Published in: Credit Cards | Dec. 10, 2018

American Express Application Rules: What You Need to Know

By:  Lyle Daly

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Planning to apply for an American Express card? Learn about the rules the bank has first for a better chance of getting the card and the welcome offer you want.

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Image source: Getty Images

With an extensive lineup of credit and charge cards, American Express is a popular choice among consumers. However, it’s also one of the more restrictive banks in terms of its application rules, especially when it comes to sign-up bonuses and other welcome offers.

To avoid any issues with an American Express application or your welcome offer, you’ll need to know what those rules are.

Why you can trust me

I use credit cards to make money through cash back and rack up points that can cover my travel. Through my cards, I’ve accumulated thousands of dollars in benefits and over 450,000 total points.

Since I’ve applied and been approved for over a dozen credit cards I’ve made sure to learn the various rules different card issuers have, including American Express.

The difference between credit cards and charge cards

While most banks stick to credit cards, American Express has credit cards and charge cards available. Many of the rules American Express has only apply to credit cards, which is why it’s important to recognize the difference between the two.

A credit card has a revolving line of credit, and you’re just required to make a minimum payment every month. With a charge card, you’re expected to pay your entire balance.

All American Express cards clearly state whether they’re credit cards or charge cards.

American Express card limits

There are three limits you should know about before applying for an American Express credit card:

  • American Express will only approve you for one credit card within a five-day period.
  • American Express will approve you for a maximum of two credit cards within a 90-day period.
  • You can hold up to five credit cards with American Express simultaneously.

Unless you’re applying for cards left and right, these limits probably won’t come into play. None of those limits apply to American Express charge cards.

Sign-up bonuses and other welcome offers

Here’s where American Express is very strict. The terms for its cards, including credit and charge cards, specify that sign-up bonus offers aren’t available if you’ve already had the card in the past. It doesn’t matter if you failed to receive a sign-up bonus the first time around, even if one wasn’t available at that time. Once you’ve had an American Express card, you won’t be eligible for its sign-up bonus in the future.

The same rule applies with other types of welcome offers, such as 0% intro APRs.

American Express reserves the right to disqualify you from bonus offers for other reasons as well. If so, it will notify you of that as you start the card’s application process and give you the option of canceling your application.

If American Express believes you’ve abused its Membership Rewards program in any way, that can also affect your bonus and your card accounts.  One specific example of program abuse cited in the card terms is canceling or downgrading an account within 12 months of opening it. Potential actions American Express may take for this include:

  • Not issuing your sign-up bonus
  • Taking your sign-up bonus back after issuing it
  • Canceling the card account in question
  • Canceling all your American Express card accounts

How to choose the right American Express card

With the way American Express limits welcome offers, it’s a good idea to prioritize American Express cards with the best offers. Here are a few to consider for points, cash back, and 0% intro APRs.

Travel rewards cards

The Platinum Card® from American Express is the bank’s top-of-the-line travel card. It carries a steep $550 annual fee, but for that you get one of the longest lists of perks you’ll find, including:

  • 60,000 points for spending $5,000 in three months
  • 5 points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines along with flights and hotels booked through the American Express travel portal
  • 1 point per $1 on all other spending
  • Up to $200 in Uber ride credits per year
  • Up to $200 in airline incidental credits per year

If you’re understandably skeptical about paying $550 annually for a credit card, there are plenty of much more affordable options among the best travel rewards cards.

Cash-back and 0% intro APR cards

There are two standouts here in the American Express Cash Magnet® Card and the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. Both are no-annual-fee cards that have 0% intro APRs for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers.

The American Express Cash Magnet® Card has one cash-back rate for everything, making it ideal if you’d like to stick to a single credit card. Its benefits include:

  • Up to $250 in bonus cash back, consisting of a $150 bonus for spending $1,000 within the first three months and a $100 bonus for spending another $6,500 within the first 12 months
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express has bonus categories where you can earn more back. This card’s main benefits are:

  • $150 in bonus cash back for spending $1,000 within the first three months
  • 3% back at U.S. supermarkets up to a maximum $6,000 per year
  • 2% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores
  • 1% back on everything else

All of the cards and bonus offers available through American Express give you plenty of options when you’re in the market for a new credit card or charge card. Just keep its limitations in mind and remember that you only have one shot to get a card’s sign-up bonus.

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This may be the perfect cash back card! That's because it packs in $1,148 of value. Cardholders can earn up to 5% cash back, double rewards in the first year, and avoid interest well into 2020. With such a deep bench of perks you'll wonder how this card packs in a $0 annual fee. Best yet, you can apply and get a decision in two minutes. Learn more with our in-depth review.

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