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American Express Application Rules: Will You Get a Sign-Up Bonus?

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American Express is one of the most restrictive card issuers in terms of application rules.  Not only does Amex limit how many cards you can have and how often you can apply, but it also has restrictions on who qualifies for sign-up bonuses. Let’s take a closer look at these rules and see if you’ll get a bonus with your next card.

How Many Cards Can You Have?

In a previous post we discussed Chase’s recent expansion of the 5/24 rule to all of its cards. In short, you will be turned down for a Chase card if you’ve gotten five or more new credit cards from any issuer within the last 24 months.

American Express, on the other hand, is only concerned with the number of Amex cards you have. It allows a member to have a maximum of four credit cards and four charge cards at one time.

how many cards you have

For those who don’t know, Amex is relatively unique in the world of card issuers because it offers both credit and charge cards. Credit cards limit the total amount you can spend, but also allow you to pay off the debt you’ve accrued over time. It’s still best to pay off your balance every month to avoid interest, but you do have the option to make smaller payments over several months.

A charge card, on the other hand, has no spending limits, but it is designed to be paid in full every month. While Amex does offer extended payment plans to some customers with charge cards, you’ll typically incur hefty penalties and fees if you don’t pay off your monthly balance.

If you’re someone who’s stays on top of their credit card debt and always pays off their monthly balance in full, then the differences between charge and credit cards probably won’t matter to you.

Though there are several other cards issued by Amex, these are some of the more popular rewards cards broken down by type:

Credit CardsCharge Cards
Amex EveryDayAmex Premier Rewards Gold
Amex EveryDay PreferredAmex Gold
Starwood Preferred Guest (business and personal)Amex Green
Gold Delta SkyMiles (business and personal)Amex Platinum (business and personal)
Platinum Delta SkyMiles (business and personal)Amex Business Gold Rewards
Delta Reserve (business and personal)Amex Business Green Rewards

There are few exceptions to the eight card limit. If Amex is not the issuer, then the card does not count toward the total number of cards you can have. While it’s true that American Express is almost always both the issuer and payment processor on its cards, there are a few banks that use Amex as its processor, as is the case for the Bank of America Asiana Airlines card.

If you’re an authorized user on someone else’s Amex account, then that also does not count towards the total. Unfortunately, business cards are no longer exempt from the rule. Until a few years ago, business cards did not count, but they do now.

There are limits on how often you can apply for cards, too. You can get a maximum of two credit cards in a three-month period, and you can apply for only one card a day. There are technically no limits on how often you can apply for charge cards, but some users have reported running into the same restrictions that apply to credit cards.

The Sign-Up Bonus

American Express has introduced several rules to stop card churning.

First, you typically get only one bonus for all cards that are in the same family or lineup. If, for example, you already have a Delta Gold card, you won’t get a sign-up bonus if you switch or add a Delta Platinum or Reserve card to your wallet. But if you get a Starwood Preferred Guest or Amex Everyday card, you should be OK.

Charge and credit cards are considered separately when it comes to sign-up bonuses. For example, you can get the bonus for both the EveryDay Preferred card and Premier Rewards Gold card even though they are both a part of the Membership Rewards lineup. That’s because EveryDay is a credit card and Premier Rewards Gold is a charge card.

Another important restriction to keep in mind is that you cannot get a sign-up bonus if you’ve gotten a new Amex card within 90 days of your application. While you can apply for two cards within a three month period, you probably won’t want to because you won’t get bonuses for both cards.

Thankfully, as with the maximum card limit, being an authorized user on another person’s account does not affect your eligibility to get a sign-up bonus.

The Once Per Lifetime Rule

Another way Amex has tried to limit card churn is with the once per lifetime rule. It states that you can only get one sign-up bonus per card even if you cancel it and reapply for it later. So you’ll get that 25,000-point bonus from the Amex Premier Rewards Gold only once, no matter how many times you cancel and reapply.

Once in a lifetime

There is one caveat to this rule. If you cancel a card and reapply later when the sign-up bonus is bigger, Amex might grant you the difference between the bonuses. For example, if you got a 40,000-point bonus for a Platinum card, cancelled it, and then reapplied when there was a 100,000-point bonus, you might be able to get the difference of 60,000 points. Be sure to call Amex first to confirm that this rule applies to your situation before getting the new card.

Final Thoughts

Navigating these rules can be time consuming and difficult. But it’s worth the effort because applying for a new card and getting a big sign-up bonus is still the best way to quickly boost your points or miles.

Keep in mind that application rules change often, and they can be convoluted and confusing. If you’re thinking about getting another card and you’re not sure if you qualify for the sign-up bonus, it’s always a good idea to call American Express before applying.

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