Ready to Apply for an American Express Card? Read This First [2018]

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. 

If you think you are ready to apply for an American Express Card, I highly suggest that you take a look at this article.

There are a lot things you may not know about Amex credit cards and this article will provide you with some information that will help guide you through the application process so that you’ll end up maximizing your options to get the most value.

I’ll first provide you with a lot of helpful info on things to know about Amex cards and then in the second half of this article, I’ll share details with you about some of my favorite Amex credit cards.

Update: Some offers are no longer available — click here for the latest deals!


Once per lifetime rule

American Express has a once per life time rules for their credit cards.

This means that technically speaking, you’re only allowed to earn the welcome bonus for a credit card one time.

What’s more, American Express will not usually match your welcome offer with a higher offer. Instead, they might give you some “courtesy points” which will usually be only a fraction of what you’re requesting.

This is why it’s important to jump on great offers with American Express cards like the Amex 100K Platinum Offer.

You don’t miss out on extra points.


Exceptions to the once per lifetime rules

There are two exceptions to this rule you should know about.

7 years

The first is that some have success with re-applying for a card and earning a welcome offer after they have waited seven years to re-apply.

Some speculate that 7 years is the real time frame for “once per lifetime.”

Targeted offers

Sometimes it’s also possible to receive targeted offers that don’t contain the once per lifetime language so in those cases it’s possible to get around the once per lifetime rule but that usually just comes down to luck.


Charge card vs credit cards

American Express offers both charge cards and credit cards.

Charge cards don’t come with pre-set credit limits.

This doesn’t mean that your credit line is unlimited. It just means that Amex will adjust the cap on your spending limit according to your spending habits.

It also means that you’ll need to pay off your bill each mont in full or potentially be hit with fees, not to mention interest.

After you’ve had a charge card for some time, it’s very common for Amex to offer you the opportunity to Pay Over Time for certain charges.

This allows you to move charges over $100 (either manually or automatically) into a long-term payment plan.

The great thing about these programs is that many times they’ll give you a big bonus like 10,000 Membership Rewards just for enrolling in Pay Over Time. So my advice is not to enroll in the program until you’ve been offered a special bonus. Read more about Amex Pay Over Time here. 


Combined hard pulls

When you apply for two Amex cards at once, the hard pulls are usually combined.

This is great because it means that you can minimize the damage done to your credit report.

To learn more about how hard inquiries affect your credit score click here


2/90 rule

Amex has some very specific application rules for their cards. Most of the strict rules apply to their credit cards.

American Express will normally not approve you for more than one credit card at the same time and no more than two credit cards in a 90 day window. 

Instead, you usually have to wait five business days (I’d just wait a full week) before applying for a second credit card. 

On occasion, some people do get approved for more than one cards at once.

There may be some sort of link between certain types of Amex cards and the exceptions to this rule, but you should generally expect to be denied for your second credit card application or at the very least forced to wait several days for a decision.

Being forced to wait a few days may not sound bad but that often results in a second hard pull on your credit report so it can cause more damage to your credit score.


The 2/90 rule does not apply to charge cards

Note that the 2/90 rule only applies to credit cards — it’s possible to get approved for two charge cards at once or one credit card and one charge card at the same time.

Some have even been approved for more than two cards at once. But I caution people to move to quickly when applying for American Express cards because of the dreaded RAT.


Amex financial review | RAT

American Express has a Rewards Abuse Team (RAT) that sniffs out people who abuse their rewards.

What constitutes abuse is subjective but generally things like trying to cancel a card before you’ve had it for one year can raise red flags that you’re just trying to game the system.

Also purchasing gift cards be a major issue that gets you into trouble, too.

Here’s the specific warning Amex provides with respect to gaming the system:

If we in our sole discretion determine that you have engaged in abuse, misuse, or gaming in connection with the welcome bonus 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 bonus 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 the statement credit to, we may freeze the statement credit credited to, or we may take away the statement credit from your account. We may also cancel this Card account and other Card accounts you may have with us.

If Amex does suspect that you’re up to something you might get hit with a financial review.

Account freezing

I had my Amex Membership Rewards frozen one time a couple of years ago when Amex went on a freezing frenzy. After a few weeks Amex determined that no abuse or misuse occurred and I was free given access to my points (which I promptly transferred out).

Financial review

If your account is flagged for a financial review, you may have to submit IRS documentation and/or bank statements to substantiate your income or other financial metrics.

It’s a bit of a headache but it’s not that difficult to comply — however, they often give you a short time period to comply so you need to act quickly.

In many cases, these don’t result in an all-out shut down. Instead, you might just get your credit limits lowered or monthly spend capped if they don’t like what they see.

So while Amex financial reviews are not something you want to happen to you, they certainly are not the end of the world for many people.


New Amex Application rules

In addition to the RAT team, there are new terms and conditions Amex just added that provide even more restrictions when applying for Amex cards.

American Express will now “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.”

This language is very vague but Amex will alert you before they process your credit card application and let you know that you will not qualify for the bonus.

Data points are still rolling in so we don’t know exactly how restrictive this language is but I would try to avoid cancelling Amex cards where possible.


4 or 5 credit card limit

American Express imposes a limit of either four or five for the total amount of credit cards that you can be approved for.

This means that you generally cannot get more than five Amex credit cards.

Again, this rule does not apply to charge cards.

In fact, there may not be a hard and fast rule on charge cards. I’d still try to stay at or under four for charge cards though because opening up ten Amex credit lines is a bit excessive and could draw unwanted attention to your account.


Amex is nice when you are nice to them

American Express is one of the only banks that has never rejected any of my credit card applications. That’s mostly because I’ve played it safe with Amex by playing by the rules and not abusing my relationship with them.

If you are good to Amex then can be very good to you but you’ll have to reciprocate the respect.


Soft pulls with rejections

If you’re currently an American Express customer and they decide to reject you for an application, this will typically result in a soft pull on your credit card report (unless there have been significant changes on your credit report).

This is a nice feature of Amex that takes some of the pressure off applying for new credit cards.


Instant credit card numbers

For some approvals, American Express will provide you with instant credit card number which is fantastic because it means you can use you card right away. Unfortunately, this does not always happen and I don’t think anybody really knows why or when these instant credit card numbers are issued so it sort of just comes down to luck.


Authorized user bonuses

Amex likes to offer special promotions where you can earn bonus points just for adding authorized users and putting some spend on the cards.

For that reason, you may want to hold off on adding authorized users where possible.


Business cards don’t go on personal credit reports

American Express does not typically report business credit cards to personal credit reports. So if you’re are trying to stay under 5/24, then going for Amex business credit cards can make a lot of sense.


Amex Offers

American Express credit cards give you access to Amex Offers.

These are special offers that allow you to save money or earn extra Membership Rewards when making various purchases, such as travel purchases, retail stores, ordering flowers, etc.

If you keep up with these offers and regularly use them you could easily save a couple of hundred bucks a year, so these are great.


Membership Rewards vs Cash back credit cards

American Express has arguably better transfer partners than Chase.

With American Express, you can transfer Membership Rewards to airlines like ANAAeroplanCathay Pacific Asia MilesBritish Airways/IberiaFlying Blue, Delta, JetBlue, Etihad, Emirates, and several others.

These partners give you maximum flexibility across several alliances and partnerships making it much easier to find good rewards to use your points on.

But some Amex cards only earn cash back like the Blue Cash Preferred, so always check and make sure that you’re earning the reward currency you desire.


American Express Credit Cards

Now that you’re aware of some of the major rules and policies related to Amex credit cards and charge cards, I’ll highlight some of the best Amex cards you’ll probably want to consider.

Blue Cash Preferred

The Blue Cash Preferred is my favorite cash back credit card for groceries. The Blue Cash Preferred earns a very respectable 6% back at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 in annual spend and 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores.

If you spent $6,000 on groceries you’d get $360 in cash back which wipes out the annual fee of $95 — and that’s without factoring what you’d get back with gas and department stores. If you spend around $6,000 a year on groceries, the Blue Cash Preferred can be one of your best credit card options.


Amex EveryDay Preferred

The Amex EveryDay Preferred is one of the best cards for earning tons of Membership Rewards. The card comes with the following features:

  • Earn 50% more points 30 or more times on purchases in a billing period and
  • 3X at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases
  • 2X at US gas stations
  • $95 annual fee

If you think you can hit the 30 transactions per month and you regularly spend $6,000 per year on groceries, then this card can be one of the most valuable cards in your wallet. At a valuation of 1.8 cents per point, getting 3X on groceries is like netting 5.4% back. That’s impressive by itself but then when you factor in the 50% bonus that comes out to about 8% back on purchases at US supermarkets which is pretty insane.

And even for gas, getting 2X at a valuation of 1.8 cents per point is like 3.6% back and with the 50% bonus that’s 5.4% back!

So when it comes to racking up value the Amex EveryDay Preferred is one of the best Amex credit cards.

Amex has great credit cards for grocery store spend.

The Platinum Card from American Express

Top 10 Travel Credit Cards

The Platinum Card from American Express is the most widely available premium option offered by American Express. The Amex Black Card (or Centurion Card) is available only by invitation (read more about that card here).

Here’s a look at what the Platinum Card offers:

If you’re able to utilize the $200 annual travel credit and the $200 in Uber credits, you’re looking at an effective annual fee of $150, which is fantastic considering the benefits listed above.

The Platinum Card is mostly designed for business travelers and frequent flyers who will utilize Centurion Lounges and perks like hotel elite status. But it also can be a high earning card if you spend lots on airfare since you’ll get 5X on those purchases.

Use your Platinum Card to get into Centurion Lounges.

Premier Rewards Gold Card Card no longer available

  • Earn 25,000 Membership Rewards after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months (higher targeted offers available)
  • 3X points for flights booked directly with airlines
  • 2X at US restaurants, US gas stations and at US supermarkets
  • $100 airline credit
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $195 annual fee (waived the first year)

The Premier Rewards Gold Card is one of the most rewarding American Express rewards credit cards in terms of bonus earning potential.

Earning 3X on flights and 2X at US restaurants, US gas stations and at US supermarkets is a great way to quickly rack up rewards. This is a great card to combine with the Amex EveryDay Preferred since you can maximize your rewards over a broad range of categories.

The high $195 annual fee is a bit of a deterrent but the $100 annual airline credit knocks that down to $95 which puts it on par with other cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.


Hilton Honors Aspire Card

Hilton Aspire Bonus

In my opinion, the Hilton Aspire card is arguably the best hotel credit card on the market, at least when it comes to premium options.

Here is the laundry list of perks offered by this card.

  • 14X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
  • 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants
  • 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on other purchases
  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status
  • One weekend night at any hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio (upon opening account and on account anniversary)
  • Weekend night after spending $60,000 on the card within a calendar year
  • Unlimited Priority Pass membership
  • $250 airline incidental fee statement credit
  • $250 Hilton resort statement credit
  • $100 on property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when booking the exclusive Aspire Card package
  • $450 Annual Fee 

14X on Hilton purchases amounts to nearly a 7% return and with the resort and airline credits (which add up to $500), you can more than offset the annual fee! Since the card also give you Hilton Diamond status, Priority Pass, and an annual free night certificate, this is one of the most valuable travel rewards credit cards.

Read on here to find out more about the Hilton Aspire.

Hilton Americas-Houston Lobby Bar

The Blue Cash EveryDay Card

blue cash everyday rewards

The Blue Cash EveryDay is a great cash back credit card with no annual fee. It doesn’t earn the rewards like the Blue Cash Preferred but with no annual fee it is a tempting option for many.

  • 3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%)
  • 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations
  • 2% Cash Back at select U.S. department stores
  • No annual fee
  • Foreign transaction fee: 2.7%

American Express small business credit cards

American Express has some of the best business credit cards and here are some of the best business credit cards offered by them.

For more on getting approved for business credit cards, read about tips for getting small business credit cards here.

 Amex Blue Business Plus

The Amex Blue Business Plus can be a solid choice for everyday spend since it earns 2X back on all purchases in the form of Membership Rewards. This amounts to a 3.6% return on all purchases (up to $50,000 per year) if you value Membership Rewards at 1.8 cents per point.

Another great feature about the card is that it comes with no annual fee and a 0% intro APR period. I recommend this card for the business owner who is trying to keep things simple and doesn’t want to bother with worrying about different rewards categories.


The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN comes with some solid perks.

  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and eligible hotels on amextravel.com
  • 1.5 points per dollar on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more (that’s an extra half point per dollar). Up to 1 million additional points per year
  • $200 airline credit
  • Centurion Lounge access
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access
  • Book any First or Business Class flight and get 35% of those Membership Rewards® points back later, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year.
  • You can receive one Global Entry ($100) statement credit or one TSA Pre✓® ($85) statement credit every 4 years

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN earns a strong 5X on airfare so if you’re going to be doing a fair amount of flying, this can be very lucrative.

The card also comes with a $200 airline credit that you receive each calendar year. By using those credits twice, you can knock down the effective annual fee to only $150. The 35% rebate on points is great since it allows you to book certain flights at 1.54 cents per point which is very good.

The Business Platinum Card will give you hotel elite status including: Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Status and Hilton Honors Gold status. And finally, like the personal version this card provides you and two guests with Amex Centurion Lounge access.


Amex Simply Cash

The Simply Cash is one of the most underrated cash back cards in my opinion. It’s a small business credit card so you’ll need to qualify for it with some type of business. You’ll earn 5% cash back at U.S. office supply stores and on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers.

That’s a great return, but you can also choose to earn 3% cash back on the category of your choice from a list of eight categories:

  • Airfare purchased directly from airlines
  • Hotel rooms purchased directly from hotels
  • Car rentals purchased from select car rental companies
  • U.S. gas stations
  • U.S. restaurants
  • U.S. purchases for advertising in select media
  • U.S. purchases for shipping
  • U.S. computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers

Note that the 5% and 3% apply to the first $50,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1% applies thereafter.


Final word

American Express is one of my favorite credit card issuers. They key is to not abuse your relationship with them by opening and closing too many cards and doing other shady practices. If you walk the straight and narrow with Amex, you’ll enjoy a long and valuable relationship with them that can take you very far.