American Express Claws Back Referral Bonuses For ‘Self-Refer’ Usage (More Claw Backs & Referral Restriction)

Update 10/22/19: In addition to the latest round of claw backs, it seems like people who did self refer are now banned from referring at all, seeing the following message:

Your Card account’s eligibility to participate in the Refer a Friend program is based on your creditworthiness and other factors including your account history with American Express.

Hat tip to reader Brendan L

[Update 10/21/19: People on reddit are sharing that they have been hit by another round of claw backs]

[Update 7/12/19: Another round of claw backs. As little as 10,000 points (one referral) is being clawed back.]

American Express is clawing back the referral bonus Membership Rewards points for someone who referred themselves to signup for an Amex card. A few important notes about the claw back:

  • Affecting both personal and business cards. (This includes business > personal or personal > business referrals.)
  • It appears NOT to be affecting people who refer a spouse. (This makes sense, hard to see how they could claw back such a thing.)
  • The lowest report we’ve seen so far is a 60,000 points claw back. Reports are that ANY amount can be clawed back, even as little as 10,000 points (one referral). I’d guess it’s only a matter of time until everyone gets clawed back.
  • Thus far we haven’t heard of cash or any other rewards currencies being clawed back since the rewards earned are not Membership Rewards points. Only MR points get clawed back.
  • Referrals from an MR card to a partner card (Hilton, Marriott, etc.) has been clawed back as well since the rewards earned are Membership Rewards points.

The biggest craziness here is that Amex has already sent out 1099s on referral earnings during 2018. So we paid taxes on them, but don’t end up with the money. Here’s a nice breakdown of what to do for those in this situation.

Additionally, there are sporadic reports of affected Amex members seeing their Membership Rewards accounts locked, making them unable to transfer out points. Schwab transfers are still working, though, for some reason.

Amex is sending out an email with information on the claw back:

We are writing to let you know that, after careful review of your Membership Rewards® account activity, we have removed points in your Membership Rewards® program account. Please ensure that any Additional Card Members who are authorized to redeem points from your account are notified of this change in your Membership Rewards balance.

Why we are removing these points

We recently noticed point accrual or redemption activity on your Membership Rewards program account that indicates an effort to obtain or use points in a manner that is not appropriate. It’s important for you to know that the Membership Rewards program terms and conditions state that “If we in our sole discretion determine that you have engaged in abuse, misuse or gaming in connection with earning or using points or that you may attempt to do so, we may:

Take away any points in your program account,

Temporarily suspend your ability to redeem points,

Temporarily suspend your ability to earn points,

Cancel your program account, or

Cancel any of your American Express Cards”

Your options

If you have any questions about this email, or if you believe that the points have been removed in error, please call us at 1-800-AXP-EARN (1-800-297-3276).

Thank you for your Card Membership.

American Express Customer Care

Hat tip to r/churning

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James Silver
James Silver

If you have an LLC that has EIN number and multiple members, do you get a bonus if you generate link using personal link to apply business card on that LLC?

StarAdmiral
StarAdmiral

Any update on getting referral privileges reinstated?

DP
DP

**UPDATE** Finally received a response from the Executive Office regarding my “self referral” clawback (55k).

“Decision is final. No return or partial return of points. Clear violation of the refer a friend program.”

However, in the latest marketing email, I pointed out that nowhere does it say “refer a friend” nor does it declare that self referrals are not allowed.
Link = http://view.member.americanexpress.com/?qs=cf1d7ed681bd226887188794c782c3f167f96e248fd12af30118cf753902be593923f23f787ce3ac85b6bb7dcaea3f83a5887d6b538779621261d2ac2ec983e5f40c13e05305e1cf1a61e1dd8d73d3ed

My point is that the policy is confusing. Unclear. I did not do anything wrong under the WRITTEN terms. I also pointed out that had they notified me right away, I could have used referrals from my significant other. Their take is that it is an “obvious unwritten violation” that I “should have known.” It’s an “IMPLIED” policy. They don’t care about the lost opportunities, unclear wording, or confusion. They, at their sole discretion, can do whatever they want.

Mentioned closing my accounts. They declared that they don’t care if I close any/all my accounts. It’s “my choice.” FYI, I have 12 active Amex accounts with annual fees of $2,260.

Plan on closing at least 7 accounts with annual fees over $1,000 as a result of this experience.

bcliu430
bcliu430

I wonder who you contacted in order to get the response. Also are you able to generate referral link now?

DP
DP

Amex Executive Office. Only on the 12th/newest card — probably just because it was added after they took the ability to refer from the other 11 cards. They say they’re still looking into my situation, but I don’t have much faith it will turn out well.

Matt Katakis
Matt Katakis

I’m surprised that so many people are surprised. It’s not new news that RAT has been hammering these kinds of behaviors for a long while now. A better approach to take moving forward…if it feels like it could be against the rules, don’t bother doing it with AMEX. They clearly have been and will continue to crack down on this.

Staradmiral
Staradmiral

The Canadian and Australiian Amex refer a friend program both state you may only refer CLOSE friends and family. Shall we extend that logic to amex USA and thus using youtube, doctor of credit, facebook to share referral links is against the ToC. It’s the same company after all. The vague “in our sole discretion” would allow for that claw back.

MoreSun
MoreSun

Using bonus categories feels like it could be against the gaming rules. We should stop. Using offers feels like it could be against the rules. We should stop that too. Redeeming points for anything really feels like it could be against the rules. Definitely better stop that.

DP
DP

The issue is that they ALLOWED and APPROVED the activity in the first place. That makes it *their* error. They could have easily set up their system to DENY such referrals with a simple pop-up notification that said you were not eligible for a referral in this situation. It is wrong to penalize their customers for their own mistake. It isn’t like they are catching this immediately, as an honest mistake, and notifying customers within 24hrs. No. They are going back many MONTHS. They should have honored the payouts, and fixed their system. Especially with something like this that is a gray area. In the end, it’s about the culture a company has — the level of integrity at which they operate. In a referral email I received tonight, NOT ONCE does it state that “self referrals” are not allowed. And yes, I know that at their sole discretion, they can be jerks whenever they wish. That doesn’t make it “right” or “fair.”

CHEAH
CHEAH

Referring this card to someone/friends. Are you calling yourself someone or friends?

JM
JM

I’m my best friend.

Mali
Mali

Two months ago all my MR cards disappeared from the referral page and only cobranded cards were eligible to refer. The CSR said the referral program is “invitation only”. However the MR cards showed up again several weeks later.

bcliu430
bcliu430

How long will this be banned? Please tell me it’s not forever.

qmc
qmc

Nobody knows!

William Charles

No idea

slut
slut

Likely forever, why would they ever unban you?

StarAdmiral
StarAdmiral

because they didn’t even let people know it’s against the rules. They just decided after the fact. How are people even suppose to know referring your spouse is okay? There are many programs where referring spouse would be against the rules like ebates, swagbucks, rebatekey, which have it written in the terms and conditions that it’s not allowed to refer anyone in the same household.

DP
DP

Amen, StarAdmiral. You get it. They have the technology that they could have easily denied such referrals immediately with a website popup. Or caught the error within 72hrs and issue a warning and then fixed their site. A line or 2 of code is all it would have taken. Instead, they let it snowball into something that has left a lot of people feeling sour.

Jason
Jason

I still don’t see how they can reasonably call this abuse when they let you use self-referrals while logged in to your account and pulled most of your information for you, leaving you to only have to type in a few fields before hitting submit. The fact that you were able to do that seems like as clear of an indication as possible that it was fine.

joe
joe

Not the best argument. You honestly believe “referring” someone include yourself? Take the loss and move on

Jason
Jason

1. It would not have been particularly difficult for them to not let a referral from a given account work while logged into the account that generated the referral.
2. I would probably be a lot less bothered by this situation if not for all the people who got 1099s and then got their points clawed back.

qmc
qmc

1. Not difficult and they may have now put that into place (who volunteers to test this?), but this seems like a relatively minimal punishment. They could terminate the customer relationship completely.

2. Just because an IRS form has been filed reporting the value doesn’t change the legitimacy of the points accrued.

joe
joe

Hey take them to CFPB for all I care but if you think you are in the right I dont know what to tell you. Should probably look up what the word ‘referral’ means

StarAdmiral
StarAdmiral

How would you know it’s okay to refer a spouse? many programs like ebates, swagbucks, and rebatekey say it in the terms and conditions that you can’t refer to the same household. We are suppose to just guess what amex means by “in our sole discretion… abuse.. etc?

Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown

They literally could’ve added one sentence and avoided the whole thing for everyone. ‘Members may not refer themselves.’ How hard would that have been?

Jason
Jason

This is the crux of my problem. It feels a lot less like Amex fixing a mistake and a lot more like them changing their minds on this after the fact.

Also, regarding the 1099s, credit card point and frequent traveler programs all explicitly say we don’t own the points. If we don’t own the points/miles then we don’t have a taxable event until we use them–they’re an unrealized gain while they’re just sitting in our accounts.

qmc
qmc

Yea, signing yourself up for another card was definitely what they had in mind with the referral program.

Jason
Jason

But they didn’t stop it and they didn’t have language against it.

DP
DP

I’m with you, Jason. They have popups to deny other activities when they don’t feel you qualify for a bonus. Could have had their system block self-referrals from the beginning. But what’s worse, is that even to this date, when their marketing team sends you an email about referrals, there is still no language in the terms about self-referrals. It’s very confusing. And bad business to mislead people.

Alex
Alex

Probably it is on purpose to allow it, to get new customers, and then check who is eligible and who was not.