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Why Am I Not Eligible For an Amex Welcome Offer?

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Whether you've got a big purchase coming up or you've been eyeing a specific credit card for its travel perks and benefits, getting a welcome offer makes adding a new card to your wallet all the sweeter. But to earn that new card bonus, you'll first need to ensure you qualify.

Each bank has its own rules for determining who is (or isn't) eligible for a new card offer. But to its credit, no bank is more transparent as to whether or not you'll be eligible for a bonus than American Express. Thanks to its “Apply With Confidence” tool, you'll know before submitting your application and initiating a credit pull whether or not you're able to receive that big welcome offer.

So why might you not be eligible? There are a couple of reasons – the most likely of which is that you've previously had the card and earned a welcome bonus. Another reason could be that you've earned too many other welcome offers from Amex in the recent past. It really just boils down to the bank wanting to reward profitable customers with a welcome offer, instead of those seeking a big bonus … time and time again.

Despite its transparency, there is still plenty of nuance that goes into determining Amex welcome offer eligibility … and how to get around it.

Let's take a closer look at some of the reasons you might not be eligible for that big welcome offer and what you can do to fix it.

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Amex Once Per Lifetime Rule

The first and most common reason you'd be ineligible for a new card welcome offer from Amex is that you've already had the card. You see, Amex has specific language written into the offer terms of nearly all its credit cards that restrict new cardmembers to earning a new card welcome offer once per lifetime on each and every one of their cards – with a few exceptions.

For instance, looking at the offer terms for the *Hilton Surpass* you can see that the offer terms specifically state, “You may not be eligible to receive a welcome offer if you have or have had this card or previous versions of this Card or the Hilton Honors Amex Ascend Card.” In this case, if you've ever had the Surpass Card, you'd be ineligible to earn the bonus offer again.


Amex Offer Terms


Critically, this language doesn't rule out applicants who've had other co-branded Hilton Cards like the *hilton honors card* or the *hilton honors business card*. But that isn't always the case.

Amex recently added language to its Delta SkyMiles co-branded portfolio of cards making it harder to earn a new card welcome offer. If you start at the bottom with the no annual fee *delta blue* and systematically work your way up to the top-tier *delta reserve card* you won't have any issues. But if you do it the other way around, or start somewhere in the middle, you'll be limited to only earning one or two welcome offers on any of the Delta cards. So far, this added restriction only applies to Delta cards and is a likely result of overarching changes to the SkyMiles program.

So what do you do if you really want to get an Amex card for a second time?

You've got a couple of options: You can forgo the welcome offer altogether and pick up the card for the perks and benefits alone – or you can look for a “no lifetime language” offer. These no lifetime language offers pop up from time to time and lack the specific verbiage that restricts prior cardholders from earning a welcome offer.

At the time of publication, there's an alternative offer for the Hilton Surpass Card (mentioned above) that comes with an identical bonus – but critically, it's missing the terms that restrict getting a bonus twice.


Hilton Surpass No Lifetime Language Offer


These offers are never meant to be public, so you won't find them directly on Amex's site. Your best bet for finding them is within a targeted mailer from the bank, a promotional email, or in the various points and miles forums and message boards.

Thrifty Tip: If you're applying for one of these “no lifetime language” offers, it's a good idea to screenshot or save the exact terms of the offer in case you run into an issue getting your bonus upon meeting the spending requirement.

Finally, if you're patient, it actually is possible to get approved and earn a welcome offer on an Amex card for a second time. It seems Amex “forgets” that you've previously had one of their cards after seven years. That sever-year mark is kind of a magic number when it comes to credit, as it's the same time limit that negative items like missed payments, outstanding debt, and Chapter 13 bankruptcies can be listed on your credit report. In this case, though, if it's been more than seven years since you've had a particular Amex card – not seven years since you opened it – it opens the door to earning another welcome offer.

Read next: Credit Card Application Rules, Bank by Bank


Amex Pop-up Jail

If you find yourself applying for a new Amex card and are told you're ineligible for the welcome offer despite never having the card before, you're likely in what's known as “Amex pop-up jail” – or “PUJ” as some call it. 

What is Amex pop-up jail, you ask?

You can think of it as more of a county detention center than a federal supermax prison. Amex pop-up jail is the dreaded box that appears on your screen when applying for an Amex credit card, alerting you that if you proceed with the application, you won't be eligible to receive the new card welcome offer.


Amex pop-up jail


It's not entirely clear what infractions lead to a sentence in pop-up jail, but it's most likely a combination of earning several new card welcome offers in short order and subsequently not using the cards beyond their initial spending requirement. If you frequently apply for new Amex cards and then ditch them after the bonus is earned, this is the quickest way to get yourself into lock up.

Why Amex does this is pretty clear: They're looking for customers who are going to stick around and use their cards for the long haul. There is a lot of competition between the banks when it comes to acquiring and retaining customers – which is the primary reason we see such large welcome offers to begin with – and they're quick to weed out anyone trying to take advantage of the system.

While other banks have put limits in place for how often you can open cards and earn bonuses, Amex has focused on only rewarding profitable customers with new card offers. If you're in pop-up jail, it likely means Amex doesn't currently view you as a “good” customer.


How to Get Out of Amex Pop-up Jail

Just like we don't know the exact formula for getting yourself into Amex pop-up jail, we also don't know exactly what it takes to get out. But similar to real jail, good behavior can go a long way to securing an early release.

Since it's clear Amex only wants to reward valuable (profitable) customers with a big bonus, it makes sense to try and convince them that you fit that mold. The best way you can do so is by using their products, or to put it another way – spending on their cards. While we typically recommend using a card that earns bonus points for spending in a given category, like the *amex gold card* which earns 4x Membership Rewards points on dining and U.S. supermarket purchases (up to $25,000 each year), this is the exception to that rule.


amex gold dining credits


If you're currently in pop-up jail, spending on any and all of your Amex cards can be a great way to show the bank you've changed your ways. Exactly how long you need to do this isn't clear, but setting up a recurring payment for your utilities, car insurance, or cell phone bill can go a long way proving to Amex that you're reformed and plan to use their cards consistently in the future.

Another tip for avoiding the dreaded Amex pop-up is to temporarily stop using referral links from friends and family. I know this probably seems counter-intuitive, as using a friend's referral is a great way to help your travel buddy earn some additional points or miles to along with your new card. But it's also a surefire way to let Amex know that you're primarily interested in the points. We've heard reports of people successfully getting around the pop-up by instead using a link from sites like ours, or even by applying directly with Amex. (And no, I promise this advice isn't just an attempt to get you to use our links.)

You can also try applying for a business card instead. If you're eligible for business cards – and trust us, you just might be – not only are you likely to get a bigger bonus, but you're also more likely to avoid that pesky pop-up.

Finally, if you find yourself in this position, it's best to take things slow. That might mean passing on a few new card welcome offers that you otherwise would have applied for – but in the end, a few missed bonuses aren't worth being on the wrong side of the bank. Especially a bank as lucrative and useful for earning travel rewards as American Express.

Related reading: When is the Right Time to Apply For a New Credit Card


Bottom Line

American Express offers some of the best travel rewards credit cards on the market but unfortunately, getting a welcome offer on a new card is easier said than done for some travelers.

If you find yourself in the dreaded Amex pop-up jail, don't give up hope – there's a way out. With a little patience, a few tricks, and some good behavior, you'll be out on parole in no time.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

7 Responses

  • I have been a Delta Reserve card holder for about 5 years now and an Amex Platinum card holder for about 3, Gold for 21 years before switching to Platinum. We were recently in Salt Lake City and as we’re checking bags, the Delta Rep offers me the Delta Platinum Card. I tell him no thanks, I’ve got the Reserve Card and actually took it out and showed it to him. He says “No problem! You can still get all the benefits of the Platinum Card, the companion ticket, the 50,000 miles etc”. I’m skeptical but he insists that for $350, and just spending $3,000 in 6 months, I’ll get all these benefits. So.. I sign up stupidly. Why not, the companion ticket is worth the $350. I get home, get all the paperwork and the card and just got off the phone with American Express Customer support who will not honor the offers. I feel a bit duped by this Delta Employee, but also by American Express where I feel I have been subject to fraud & deception. I will of course pay the Amex off and have the card cancelled, I’m waiting on a higher level supervisor to call back, but it irks me that this guy just insisted to both my wife & I that 100%, absolutely sure no problem I could get these benefits even after I showed him my Delta Reserve card. Am I just SOL here? I’m certainly insisting on not paying a dime for this stupid card, but I just feel even if this kid (22? 24 years old?) was untrained, that’s not my problem or fault. He sold me something and now, I’m not getting it.

    • Hi Mark, this is a frustrating situation as you were not eligible to earn the welcome bonus and the Delta representative clearly didn’t know that. Back in October, they rolled out a new restriction which blocks Reserve cardholders from getting a welcome bonus on the Platinum. I would keep escalating with American Express, but outside of that, I am not sure what you can do.

  • I was recently approved for the Brilliant AMEX. I just applied for Hilton Aspire. I was approved but was denied the sign up bonus. : / I spent a ton on the credit cards and never carry a balance. Not sure why the offer was not given if they are different cards?

  • I just got the dreaded pop-up jail message. I can’t figure out why. I have only 2 amex cards. The Amex Platinum and Delta Skymiles Gold both open for over 2 years. I hardly ever use the Delta Gold, but I use the Amex Platinum all the time with big spends. I have never missed a payment, never closed any Amex accounts and I have exceptional credit in the 833 range. Can I call them to see why or reconsider?

  • I never abused welcome offers and Amex still has me in pop up jail. I frequently receive emails from Amex encouraging me to apply for various cards but, upon application, the dreaded popup occurs denying the welcome offer if I proceed. My credit score is above 800 and I’ve never been late with a payment. I have no issue getting credit with other banks. I wonder if a CFPB complaint would stop this nonsense?

  • I have been an active Amex business cardholder, super active in spending in fact. But I have let my personal card (I only have 1, the Amex Aspire) go dormant with spend. I applied for the personal green card and learned I was in popup jail. I have had the Hilton card for many years. And it’s the only personal card I have, the rest are business. All my spend is on the business cards. It seems if you are applying for a personal card, if you are an existing Amex personal cardholder customer, they want to see that you are spending on their personal cards. If you are otherwise a good customer and spending on their business cards, but are shooting for a new personal card, you might learn you are in popup jail but for the personal side only. I think an interesting experiment for me to do now is to apply for a new business card that I’ve never had before like the business platinum. And see if I’m in popup jail for the business cards. I doubt it, I’m willing to bet there are two types of popup jail, 1 for the personal cards and 1 for the business cards. And you can be in one or the other, or both. But being that I’m such an active business card spender, I doubt I am in popup jail for the business side.

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