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

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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.

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.

(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. mark heath says:

    People commenting above about Amex loosing customers etc… Do u not think they have thought this through? Obviously they were loosing money its pretty simple math to work out.
    The net figure must of been a loss once all points were paid out so the gravy train has been halted.

    • Crafty says:

      It is, however, confusing timing given how heavily they have been marketing PRG as a mass market product.

      Typical case of the marketing and commercial departments not being quite joined up.

    • No Mark, we all know much more about running their business than they do !

  2. Glasgirl says:

    Drat. I was planning to get the gold card in June because hitting the 2k target would be doable with travel spend (can’t book til then due to scheduling). Not sure now that i could hit 3k though because I wouldn’t be using it across with the exchange fees :-/

  3. Harvey says:

    People are saying Amex are in the decline however they have had a strong Q1 with more people using their cards and more merchants than ever accepting

    Outside of the pathing progression it’s all calculated

    • That will be because the new rules were only introduced at the back end of Q1 and this now in Q2…

  4. Cutting the referral bonuses for platinum seems a bit counter productive. This is a card with a high annual fee, I can understand cutting gold benefits. Part of the pitch from Amex when I phoned to cancel my Platinum card was that they wanted to reward people holding fee paying cards for longer.
    I decided to keep it for now thinking I could make a bit of value referring my wife for a couple of cards over the coming year. 36000 points wasn’t worth the £450 fee but it makes a dent value rise. Now being 24000 instead I’ll have to seriously think about cancelling.
    The whole point behind the recent changes we were told was to encourage no churning and long term holding of fee paying cards. This doesn’t sound like this move helps this.

    • If they want people to hold the card for longer maybe they should reduce the fee

    • Alex W says:

      +1. I have only kept the Plat card because of the 18k referrals. I struggle to do 4 or 5 referrals per year as it is. Now with a 33% reduction I would only get 48k MRs per year. No amount of lounge visits or car hire insurance can offset the £450 fee for me, so I am cancelling as soon as I’ve done one more referral.

  5. Crazy, I’ve managed to get 4 other people into Amex cards over the last 2 years. They were just about making the spend requirements etc but they’ve all given up now since the 2 year bonus restriction started. Fortunately most had enough miles to make some use out them ; but that said including myself/wife who’ve decided to call it quits as it’s even harder with kids now to get the seats we want, that’s 6 amex customers now lost here (the loss of tesco direct bonuses too was another heavy loss for us)!

    • Six customers who wanted to churn their cards i.e. you probably make no money for Amex? I’m the same as you but I don’t believe Amex will miss me.

  6. Daniel says:

    I’m done with churning. Being without the earnings on an Amex for 24months is not made up for by these bonuses as all.

    So I’m sticking to my steady state strategy, and not worrying about CCs any more.

    Simply will go to:
    Amex: Blue card for no fee and 1 point per pound.
    Non-Amex: Virgin mastercard for 0.75 point per pound.
    Travel spend: Curve (or other) once my zero-fee platinum travel Barclaycard expires in 2021.

    • Daniel says:

      That’s a good point John. Thanks.

    • If you don’t value the ‘features’ of gold / platinum at the annual cost (or need the BAPA voucher) then that makes sense as a long-term hold.

      The expanding relevance of virgin miles does make a duel-programme strategy more attractive to those that just did Avios so far.

    • I have an existing Barclays Platinum and rang them to change. They told me I wasn’t eligible and couldn’t upgrade me. Asked if I could cancel and reapply and they said yes in 6 months. Idiots.

  7. Dominic says:

    I suspect that certain UK ‘deal’ websites are more to blame for such changes than HfP. People on there aim for their bonus, cancel after a month, get a £100 shopping voucher and move on. Not good for business.

  8. StrugglingPointsCollector says:

    “HFP has generally promoted Preferred Rewards Gold as the best ‘starter’ card for someone coming into travel rewards”

    …and you wonder why Amex have made these changes.

    • Michael says:

      If it’s there for the taking it’s there for the taking. You take advantage of it while you can until the fun gets pulled – which it now has.

    • You’re having a laugh. Every Wednesday for the last 5 yesrs, moneysavingexpert has emailed 7 million people encouraging them to get an Amex Gold, cash out for £100 of Amazon vouchers and cancel.

      I am getting slightly bored of repeating this but will do so again. With every partner we have where I have the data, HFP readers are the most likely to take a premium product / spend more / made a bigger initial deposit. For example, the average deposit into the Virgin Money Savings Account – the one that gives miles instead of interest – is £45,000 from HFP resders. We probably have more readers earning £75k than moneysavingexpert.

  9. Neil Donoghue says:

    I literally just got approved for the Amex platinum card last night! Between the generous 18k for referral’s and the insurance policy, I assumed it would be money well spent. Low and behold, we have more cuts. Surely the Amex model should be replicating Australia where the sign up bonus is every 2 years for 100,000 points. Instead we are now seeing Virgin & IHG dominate the market on mastercard products. Madness

  10. Michael says:

    Are there any changes to cross referring for card. I yesterday wanted to make some referrals from platinum, but could only find the gold and platinum cards to refer to under OTHER CARDS too, no longer eg SPG or BA cards etc.I tried with 3 different browsers.

    • Mike G says:

      Exactly the same for me, it’s been broken for about a month now. Do you have quite a new card account?

  11. Frenzie01 says:

    Rob, do you worry that point collecting crase is slowly coming to the end in the UK?

    • It’s not a massive personal concern, no. 80% of our readers travel heavily for work and will keep accumulating miles and will continue to look for guidance on earning more and spending wisely. We will lose a substantial sum from Amex but we have new deals in the pipeline to offset much of this.

      The very worse case scenario for HFP is that it mutates into a funkier version of Business Traveller, and given how profitable that is, it would not be a disaster.

      • Crafty says:

        Funkier?!

      • Any idea how many of them still have travel policies that allow business travel? I’d imagine as more employers clamp down on this the earnings in economy will be worse and lead to fewer people being able to build up sufficient balances now the credit card routes have reduced.

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