Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

MORE AMEX CUTS: Gold, Platinum and Amex Rewards sign-up and referral bonuses reduced

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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.

Amex Gold

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.

Want to earn more points from credit cards? – January 2021 update

If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are our January 2021 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 fee 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 (500)

  • Pigs At The Trough says:

    This comes as no surprise to anyone. No sooner had the 6 month period been extended than the greedy vultures were busy circling here discussing how to abuse their new referral churning strategies to the maximum extent and ruining it for everyone else. but at least it’ll remove them from the game and make more seats for those who actually fly to earn points.

    • Michael says:

      Can’t help laugh at your username – specially chosen for this post?

      It was there for the taking – if there’s grass on the pitch play ball.

      • Pitch Invader says:

        @Michael Except now the field is a muddy mess due to abuse, and the balls gone flat.

    • Andy says:

      If you want to see pigs you should see some of the 30 stone walruses in the lounges on most days…

      • Food critic says:

        Probablly the same crowd, stuffing their faces with as much free food as humanly possible as it’s there for the taking.

        • Michael says:

          Too right it is..

        • Michael says:

          You don’t work hard to fly J/F just to tell you friends.

        • Andy says:

          Food Critic, this made me laugh LOL I always chuckle when I see said Walrus drinking a coke zero while their plate is piled high with latest BA lounge delicacies 😂

        • The Badger of Bagdad says:

          @Andy – and then waddling back to the buffet with said plate to churn as quickly as possible.

    • BJ says:

      Just took some very helpful advice on my new strategy … from amex new card applications team themselves! Nice to know some things at amex have not changed 🙂

    • Qwerty Bertie says:

      If I hold up two sweets in the air, one in each hand, and say come get them…and on one side there is one tall kid amongst the shorter ones who alone can reach it on his own feet…and on the other side they are all short but one has the guile to stand on a chair and take the sweet…what is the harm?

      • Platform shoes says:

        Nothing, until you get so swarmed with greedy short kids that you have to take the sweets away from everyone.

  • Rich says:

    Does anyone know if the annual cap on referral points for the Gold and Plat cards is 90,000 points per card or 90,000 per cardmember?

  • Anon says:

    HSBC Premier World Elite is now head and shoulders above all Amex except for Platinum (and even that may be debatable considering the massively higher fee). It was previously a toss up between Gold and World Elite in my opinion.

    • Thomas Howard says:

      But is it worth the faf (transfering savings, opening current accounts) over the IHG premier when there seems to be fewer redemptions (“taxes”) to pay on hotel stays when using the points? I think Rob was warning a year ago that BA were intending to devalue and more recently that it was signed off awaiting an IT upgrade.Why desperately earn Avios when they’re going to be worth less fairly soon?

      The IHG scheme, having devalued in January, is probably a little more predictable for at least the next year.

      • Anon says:

        With HSBC at least there is some flexibility with the airline partners.

        I have IHG Premier (and ambassador) but with IHG you are also locking yourself into one partner (a hotel one rather than an airline) Occasionally I like staying at the Conrad or the Marriott luxury properties like the Gritti palace. Not to mention a 4 digit PIN for security is poor. .

      • Rob says:

        Very possible Avios only gets tweaked on the earning side and not the redeeming side.

        • Peter K says:

          As the redeeming side is already being tweaked by increasing the fees for redemptions that makes sense.

        • Ricatti says:

          Yep, we see that the current strategy is to hike redemption fees rather than changing the award charts.

          Points-rich US consumers were targeted with that — BA surcharges on First and CW out of the US.

          UK-side, after the past devaluation, the peak award levels became less attainable. There was an increase of 50% in Avios required two years ago. But BA did not foresee that earning miles from credit card (and Tesco route) will dry up — as it is going.

          Big difference between US Chase British Airways VISA awarding x3 on BA/Iberia/Air Lingus spending (95USD fee, no FX fee) and the UK BAPP (195GBP fee, FX spending) which is going away with contract anyway.

          The question remains: where does UK consumer accumulate into 100,000 of Avios for long-haul.

    • Polly says:

      Can’t find if we have car hire cover on the hsbc WE. It would then be better than plat for us. But no guests allowed on the lounge entry tho.

  • illuminatus says:

    How long do the hotel statuses that come with Amex Platinum last? Eg if a Plat card is taken out now, will the Hilton Gold last until the end of this year, or next year, if the card is cancelled in about 3 months?

  • Russ says:

    Generally doesn’t really affect us as Gold holders as most of our spend’s on travel. Where it does affect us is referrals. I won’t be able to recommend any of these cards to friends and associates because I’m going to look miserly and weak touting for such a small bonus. I’m also looking at our supplementary cards as not sure they are worth the fee as I’m still stinging about last weeks insurance fiasco.

    • Polly says:

      Same here, will never mention amex again to friends or family, and they spent loads..annoyed about the referrals tho, was banking on them, and mr T to continue travelling at the pointy end! That’s fine, will earn enough for BA J to Asia annually. That will do plus big use of RFS if not.

  • jas says:

    Anybody know if an application in married name is deemed as a “new” person?

    • Lev441 says:

      Probably is…! Give it a try and report back?

    • PaulC says:

      If this is anything to go off I had to create a new BA account as my wife’s is still in her maiden name due to passport and her points kept being rejected so now she has two BA accounts and one day we’ll have to somehow merge them or spend up the points in one and stop using it.

    • John says:

      Only if there are no credit links to the old name, i.e. all bank accounts and cards closed, deregister and reregister on electoral roll etc.

      • Charlieface says:

        I think you’re wrong on both sides: accounts stay on credit files for 6 years after they’re closed and you need to give Amex the old name if it’s a recent change, the only way for them not to track it is to move and then not open anything for 3 years (which is much address history you need). But to be honest Amex will probably only use the credit report for approval, and will use their own data for the bonus, so if you don’t give them the old name they prob have nothing.

    • Lady London says:

      You mean you are willing to go as far as to get married in order to be able to apply for a new card?
      i shouldn’t think so as most forms ask for maiden name to also be provided if status is married.

  • rams1981 says:

    I just called AMEX and will earn 2 points per £ for next 3 months whilst I decide whether to cancel my Plat and will try slip in a few referrals.

    • Lev441 says:

      I got it for 6 months yesterday….

      • Lev441 says:

        And event then, i’m not really sure I want to keep it much longer. Thinking of cancelling and reapplying for gold or plat business after 6 month wait.

        Can you still refer people from the business cards to personal cards? Have these limits changed at all?

  • rams1981 says:

    the only hotel benefit I enjoy most value from is Hilton Gold and I get that from the legacy Barclaycard Hitlon as spend £10k on it. So all in, not sure if there’s value to keeping my Plat now.

    • Anna says:

      +1 and the only benefits we get exclusively through the Platinum are the car hire insurance and now reduced referral benefits, so struggling to justify the fee now.

      On another note, I used my MR gold at Lidl last week for the £5 off and I’ve not had any acknowledgement and the offer is still showing as saved so looks like that’s yet another one I’ll have to chase Amex for.

      • anttelli says:

        I used 2 Amex offers over the weekend (Lidl and Chef & Brewer) and did not receive emails either. Have to see if any credits appear later in the week.

      • Sanya says:

        Same here, didnt get any email or the credit yet

      • Anna says:

        Which card though? I am finding that offers on the BA cards track immediately but I always have to chase the ones on the MR card.