Your Guide to AmEx’s ‘Once Per Lifetime’ Rule

Ariana ArghandewalDecember 11, 2019

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American Express has an impressive lineup of rewards credit cards with hefty welcome offers and useful perks. While American Express doesn’t have a "5/24" rule like Chase does, the issuer does limit welcome offer eligibility based on your card history — nominally, you’re eligible for one welcome offer per credit card “per lifetime,” but it’s not necessarily as simple as that. Here’s what you need to know about the “once per lifetime” rule.

What is AmEx’s once-per-lifetime rule?

American Express restricts each card welcome bonus to one per person, per lifetime. In other words, if you apply for and earn the welcome bonus on the American Express® Gold Card, that’s it. You can’t earn that bonus again. You can still apply for the card again at some point down the line, but you won’t be eligible for another welcome bonus.

Which cards are affected?

An easy way to tell which cards are affected by the once-per-lifetime rule is to check the terms and conditions for the following language: “Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card or previous versions.” Sometimes there are variations of this language and additional restrictions, depending on the number of American Express cards you’ve opened and closed.

For example, the terms for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card go further by limiting the welcome bonus to those who have never had a Starwood, Ritz-Carlton or even a Chase-issued Marriott card like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card.

How can I find out if I’m eligible for an AmEx bonus?

You probably have an idea of which American Express cards you’ve applied to over the past few years, for which you’d therefore be ineligible to receive the welcome bonus again. But if you’ve forgotten, American Express seems to have a safeguard in place. When you apply for a card you’re ineligible for, you’ll receive the following message after filling out your application and hitting “submit:”

What are the workarounds?

Occasionally, you’ll find that the terms on certain offers do not contain once-per-lifetime language. For example, I used to have a Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, which converted to the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card (no longer available for applications). Lately, I keep receiving offers to upgrade to the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. When I access the card terms, there is no language restricting the welcome bonus. That’s likely because AmEx wants to upsell me to this card, and removing the welcome bonus restriction is an incentive for me to apply for it.

Meanwhile, when I check the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card product page on a private/incognito browser, the language restricting welcome bonuses to once per lifetime appears in bold letters. That tells me American Express is targeting me specifically for a welcome bonus while otherwise enforcing the once-per-lifetime rule.

Aside from this, the most foolproof workaround to the AmEx once-per-lifetime rule is to make sure you’re applying for the highest welcome bonus possible on any AmEx card. Do a quick Google search for the card name and “highest offer.” You may come across articles that are a few years old, but they’ll give you an idea of how high a welcome bonus has historically been, which can help you decide how good the current offer is.

If you’re not in a rush to bank a new AmEx card welcome bonus, it might be worth it to hold off until a higher bonus comes around. After all, you’ll likely only qualify for it once, so waiting could be worthwhile.

The bottom line

AmEx’s once-per-lifetime rule on welcome bonuses is restrictive, but still workable. The fact that American Express keeps track and seems to notify applicants when they’re ineligible before an application is submitted is certainly helpful. That helps minimize the number of credit pulls, which could otherwise push cardholders closer to ineligibility for a Chase card under that issuer’s 5/24 rule.

If you’re interested in a certain AmEx card, it’s worth it to check the terms and conditions to see if you’ve been targeted for an offer that excludes the once-per-lifetime welcome bonus restriction. The best way to ensure that you’re being “tracked” properly is to look at these credit card offers while logged into your American Express account. That way, American Express won’t get you mixed up with another cardmember who may use the same computer.

This will ensure that the terms and conditions you pull up for a specific offer accurately reflect your eligibility. If there’s a mix-up, at least AmEx seems to catch it before your application is submitted.

All information about the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.

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