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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)

  • Froggee says:

    I know there have been issues cross-referring cards before but have Amex closed the cross-referral loophole too? Given there was no point waiting six months to apply for my Amex Premium Plus I went to refer myself for it from Platinum and there was the option to apply for other cards as normal but the only options available were the business cards and the Platinum or Gold card.

    I also tried a referral from my SPG Amex to see if that was the same and there was not the option to apply for any other cards.

    Ironically I have never churned with Amex. I had the BA Premium for over a decade but downgraded to the BA Blue a couple of years ago as hadn’t been using the 2for1 courtesy of young children. I finally got round to cancelling it as we have started travelling again so I intended reapplying for the BAPP as the 2for1s could be helpful.

    I have nothing against churners but tend to be a goody-too-shoes with all this sort of stuff. Yet even I feel a bit cheated now!

    • Froggee says:

      And ignore me. Somewhat strangely it is working with the link I got by selecting “email link” but not using the copy link… And yes I tried different browsers etc!

  • Waddle says:

    I wonder and am hoping that once (if ever) the SPG card turns into a Marriott Bonvoy card Amex will allow one sign-up bonus regardless of what card you currently hold or have held.

  • Vivian says:

    O/T but Amex-related – does the annual subscription to Costco qualify as a “membership” for the eligibility to Costco Amex?

    • Alan says:

      Yes – isn’t that the only way to fulfil the membership requirement? My folks have that card and it has their photo on the back and replaces their Costco membership card.

      • Vivian says:

        I meant taking out the £15 online shopping only annual subscription instead of the £33.60 individual membership – will I be able to take out the Costco Amex and also physically visit the shop to exchange the vouchers?

        • Alan says:

          Ah OK, sorry I didn’t realise such a thing was on offer, Vivian – was only aware of the in-person membership!

  • Fabby says:

    Ah, what to do? I’ve never churned and dipped my toe in the points waters last year with the AMEX Gold which I’ve enjoyed over the last year. Now its coming to an end and I can not justify the cost per annum. I was hopping to grab another AMEX card in the meantime and start churning and reapply for Gold in 6 months which I no longer will be doing.

    My question is, am I better off dropping down to the free version of the card and carry on collecting points as I do now, or transfer out my points to avios etc., cancel and find something in the meantime and pick up a AMEX and its bonus every 2 years (sheds a tear). What else is out there!? Or is there something I’m missing? (I’m not a massive spender but can reach targets over a year, nor do I travel for work but enjoy getting something for normal spending!).

    Any ideas what to do next?

    • Colin JE says:

      Before you cancel your Gold, have you added your nearest and dearest as a supplementary card holder/s. AFAIK you’ll get a few thousand (is it 2k?) MR points per additional cardholder. And is there anyone you can refer to? 9k per sign-up, but make sure they follow Rob’s strategy if they don’t hold any Amex cards.
      As Rob has said in the past, the Virgin Atlantic Premium MasterCard is one of the best earners out there, both for bonus and ongoing points. And you can move your Virgin Miles to quite a few other schemes, though not Avios of course! Other than that there’s the IHG card, though I find their customer service a bit patchy, to put it mildly.

    • John says:

      If the BAPP could be useful to you get it for 1-2 years, then switch back to Gold.

  • Vinz says:

    this simply is a bummer… Will have to think my strategy entirely, as it will be so difficult to make enough points to use on companion vouchers in first class… god it’s bad….

  • Vinz says:

    Rob, do you know if supplementary cards count towards eligibility? They shouldn’t, correct?

    • Rob says:

      They never have so I doubt it has changed.

      • Vinz says:

        fantastic, thanks. so I can still get my partner to get a platinum through my referral. Yes! and I am self-employed too so I guess I qualify for the business card, right?

        • Chas says:

          If you’ve had a personal MR earning card (Plat, Gold etc) you will need to wait 6 months after cancelling them until you can get the sign up bonus for the Corp Plat card (but better than waiting 24 months…)

    • Polly says:

      No, they don’t

  • Anna says:

    I keep reading conflicting comments, will having a BA card (BAPP or free) stop you getting a MR sign up bonus (after 2 years without an MR Amex of course)?

    This could still be a feasible collecting strategy, especially as I retire next week and will be able to be more organised – I may even start a spreadsheet 😂

    • Waddle says:

      Having a BA Amex blocks you from getting MR bonus on all but the Platinum if you haven’t had a MR card for 24 months.

  • Jim says:

    Not good news Rob, do you think there will be changes to the 2-4-1 voucher rules on BA card

    • Rob says:

      Very much doubt it. But I also expect BA to drop Amex as soon as the contract is up – there is no point sticking with them. Capped interchange fees but weak acceptance. More importantly, all BA Amex cardholders need to carry a 2nd card with them which stops BA dominating your wallet.

      I also expect the SPG card is on the way out – as virtually no-one gets this as their first Amex this will be hit hard.

      • Jim says:

        Thanks for your thoughts Rob
        How would that impact if you need to use Amex card when redeeming existing voucher, would BA be able to change that or would you have to maintain one as back up ?

      • Michael says:

        I presume you’d expect BA to come back as a Visa then in the future? When is the contract up just out of interest?

        • Lady London says:

          My money is on someone like Citibank grabbing it.

          We can dream about Chase…

        • Lady London says:

          However it would be better for everyone if BA does renew.
          We don’t want Amex to come under any more pressure, and thus to cut benefits again.

      • Freddy says:

        What would happen with existing cardholders?