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In the past week, reports have surfaced that American Express has been shutting down accounts en masse. There have been reports of shutdowns through the years from AmEx, so this isn’t the first round of shutdowns. Though we’re not exactly sure of the reason, based on this Reddit thread, practices that AmEx may consider abusive were at least partially responsible.
Why were some accounts shut down?
Based on self-reports from the forums we scanned, reasons for shutdowns included:
Self-referrals for credit cards.
Purchasing gift cards to meet minimum spend for credit card welcome bonuses.
Purchasing gift cards to maximize AmEx offers.
Overusing AmEx’s pay-over-time feature.
Prior financial review.
Self-referrals seem to be the most common culprit. AmEx offers refer-a-friend bonuses on its credit cards ranging from 7,500 to 15,000 points for each respective card. If you hold an AmEx credit card, you can log into your account and view your individual offer for referring a friend to that card. You will earn a referral bonus after your friend is approved, and your friend will earn a welcome bonus upon approval.
» Learn more: A new credit card for your friend, a bonus for you
A self-referral is when an individual refers themselves to a credit card and pockets both the referral bonus and the welcome bonus.
It seems as though AmEx did a scan of accounts to identify users who benefited from self-referrals, and it removed any points associated with these referrals. Some users who did a lot of self-referrals ended up with negative Membership Rewards balances, and this seemed to be an additional red flag for AmEx. After going negative, it appears those accounts were closed down.
The silver lining (if there is one) in this situation is that one user reported that despite the closure of accounts, they were able to transfer all Membership Rewards points to an airline instead of losing them. Obviously a speculative point transfer generally isn’t a good idea because of the risk unused miles or points could devalue over time; however, in this instance there wasn’t much choice.
The bottom line
AmEx appears to be cracking down (again) on behavior it considers abusive. There's no way of knowing exactly what triggered this round of shutdowns and what the exact criteria were for selecting accounts for closure. In the interest of keeping your account in good standing (and keeping your Membership Rewards points), it makes sense not to game the rules.
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Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you NerdWallet’s 6 best American Express cards Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies