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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  1. I wonder if my referral from Platinum to Green, then upgrading Green to Platinum scheme will still work.

    Damn. They really are closing in on us.

  2. Tilly71 says:

    Phew, just missed the cuts by a week. Referral bonus added and 22k points for bonus plus 3k on supplementary card.

  3. Freddy says:

    These comments always remind me of a late night crowded pub, everyone saying something but no-one listens, people repeating themselves, someone crying in the corner, someone marching out the door “never to return”.

  4. Can you still get the referral bonus if you have yourself and the person you are referring had an AMEX card in the last 2 years? I get they will not get a sign up bonus but so you still get one for referring?

  5. Ralphy says:

    There is no “starter card” for Avios collecting. If the party wasn’t over before for non-flyer Avios collectors it well and truly is now.

    I have circa 150,000 Avios and my last 2-4-1 that expires next May and then I’m done.

    Took my first flight at the pointy-end of the plane six years ago and have had at least one and often two Club or First flights a year for both myself and my wife.

    And there have been some amazing and frankly, sometimes, crazy, points collecting opportunities. Gift cards, subscriptions, printer cartridges and the recent Iberia promo. Those are thin on the ground too now although I’m sure the occasional offer will materialise, it won’t be enough now.

    It has been amazing and thanks again to Rob.

    Ps O/T how are people getting on with the Tesco SIM card and rocket pack, I haven’t done this yet?

    • Doug M says:

      I’ve done two on the same Clubcard number. Points from first have posted, await the second lot, but I did get a confirmation text. Uncertain as to whether you can do additional ones on other clubcard numbers on same account, I thought not.

  6. Andrew says:

    And why does SPG card still exist???

    • Doug M says:

      Because there’s an existing contract. It’s unlikely to continue in the longer term.

      • Freddy says:

        When the SPG is withdrawn is probably when I’ll call it a day. Good earning rate with good availability for redemptions with a okay fee attached

    • SPG is a great card – most of my regular spend goes on it rather than the gold.

      • Mr. AC says:

        Would you mind expanding on why that is? Isn’t the earning rate lower once you account for the 15k spend bonus on the Gold (assuming that stays)?

        • Shoestring says:

          Because of Marriott Bonvoy points

        • Freddy says:

          Depends on where you will be transferring the MR points. £15k on the SPG would give 45000 SPG points.

          If you transferred 25000 MR points to SPG at 2:3 you’d be getting 37500 points.

        • Michael says:

          Mr AC – Marriot bonvoy points are a very fluid currency (thin it transfers into 40+ different schemes) more than membership rewards anyway. I’m on a mission to fly Lufthansa First Class and I can convert bonvoy to Asiana miles which makes for the best value redemption.

        • Freddy says:

          Don’t forget the bonus 5000 points when transferring 60000 points to airlines. Works out at 1.25 points per £

        • Once I’d faffed around hitting the minimum spend on other cards, I wasn’t 100% certain I’d hit the £15k on Gold, although I would have done. 3 marriot points per £1
          Besides, just at the moment my preference is for hotel redemptions anyway.
          I live 200 miles away from Heathrow and I’d rather have 3 or 4 hotel nights a year on european city breaks than use airmiles for a big F or J flight every 2 years.

    • Existing contract, I assume.

  7. Are Amex trialing a new business model where they see how much they can irritate their customer base while still surviving?

    • We are the least profitable customers for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re net loss, all things considered.

      According to the booklet about Platinum benefits and value that I recently received, average Platinum cardmember charges £30k a year on their Platinum.

      Average HFP reader is charging £0 a year on the Platinum and keeping it only for lounge access, insurance and referral bonuses.

      • Though it’s a bit strange that they are choking the Gold card. You’d guess that they want to migrate all of their SPGs and BAs to Gold/Platinum, because they lose money on BA and SPG cards every time someone uses them.

      • Don’t agree. Most hfp ;it do put a lot of spend through amex. Most of our annual spend goes on amex. Double dipping with Tesco etc. So, amex do gain spend.

        • Oh we do put a lot of spend on Amex. Just not on the Platinum card.

        • Mr. AC says:

          What is this double dipping with Tesco you are referring to? Isn’t the Tesco Pay + Tesco debit card strictly better for Tesco spend than anything else?

      • Pretty sure £450 more than covers that.

    • Doug M says:

      I imagine they’ve decided to stop buying unprofitable customers. Smaller customer base, but based around ones they’re making money from. I’m semi-retired but still most of my spend relates to work, once it’s just personal spend I’ll have to settle on a reduced number of cards. At present I favour SPG but unlikely that lasts too long. Maybe just stick long term with the paid IHG card. Avios good for short haul, but I earn plenty from my long haul flights to sustain earning. Prefer cash fares on ex-EU at opportune times for maintaining BAEC status which in turn generates lots of extra Avios from flights. I value the lounge access, extra availability, and other benefits from cash fares over long haul redemptions where the tax is 60% to 80% of what I’ve been paying for ex-EU to USA destinations.

  8. Comeflywithv says:

    Just noticed you can no longer cross refer from the BA referral link. I was going to use my link to get a Platinum card, it now only allows the BA blue or black. Does anyone know what cards you can get from the Gold card now?

  9. Volker says:

    I have got a funny feeling that the next thing on AMEX’ cost cutting agenda will be significant changes to the transfer rates of MR points into Airline miles etc.

    • Trevor says:

      Agreed. I may just transfer some over today….

    • Doug M says:

      That would seriously test their worth to long term spenders. Interesting to hear Rob’s thoughts on this. He said yesterday he’d never seen a devaluation.

      • Trevor says:

        Also I note:
        “Our Shop with Points at redemption option is currently unavailable until further notice. Our Customer Service team are also only able to provide a limited service. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.”

      • guesswho2000 says:

        It’s happened in Australia, as of yesterday, 1:1 is now 2:1 MR to Airline miles

  10. On the website, the changes for Amex gold sign up bonus and £3k over 3 months have changed but not the referral bonus.

    • Has on my account. Now says something like “Refer someone to a gold card and receive 6000 MR points”

    • Michael says:

      They had notice though. They also doubled most of the accounts so you had the value you had originally.

  11. Also looks like the 10,000 annual points bonus for a £15k spend has gone

    Any news on this element Rob

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