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. Jimbob says:

    Think this game may be nearly over for me. It’s going to be difficult to generate enough Avios simply through spending to make good use of Amex ba 2 for 1 voucher, add that to the “taxes” on redemption seats, might just be the nail in the coffin

    • I agree, sort of. I don’t really see the value in long haul redemption even with a 241 now. The only places you can be relatively sure you can get to across a range of dates are the west coast and Saudi. The west coast costs £1,337 in taxes, plus £190 for the 241. The value of the avios is maybe another £500 at least, assuming you can generate them. So a hard way to get a £1k ticket to new York with BA. And if you are in CW, you still need to be silver or pay for seat reservation.

      Cheap cash fares are the way forward for me, but avios will still be awesome for RFS. The game changes, it doesn’t die.

      I’m not bitter though. People churning Amex signups, allied to interchange capping was always going to kill it. And I can’t really complain about BA either-I have no right to fly at the front of the plane for pennies. I have no loyalty to them (indeed given the choice I used to avoid them where possible), so even though I do think their surcharge is a scandal we were never supposed to be friends anyway.

  2. Despite what others are saying, I CAN still get a cross referral working easily using safari in my iPad (haven’t tried others).

  3. Damn, very annoying about drop in referral bonus on Plat – been holding off to let credit score recover before doing any new self-referrals!

  4. Is the Green to plat upgrade for 20k still available?

  5. Quick data point as I thought I saw a question earlier but can’t find it again now. Appears bonus for adding first supplementary card is still working ok, I added a first supp to my brand new (< 1 week old) Plat this morning and 5k MR already showing. Now to see if the 20k for upgrading from Green is as effective!

  6. Julian says:

    Your council took Amex to pay your Council Tax bill???? Which council was that exactly? Can’t think of many that would apart from Kensington & Chelsea or Westminster.

    Suspect both are unlikely so I imagine you used Billhop as outlined at http://www.headforpoints.com/2019/03/15/using-billhop-in-uk/

  7. Does green to plat bonus apply if someone has held a plat in the last 2 years?

  8. The Urbanite says:

    You all might want to check your credit limits. I’ve had about 5% shaved off mine but a friend reports his being slashed by 60%!

  9. Julian says:

    I think it was very necessary for Amex to stop paying the introductory bonuses for those who constantly churned their various different cards but I can’t see why they are both halving the introductory bonus and increasing by 50% the spend required on Preferred Rewards Gold for genuine new direct Amex cardholders. This includes myself as someone who’s Lloyds Rewards Amex must be disappearing in the next few months (still no letter notifying me of this and the card is valid until the end of August this year) and who has to decide between either going for the Preferred Rewards Gold card or the BAPP card.

    Clearly there has been a severe backlash by Amex against excessive and abusive churning by not new Amex customers (that it has to be said this website was at the forefront of encouraging and constantly promoting) that is quite understandable but I think the extent of the backlash may have gone too far. I think all they needed to do was to cut the signup bonuses for people who had held an Amex before and people who self referred but not for genuine new holders of their cards. Also increasing the minimum spend to £3,000 in the first 3 months does look especially offputting and with many people might only be achieved through the use of Billhop as outlined at https://www.headforpoints.com/2019/03/15/using-billhop-in-uk/

    I also wonder if Rob is now beginning to wish he had sold HfP on to a larger player in the money products field for a sizeable sum before The Fat Lady started to sing on the world of Amex introductory card bonuses………….

    • It could have the opposite effect. With lazy points and miles such as amex becoming increasingly difficult to come by, page views might increase as people become more proactive in their search for miles and points. There’s always something new around the corner such as IB 90k last year abd Tesco mobile so far this year. On top of that there is also the opportunity to shift emphasis further towards deals and offers from miles and points. Plenty of life left in HFP and other blogs.

      • It's a rat says:

        I’m not sure airlines will be just failing over themselves to repeat the ‘success’ of last years 90k Iberia giveaway. What may well happen is that people used to dining on wagu will end up so hungry they’ll view a passing rat as a good meal.

    • Amex isn’t that fat that we all need to run tippy toe around her. BJ’s got it right (as usual).

    • Optimus Prime says:

      Rob has never encouraged churning (or at least I don’t recall him doing so in the 2 years since I found out this site). His readers have (myself included).

      MSE is the site with an article detailing churning. I guess the couple from that story needs a new strategy for their annual Christmas trip to Hawaii….

      • +1

      • Nonsense. Also Julian is on to something – you guys need to stop drinking the Kool Aid.

      • Julian says:

        I could have sworn that Rob has published endless articles telling us how you can cancel your Amex card just as soon as you have achieved the spend to earn the signup bonus and then request a Pro Rata refund and then apply for another different Amex card that you can earn the signup bonus on. He has even actively directed us towards relatively obscure hotel group issued Amex cards as part of that overall strategy of cycling Amex cards and even with the new tougher rules has suggested how we can still continue to cycle Amex cards and earn initial signup bonuses but on a less frequent basis.

        Personally I think Amex would be quite within their rights to reclaim the membership rewards signup bonus from any customer who does not complete at least the first card year with them as clearly the signup bonus is intended to bring in a new customer for at least one year and no doubt ideally five or ten years. Customers who churn earlier are clearly not profit making for the business and are effectively compromising Amex’s ability to pay a better membership rewards rate (eg 1.5 points per pound rather than only 1 point) to long term loyal customers.

        • No we haven’t. We mention the pro-rata refund as a feature in our main card reviews but that is it.

          There is literally one article a year, comparing the most generous sign-up bonuses, where we do the maths based on you cancelling after 3 months. That is 1 article out of 1,100.

          You confuse what is in the comments (and, admittedly, written by me in the comments) compared to what is in the articles.

    • Peter K says:

      It’s frustrating when the changes affect your own personal goals, isn’t it Julian.

      • I’m amazed AMEX didn’t consult Jules before making this decision, surely an oversight on their part?

        • You’re like a bunch of school girls. What on earth are you going to do when the emperor is showing to have no clothes! Amex has no love for the UK, there isn’t any exciting news coming (apart form a price hike on the annual fee); just a naff looking sparkly card, patchy acceptance (despite being in the UK for nearly 60 years) and mediocre insurance. Enjoy your points while they’re still worth something!

  10. DavidK says:

    Oh dear. I put around 12-15k a year through my cards so not a great deal. This combined with the end of card churning has probably killed this as a hobby for me.

    I have around 100k Avios and a voucher to spend and after that I think I am probably done.

    I hope there isn’t too much of an effect on visitors to HFP but I suspect there will be. Sorry Rob.

    Cant blame AMEX for all these changes really, their hand has been forced by the EU! Booooo!

    • At that level of spendn the IHG premium card could be a good fit for you with the free night being worth £hundreds if used wisely.

      • DavidK says:

        Thanks BJ I shall take a look, it would just been a plain old cashback card if not.

        • zig you go with the cashback card stick with amex to take advantage of offers. Not being contended they tend to get loaded with most offers going. Or, have one of each and push most spend through IHG With nominal amounts through amex which you can keep largely for the offers.

    • Mary Berry says:

      FFS the EU wide changes were UK government driven. Get educated.

  11. Sort of on-topic: I’ve been interested in the Green Card recently as I’m about to buy (get a mortgage) on my first house and need to refurbish it from the ground, and feel the one-year extended warranty will come in handy (neither Gold, nor Plat, have this). Has anyone got any experience in claiming on it?

    • Furnish, not refurbish! Although I’ll probably be doing both

    • IF you qualify, the extended warranty on the standard HSBC Premier credit card is far better. Includes accidental damage as well.

  12. 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.

    • 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.

        • 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.

    • 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.

  13. 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?

  14. 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.

      • 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. .

      • 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.

    • Anon,
      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.

  15. 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?

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.