Virgin Money

MORE AMEX CUTS: Some sign-up bonuses and referral bonuses reduced, with immediate effect

Links on Head for Points pay us an affiliate commission. A list of our partners is here.

Last month American Express made some aggressive – and frankly confusing – changes to the rules regarding who qualifies for a sign-up bonus on its personal UK cards.  My summary of the Amex sign-up rule changes is here.

There are now further changes.  This time American Express has changed the sign-up bonuses and referral bonuses on some cards.

Which cards have changed?

The changes impact American Express Preferred Rewards Gold, The Platinum Card and the American Express Rewards Credit Card.

The changes were due to go live at midnight last night and are already in effect.

Change to American Express Gold sign up bonus

What are the changes to sign-up bonuses?

On Preferred Rewards Gold:

The sign-up bonus has been halved from 20,000 Membership Rewards points to 10,000 Membership Rewards points

The qualifying spend required to earn the bonus has increased from £2,000 within three months to £3,000 within three months

If you are referred by a friend to the card, you will receive a higher sign-up bonus of 12,000 Membership Rewards points (previously 22,000 Membership Rewards points)

On the American Express Rewards Credit Card:

The sign-up bonus has been halved from 10,000 Membership Rewards points to 5,000 Membership Rewards points

The qualifying spend required to earn the bonus has increased from £1,000 within three months to £2,000 within three months

On the American Express Rewards Low Rate Credit Card:

The sign-up bonus has been halved from 5,000 Membership Rewards points to 2,500 Membership Rewards points

The qualifying spend required to earn the bonus has increased from £500 within three months to £1,000 within three months

There is no change to the sign-up bonus or spending target on The Platinum Card.

What are the changes to referral bonuses?

With Preferred Rewards Gold:

The bonus you receive for referring a friend falls from 9,000 Membership Rewards points to 6,000 Membership Rewards points

The annual cap on referral points remains at 90,000 points

With The Platinum Card:

The bonus you receive for referring a friend falls from 18,000 Membership Rewards points to 12,000 Membership Rewards points

The annual cap on referral points remains at 90,000 points (if you refer 8 people, you only receive 6,000 points for the last one as you hit the 90,000 points cap)

There are no referral bonuses for the American Express Rewards Credit Card.

There are no changes at all, for now, to the British Airways, Nectar and Starwood card bonuses.

American Express Rewards Credit Card

What is going on here?

On the face of it, some of these changes do not make a lot of sense.  Primarily, why should you need to spend £3,000 to get the bonus on Preferred Rewards Gold when you only need to spend £2,000 to get the bonus on The Platinum Card?

I get a feeling that American Express is pulling back from its attempts to make Preferred Rewards Gold a mass-market product.  There is no other logical reason for pushing up the target spend to £3,000 in three months, which for Mr & Mrs Average is likely to be more than their remaining cash once housing costs and household bills are paid.

It is possible that the American Express Rewards Credit Card will be positioned as the mass-market product, although doubling the target spend to receive the sign-up bonus will also reduce the market for this product.

I am not really concerned about the changes to the American Express Rewards Credit Card, because the only reason a HFP reader should get this is to ‘protect’ your Membership Rewards points from deletion if you choose to cancel your Gold or Platinum cardI explain more in this article.

Is Amex risking long term damage by cutting off the ‘path’ for new cardholders?

My first American Express card, a long time ago, was a Gold.  Over time I progressed to The Platinum Card, and then – when it launched in 2004ish – the British Airways Premium Plus card, which was initially free to holders of The Platinum Card.

I suspect that – outside the world of Head for Points readers, who are well educated by our articles on the benefits of each card – most people start off with the free cards and then progress.  This is either as their income increases (so they can afford the annual fees on the premium cards) or as they become more comfortable with American Express as a partner.

Amex has now made ‘progressing’ less attractive.  For example:

if you start with the ‘free for life’ American Express Rewards Credit Card or ‘free for the first year’ Amex Gold, you are disqualified from the bonus on the free British Airways card or the Starwood card

if you start with the free BA Amex but decide that narrowing your focus to just Avios rewards makes no sense, you are locked out of the bonus on Gold, Starwood etc

if you start with the Starwood card but decide that Marriott Bonvoy no longer offers good value redemptions, you are locked out of the bonus on Gold and the free BA card

There are also no upgrade bonuses to persuade people to go from the free BA card to Premium Plus, or from the new credit card version of Preferred Rewards Gold to The Platinum Card.

American Express changing sign-up bonuses

And what is ‘the best starter card’ now?

HFP has generally promoted Preferred Rewards Gold as the best ‘starter’ card for someone coming into travel rewards.  This is because:

it had a generous sign-up bonus of 20,000 points (=20,000 Avios)

the points could be converted to a LOT of different rewards programmes, so you didn’t have to focus too early whilst you learned the ropes

you got your first year for free

you got two free airport lounge passes

you were free to earn a bonus on the BA or Starwood cards at a later date if you did choose to specialise

The situation is now different:

the sign-up bonus has been halved to 10,000 points (=10,000 Avios)

the target spend has been increased to £3,000 in three months

taking out Preferred Rewards Gold now blocks you from getting a sign-up bonus on a later date for the free British Airways card or the Starwood card – your only option for another bonus is the British Airways Premium Plus card

Overall, I am still tempted to say that Amex Gold is the best starter card for most people.  There is still a bonus, albeit lower, and the two free airport lounge passes will open your eyes to what your miles and points can do for you.  There is still no fee for the first year.

It is arguably better than telling people to start with the free BA Amex, which blocks them from both the Amex Gold bonus and the BA Premium Plus bonus.  In reality, the best ‘first’ card is probably:

The Platinum Card – but most people who are new to Amex won’t want to stump up £450, or

The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card – because you can still get a bonus on both The Platinum Card and British Airways Premium Plus later, and you only need to spend £1,000 to trigger the sign-up bonus.  However, this is a confusing card for a beginner (even explaining why the Marriott card is called the Starwood card isn’t simple), it has a fee and the two cards you can upgrade to both have even chunkier fees which a lot of the market doesn’t want to pay.

The ‘keep it simple, stupid’ school of marketing is one which I have always believed in, but the current run of changes at American Express seems to be putting that to the test.

Important interest rate information

For the cards mentioned in this article, I am legally obliged to remind you that:

American Express Preferred Rewards Goldrepresentative APR 57.6% variable including the annual fee (free in year 1) based on a notional £1,200 credit limit.  Apply hereReview here.

The Platinum Card from American Expressno interest rate information as it is a charge card.  Apply hereReview here.

American Express Rewardsrepresentative APR 22.9% variable.  Apply hereReview here.

American Express Rewards Low Raterepresentative APR 9.9% variable.  Apply hereReview here.

The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card –  representative APR 39.7% variable including the annual fee based on a notional £1200 credit limitApply hereReview here.

British Airways American Expressrepresentative APR 22.9% variableApply hereReview here.

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

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.

Bits: BA dumps the FT, No 1 Lounges opening in Luton, see French Open Tennis with Emirates Skywards
Bits: £50-£300 off Emirates flights to Japan, double points on Marriott Mastercard, Nobu taking over a London Radisson
Click here to join the 13,000 people on our email list and receive the latest Avios, miles and points news by 6am.

Amazon ad
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.

Comments

  1. As I had zero luck on 3 occasions to use the lounge passes in Manchester Airport, I feel that the Gold card is a complete waste of time for me now. Shame, it has been a great way of collecting points in the last seven years.

    • +1 – never been able to get in either with Lounge Club or Priority Pass, even when there was clearly space! I have mentioned this on cancelling gold and platinum but It seems to fall on deaf ears.

    • Qwerty Bertie says:

      -1 here. Tried once, got in. Was busy too. Maybe it’s because – according to my wife – I look like a smartly dressed London Town gangster.

  2. Samuel says:

    Hi

    I just got a nice surprise in the mail: I got my new LLoyds credit cards and to my surprise, they (both the AMEX and Masterdcard) feature the Avios logo so I suppose I am still earning avios after May. The expiry date on this one is in 2022. Should I use these straight away or wait until May?

  3. Julian says:

    Interesting report on Radio 5 Live just now (also reported at http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/2019/04/appeal-court-revives-p14bn-mastercard-class-action/ http://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/apr/16/mastercard-court-ruling-paves-way-14bn-class-action and elsewhere) about a case Mastercard have lost in the Court of Appeal re allegedly excessive card interchange fees and the right for this matter to be heard by the Competition Appeals Tribunal. Talking of a possible payout of £300 per cardholder if Mastercard still lose the case in the end.

    I would have thought that if Mastercard do lose this case in the end that Amex (and also Visa) would be quaking in their boots about the likely implications. Or is Amex protected by the fact all its not own directly issued cards are not subject to a legal claim of this kind (due to Amex head office’s place of incorporation in the USA)?

    Personally I would have thought a class action law suit regarding ripoff foreign exchange rate levy fees by the majority of credit and debit card issuers was far more valid and had considerably more chance of success.

    • Julian says:

      Interesting report on Radio 5 Live just now about a case Mastercard have lost in the Court of Appeal re allegedly excessive card interchange fees and the right for this matter to be heard by the Competition Appeals Tribunal. Talking of a possible payout of £300 per cardholder if Mastercard still lose the case in the end.

      I would have thought that if Mastercard do lose this case in the end that Amex (and also Visa) would be quaking in their boots about the likely implications. Or is Amex protected by the fact all its not own directly issued cards are not subject to a legal claim of this kind (due to Amex head office’s place of incorporation in the USA)?

      Personally I would have thought a class action law suit regarding ripoff foreign exchange rate levy fees by the majority of credit and debit card issuers was far more valid and had considerably more chance of success.

      Reply

    • Amex should be immune because, despite how the EU rules have been interpreted, it doesn’t have interchange fees. You contract directly with Amex.

      The lawsuit is based on the idea that Mastercard and Visa (who, remember, take no credit risk on your purchases and simply route the transaction from the shop to the card company) have been abusing their market power.

      • Lady London says:

        Wow. In that case Julian has a point about FX charges. I would love to see those challenged. Except that if they couldn’t rip us off for FX transactions the banks and cards would rack up other charges to compensate.

        On balance if I could be bothered I would use the tips on here to avoid FX charges completely. But I kind of view them as what I pay the bank for other services that are not currently charged for which I value.

        • FX charges are prominently displayed during card application and they are applied by the card issuer not by MC or Visa. You have the option of not entering into a contract or avoiding fees by not using the card abroad. Furthermore, how do you prove 2.99% is a rip off charge? Would 1.99% or 1.50% be acceptable?
          Don’t get me wrong I’m not defending the Fx charges and I avoid them by using specialist cards but a lawsuit is highly unlikely.
          What I would like to stop is the DCC because it is often sneaky and confusing and appears designed to catch people out and tick that wrong box or press the wrong button.

        • Julian says:

          A much greater evil still however that should definitely be subject to a class action law suit is the total ripoff known as Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) where foreign cash machines in other countries (routinely in almost all cases I would say) and shops (in only some cases as some seem to recognise DCC as a ripoff they do not wish to participate in) try and encourage you to do your transaction in pounds (which the ordinary man in the street will tend to go for as it seems simpler) without telling you the actual exchange rate that equates to and/or having any other reference point like the current mastercard or visa exchange rate or the tourist exchange rate of some large bank in that country for notes and coins.

          While DCC can be used to offer a very competitive exchange rate the only case I have come across where this is true is where Amazon offers it on transactions with a merchant selling goods in another currency. However in almost all cases in Spain DCC is used for major ill with bank cash machines and Spanish car rental companies routinely offering exchange rates 10% below the market rate and half of that ripoff then being shared withe the merchants such as the car rental companies. In Spain I have encountered counter staff at both Goldcar and supermarket Mercadona grabbing the terminal out of my hands after PIN number entry to try and select payment in GBP In one case Goldcar simply refused to re-run the transaction in EUR rather than the GBP that they had already processed the transaction in. Needless to say after that I did not rent with Goldcar again

          In my view there should be a class action law suit against Visa and Mastercard (and also Amex if they also use this system) over DCC and the fact that it has been systematically used to make banks and overseas merchants vastly richer on transactions to the detriment of consumers. The average consumer definitely doesn’t understand DCC and the wording about the choice is usually deliberately confusing at most cash machines and at most shop card PIN entry or smart chip scanning terminals.

      • Julian says:

        All the EU need to do is to come up with a further directive banning any charge by a card company above x percent whether it is directly contracted with the card company or interchanged through an intermediary payment system operator like Visa or Mastercard.

        At that point Amex will be sunk in terms of its current business model in respect of EU card payment operations.

        • George says:

          The UK in co-hoots with the EU killed our co branded credit cards….

        • Lady London says:

          @:pablo DCC has been stopped by Mastercard, just a few days or so ago.

          “Furthermore, how do you prove 2.99% is a rip off charge?”
          I dunno. How about, FX transactions have very little risk if converted immediately, for the platforms converting them. How about, due to current interbank interest rate set by the Bank of England being 0.75%, it’s been easily possible for many years now to borrow money for all of 1 year at considerably less than 3%. The interest rate on a loan is intended not just to cover the lender’s interest costs, but also takes into account its risk of lending to you FOR A WHOLE YEAR. And yet, FX transactions, which can involve holding money at risk for not much more than a nanosecond, and not one year, are being charged at 3% by providers.

          I call that unacceptable and should be legally challenged as abuse of market by the providers.

        • Only stopped on prepaid cards – and that was only because 90% of prepaid Mastercards are Revolut / Monzo etc which are designed to have 0% FX fees, so offering DCC is clearly in the worst interests of the consumer.

          I get a feeling this was done by Mastercard to see off any further claims. In theory it would not be rocket science to identify ALL cards which do not charge FX fees and block the offering of DCC.

        • Charlieface says:

          Let’s get something straight: although the UK wanted the legislation, it didn’t want Amex covered by it, as evidenced by the Government siding with Amex on the ECJ challenge. It mainly came down to bad drafting of the law.

  4. Now would be a very good time for Rob/Amex run an article explaining Amex’s strategy/vision for the UK market. To the layman it would seem they’re rethinking their involvement in the UK market…

    • ysun92 says:

      I have the feeling that they are actually losing interest in the UK market

      • Shoestring says:

        I’m a layman & I don’t think that at all.

        The referral/ sign-up bonus thing got too expensive in marketing terms.

        So they cut back a bit.

        It’s still generous vs most other cards, unless you’re thinking like a moaner/ whinger because it’s not quite as good as it used to be.

        • “The referral/ sign-up bonus thing got too expensive in marketing terms.” is that a fact or your opinion? And I love how the hardcore HfPers call anyone posting a comment they don’t like about their dear Amex a “whinger” or “moaner”. lol

        • Shoestring says:

          It’s an empirical fact, basically because Amex cut back on their generosity and we know that EU legal changes reduced their card charge income – the 2 things stack up

      • +1

        • Qwerty Bertie says:

          It’s remarkable how some people are acting as if they have been wronged by the Amex changes. Just to be clear, they owed you nothing. The only people who arguably have any genuine cause to complain about the changes are those who, in the last few months, opened a paid platinum or gold having factored the old referral rates in to their assessment of the first year’s value to them…but even that is not really a cause for complaint, as the referral system is not a hard-wired benefit of the deal.

          Are the changes disappointing? Of course, but that doesn’t mean you’ve been mistreated.

        • Ricatti says:

          Not true.

          Everything AMEX (or your bank for that matter) does — is going to reflect on reputation and quality of relationship. “Hardwired” benefits or not.

          Say AMEX hikes an annual fee to £550 without adding to benefits in substantial way — next time you will think hard before applying for Platinum — if you don’t get more benefit (via travel insurance/lounge access for multiple trips, you probably won’t apply).

        • Qwerty Bertie says:

          I agree it can affect quality of relationship, and clearly it has already for the majority of customers who comment on here, but that doesn’t give rise to cause for complaint. Anybody who actually makes a formal complaint that they can’t churn anymore would not only have their complaints not upheld by Amex, but also by the ombudsman. I also can’t see any realstic prospect of success if complaining about referral bonuses, although I suppose it is theoretically possible depending on the exact circumstances and how well they describe them in a non-confrontational and humble approach.

          Don’t get me wrong, I dislike the changes. Of course I would bin the card if the fee went up without the benefits also increasing in a manner that I consider still results in sufficient value to me. But if it increased, with such notice as required by the T&Cs, and I decided to cancel, then I wouldn’t have cause for complaint…only cause for being disgruntled.

  5. I had just had an email from AMEX to refer my friends for 6,000 MR points. Thanks for reminding me of your devaluation! It’s like rubbing salt into a wound.

  6. Dave Barron says:

    Hi,

    Apologies if this has already been covered but I have a query about referral bonuses.

    Prior to the recent reduction of referral points I emailed myself a referral link from my Platinum Card. Using this link I have now just self referred for the Nectar Card. I appreciate that I won’t get any welcome bonus (should have done so sooner!!) but presume I will get the 1000 nectar point referral bonus? Also given that I used a link which was valid prior to the latest referral devaluation do you think I continue to have a good chance of getting the 18k referral bonus rather than the new lower referral bonus of just 12k?

    Although not guaranteed I assume the loophole of self referral remains open?

    My application has been accepted so guess will just have to see but I would welcome the experiences of others.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Peter K says:

      I sent a referral code to someone before the devaluation. It is exactly the same link as is generated now if I want to refer someone. I assume therefore that the old link will thus only give the new referral bonus now, not the old.

  7. why does everyone discuss in open forums all of the things than amex will look to block next?

  8. Aren’t Amex going to be losing lots of money by doing the recent cuts. I for a me will only ever get an AE Card once every two years now

    • Supermix says:

      According to some people on here no. Apparently, according to them, money spent on Amex cards doesn’t make American Express money – I know! lol

      The UK and Europe accounts for a very small amount of their income. So much so they have all but given up on their top tiers cards in the UK – can’t even manage a roll out of metal Platinum cards. Nevermind some real perks or offering a decent travel insurance policy.

      • guesswho2000 says:

        I don’t know whether this is a serious comment or not?!
        Metal card, fair enough it’s a nice gimmick, and they’ve rolled them out elsewhere, but seriously?
        The travel insurance is still pretty good, even with a few extra hurdles, especially bearing in mind that the main elements don’t have the limitations of having to pay with the card, and their claims process is pretty quick and efficient.
        Each to their own I guess!

        • Ricatti says:

          Supermix spoken from the viewpoint of Global AMEX, and it is true. Brighton processes and systems were “dated”, a lot of bonus awarding was manually or batch- implemented by back office in India. I remember that nice messaging facility where you could communicate to those back office people, and they invariably obliged.

          Then global AMEX restructured their offshore operations, and UK AMEX was pretty much cut off from control of back office — they take what is processed for them. Brighton are takers — of processes, controls, and if global decides servicing their cards (UK AMEX card) out of Philippines including account opening.

          The new AMEX UK website is what US had for years.

        • The AMEX insurance is rubbish IF you have any pre-existing medical conditions. The fact that you can’t even pay a supplement to cover those conditions makes it absolutely useless for quite a few (including me).

    • If you assume they paid out 1p for every bonus Avios or MR point you ever earned, you will work out very quickly they will be hugely better off.

      They were literally paying out £2,000 per year for every couple which was churning a Gold and a BAPP every 6 month, each, and cross referring.

  9. Roy Badami says:

    Interestingly, these latest changes mean that the difference between the Gold and Platinum sign-up bonuses is now exactly the same as the the upgrade bonus from the legacy Gold card to Platinum: 20,000 points.

    I wonder if this is a prelude to a platinum ‘upgrade’ offer targeting holders of the new-style Gold card?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Please click here to read our data protection policy before submitting your comment.