Published on October 22nd, 2018 | by Chuck74
How Long to Keep your Upgraded American Express Card to Satisfy the RAT Team
We are all well aware that American Express had language added that they can claw back signup bonuses in the event of abuse, and their RAT team has actually been doing that. Two key things to avoid clawbacks are to ensure the spend is normal, non-manufactured, and to keep the card for a year. Given they swallowed a high acquisition cost, Amex doesn’t want you downgrading the card within a year to get a prorated refund on most of the annual fee.
A more confusing scenario arises in the event of an Amex upgrade offer. They regularly send out generous offers enticing cardmembers to upgrade to higher end cards. Personally, I just had this experience with two Business Green cards (one had been a business Platinum and one a Business Gold Rewards) which were targeted to get 50,000 points with $10,000 in spend.
Amex runs their annual fees with a bit of a complicated system. They do prorate your fee refund on the lower card, but they don’t then charge you the full annual fee on the upgraded card (e.g. $450). Instead, they charge you the prorated higher fee for the rest of the year.
I’ll use my own case to illustrate. When upgrading Green to Platinum, I see on my statement a $31.66 refund adjustment for the final 4 months of my Green year, and a charge of $150 for the first 4 months of my Platinum year. Then, 4 months later, a full $450 fee hits for the coming full year of Platinum.
This is all fairly innocuous – just a computer program of how they run the annual fees – but it comes to a head when receiving an upgrade offer. It’s pretty common for people to evaluate whether to keep a credit card when they see the annual fee post to their statement. But if you recently accepted an upgrade offer, be sure to keep the card for a full year.
Twitter user @jonNYC and Milestomemories commenter gus report doing an upgrade bonus, then downgrading many months later when the annual fee posted to their statement, and Amex proceeded to claw back their upgrade bonus.
Two lessons learned:
- Amex claws back upgrade bonuses if you don’t keep the card for a year, just as they do so with new member bonuses.
- They expect you to keep the card for a full year, irrespective of the annual fee posting schedule.
Unintentionally, Amex lands up gaining by running the annual fees based on the cardmember anniversary since people will now have to pay the first prorated fee and then the second full fee. You can downgrade one year from the upgrade mark – in midyear – and get a prorated adjustment, but a lot of people will forgot to do so and end up paying one-and-a-half high annual fees before downgrading.
Adding here a few notes based on the comments to this post:
- Unclear whether when you accept a retention offer you need to keep the card for a full year. Same question for authorized-user bonuses. I believe both of those should be fine since there’s no “abuse” terms there that you accepted whereas upgrade offers do have abuse in the terms: “If we…determine that you have engaged in abuse, misuse, or gaming in connection with the welcome offer in any way or that you intend to do so (for example…if you cancel or downgrade your account within 12 months after acquiring it…), we may not credit Bonus Points to your account. We may also cancel this Card account and other Card accounts you may have with us.”
- We haven’t heard of cobranded cards like Delta, Hilton, etc, getting clawbacks since the points are already deposited to the partner account. (Update: One data point here.)
- If you accepted an upgrade offer from a low card to a mid-level card and then got an upgrade offer to a top-level card within the year, you’re probably safe to upgrade again – even within the year – since the offer is coming directly from Amex themselves.