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Have you been blocked from making American Express referrals?

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Since October, an increasing number of HfP readers have reported that they are being blocked from referring people under the American Express ‘refer a friend’ programme.

Take a look at our forum here.

In their American Express account, they see the message “Your Account is temporarily unable to access the referral programme”. Why is this happening?

American Express blocked from referrals

The bottom line is that no-one knows.

Amex’s T&C restrict the referral programme from anyone whose Amex account is in default but this does not cover the majority of people who are having issues. The only relevant clause in the referral programme terms and conditions is:

Your Card Account’s eligibility to participate in the Referral Programme is based on your overall credit rating and other factors including your Account history with American Express.

Based on this thread in our forum, it seems that – if you call Amex – the staff can see a message about you on their screen but no-one has yet been told exactly what it says. No-one appears to have had the referral ban lifted.

Looking at the reports in our forum (and with the best will in the world, some people are unlikely to publicly admit abuse of the referral programme), it does not seem to be directly linked to:

  • the number of people referred
  • the ‘type’ of people referred (eg whether they are or are not obviously ‘friends and family’, which is a condition of referring people, presumably roughly verified by surname and / or geographic location)

Readers have quoted the following feedback from American Express when questioned:

“We base the eligibility for our referral programme on various factors relating to individual Card Members and their account history. This includes numerous factors affecting the Card Member profile, but we continue to monitor this over time.We automatically check the eligibility of their account at the time of login, as and when their circumstances change. You can start using your card and once circumstances change, you will again get the option to refer”

Blocked from American Express referrals

and

“Your Card Account’s eligibility to participate in the Referral Programme is based on your overall credit rating and other factors including your Account history with American Express. You can start using your card, and once account will be in good standing, our team will automatically review, the option will be available to refer”

and

“I have done a deep check, and I am sorry to know that your refer eligibility is not available as of now. Eligibility is based on these and other factors: account history, bankruptcy, credit rating, lending behaviour, missed payments, participation in internal payment holiday programmes”

My best guess (and it’s only a guess, since Amex is not going to tell us if they are not willing to tell the people involved) is that it is based on the QUALITY of people you refer.

It is very likely that Amex tracks back the profitability of accounts to their original source. This allows them to focus their marketing efforts on places that bring them customers who are valuable over the long term, as opposed to those that deliver lots of sign-ups but who subsequently fail to renew.

It is possible – and this is only a guess – that if you have referred people who have subsequently closed their cards shortly after receiving a sign-up bonus, Amex may have decided that letting you continue to refer people is not a great idea.

I am only surmising, however. I would suspect that your own personal profitability to Amex is also a factor, since it would be sensible to give some leeway to their best customers.

The bottom line is that if you want to retain the ability to refer people to American Express cards, I would recommend that you are careful about who you refer and how they use the card once they have it.


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Comments (122)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Olly says:

    Since becoming ineligible for the new account bonuses, myself and P2 have played the referral hokey-cokey. Only surprise is that it took so long for Amex to recognise this and shut down this very easy opportunity to get easy points.

    • Thywillbedone says:

      I only refer very occasionally – always feel somewhat of a snake oil salesman when trying to explain the airline points/credit card world to the unfamiliar (“you get extra points when you apply using my link, no really, you actually do!” etc) …

      • Thywillbedone says:

        I spoke too soon …seems I’ve been locked out too! Have never referred more than twice year I would say and referrals would be good quality.

    • Travel Strong says:

      P1/P2 referrals have not been ‘shut down’ though, most people who have referred back and forth can still do referrals.
      P1/P2 referrals must be the most common referral of all, and will often be profitable.

  • Phil G says:

    Glad its not just me then.
    If Avios get devalued any more and as reward seats become rarer to find then the fee for amex may become hard to justify anyway

  • Magarathea says:

    Both me and my OHs Amex accounts were blocked from new referrals during November / December. Then, in the last week of 2022, my OH applied for a new BAPP card (with no referral) and as if by magic her Amex account has had the referral system reinstated.

  • NigelthePensionerr says:

    Im sure most readers are aware that credit ratings go up and down for an absolute multitude of reasons and even a small downward swing from very very high score, as a trend, can be enough to put a halt on perceived financial integrity.

    • Andrew. says:

      John Lewis is a popular retailer with the HfP Cohort and this started in October… Just as JLP (HSBC) customers were being hurried to apply for JLP (NewDay) cards ahead of closure on the 31st October?

      There are individuals who are adamant that lenders are unable to see who the existing lenders are on the credit reports. I know that I could when I worked in credit sanctioning.

      Are there any HfP readers out there, who have lost the ability to refer, willing to admit that they, or one of the people they referred, have applied for a new JLP card held with bad credit specialist NewDay?

      • _aDifferentSimon_ says:

        My p2 lost the ability to refer octoberish. THe only credit application was a nationwide mortgage renewal. The only amex p2 has is plat – probably not an amazing customer, 1 referral, happily took the big late 2021 bonus, used the dining credit, HN credit, amex travel credit, thought about cancelling as got turned away from all gatwick north lounges on two holidays and got offered 50k points. On the flip side it renewed in October (and we finally got into plaza premium over christmas!).

      • Tariq says:

        I got the Newday JLP card about 2 months ago and referral is still being actively promoted in my Amex account login.

  • Harry T says:

    Sorry to say that none of the theories espoused in this article apply to me. I haven’t even referred anyone in months. The people I’ve referred have either still got their cards or kept them for quite some time. I honestly think Amex have just ballsed up their IT.

    • Charles Martel says:

      I’m a little perplexed by it too, I’ve made two referrals (ever), one to a friend for a gold and another to my mum for a Nectar. The first may have been cancelled at around a year but the Nectar card is still being used with around £1500 a month going through it – not huge but definitely active.

    • BuildBackBetter says:

      The likely reason is Amex got worried about the rising cost from referrals and blocked most of the customers who received referral bonuses, but also included some who had genuine referrals in the past.

      • Rob says:

        The cost is peanuts compared to what it costs Amex to acquire a customer directly. How many sign-ups do you think they get from a single poster on the tube which costs hundreds per week, or paying five figures for a single press ad? During the 100k Avios promo, Barclays spent £4m just on tube advertising in London. Amex could fund (£40 each as its 5,000 Avios) 100,000 referral bonuses off free BA Amex cards for that money.

        Referrals are an incredibly cheap way of getting customers as long as those customers are of the same quality as those who come direct.

        • JDB says:

          Re your last sentence, Rob, it does seem that a great many people here openly refer in the threads to using a ‘pump and dump’ strategy within their households and may even get a retention before the dump (per your free drink analogy). They can’t make the ideal customer.

          Also, while your customer acquisition cost comments make sense, it doesn’t seem to make sense for Amex to pay repeat referrals/SUBs to exactly the same people via circular referrals every two years or so. It seems right therefore for Amex to add an element of uncertainty when people are considering that strategy.

  • PaulW says:

    +1 blocked. Only noticed after reading this.

  • Andrew J says:

    Sounds like the same logic that Amex apply to offers allocation has bebe applied to this.

  • Go197 says:

    I’m not blocked, and although I’ve only referred family members they’ve never spent much if anything on the cards.

    I don’t understand what Amex mean by this statement on the referral page:

    “While you can’t refer your own product, you can still refer for the new credit Card – The Platinum Card”

    That is nothing but gibberish. Even if you can decipher the meaning, it shouldn’t require deciphering. Suggests to me that some work has been done by inexperienced IT people without sufficient quality control.

    There are other errors including inconsistent capitalisation and use of the registered trademark symbol. I’m with Harry T – I vote for IT balls up.

    • Rob says:

      You have Plat charge. Plat charge is now closes to new applicants, so you can’t refer anyone to it. You can, however, refer to the new Plat credit card. Simplez.

      • Go197 says:

        When it comes to interpreting that statement I’m not sure you really count as an average customer.

        But it would have been much clearer had you written it for them.

    • Andrew J says:

      Made perfect sense to me when I read it.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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