How American Express’ Refer a Friend Program Works

The program is notable for its flexibility in card selection and unique referral bonuses.
Jae Bratton
By Jae Bratton 
Edited by Erin Hurd

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Major credit card issuers such as Chase, Capital One and American Express have their own referral programs that allow active cardholders to refer or recommend a card to someone else. Cardholders are incentivized to do so with referral bonuses in the form of extra rewards for every person who successfully applies for a new credit card.

The referral program offered by American Express functions similarly to those of other issuers. Yet it's also distinctive in ways that matter for the referrer and the referral recipient.

Here's what you need to know about American Express' Refer a Friend program.

How to refer a friend for an AmEx card

Referrals may be sent through email, a social media platform or a personalized referral link from the American Express app/website.

How to send a referral from the app

  1. Select the "Membership" tab.

  2. Under "Earn More," select "Refer a Friend."

  3. Choose the option you prefer; either text message or email. 

How to send a referral from the website

  1. Select the blue "Refer Now" button from the account homepage. 

  2. Enter your friend's name and email address. American Express will automatically send the referral offer. 

  3. If you don't have your friend's email address, copy the referral link and distribute it via text or social media.

Making referrals: Caveats and considerations

These tips can help ensure you receive the referral bonus and understand its implications.

  • You'll only receive a referral bonus if the recipient applies and is approved for a card using your referral link. 

  • You must use the American Express email tool to send the referral link. For example, you won't get the referral bonus if you send the link from your personal or work email account. 

  • If your credit card account is canceled or past due on the date you qualified to earn the bonus, and when the bonus would post to your account, you won't get the referral bonus.

  • You may have to pay federal and state taxes on the value of referral bonuses received throughout the year. 

  • The amount of bonus rewards you can receive from referrals every year is capped. (More on those limits in the next section.) 

🤓Nerdy Tip

The IRS treats credit card rewards earned from spending and referral bonuses differently. Generally, credit card rewards aren't taxable because they're considered a rebate on purchases. A referral bonus, however, isn't a rebate. The issuer will send eligible cardholders a 1099 form showing the extra income earned from referrals. One bonus point is typically worth 1 cent, but the amount can vary depending on the issuer.

Referral bonus annual limits

American Express cardholders are limited in the amount of bonus rewards they may earn from referrals in a year. The annual cap varies depending on the type of AmEx card you have.

  • Cash-back cards: Up to $1,000 in statement credits per year.

  • Hilton Honors cards: Up to 140,000 Hilton Honors bonus points per year. 

  • Travel cards: Up to 100,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points, Delta bonus miles or Marriott Bonvoy points per year. 

🤓Nerdy Tip

American Express referral bonuses occasionally include referral points plus a boost to your card's rewards rate, such as an additional 5X miles per dollar spent in certain spending categories. Of course, these elevated rates are capped at a certain spend amount or expire by a certain date.

How to accept a referral for an AmEx card

If you're expecting a referral link by email, double-check that you're subscribed to marketing emails from American Express. You may not get the referral link if you've opted out of marketing emails.

Once you receive a referral, click on the link and apply for the American Express card of your choice. Be aware that most American Express cards require at least good credit for approval.

Choosing a card

The variety of cards from which the referral recipient can choose is a unique feature of AmEx's referral program. Other issuers generally limit cardholders to sending referrals for cards within the same card family. For example, under Chase's referral program rules, a Chase Freedom cardholder may only send referrals for the two Chase Freedom cards, Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Chase Freedom Flex℠.

American Express® Gold Card
NerdWallet rating 

Referring AmEx cardholders have much more latitude — and so does the recipient. If you receive a referral from someone with an AmEx card that earns cash back or Membership Rewards, such as the American Express® Gold Card or Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, you can apply for any personal or business AmEx card.

Your choices are more limited if the referring friend has a co-branded AmEx card from a specific airline or hotel chain, such as the Hilton Honors American Express Card. In that case, you'll only be able to apply for another co-branded card within the same family. So if you receive a referral from someone with a Hilton card, you'll only be able to apply for a personal or business Hilton card.

Receiving referrals: Compare referral welcome offers

As the referral recipient, you're also eligible for bonus rewards in the form of a welcome offer. For example, you could receive $250 cash back after spending $3,000 within the first six months of account opening.

The value of a welcome offer may vary depending on the source of the referral, so if you've received a few referral links, don't assume that they're equal. One cardholder could generate a referral for the American Express® Gold Card with a welcome offer of 50,000 Membership Rewards, while another cardholder could refer you to the same card with a welcome offer of 70,000 MRs.

A referral's welcome offer may also differ from those offered on the American Express website or sites like NerdWallet.

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