Should you leave American Express for 24 months until you can get a new sign-up bonus?

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We have spent a lot of time in the last few days discussing the new American Express sign-up bonus policy.  In most cases, you need to cancel all of your personal American Express cards and wait two years before you would qualify for any new sign-up bonuses.

As I pointed out on Thursday, for someone who does not have an American Express card and has not had one in the past 24 months, you can still earn 65,000 Avios relatively quickly.

This is the best strategy for maximising Avios under the new Avios rules:

For your first card: 

Get the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (bonus of 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) or Nectar American Express (20,000 Nectar points) or Platinum Cashback or Platinum Cashback Everyday.  I would see the Starwood option as the most valuable.

Once you have got your first card, you are disqualified from bonuses on most of the other cards.  There are two exceptions however:

For your second card (or third card, order is not important):

Get The Platinum Card (bonus of 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, Gold Business, Platinum Business) in the previous 24 months

For your third card (or second card, order is not important):

Get the British Airways American Express Premium Plus card (bonus of 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.

New AMerican Express sign-up bonus rules

Under the new rules, if you had not previously had a personal American Express card, this strategy will earn you:

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.

New american express sign-up bonus rules

What are your options as an existing cardholder?

If you are currently an American Express personal cardholder, you have two options.

Option 1 is to carry on as you are, keeping one of the American Express cards in your wallet but knowing that in most cases you will never be eligible for another sign-up bonus

Option 2 is to cancel all of your personal American Express cards and start the 24 month clock on when you can pursue the strategy above

For a lot of people, I think Option 2 is pretty attractive.

Option 2 allows you, in two years time, to pick up 65,000 Avios relatively quickly via the application strategy I outline above.  Your partner can do the same.  Importantly, you can refer your partner for the cards using the ‘refer a friend’ programme.  Add in the referral bonuses and you can still earn over 150,000 Avios between two people once every two years.

What would you do for 24 months whilst you are waiting? 

Spend on a totally different card.

There are LOTS of non-American Express cards out there that you can use for the next 24 months and some are pretty attractive.  Here are the most valuable options:

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard – annual fee £0 – earns 0.75 miles per £1 – sign-up bonus of 5,000 Virgin Flying Club miles – our review / apply

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard – annual fee £160 – earns 1.5 miles per £1 – sign-up bonus of 15,000 Virgin Flying Club miles – our review / apply

Miles & More Global Traveller Diners Club and Mastercard – annual fee £79 – earns 1.25 miles per £1 – sign-up bonus of 5,000 Miles & More miles – our review / apply

IHG Rewards Club Mastercard – no annual fee – earns 1 point per £1 – sign-up bonus of 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points – our review / apply

IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard – annual fee £99 – earns 2 points per £1 – sign-up bonus of 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points – our review / apply

HSBC Premier Mastercard – no annual fee – earns 0.5 airline miles per £1 – no sign-up bonus – our review / apply

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard – annual fee of £195 – earns 1 airline mile per £1 – sign-up bonus of 40,000 airline miles – our review / apply

There are plenty of alternatives out there.  It is worth remembering that KLM and Air France will soon be redeemable with Virgin Flying Club miles, adding a lot of extra options.

You get some decent long-term incentives too.  The IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard offers you a free night voucher each year if you spend £10,000.  The Virgin Atlantic credit cards offer a 2-4-1 or upgrade voucher each year if you spend £10,000.

New American Express sign-up bonus rules

If you think you prefer Option 1 – carrying on as you are – remember how hard it would be to earn 65,000 Avios via normal spending

If you cancel all of your American Express cards, I showed you above how – in 24 months time – you can pick up 65,000 Avios fairly quickly via three applications.

If you choose to keep your existing cards, you will obviously continue to earn miles as you always did.  However, think about how much spending would be required over the next two years to earn 65,000 Avios:

£65,000 on the free BA Amex, Amex Gold or Amex Platinum

£43,333 on the British Airways American Express Premium Plus

£52,000 on the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express

Most people can’t hit these targets and are better off cancelling everything – you will earn more miles from Amex by cancelling and waiting 24 months.  This also ignores the huge number of points you’d earn by diverting your spend to one of the other cards above.

The ‘elephant in the room’ is the BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher

The key problem, if you cancel all of your American Express cards to restart the 24 month clock, is not earning a British Airways American Express Premium Plus 2-4-1 voucher.

You might be happy to skip the voucher for two years, especially if you have existing vouchers to use up.   If you are still earning a lot of Avios via other routes (like flying!) you may well need to bite the bullet and keep your BA Amex open.

This doesn’t totally stop you getting other bonuses.  You would still be eligible to apply for The Platinum Card every 24 months and receive a 30,000 points sign-up bonus.

And you need an Amex to pay the taxes on your 2-4-1 tickets ….

Remember that you need to pay the taxes when you redeem a British Airways 2-4-1 voucher using an American Express card.  Despite what the rules say, it doesn’t need to be a BA Amex and it doesn’t need to be in your name (Amex does not check names as part of its card verification) but you WILL need access to an American Express.

And possibly a Platinum-coloured elephant too ….

For some people, The Platinum Card poses a similar dilemma.  What will you do for airport lounge access, travel insurance, hotel status etc during your 24 month hiatus?

Finally, do the Amex cashback offers have value to you?

Most of us have save £100+ per year via the cashback offers added to our Amex card statements.  You should factor the loss of those savings into your calculations.

New American Express sign-up bonus rules

Ignore this article entirely if you have a small business

Forget everything you just read if you have a small business.  The sign-up rules on Amex Gold Business and Amex Platinum Business have not changed and you can reapply for those and receive a new bonus after just a six month gap.

Conclusion

You need to decide if you are going to walk away from American Express entirely for the next 24 months.

For many HFP readers, this may be a sensible strategy.  Put your credit card spend on other products and then, in two years time, return to American Express and get three cards in quick succession – earning 65,000 Avios – using the strategy above.

Appendix:  Important interest rate information for the cards discussed above

British Airways American Express Premium Plus – representative APR 76.0% variable including £195 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard – representative APR 22.9% variable

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard – representative APR 63.9% variable including £160 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit

IHG Rewards Club Mastercard – representative APR 18.9% variable

IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard – representative APR 41.5% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit

HSBC Premier Mastercard – representative APR 18.9% variable

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard – representative APR 59.3% variable including £195 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit

Nectar American Express – representative APR of 28.2% including £25 fee based on a notional credit limit of £1200

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

(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.)

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.

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Comments

  1. Colin Elliott says:

    Just to be clear:

    1. If I hold onto a card until my wife becomes eligible again for a referral bonus (to keep the flexibility in having Rewards), and I then refer her for a card with a bonus, would I get the referral bonus?

    2. If yes, if I then cancelled my card, I’d have to wait another 2 years before she could then get a bonus referring me for a card with a bonus.

    3. But actually we’d be better off both resetting the 2 years criterion asap and then one get card with the full bonus, refer the other for another full bonus and then cancel again asap and repeat?

  2. Colin Elliott says:

    Should we anticipate Virgin following suit with their cards and cancel those asap to reset the time limits?

  3. Has anybody earned a referral bonus since the 24 months policy change ?

  4. Drennan Duplooy says:

    Nicely granular analysis, as always, Rob. Thanks. I’ll be cancelling all but keeping the SPG and applying for Business Gold in six months. One concern is that the ‘cancel all’ idea is based on the assumption that sign up bonuses will be the same in 2 years time though?

  5. JAMES SIMPSON says:

    Is there a time limit of how long one should wait between cancelling an AMEX Rewards Gold Card and opening the BA Avios Premium Plus card in order to guarantee the sign-up bonus on the BA card?

  6. Xavier BEYAERT says:

    Probably a question with an obvious answer but still trying… What about existing Membership Rewards? They would be lost if all cards are closed. So should they be transferred to Avios where they will have a expiry date? Or is there a better solution?

  7. Nick Abbott says:

    Does being an Additional card holder with a Lloyds Amex Duo card prevent claiming a sign-up bonus?

    • Nick Abbott says:

      Think I’ve found the answer in “Older Comments”

      From Rob:
      No. Supps [Supplementary AMEX card holders] have never counted.

    • Being a MAIN cardholder on a Lloyds Amex doesn’t prevent you, so being a supplementary certainly doesn’t 🙂

  8. Washborne says:

    This might be a silly question, but I can’t find the information here (having looked through way too many comments for my sanity) or on the Amex website. With the change from 6 months to 24 months for the new customer sign up bonus, does this also apply to the card fee for the Amex Gold.

    I was due to cycle in 2 weeks (oh well such is life) getting a new Amex Gold and cancelling the ‘different family’ Amex card still active. Obviously now I won’t be getting the welcome bonus. However I am flying twice relatively soon and for the sake of a short delay (given my 24 months isn’t due to start yet with the other Amex card active) I would take the Amex Gold, get the two lounge passes and cancel afterwards (we are talking a few months rather than weeks). I can also have the vain hope that things will change again during the time I have the card, though I appreciate that it won’t apply to the new card.

    What I don’t want is to apply for the new card and suddenly find out that I’m slapped with a £140 fee from having had a previous card and the combination of the two being over a year.

    If this has been mentioned elsewhere, please accept my apologies, and point me in the right direction.

    • First year remains free and you get the Lounge Club vouchers. You just don’t get the sign-up bonus.

  9. RoamingRaRa says:

    Inevitably this was going to happen. Between me, my wife and my mum and household accounts we’ve been canceling and referring one another for a number of years stacking up the Avios. I’ll make the most of my Galapagos trip via the Avios redemption with LATAM.

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