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What is the best sign-up strategy now for someone with NO American Express cards?

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This is Part 2 of our discussion on changes to the personal American Express card sign-up bonuses.  The main article is here.

This article was updated on 16th April to reflect changes in some sign-up bonus levels.

Despite these massive changes, the good news is that it is still possible for a couple, starting from scratch with American Express, to earn 130,000 Avios fairly quickly between them.

For most Head for Points readers who are NOT starting from scratch with American Express, you are where you are.  Your activity with American Express over the past 24 months will determine what you can do going forward.  There is nothing you can do to change it.

Even if you cancel all of your existing American Express cards today, you will need to wait 24 months before you can start on the strategies below.

The only exception is if you qualify for an American Express Gold Business or American Express Platinum Business card.  You would be able to apply for those after a gap of just six months from when you cancelled your previous American Express Membership Rewards-earning card.

If you run a small business, there is still flexibility to earn regular sign-up bonuses by focusing on Gold Business and Platinum Business.

If I have not had a personal American Express card before, what should I do?

If you have not held a personal American Express card in the previous two years, you now need to use some strategic thinking.

(Note that MBNA and Lloyds Bank-issued American Express cards do not count in terms of ‘have you had an Amex?’.  We are only discussing cards issued directly by American Express.)

As far as I can work it out, here are three strategies which will allow you to earn more than one bonus on a personal American Express within a 24 month period.

Strategy One:

First card:  anything except a British Airways or British Airways Premium Plus – I recommend Preferred Rewards Gold (10,000 Membership Rewards points) but you could also get The Platinum Card (30,000 Membership Rewards points), Starwood Preferred Guest (30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points), Nectar (20,000 Nectar points), American Express Rewards (up to 10,000 Membership Rewards points), Platinum Cashback or Platinum Cashback Everyday

Second card:  the British Airways Premium Plus card (25,000 Avios) – because the only restriction on getting this is if you have held either of the two British Airways American Express cards in the previous 24 months

The reason for the order here is that if you got British Airways Premium Plus first then you would block yourself from all of the cards in the first list, except for The Platinum Card.

Strategy Two:

First card: anything except a card earning Membership Rewards points – you are allowed a British Airways American Express, British Airways American Express Premium Plus, Starwood Preferred Guest, Nectar, Platinum Cashback or Platinum Cashback Everyday

Second card:  The Platinum Card (30,000 Membership Rewards points) – because the only restriction on getting this is if you have held another Membership Rewards-earning card (Preferred Rewards Gold, American Express Rewards, Green) in the previous 24 months

The reason for the order here is that if you got The Platinum Card first you would block yourself from the cards in list one (apart from British Airways Premium Plus).

Strategy Three:

This is the ONLY way to get three cards with sign-up bonuses quickly:

First card:  Starwood Preferred Guest (30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) or Nectar (20,000 Nectar points) or Platinum Cashback or Platinum Cashback Everyday

Second and third cards (order unimportant):  The Platinum Card (30,000 Membership Rewards points) – because because the only restriction on getting this is if you have held another Membership Rewards-earning card (Preferred Rewards Gold, American Express Rewards, Green) in the previous 24 months and the British Airways Premium Plus card (25,000 Avios) – because the only restriction on getting this is if you have held either British Airways American Express card in the previous 24 months

The reason for the order here is that as soon as you get The Platinum Card or the British Airways Premium Plus card, you block yourself from all of the bonuses in the first list.

Different strategies apply if you qualify for Gold Business or Platinum Business as they can still be cancelled and reopened every six months.

Strategy Three is the most valuable option

Under the new rules, if you had not previously had a personal American Express card, you can get virtually back-to-back:

30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points from the Starwood American Express or 20,000 Nectar points

plus

30,000 Membership Rewards points from The Platinum Card 

plus

25,000 Avios from the British Airways Premium Plus card

If you converted the 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points into 10,000 Avios and the 30,000 Membership Rewards points into 30,000 Avios, you would have earned 65,000 Avios fairly quickly from sign-up bonuses.

Don’t forget your partner in all of this

Even if YOU no longer qualify for bonuses in the medium term, think about your partner.  What has he/she had and what does he/she still qualify for?

You can double up on the bonuses above.

Even with the strict new rules, a couple (where neither has had a personal American Express card in the previous 24 months) could earn 130,000 Avios between them fairly quickly if each follows Strategy Three above.

Reference information

Here are links to our reviews on each of the cards, a link to the application website and the legally required interest rate information:

IMPORTANT: Note that the reviews have not been updated with the new bonus rules yet

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold – apply here  – our review is here – representative APR 57.6% variable including the annual fee (free in year 1) based on a notional £1,200 credit limit

American Express Rewardsapply hereour Amex Rewards review interest rate varies depending on which card variant you choose

British Airways American Expressapply hereour BA Amex review – representative APR 22.9% variable

British Airways American Express Premium Plus apply hereour BA Premium Plus Amex review – representative APR 76.0% variable including £195 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit, interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable

Nectarapply hereour Nectar Amex reviewrepresentative APR of 28.2%, including £25 fee, based on a notional credit limit of £1,200

The Platinum Cardapply hereour Amex Platinum review

Platinum Cashbackapply hereour Amex Platinum Cashback review – representative APR of 28.2%, including £25 fee, based on a notional credit limit of £1,200

Platinum Cashback Everydayapply hereour Amex Platinum Cashback Everyday review – representative APR 22.9% variable

Starwood Preferred Guest American Expressapply hereour Starwood Amex review –  representative APR 39.7% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit

American Express Gold Businessapply hereour Amex Gold Business review

American Express Platinum Businessapply hereour Amex Platinum Business review

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Comments (126)

  • MDA says:

    24m? I thought was 6m for reapplying?

    • Andrew S says:

      Clearly change is a coming

      • Giacomo says:

        It is already on the amex website: “I understand I will not be eligible for any Welcome Bonus award if I hold or have held any personal Membership Rewards-enrolled American Express Cards in the past 24 months.”

        • Tom1 says:

          All good things come to an end, most of us made good use. Just need to refer more friends now!

          Can’t help but think curve will be the next to change/disappear.

    • Florian says:

      I posted the below under the main discussion but since there so many comments, it might get missed by those who might find it helpful, so here it is again:

      “Please remove the link https://bit.ly/2DZekTA if I can’t share it here.

      However, I just went through the above link for the Platinum card.

      Under “Important Information”, I can see the following: “All introductory offers are subject to change, can be withdrawn at any time and are not available if you currently hold or have held any other Membership Rewards enrolled American Express Cards in the past six months. ” Same goes for a referral to the Gold Card and probably others (I didn’t check those). So it seems like T&C’s for the referred cards have not been updated… Might be worth taking a punt for the courageous ones who were about to apply fo the card around now anyways?”

    • Gman says:

      Apply whenever u like.

  • The streets says:

    It’s a sad day but was definitely coming. The whole game has become too popular and was never going to be sustainable

    • Jeff says:

      Yes, this was inevitable (and predicted here) as there has been just too much churning, effectively at the expense of the non churners. I understand that the rule in respect of still needing to hold the BA AMEX card at the time of travel with a 2-4-1 voucher will shortly be enforced as well. It’s always been there, but ignored. Seems fair that if you cancel you lose the benefit that you haven’t paid the annual fee for in full.

      • Alex W says:

        Woah, that is potentially a very costly change. So I might need to pay 3 years worth of BAPP fees (3 X 195) and 2 lots of surcharges (2 X up to £655) in order to redeem a 241? That’s a total of, £1,895 plus say 120,000 Avios. That totally kills the 241 for me, if it was still alive at all.

        If Amex keep doing £200 off £600 spend at Amex travel then upgrading Premium Economy tickets to Club World is by FAR the better option.

        • Rob H says:

          You’ll be able to avoid the BAPP fee by downgrading to the free BA card – my wife just did that and they confirmed on the phone that she would keep the 2-4-1 voucher.

      • Aaron says:

        What if you’ve already booked travel with the 241 and then cancel the BAPP card before travelling? What would happen? Surely they can’t then cancel your flights!?

        • Shoestring says:

          according to the T&Cs, oh yes they can

          very rarely happens (and other airlines have similar rules about carrying the card you paid with) but the clause is there for a good reason

      • Scallder says:

        No way that will stack up with the FCA in the same way that Creation had to change their terms regarding their original set up that you had to incur the second year’s £99 charge to earn the hotel voucher due to timing of the voucher).

        No way the FCA will be on Amex’s side here that someone is expected to pay up to £390 more for having to hold the card two years into the future to use a voucher just earned…

  • MDA says:

    Can you downgrade from platinum charge card to gold credit card?

  • Genghis says:

    “The only constant is change”.

    But in terms of strategy for a new couple, I’d recommend a Plat card first (35k + 2k), followed by partner Plat referral (18k + 35k + 2), BAPP (18k referral + 26k + 4.5k, then other gets BAPP (18k referral + 26k + 4.5k).

    Add that up and it gets to 189k avios. Doesn’t take into account tolerance for paying fees, of course.

    Assuming a clean slate, getting the

    • Mark says:

      Yes, article ignores value of referrals which from Platinum are significant

      • Mr(s) Entitled says:

        Do you earn referrals on acceptance of the application or upon activation/use of the card?

    • xcalx says:

      “Strategy three
      Second and third cards (order unimportant)”

      The second card is important, bigger referral bonus using plat should return a little over 200k

    • Anthony says:

      Thanks Genghis – I really appreciate your concise strategies. In fact, I typically screenshot them so I can re-read them at my leisure! 👏

    • GRIMZ says:

      Am I missing something! Plat still gives you 5 referrals at 18k each even if you have held the cards within 2 years?

  • JC says:

    Thanks for this article Rob. Like everyone else was initially disheartened. I have been an avid follower for years and each year the challenge gets harder. Having to have a BAPP when flying with a 241 will also impact on any strategy, as would a change in pro rata refunds and referral bonuses. Cross product referrals appear still to be allowed, so long as its a fee based card, and I know I have until very recently benefitted from this. Are any further announcements expected from amex at this stage.

  • Olly says:

    My wife previously had a BA PP under her maiden name. Presumably if she now applied under her married name she’d still be eligible for the sign-up bonus?

    • Neil says:

      Clutching at straws here buddy. Do you think a name change has completely wiped her previous credit history?

  • Gavin says:

    Perfect article for me as points acquiring has been back seat for me over the past few years and about to buy a house which I will need to furnish. The news, while bad, doesn’t impact me too badly in the short term.

    Last held SPG in April 2017, and Amex Rewards in March 2018. So optimal route should be:

    SPG then BAPP then Platinum.

    My wife has never held a UK Amex so presumably I can refer to her to these cards to add to our stash.

  • AndyGWP says:

    Do we think there is much life left in the BA Amex then?

    I keep expecting it to go (certainly to new applicants) but it seems to keep hanging in there. My recollection is it is subject to the cap? Am I wrong?

    • Symon says:

      One things clear, it will go without any notice. Be interested to know Amex’s UK strategy, they seem to be (going by today’s news) reducing their UK presences.