Get a refund to your American Express card? Here’s how it impacts your vouchers and bonuses
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A recent email from a reader reminded me that you may not be familiar with how American Express treats refunds when you have a spend target to hit.
The answer is simple: all American Express spend targets are based on NET spend, not GROSS spend. Your spending is adjusted for refunds, irrespective of when the original transaction took place.
The “irrespective of when the original transaction took place” bit is important. Here is an example.
My British Airways American Express Premium Plus membership year runs to late May. I need to spend £10,000 between late May 2022 and late May 2023 to receive my next 2-4-1 Avios companion voucher.
Let’s assume that I am about to receive a £2,000 refund from British Airways for a flight booked in April 2022. Because it was booked in my previous card year, it counted towards my 2021/22 companion voucher.
When this refund turns up, it counts against my target spend for the current year. This means that I will need to spend £12,000 this year – not £10,000 – in order to trigger my 2-4-1 voucher.
It makes no difference that the original purchase took place in my old membership year. Amex deducts the £2,000 from my gross spending in this membership year so, to hit £10,000 of net spend, I now need to hit £12,000 of gross spend.
More obviously, the refund would also count against my £10,000 total spending if the original purchase has taken place in my current membership year.
The identical situation applies if you are working towards any other American Express spend bonuses:
- Any sign-up bonus on any American Express card (see below)
- Up to 12,500 Membership Rewards points for spending up to £25,000 in a year on American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
- 10,000 bonus Membership Rewards points for spending £10,000 in a calendar month on American Express Business Platinum
- Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status for spending £15,000 in a year on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express
- A 25,000 point free night voucher for spending £25,000 in a year on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express
What happens if you trigger an Amex sign-up bonus and then receive a refund?
This is a situation which can create additional problems, unfortunately.
Amex will remove your sign-up bonus if a refund is received which takes your net spending during the (usually three months) bonus period below the bonus threshold.
There are two scenarios here:
- if you are still inside your three month bonus period, you can get the bonus returned by doing additional spending which takes you back over the net spend target
- if you are OUTSIDE your three month bonus period – which can easily happen if you cancel a flight a few months after booking it – you’re stuck. Amex will remove your sign-up bonus and you have no way of getting it back.
This can cause your points balance to become negative. This is very likely in the case of British Airways or Marriott Bonvoy American Express cards, where your sign up bonus has already been transferred. American Express cannot pull back points from British Airways or Marriott. You can easily end up with a points balance of ‘minus 20,000’ in your American Express account which will take a number of years to whittle down to zero through fresh spending.
If a Membership Rewards points bonus is removed, it is likely that the points will still be sitting in your American Express account unless you transferred them to a partner. This means that you won’t drop into a negative balance.
British Airways American Express 2-4-1 companion vouchers are treated differently
This situation does not apply to 2-4-1 vouchers on British Airways American Express cards. If you have triggered your voucher for the current card year and subsequently receive a refund, the voucher is NOT removed from your BA account.
Does this apply to other card issuers too?
I don’t know, unfortunately. It will vary on a case by case basis, but you should assume any award is based on net spend and not gross spend.
This would include:
- A free night for spending £10,000 in a year on the IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard (no longer available to new applicants)
- 40,000 HSBC points for spending £12,000 in your first year of holding the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard
- An upgrade or 2-4-1 voucher for spending £20,000 in a year on the Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard
- An upgrade or 2-4-1 voucher for spending £10,000 in a year on the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard
Want to earn more points from credit cards? – April 2023 update
If you are looking to apply for a new credit card, here are our top recommendations based on the current sign-up bonuses.
In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.
You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:
Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard
25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £10,000 Read our full review
Barclaycard Avios Mastercard
5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review
You can see our full directory of all UK cards which earn airline or hotel points here. Here are the best of the other deals currently available.
British Airways American Express Premium Plus
25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
30,000 points and unbeatable travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard
15,000 points bonus and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend 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 offers:
American Express Business Platinum
40,000 points bonus and a £200 Amex Travel credit every year Read our full review
American Express Business Gold
20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review
British Airways Accelerating Business American Express
30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review
Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa
Get a 10,000 points bonus plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review
For a non-American Express option, we also recommend the Barclaycard Select Cashback card for sole traders and small businesses. It is FREE and you receive 1% cashback on your spending.