Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

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.


Want to earn more points from credit cards? – November 2020 update

If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are my November 2020 recommendations based on the current sign-up bonus

You can see our full directory of all UK cards which earn airline or hotel points here.

British Airways American Express card

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up, no annual and a companion voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review

BA Premium Plus American Express card BAPP

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable credit card perk – the 2-4-1 companion voucher Read our full review

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Virgin Rewards Plus credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

15,000 points bonus and the most generous non-Amex for day to day spending Read our full review

Earning miles and points from small business cards

If you are a sole trader or run a small company, you may also want to check out these:

American Express Business Gold card

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review

Amex Platinum Business American Express

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and a long list of travel benefits Read our full review

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express card

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

Earn both Avios and BA On Business points with your business spending Read our full review

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

The most generous Avios Visa or Mastercard for a limited company Read our full review

Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history.  By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker.  Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.

Comments (126)

  • Andy says:

    I was just about to drag me and my partner through an amex platinum churn to get . I should have applied yesterday.

    • Ian says:

      Me too, was actually going to recommend my better half tonight. Bugger!
      Can still do it to get the recommendation 9k and we can still aim for another 241, but churning was our primary method for points earning along with BA Shopping.
      Well it was great whilst it lasted.

  • Chas says:

    Can I get the sign-up bonus on the Amex Business Platinum even if I have a personal Amex Gold (charge)? Have re-read yesterday’s article on the business card and whilst it is clear that you can’t get the sign-up bonus for the *Gold* Business, it is silent on whether you can for Platinum business.

    Secondly, I’ve never been particularly clear about how self-referrals work. What is the most beneficial card for me to refer myself from to get the Business Platinum (and does the process vary from any other referrals)? Between my wife and myself we could refer from the BAPP, Gold (charge) and BAPP.

  • Ralphy says:

    “Starting from scratch”

    That’s good news? That’s clutching at straws Rob.

    Most new Avios collectors have no clue what they are doing!

    For the majority of Avios collectors here, especially those that don’t fly for business, it’s over.

    • Jimbob says:

      I think it’s harder, but certainly not over. Remember you can still get 180k referral bonus via Amex platinum over a couple of months, if you time it right

      • Polly says:

        Def not over, plenty fat on the goose yet. We will depend on Rob even more, l think.
        And more avios J suites seats available, if some folk think it’s over for them.

  • Jimbob says:

    I wonder if given time, Amex will switch to the American version where you get a one off very much larger one time only sign up bonus?

  • Alex says:

    So if I read option 3 correctly, I currently have a personal Platinum charge card, and a BAPP. Are you saying that I can still apply for a Starwood Amex? Your first article suggests I won’t be getting the bonus, but this one says I would?

    (I don’t churn so they might be a bit more lenient…)

    • guesswho2000 says:

      No. That’s an alternative option 1 for someone who has no Amex cards (in the last 24 months). As soon as you get any personal cards, you’re limited to BAPP or Platinum Charge.

  • Andy says:

    correct me if i’m wrong but given the old method is dead now what would stop me and my wife from churning cards for sole purpose of getting the referral bonus? Say I apply for 5 Platinum cards in a 12 months period and i refer my wife each time. I get zero welcome bonuses BUT i get 90k in referral bonuses (18k x 5 referrals…with 90k per year being the limit). The my wife applies also for 5 Platinum cards and refers me. She gets 90k also. Thats 180k avios per year between us JUST from churning platinum cards. If we then churn 10 BA Amex Premium that’s another 90k each or 180k for 2 of us. thats 360k in avios per year!!!! The beauty of this method is you don’t need to meet any spending limits. You apply day 1, you get your card say day 7, you refer wife day 8, she gets card say day 15, i get referral bonus say day 18 and then I close both cards. I repeat this next month…Besides the logistics nightmare of having to manage so many cards (which I’m fine with) don’t see a problem. Am i wrong?

    • LewisB says:

      I’m sure that’ll have a massive hit on your credit score. I hope you’re not planning on remortgaging anytime soon!

      • Andy says:

        why? I wont be spending anything? I’m sure the credit score doesn’t go down just because you’re applying for cards. It has to be connected with the amount of credit you actually take which in my case will be zero.

        • Alan says:

          Yes it does – lots of applications for credit (whether successful or not, perhaps worth if unsuccessful) can definitely have a negative impact as it can be viewed that you’re desperately seeking finance.

    • Lee says:

      You won’t get approvals from AMEX for sure

      • Andy says:

        Why not? Nothing says I can’t apply for 5 cards in a year (10 if you count the referral).

        • Peter 64K says:

          Just because they don’t say you can’t take out so many cards doesn’t mean they will allow it.

        • Alan says:

          Try it and let us know how you get on.

        • Polly says:

          Yes, and report back on your success. Think you might be pushing it with that strategy. Even under normal churning, we were advised to be cautious.

    • Scallder says:

      Avios only move across at the end of each month – so that will work in a tight time frame (assuming Amex approve all of them), but will be a slightly longer cycle for BAPP cards.

    • Lady London says:

      That’s all beginning to look like pyramid selling!

  • Anon says:

    My last Amex was the free rewards card (the transparent one), that was cancelled in August of last year.

    When the rule change was announced in March it had been more than 6 months since I had cancelled and I was theoretically eligible for a sign-up bonus, am I still eligible or does the 24 month rule apply to me as well?

  • Matthew says:

    The problem with referrals now (apart from family) is that less people will want referrals as they will be waiting for the 24 month rule. So it’s harder to get the referrals too…