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Amex Puts Credit Card Churners on Notice with More Bonus Restrictions

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Earning a big welcome offer on an Amex cards used to be pretty straightforward: You were eligible to earn a big bonus on every Amex card exactly once. But American Express keeps adding different rules and restrictions designed to clamp down on travelers hopping from one big bonus to the next … including a brand-new warning on its suite of Delta SkyMiles Cards.

Overnight, American Express added cautionary language to the terms and conditions for all the personal Delta SkyMiles cards – from the no-annual-fee *delta blue* up to the *delta reserve card* – that explicitly spell out when they might revoke a big welcome bonus. Namely, cardholders with a history of canceling (or downgrading) Amex cards within a year of opening them are being targeted to have their bonuses withheld … or clawed back.

delta card terms 

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Canceling or downgrading a card after earning a bonus is a go-to move among travelers focused on earning points and miles – a way to keep that bonus without paying another year's annual fee. But as banks like Amex try to crack down on consumers cycling through credit cards just to earn bonuses, Amex is now specifically calling that out.

This isn't a massive change in direction on Amex's part, to be clear. Many banks have long frowned upon canceling cards within the first year and occasionally revoked a big bonus. And for years, Amex has included fairly vague language that they may claw back bonus points “determine that you have engaged in abuse, misuse, or gaming in connection with this offer in any way or that you intend to do so” – and specifically called out canceling or downgrading a card within the first year.

But with this addition to Delta cards, it's clear that they're ratcheting up attention on consumers repeatedly opening and dumping cards.

We haven't yet seen similar language spread to other American Express cards like the bank's own cards like the *amex platinum*, other co-branded cards with Hilton and Marriott, or even small business Delta credit cards. But it's likely only a matter of time before these new cautionary terms spread to all of them.

Delta pay with miles 

That's what happened last year, when Amex began rolling out new restrictions that limit how cardholders can earn additional welcome bonuses within the same “family” of Amex cards. Those new terms first popped up on the suite of Delta SkyMiles cards before quickly spreading to Membership Rewards earning cards and other co-branded lineups. Now, with practically any Amex card, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up to earn multiple bonuses.

As Americans have piled up record numbers of points and miles coming out of the pandemic, American Express has been rolling out more and more new restrictions and language to stop travelers from racking up bonus after bonus.

One thing I've long appreciated about Amex is its “Apply With Confidence” feature, which lets you know whether you can earn a bonus before submitting your application. But as the bank began to crack down, more and more applicants who otherwise should be eligible to earn that bonus are now getting a pop-up saying “no bonus for you.”

Amex pop-up jail 

Now, Amex may not only turn travelers down for a bonus on a new card application based on their history with the bank. With these new terms spelled out, Amex has more avenues to deny or claw back points – even if you get past the dreaded pop-up.

On one hand, I get it. Amex is trying to weed out customers that simply sign up for a new card to earn a big welcome bonus and then cancel soon after. But on the other hand, there are people out there that do sign up for cards with good intentions – yes, partially influenced by a big bonus – whose circumstances change.

Whether they're laid off from a job, a family member gets sick, or they move to a different area, there are lots of legitimate reasons why a Delta SkyMiles credit card might not make sense a year down the road. Amex has made it very clear that they can change card benefits and raise annual fees on a whim. Shouldn't cardmembers have the same right to decide they want to make a change?

Bottom Line

Amex recently added more new language to the terms and conditions of the personal Delta SkyMiles credit cards, making it clear they're targeting consumers who repeatedly open a card, earn a bonus, then cancel or downgrade before paying the annual fee again.

Run afoul of Amex? Your welcome bonus could get clawed back. That's not entirely new, but Amex is certainly ramping up its attention.

While these new terms are only showing on Delta SkyMiles cards, I'd wager it's only a matter of time before we see it spread to other Amex cards as well.


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.

12 Responses

  • It’s always been widely known you shouldn’t cancel or downgrade within the first year. Doesn’t seem like a change to me.

  • Among the miles/points collectors, it has always been known to keep a card for an entire year. Seems like a lot of amateurs not knowing of this rule were canceling before the year was due. The scary part here is that, will they freeze your account if you cancel your card after one year and they reimburse you the AF for the second year?

    After getting many of their cards (Amex and cobranded) for the past 6+ years, I keep getting the popup for the same card. For now, I am guessing I have to wait for the 7 years between signup bonus. What has worked for me is the NLL when applying, but in some cases, I am not eligible for cards with NLL.

    Currently, I am working on a 2 year plan to get under the 5/24 rule and move on to Chase. I should be down to one card by summer 2025.

    Great post Jackson!!

  • That’s why I always cancel or downgrade within the first billing cycle after the year this way you get the annual fee back and don’t get on their popup list (plus you get more time time to use the credits)

  • Yup, cheaters will always cheat and if you ate dishonest, it shows up in different ways. Good fir AMEX!!

  • Might this have anything to do with people realizing Delta cards are pretty worthless after their recent changes? I’ve been debating whether to downgrade my Delta platinum to the cheapest one or cancel altogether. All that card gets me is a free checked bag for a couple hundred a year (and I don’t check bags). Sounds like I’m not the only one that’s done with it. AmEx platinum is a little more expensive but it pays for itself.

  • Co branded cards like the amex Delta cards cant take back miles once they send them to Delta. What do you mean by they can claw back you welcome bonus?

  • This is total BS. Mileage and rewards programs are constantly changing and what made sense today may not make sense a year down the road. I never cancel great cards period, I’ve had my Chase Sapphire Reserve for several years now.

  • One of the world worst bank in American history. Terrible and deceiving Bank. AMEX will approve you for a beautiful card with a very generous high limit. But that’s just to confuse you not for you to use. 95% of new applicants had reported that American Express issued them a credit card, With the high limit, But when Consumer attempt to use the card, the card is blocked with request to call customer service. Once you call customer service Amex ask you to resend them More financial proof and proof of income. Although this supposed to be done before you being approved for?? This is why they check your credit!! But they do not care about the inquiry imposing on your credit they will pull up your credit whenever they want too.

    Stay away and yourself the heartache. They act as if they know what they’re doing, but they do not. There should be no reason for a bank to review your credit report evaluate you you send you a card and then ask you for more papers. It’s almost like fishing. Or different. Since you got the card, you fill Compelled to send them more financial proof. After that, they will remove the block and wait for you next big purchase. As soon as you try to buy something on your card over $1000 will put a block on your card again cause embarrassment at the teller Only for Amex Asking for more papers once again 🤦🏻‍♂️😆😂 Amex is a joke and a money hungry institution. You mean nothing to them. There are much much better banks than them. All their expensive fake cards not worth your time and value.

  • My least favorite credit card company by far! So quick to rake in enormous annual fees, and also so quick to nitpick over minuscule dispute amounts and targeting “churners” like described here. And the card that is “everywhere you want to be” frequently gets turned down on my trips due to exorbitant fees they charge mercahts. CITI is my Ace

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