Amex Sign-up Bonus Clawbacks and Hitting Minimum Spend Requirements

Amex Sign-up Bonus Clawbacks and Hitting Minimum Spend Requirements

American Express has been dishing out 100K point sign up bonuses left and right lately, some intentionally and some not. Back in May, some people found a link online for a 100K point sign up bonus on the personal Platinum card which was not supposed to be made public.

Though it was only available for less than a day, word spread quickly and many travel enthusiasts were able to sign up before the link was taken down. Unfortunately, in the months that ensued, many people reported that Amex had frozen their accounts and in some cases clawed back the points from the sign-up bonus. We’ll give you the scoop and tell you how to avoid the problem others ran into. Cardholders would often first encounter an error message when attempting to transfer points out of their account, such as the one below:

A link was available only for several days
Some cardholders got this error message when they attempted to transfer points

As people shared their data points and attempted to find a common thread, it became apparent that Amex was clawing back bonuses for violating the terms and conditions of meeting the minimum spend. Some people engage in behavior such as making large purchases to exceed the minimum spending requirement, then returning the items after the points have posted. While this sort of thing is clearly not permitted, other people report having bonuses clawed back for much less nefarious behavior such as standard manufactured spending techniques.

The most popular form of manufactured spending is buying Visa or Mastercard gift cards and liquidating them via purchases of money orders, bill pays, etc. Amex’s terms and conditions state that certain transactions will not count toward minimum spend including “… purchases or reloading of prepaid cards; or purchases of other cash equivalents.”

There is widespread disagreement about exactly what behavior Amex permits since the terms and conditions don’t explicitly exclude gift card purchases. Many people who applied for the Amex 100K offer report engaging in manufactured spending, receiving the points, and never having their accounts frozen. However, there are enough manufactured spending-related reports of accounts being frozen and points being revoked that many people want to “play it safe” when it comes to meeting minimum spending requirements on Amex cards.

This topic is relevant now because there were publicly available links for 100K sign up bonuses on the personal Platinum card in November and there is also currently a standing public offer of 100K points on the enhanced Business Platinum card.

The minimum spending requirement is quite hefty on the Business Platinum card. It is a two tiered bonus – 50K points for $5K in spend and 50K more points for an additional $10K in spend within the first 3 months of card membership. Between the personal and business versions of the card, there are a lot of people out there needing to spend a lot of money to meet their minimum spending thresholds. Many people are being extra cautious with how they meet the minimum spend considering Amex’s recent actions, and would prefer not to use anything that Amex may view as a violation of the terms and conditions.

Meeting High Minimum Spending Requirements without Manufactured Spending

Here are a variety of ways to meet minimum spending requirements without using any prepaid cards or other things that may be considered cash equivalents by Amex.

1. Pay Federal Taxes with a Credit Card

Paying taxes with a credit card often incurs high fees
Paying taxes with a credit card often incurs high fees

Tax season is just around the corner, so if you have a large tax bill that you must pay in April, paying it a few months early could be an easy way to meet a minimum spending requirement. Thankfully, the Federal government accepts tax payments via credit card. You can pay “estimated” taxes in advance, and get a refund for the difference if your actual tax liability ends up being lower than the amount paid. Fees range from 1.87% to 2.25% depending on the payment processor.

2. Invest in Kiva Loans

Kiva is an organization that makes micro-loans to be people in third world countries to help fund small business ventures. Kiva allows you make loans with a credit card for no fee. However, this method does come with other potential costs. Kiva loans have an average default rate of slightly less than 1% which can be considered the cost of this form of spending. To reduce your risk, invest in a diversified portfolio of small loans rather than a small number of large loans. Also, loans take several months to be paid back, so this method will require you to float funds (the payment structure varies from loan to loan, so read carefully before investing).

3. Fund Daily Fantasy Sports Accounts

Websites such as Fanduel.com allow you to fund your account with a credit card for free and receive payouts via PayPal. This is a quick and free way to meet minimum spend requirements. However, the amount of spend you can accomplish via this method isn’t very high because if you use this technique repeatedly without playing the games, your account will likely be shut down.

4. Pay Bills Using Plastiq

You can pay your bills like mortgage and car payments at Plastiq.com using your credit card
You can pay your bills like mortgage and car payments at Plastiq.com using your credit card

Plastiq.com is a website that allows you to pay bills that you couldn’t normally pay directly with a credit card, such as mortgages or other loans. Plastiq charges your credit card and then sends the payment, either by ACH or physical check to the account you specify. If they payee is in their database it will be sent via ACH, otherwise they will mail a physical check. This method is even better through the end of the year because Plastiq qualifies for Amex’s 2x rewards small business promotion. (Plastiq informs us on their blog that they have received confirmation directly from Amex that they are an eligible merchant). Plastiq charges a 2.5% fee for all credit card payments. Make sure the points you earn outweigh the fees you incur. Also, note that if Plastiq sends a physical check to your payee, it will likely take at least a week for the funds to arrive. We recommend giving yourself a buffer of at least 2 weeks to ensure the payment arrives on time and no late fees are incurred.