.  They all eventually do.  The key to capturing and creating value is to recognize and take advantage of good deals when they exist, and to move on and adapt when the current opportunities change or disappear.

Card Review: Wells Fargo Propel

propel cards2Wells Fargo’s flagship points earning credit cards are the Propel World and Propel 365.  The Propel World has a $175 annual fee with a 40,000 point sign-up bonus, and the Propel 365 has a $45 annual fee with a 20,000 point sign-up bonus.  There are some differences in category bonuses as well, but the annual fee and initial bonus are the biggest differences.  This review is for the card my wife and I have, the Propel World.

Basic Stats
– Issuer: Wells Fargo
– Logo: AMEX
– Points earned: Wells Fargo Rewards
– 1 pt per dollar on all purchases
– 2 pt per dollar on hotel stays
– 3 pt per dollar on airfare
– Foreign transaction fee: no
– Chip: yes
– Annual fee: $175

Current sign-up bonus
40,000 bonus points after $3000 spend in 3 months
– 1st year annual fee waived
– 0.0% APR for 12 months

Wells Fargo’s Propel World and Propel 365 cards have received relatively little attention on the card blogs.  The Propel World is worth potentially $630 in bonuses alone.  The card has a pretty stiff annual fee, and some people have reported trouble getting approved if they don’t have any relationship with Wells Fargo.  But I think the biggest reason this card is underplayed on the major card blogs is that there doesn’t seem to be any card application referral links.  Ok, so that’s a bit cynical, but it might have some truth to it.

After hitting the bonus spend you’ll have at least 43,000 points.  Some flyertalk users report waiting over 2 months for the bonus points to post to their accounts.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you don’t enjoy maximizing complex redemption schemes) the best way I found to spend the points is to simply take the cash.  Points can be redeemed for $0.01/pt in $25 increments so 43,000 points are worth $425.  You have the choice of taking the cash as a statement credit or having it transferred to your Wells Fargo bank account.

Orphan Points

wells fargo rewards summary
Points leftover after redeeming for cash (i.e. any balance less than 2,500 pts) aren’t casualties of war as I thought they would be.  Some helpful folks at the flyerfalk forum on this card brought up the fact that you can buy gift cards with any combination of points and dollars.  In my example I bought a $25 Subway gift card for 1,277 points and $12.23.  Since I would have spent $25 at Subway eventually anyway, I view the points used as basically being converted to cash.

The Airline Bonus

wells fargo airline credit
Besides having no foreign transaction fee and a few other minor travel perks, the Propel World’s most valuable benefit is the incidental airline expense reimbursement.  The card will reimburse up to $100 in airline fees every card member year.  This pretty much includes anything charged to an airline other than airfare.  When I got the card there was hardly any information online about which purchases count as an airline purchase.

– My first test was a miles transfer fee with American Airlines.  The whole fee was reimbursed.

– For my second test I purchased a wi-fi connection on an overseas flight on American Airlines.  As I suspected, the purchase was charged to T-mobile, not the airline.  This was not reimbursed.

– My third test was an in-flight food and beverage purchase aboard an Air Canada flight.  This was not reimbursed and my statement showed the charge coming from a third party food vendor company.

Although in-flight purchases like meals and wi-fi may seem like it would count toward the airline charge reimbursement benefit, be careful to check whether or not it’s actually the airline charging you, or a partner company.  The primary way I have seen reported to take advantage of this benefit is to buy a gift card from an airline.  There have been some mixed reports of this method too, however, so do your homework before you make your purchase.  Flyertalk has a thread on the card, which contains many reports of using the airline benefit.

One last note on the airline benefit: for those who want to really maximize this card’s benefits, there are reports of people getting the $100 airline reimbursement, waiting until their anniversary date and getting another $100 reimbursement for their second year of card membership, and then cancelling the card before the annual fee posts.  Of course if you plan on keeping the card and paying the annual fee, you have a whole year to get the benefit again.

My experience with the Wells Fargo Propel World

My wife and I both applied for the Propel as the AMEX part of a “big 3” application round, along with Citi and Chase cards.  She was instantly approved and I got “pending.”  I called the next day and after some verifications, the rep approved the account.

The cards came about a week later in a some pretty nice packaging.  We each got an authorized user card for the other’s account to help coordinate hitting both bonus spends.  Around the time of the first payment due date, I was pleasantly surprised to find out about the 0% APR period, which I had failed to notice earlier.  These turned into our go-to cards when our cash flow was lagging, and we soon intentionally racked up balances that would sit there until the end of the promotional 0% period.
Wells fargo welcome packNear the end of our first year with the Propel, as the $175 annual fee loomed ahead, it was pretty easy to determine that keeping the card was not worth the fee.  Both of my attempts at using the incidental airline benefit on my card had failed (see above) so I wanted to capture the value of this benefit before closing the card.  A $100 American Airlines gift card did the trick.  I also used the rest of my orphan points on a Subway gift card, squeezing the last bit of value from this card.  Before the statement with my annual fee closes, I’m going to try and get another $100 AA gift card for my 2nd year airline benefit.

Nicoleen’s card already had a few airline mile transfer fees reimbursed and I was too lazy to check her statements to see how much was left of the $100 benefit.  Additionally, I had her statament closing date wrongly recorded and by the time she was going to call and cancel the card, her annual fee had posted to her account.  I discovered this while at work and I panicked, directing her to call right away and try to get the fee removed.  She did so, and only after I received the news did I realize I had forgotten to have her get a $100 airline gift card for the 2nd year reimbursement benefit.  Oh well…we missed out on a free $100 in airfare but still avoided the $175 annual fee.  And all that was on top of the $450+ in value we got from her card; so yeah…I can’t really complain 🙂

Should you get this card?

Yes.  Although Wells Fargo Rewards points are non-transferable and basically only worth the cash, $425 in points for a $3k spend is a good value any day of the week!  Add the airline benefit and a little extra spending and you’re up to a $650 value for getting this card.

So where would the Propel fit into an overall card strategy?  Of course that depends on your situation, but here are some things to consider:

– The bonus has been the same since this card’s inception so timing (vis a vis an elevated bonus offer)probably doesn’t matter
– All reports indicate your chances of being approved are higher after having some history with Wells Fargo.  A few months with a free checking account might do the trick.
– If your planned app round already has a Citi, Chase, and/or Barclay card, this could fit the AMEX role.
– If you know you’ll be paying for some miles transfers or purchases, having the incidental airline expense reimbursement benefit on this card can cover those costs, up to $100/year.
– If you currently don’t have a card that waives foreign transaction fees and you have international travel on your horizon, the Propel might be good to have.

Click here to apply for the Propel World AMEX from Wells Fargo