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Amex Bonus Clawbacks
We are living in a new miles & points world and one that is vastly different than it was even one year ago. While that means a ton of different things, my main takeaway is that we can have absolutely no certainty that things will continue a certain way. For example, we can’t say X bank has never enforced rule Y so it will never happen. Case and point Amex.
The Phantom Menace Offer
Awhile back a link for a 100,000 point bonus offer on the personal American Express Platinum card surfaced. This offer wasn’t too out of the ordinary considering we have seen offers of that magnitude go public before. Unfortunately, it brought the wrath of Amex upon anyone who applied. The offer was supposed to be targeted and Amex didn’t like that people took advantage of it.
First, American Express decided to freeze Membership Rewards accounts of most people who got the card. They logged in one day and simply couldn’t use their points. The process of getting the points unfrozen was sometimes complicated, but I believe almost everyone was successful in getting use of their points again. Or at least temporarily.
Giveth & Taketh Away
American Express has recently started taking back points from people who they think MSed to meet the minimum spend on this offer. Of course banks can’t simply take back a bonus, there are laws to protect against that. Well, there are laws if you aren’t in violation of the terms, but MSing is a clear violation. The fine print on every Amex bonus offer clearly states that the purchase of cash equivalents does not count towards the minimum spend for a bonus. Specifically they say:
The following charges do NOT count towards the Threshold Amount: fees or interest charges; balance transfers; cash advances; purchases of travelers checks; purchases or reloading of prepaid cards; or purchases of other cash equivalents.
So Amex is looking at these accounts and determining if any cash equivalents were used in meeting the spend. If so, they disqualify the purchases and claw back the points. What if you already transferred the points out to a travel partner? Well you aren’t off the hook either. Apparently Amex will just make your account balance negative.
Will This Spread Beyond the Platinum 100K?
Right now I am only aware of American Express enforcing this language on the Platinum 100K offer, but that doesn’t mean they won’t stop doing it for other offers/people. The worst part is they disqualify your spend after the period is over so you have no way to get the bonus via normal spend. In other words, you lose.
At this point I have to assume that American Express will be enforcing their language as written in the terms more widely and thus will be working hard to meet my spends through legitimate spend. Remember, merchant gift cards and merchandise that is re-sold is all legitimate spend under the terms. Only cash equivalents such as Mastercard/Visa gift cards and reloadables should disqualify you. (Although some say Amex is loosely interpreting cash equivalents and is including many things in that category that probably shouldn’t be.)
Just when we settle into an observation that this rule or that one isn’t enforced, the banks keep us on our toes. It is now more important than ever to understand your requirements as a customer, to read the fine print and to make sure you have dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s. If not, you could be bonusless like so many.
You can find more information about this whole fiasco over on Reddit and Travel Hacking 101. Did you have your points frozen or clawed back? Are you fighting Amex? What are your thoughts about this? Let us know in the comments!
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