American Express terms and conditions for new credit and charge card applications famously don’t tell the whole story about whether or not you’re eligible for a bonus. Instead when applying for a card there are just a few rules: If you get a pop-up telling you that you’re not going to earn a bonus during an application, you’re not going to get it. If you don’t get a pop-up, you will. If you get pop-ups on most or all of your applications, you’re in the colloquial “pop-up jail”, or PUJ as we’re collectively calling it.

American Express’s Current Inmate Count

We’ve seen a significant increase in pop-up jail incarcerations in 2024, presumably related to American Express’s concerns about its ability to maintain record profits in exactly the way that Boeing can’t. To quantify this to an (only partially scientific) extent, I used to search for the number of occurrences of “PUJ” on in several time periods:

Month“PUJ” Comments
Jul 20233
Aug 20236
Sep 20237
Oct 202339
Nov 202325
Dec 202342
Jan 202478
Feb 202454
Mar 2024 (month to date)70
The pop-up jail trend according to frequency analysis on

Yes there are measurement errors and biases in this methodology. But also yes, there’s a trend that emerges and matches the general sense in the community that jail is becoming more common.

Breaking Free: Alt

The main method to break out of pop-up jail is to spend a lot on American Express co-branded cards, like a Delta card, Hilton card, or Marriott card. Yes – I understand that “a lot” is rather qualitative, but I’ll quantify it slightly by saying you should be spending well into five figures a month for this method to be likely to succeed.

But, let’s get to the whole point of this post, the alt method:

To get out of pop-up jail, close all of your cards with American Express, wait 90-ish days, then start-over like you’re a new customer.

– MEAB’s tome of apocryphal wisdom

Let’s call this one the “apocryphal sneak-attack” to go along with the related sneak-attack strike back. Good luck, and happy Wednesday!

A different kind of pop-up jail, courtesy of Microsoft.