When it comes to applying for new credit cards, you need to play by the rules. Each bank needs to balance its ability to extend new lines of credit against the expense of giving miles or points to every person applying for a new card (or cards). Therefore they all have their own set of rules in place to try and accomplish this goal. Whether these restrictions are successful or not, only the banks know for sure, but for the time being, as points and miles collectors, this is the environment we’re in, so we need to adapt or die.
When writing about cards issued by American Express and Chase, I thought to myself, “Which one of these rules do I hate the least?” Neither of their rules are perfect, but if you know what you’re doing, you can learn to live with both banks. I’ve come to the decision that while both banks are opaque with their restrictions, I’d rather deal with one bank more than the other.
While there have always been rules for signing up for credit cards, when it comes to the more restrictive rules by the major banks, Chase was walking the path alone, waiting for everyone else to show up.
The granddaddy of the signup rules is Chase’s 5/24. While it seems straightforward, there are still many things about it that can trip people up. The main thing I hate about 5/24 is that it’s an unpublished rule. You’ll not find mention of it in any of Chase’s application literature. If you happen to be denied for a Chase card, a representative may tell you that you were denied for “Too Many Recent Applications” but when pressed, Chase representatives will not directly say that you’re over 5/24.
The haphazard way it’s applied can also be maddening. People who should be under 5/24 are still denied for a card but then approved for another one. For others, a store or business card seems to count (this happened to me) but for others, there’s no issue. The inconsistency and lack of any structure is the worst part of 5/24. Even when you think you have it figured out, you find out that you don’t.
Chase also has other rules on applications, such as only being able to get two new cards in a month (2/30) and that you can only get one sign up bonus per card family every 24 or 28 months (1/24 or 1/48). Chase will also only allow you to hold one card each in the Sapphire and Southwest families of personal cards at a time.
It’s impossible to talk about American Express and signup rules without talking about the Rewards Abuse Team, or RAT for short. This division within American Express was initially responsible for tracking down the worst offenders of rewards abuse.
While first responsible for making sure people were following the rules, it’s safely implied that they’re the ones responsible for AMEX changing the terms on almost all of their rewards credit cards.
AMEX had pretty clear rules beforehand. You could only get the signup bonus on a card once per lifetime (or as far back as AMEX could easily track, usually 7-10 years). Besides that, the only restriction was that you couldn’t have more than four American Express charge cards and four (or five and maybe six) AMEX credit cards.
When signing up for cards, you could only be approved for one card per 5 days and for 2 cards in any 90 day period.
While these seem to be a bunch of restrictions, they aren’t that hard to follow and it was still easy to sign up for a bunch of AMEX cards. After all, there a lot of different AMEX cards and some have different variants of the same card.
Apparently, the AMEX RAT team felt these rules were too lenient. They wanted more leeway to determine what’s right and wrong when it comes to doling out reward points. Eventually, this language worked its way into the Terms and Conditions.
Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card. We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.
If we in our sole discretion 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 applied for one or more cards to obtain a welcome offer (s) that we did not intend for you; if you cancel or downgrade your account within 12 months after acquiring it; or if you cancel or return purchases you made to meet the Threshold Amount), we may not credit Membership Rewards® points to, we may freeze Membership Rewards®points credited to, or we may take away Membership Rewards® points from your account. We may also cancel this Card account and other Card accounts you may have with us.
That may seem like some legalese just inserted into the application but AMEX has been acting on this to claw back points and freeze/close accounts.
There are many reports from people who have closed accounts before 12 months or self-referred for new AMEX cards that have had their Membership Rewards points clawed-back.
Also, AMEX has instituted a pop-up box that shows up when applying for a new card that tells you if AMEX is willing to offer it to you or not. There’s no apparent reason why AMEX wouldn’t offer it to you, but opening accounts to just spend the minimum for the bonus and never using it again or opening and then closing accounts seems to be a common denominator with many denials.
Just like with Chase, there’s no set rule besides AMEX’s disclaimer that they can take your past history into account when deciding if they want to give you a new card or not.
Great, another opaque rule.
So which rule do I hate more? I hate to say it but I find AMEX’s rules to be worse than Chase’s.
As inconsistent and frustrating as Chase and 5/24 can be, you can choose to try and go above and below it and sign up for cards when you can. You can also choose to ignore it. With American Express, there’s no telling when they’ll shut you down. Filling out an application and hitting send feels like placing an order with that soup guy from Seinfeld.
You think you know the rules but make one move they don’t like and it’s NO CARD FOR YOU, COME BACK, ONE YEAR!!!
While I complain about the rules of Chase and American Express, I still apply for and use cards from both banks. While the rules are a pain, the rewards are worth it. I guess that’s the same reason George, Jerry and Elaine kept going back for the soup.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary