Caution: Why You Should Probably Be More Careful with Spending & Amex Bonuses (Clawbacks & Frozen Accounts)

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amex bonuses manufactured spending

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.)

Conclusion

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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76 COMMENTS

  1. So, if you have a negative balance because of clawbacks, just don’t use the card again and close the account. Sure, it may hurt your credit score temporarily, but clearly they (or you) already burned bridges, so what does it matter at this point? IF they do this crap on my BCE card, I’m done with them.

    • I’ve read people claim they’ll charge you the points based on whatever rate they deem the points to be worth. Something about their terms and conditions supposedly allowing for it. I haven’t looked into it and who knows if there’s any truth to the matter but either way if this happens I’m sure things will blow up and we’ll know.

        • not nuts. it is fair. you cant pay back your debts.

          the official price of MR is known to all. it is the amount you pay to purchase MR points from AMEX or when you convert MR to cash.

          amex is not charging you “anything they want” for MR points. it is a set conversion rate.

      • Urban legend. Show me the part of the T&C that allows for them to charge points at “whatever rate they deem the points to be worth”. Show me a datapoint to that effect.

        You can’t. If you’re negative, just close it.

  2. I went on MPX and bought Banana Republic GCs and some other merchants, I didn’t do any MC GCs or VGCs at all and they still clawed back my 100K bonus! 🙁

    • Did that count as your airline incidental? They have been using that to disqualify people – using the incidental incorrectly specifically MPX. I think it is more that then it being a gift card.

  3. “or purchases of other cash equivalents.”

    I asked an Amex rep about it and they consider merchant GCs like from Banana Republic and whatnot as a cash-like equivalent!

  4. Not so fast. Word from the MS darknet is that AMEX has targeted spending at particular merchants that AMEX has no way to determine is “legitimate” merchant gift cards or “illegitimate” Mastercard/Visa gift cards. This is one reason why I don’t touch AMEX new card offers.

    “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 will disqualify you.”

  5. There was also a report of someone with a different Amex platinum card product (Ameriprise) having his/her points clawed back. Since I’ve had the MB plat before, I filed a CFPB complaint to get the points unfrozen and transferred them out. Maybe that will give me less flexibility, but it really seems like they’re working hard not to honor their promotion.

    • and seems like are working hard to swindle amex from targetted promos and MS which clearly do not entitle you to any points.

      • Thank God we have people like you to stick up for this defenseless multi-billion dollar company. 1) I did not MS to meet minimum spend. I met the minimum by paying my mortgage through Plastiq. That’s acceptable under the T&Cs. 2) I’m not trying to swindle AMEX. They had an offer that was publicly available, and I applied for it. In return they got $625 in annual fees (I added an authorized user) and the swipe fees from me using their card. Whether I actually continue to use the card is another question. It doesn’t have very good rewards. 3) Their pivot toward treating all platinum products as one card product is a recent development. I called when I applied for the promotion and asked whether I was eligible. I was told by an Amex rep that the Mercedes-Benz Amex Platinum is considered a different product and I was in fact eligible for the promo. But now they seem to have changed their minds in some instances. This is a company simply not making good on their publicly available promotions. 4) This whole ordeal resulted in Amex freezing my points for 3 months — points I had earned over three years on a different card through organic spend to redeem for my honeymoon. That was more than inconvenient. I had to go through the CFPB to get it resolved. 5) I got rid of my prior Amex platinum because Amex cut AA and Delta lounge benefits, making the card less worth it to me. Amex got me back as a card member through this promotion. If they want to keep me, they need to improve their lounge offerings and stop freezing my MR account. Better reward earnings would be preferred as well.

  6. From what I’m reading they’re also counting the travel reimbursement credit as a return. I’ve read a few data points where people met the spend organically, used the travel credit, then had points clawed back.

    • If they spent 3000 including the travel credits then it is kind of their own fault. Should also assume those won’t count.

      • Was $3k organic net spend after the travel credits. Was the case for at least one data point where someone asked the same question as you and person clarified. As you know though all data points are coming from people so they can be flawed. I have seen this a few times though and it’s not like I’ve sought them out.

        It had nothing to do with amount or method spent. It was due to the fact that the travel credits were categorized as returns, which is part of the T&C. I’m hoping that in this instance Amex will return the points as it feels more like collateral damage than a violation of their terms. In this instance I’d definitely recommend they do CFPB.

  7. Works for me. People who game the system get what they deserve. Signup bonuses are offered to attract new long term customers, not to reward gamers who use MS to earn bonus, stop spending and then cancel before AF.

    • I agree that cancelling to get a prorated refund after the bonus posts is overdoing it and is something I’d always advise against. Not to mention I’m sure that it gets noted in their system too. Everything else you wrote though makes me wonder why you’re even here if you feel that strongly about it. Are you specifically referring to using a leaked targeted bonus or churning/MS in general??

      If CC weren’t a profitable “game” then Amex would close up shop. As a consumer if you’re not getting more value out of something than you’re putting in, you’re doing it wrong.

    • Ok now they’re going through…

      so I bought some Banana Republic GCs and some other stores from MPX and my points still got clawed back, I didn’t buy any MS GCs or VGCs, the Amex rep said they still consider merchant GCs as “cash-like equivalents”

      • sounds like you can file an FCFPB complaint — as Merchant gift cards are clearly not ‘cash-like equivalents’ – according to common sense, that is! Good luck!

        • I agree if that is it and you spent $3200 or more…$3000 plus the Airline credit I would spell it all out in a complaint and you should get them back.

  8. I’m curious as to whether they’ll also classify tax payments as cash equivalents in the future. Given what you’ve mentioned, I don’t think I’ll take the risk with an AMEX card in the future.

  9. How does Amex know whether the $512 I spent at Walgreens is a Visa GC or just me stocking up on my poop medication? Isn’t that invading my privacy to provide receipts for poop medication? This looks a lot like a class action lawsuit

  10. This has been a nightmare. Wish I had never applied. Points clawed back for MS at GCs.com even though I also had 3k+ in organic spend (the required amount) in first 3 months. Crazy, crazy misinformation & lack of correct explanation from the MR rewards team. My entire MR balance has been frozen since May & was still frozen last time I tried 10 days ago.

    • if it’s frozen, it’s not clawed back? Maybe they are still reviewing it. If you met the spend organically, you can eventually file a FCFPB claim

      • Did file a CFPB claim a few days ago. Waiting to hear back. They took 100k away but my remaining balance (that I had previously, from other MR-earning cards) was still frozen last time I checked.

        • How do you file a CFPB? Do you have to prove the purchases you made were well within Amex’s rules and that they’re not cash-like equivalents and blah blah?

          • just go to their website and fill it out. Pretty easy. Just write out the terms of the offer and what you spent, what was credited, and that all has been paid off. You can attach your statements too.

          • Yes, it is pretty straightforward. I was told information about my account that was untrue by a MR CSR, so I refuted that in my claim. It was all easily verifiable in my case. I attached copies of my statement showing my valid purchases in first 3 months & also the card sign-up terms and conditions.

    • LOL

      serve you right for doing thing against the T&C of the cards!

      not crazy misinformation as you call it… just crazy people trying to cheat the financial institutions.

      • What is against T&C? When you wait on hold on the phone for MR they even advertise gift card purchases. I spent $3300 on additional organic w/in 3 months. I did not violate any terms and conditions that I can see.

  11. are paypal mycash cards bought at CVS still safe? Do we know?
    My points did not get clawed back luckily since I had a large bill to pay (used Plastiq to do it — so I can confirm that does not lead to a clawback, using a billpay company like that)
    But I am curious about the paypal thing for future reference — I’ve done the paypal mycash reload sometimes to meet a minimum spend.

    • My answer would be no. They appear to be looking at large purchases at the usual MS locations which would include Cee Vee S. Also it is not clear how Amex defines prepaids/cash equivalents but MyCash cards would seem to be walking that line.

      • I find it sad that you take pleasure in others misfortune even if it was caused by themselves. Speaks a lot to ur character that this makes u happy. Makes me think that u have some inferiority issues since there is no need for ur comments other than to be a jerk. Like they say most trolls are small men who have no power in the real world and try and make others feel the way they do. Good luck to u. Hope u don’t waste the rest of ur life like this sine it would be a waste and u will probably end up feeling just as small in the end. We all have to live in the real world and u can only hide behind a screen for so long. Again sad.

        • What’s even sadder is that you’re also hiding behind a computer screen while using some silly handle like Orion God of War.

  12. Anyone have experience on non-MR points? Did a little bit on a Delta AMEX 50k points and $100 credit offer.

  13. People who write how they’re “done with” Amex are so funny. News flash – “you” aren’t firing “them”.

  14. I had seen some talk of this, but this is opening my eyes much wider.
    Got very “lucky” I suppose, as I had a combination of minimum normal spend and mostly VGC.
    I”m guessing the reason I got ‘over the fence,’ is because VGC were purchased at Jewel-Osco (grocery),
    and maybe they don’t send–what was it called?–level 3 data. Or maybe I just got lucky, period. Or maybe they are about to freeze my points? Ugh. (Just did a dummy booking for gc and all looks fine–phew!)
    Good luck all!

    • Good luck to you too! If you applied through the 100k personal Platinum link on May 9-10 you might want to transfer out your points (provided you are not worried about having a negative balance later.) There were plenty of people whose freezes were lifted who still had their points taken away later. The clawbacks are still happening. Lots of folks reported clawbacks after buying gift cards at grocery stores (although I haven’t seen any reports of the particular grocery store that you used.) I hope you are right and that you don’t have any issues with your points! 🙂

  15. What about spend thresholds met using Serve online loads? From a few months ago. Not on a Platinum card. Any need to worry?

  16. My bonus was clawed back, unfortunately. I spent way over the threshold once my account was frozen the first time, but they still said the 4k in giftcards.com purchases was the reason it was pulled back. My entire account was frozen off and on for about 2 months. Now, finally, at the end of August my account was unfrozen.

    However, I thought I’d point some things out that made me think this is strictly related to this one specific bonus offer. First, they only pulled back the bonus, they still gave me the points for the gift card spending, so they didn’t really seem to care about the MS generally, just as it related to the bonus.

    Additionally, while my account was “under review” (although I didn’t realize it at the time) I was doing heavy MS spending on my Amex Everyday Preferred and all of those points posted without any problems.

    Lastly, each time I called and spoke to customer service to try to figure out what was going on, they pointed to the bonus offer each time I actually got in touch with someone who knew what was going on. I did file a CFPB complaint, but that didn’t seem to matter either way. However, I found one CSR who was rather sympathetic to my cause and awarded me some points back due to all the trouble the entire thing caused.

    Needless to say, I won’t be doing anymore incredibly obvious MS to meet a min spend requirement unless it’s absolutely necessary.

  17. I was considering upgrading my BRG card with Amex to a Business Platinum because of an offer they made me of 50k MRs for $10k spend in 5 months if I upgraded. Now this seems like a pretty bad idea to even try.

  18. My wife and I both got this card and (luckily?) have kept them as our everyday cards. No claw backs yet – someone above mentioned they had a lot of organic spend and still got their points clawed back. How about doing part of the min spend via MS? We both did $2-2.5K MS but not the whole requirement. Has anyone in similar circumstances had their points clawed back?

  19. Who is more likely to get caught: the person who takes $10,000 from a business all at once OR the person who takes $10 for 1000 days? As people get greedy and impatient it’s no surprise they get spotted. Why in the world would anyone do most or all of their required spend as MS? You honestly couldn’t put any legitimate charges on the card? Try using your head. You’ll accumulate plenty of points or miles for nothing. Just take your time.

  20. Interesting fact is you do earn MR’s for buying AMEX gift cards from AMEX. They will even tell you so..
    This was a great way to earn points when they were selling the $2000 cards at a 3% discount on Top Cash Back

  21. So question…. in the past i took advantage of a similar offer. I didnt buy gift cards but i did use the card to send money via paypal. Does that mean they may investigate me?

  22. Meh, some people have the impression that AMEX and other banks are evil, crooked and out to get them. It just ain’t so. People, you just got to keep believing in Wells Fargo and the Tooth Fairy.

  23. I hope this is nothing, but his month I am seeing some strange delays (I hope) on Amex Offers paying out. I get the email congratulating me for using the offer on the primary car, and it does not post in the normal timeframe. However, if I make a purchase on an AU account on the same card, same offer, it posts in a couple days. I am getting worried that I am in some hold status on Amex Offers.

    For instance, I made a $150 payment to AT&T from both the primary card and the AU card, and both got confirm emails that I used the offer, but as of Sept 10, only the AU credit posted…

    Anyone see similar delays on Amex Offers?

    • Yes, I took advantage of an Am Ex offer late last month and I did not immediately get the email confirming purchase. It also took a couple of weeks for the credit for the offer to post.

      I think this slowness may well NOT be connected to review of accounts where MS or other issues are being investigated.

      I do no MS, and only occasionally take advantage of AM Ex offers. I have just one AM Ex card, and I have had it for several years. I use it each month for a few smaller purchases.

      In other words, I do not see how my usage and profile would trip any kind of warning for AM EX, so my assumption had been that there was some issue causing this slowness, but I did not connect it to a review of my account.

  24. Why doesn’t everyone who is worried just stop worrying by calling AMEX, telling them you want to give back the points and asking them to investigate your entire balance for cancellation?
    Most of you would make terrible criminals. Posting what you have done here is like giving the cc companies a road map

  25. Look, . I don’t think I’d be pressing the matter as if I were entitled. Ask, request, be nice, but never threaten. The contract isn’t on your side.
    I lost a 150k bonus to which I think should have been entitled. But, anyone who has done any manufactured spending shouldn’t be pressing too hard.
    It worked before, but it never should have if you read the T&C.
    I’ve been down this road with Chase . They are converting branches to to Chase Manufactured Spending Prisons.

    There’s more to life than this bonus, and i wish you luck. Don;t let it eat you up.

  26. […] American Express has recently begun taking back points from people who they think MSed to meet the minimum spend. Data-points on this starting coming in last year, during the summer, after lots of people applied through one of those leaked links, that are supposed to be targeted, but are somehow public. Those offers show up for a few days, or even hours and as expected, tons of people apply, and surely Amex notices. This was previously covered here. […]

  27. […] Cash equivalent language might be enforced. For years, all Amex signup offers and upgrade offers have had terms like this (found in the current upgrade offer): “Qualifying purchases do NOT include … purchases or reloading of prepaid cards, or purchases of other cash equivalents.”  In the past, these restrictions were rarely enforced.  Recently, though, with a 100,000 point personal Platinum offer, Amex has been taking back signup bonus points when they discovered that people had met the spend requirements by purchasing gift cards or other cash equivalents.  While I don’t think it is likely, it is possible that Amex will continue to monitor this type of activity for current and future offers.For more details about this, please see Miles to Memories: Caution: Why You Should Probably Be More Careful with Spending & Amex Bonuses (Clawbacks & F…. […]

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