Beginning in mid-June I started receiving reports that American Express has imposed spending limits on charge cards and lowered limits on credit cards. Based on the number of reports I’ve received directly and the volume of chatter I’ve seen in various groups the issue is widespread, much more so than we’ve seen in the last several years. What’s going on?

Charge Cards

With charge cards, it seems American Express is doing on of two things to affected accounts (but probably not both):

  • Imposing spending limits on mostly unused charge cards
  • Taking up to a week after payment to free-up available credit

For active charge cards, spending limits don’t seem widespread (but there are a few reports).

Credit Cards

On the credit card side we’ve seen:

  • Credit lines slashed on both idle and actively used cards
  • Taking up to a week after payment to free-up available credit

Unlike the charge card side, activity on a card doesn’t seem to protect it from a reduced spending limit.

Observations

So far, everyone that’s been affected by the recent charge limits has one of these two traits with their AmEx accounts:

  • Big balances (think 30%+ of stated annual income)
  • Lot’s of cycling (similar magnitude)

The language used on the AmEx website when a limit is imposed mirrors the language used when a financial review results is reduced charging privileges. That could mean we’re seeing a new type of financial review (perhaps a “silent financial review”), and having a big balance or cycling your cards quite a bit triggers it.

Assuming this round is like past rounds of spending limits, it’ll probably be stuck on your account for a year.

Why is AmEx doing this?

I don’t have inside knowledge about why AmEx is doing this, but I do know that their two major banking partners aren’t rosy on AmEx’s recent financial performance (Morgan Stanley’s bank analyst downgraded the stock this week and Charles Schwab has given the company a “D – Underperform” equity rating as of yesterday.) Perhaps AmEx is looking for ways to reduce their risk or for ways to shore up their balance sheet?

AmEx’s public Q2 financial results are scheduled for early Friday of next week, so perhaps we’ll learn more then. In the mean time be aware that AmEx seems to be more on edge lately and act accordingly, like maybe drink a beer and chill.

AmEx understands “no preset spending limit” as well as this shop understands 99 cent stores.

1. Southwest has 20% off of fares to or from Hawaii for travel between March 11 and May 12 of next year, which includes Spring Break for most of the US, use promo-code HAWAIISALE.

2. Yesterday’s deal with SimplyMiles turned out to be a giant disaster after all, because of course it did when AA was involved. The gist:

  • They took the site down yesterday morning (it was timing out on all requests)
  • They site came back and they put a banner up saying that only purchases before a (probably incorrect) time were honored
  • They removed the banner all-together
  • They messaged that they’re “working with Mastercard” to everyone who wrote in and asked about status

First, I’m terribly sorry if I got you involved in this deal and it ends up wasting your time. Second, I hope it works out for you whether or not you end up wasting time. And because you didn’t ask, here’s my prediction for how this will go:

Usually, ill-conceived promotions turn into flaming meteors that crash into full dumpsters outside of a liquor store — so, I guess that.

3. One of my absolute favorite long-term deals of the last year was fee-free Vanilla Visa gift cards at vanillagift.com because:

  • Vanilla Visa gift cards work in quite a few more places than Metabank/BHN Visa gift cards
  • Vanillagift.com continues to work well with American Express cards (unlike simon.com)
  • The “flash sale” ended up lasting over five months even though it was supposed to be just a couple of days

Well, rejoice (maybe) because that flash sale is back for 2021 using the code FLASH2021. The code was just announced yesterday and as of this writing is supposed to expire yesterday, but I have high hopes that it won’t actually expire. Give the code a shot today, and keep it in your back-pocket because it’s possible that it will continue to work well into 2022.

A dumpster outside of a liquor store waiting for the next fiery AA promotion to come crashing down.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen any credible reports of American Express shutdowns. As a (hopefully) final follow-up to the most recent round:

  • Adam Winslow no longer works at American Express. His last day way Monday, October 18; I think this didn’t happen simultaneously with the shutdowns because there’s more legal red tape in employment law than for shutting down credit card account holders, and that took time.
  • All credible shutdown reports that I’m aware of involved at least a single card opened with Adam. The most unfortunate data point I have on this is for someone that opened a single Platinum card as their first and only card with American Express through Adam in early 2019 and then was shutdown in the second wave.
  • As a corollary to the above, I’m still not aware of any shutdowns in the last wave for anyone that never opened a card with Adam.
  • There was a report at Forbes of a successful reinstatement of AmEx cards for one Adam-related shutdown, later however, the author later reported that the reinstatement was short-lived: A few days later it was reversed and all the cards were gone again.

So, is there risk in engaging in shenanigan-like behavior? Absolutely, there always has been and always will be when you’re interacting with a bank with manufactured spend, gift card purchases, upgrades, downgrades, retention offers, or a litany of other strategies. We’re never completely insulated from a shutdown, but here is what I do to try and stay in American Express’s good graces:

  • Don’t try and bypass limits implemented by the American Express business logic (in other words, if an offer doesn’t appear for me when I click on a genuine AmEx link, then it doesn’t apply to me at that time.)
  • Don’t try and open more cards then the American Express limits (10 charge cards and 5 credit cards), though I’m actually currently at 11 so we can see how well I’m following my own advice
  • Don’t spend big multiples of my stated income or business income on American Express cards
  • If you take a retention offer, hold the card open and don’t downgrade for at least 12 statements
  • If you take a card upgrade, hold the card open and don’t downgrade for at least 12 statements
  • Don’t use a mailer with an offer code targeted at someone else

Of course, it’s possible that you could do none of those things and still be shutdown, or do all of them and keep accounts open forever. While we do have some inside data on how American Express systems work, we don’t have all the data and those systems can and do change, so what worked and was safe yesterday might be awful today.

So, if you’re not shutdown go out and enjoy your weekend and put all of this behind you. If you are shutdown you have my condolences, but you should do the same thing. Remember, there are literally thousands of banks out there that will cushion your fall from American Express’s grace and will reward you for your business.

The cushion provided by your local credit union to soften the fall from your American Express shutdown.

MEAB Note: I published this six hours early because of the time critical nature of the content, we’ll be back on the regular schedule Thursday.

A bomb has been slowly exploding since Friday, and it’s now become clear what the common thread is: American Express has begun shutting down all accounts for cardholders that opened a business credit card with Adam Winslow. If you’ve opened a card with him, I’d suggest that you drop everything you’re doing and cash out or transfer all of your American Express Membership Rewards right now. If you can’t login because you’ve been shutdown, you can call the number on the back of your card to get this done if you’re quick.

Again, I’d suggest doing this right now if you’ve opened a card with Adam; if you don’t, you’re likely to lose all of your Membership Rewards and have a tough time ever geting any value out of what was lost.

The Player

Who is Adam Winslow? He’s an American Express employee and card sales representative responsible for opening small business credit cards. He’s one of a small team of American Express small business sales representatives. I’m told that each of the members of this team are assigned to specific set of zip codes within their own region, and that Adam’s region is in the southwest US (he’s based in Arizona). When one of the team members opens a card, they earn a commission.

According to inside sources, Adam allegedly: overstepped his bounds within in the team, aggressively jumped into other representatives regions, and didn’t honor internal processes. Also, allegedly Adam may have bypassed internal checks and balances in order to push credit card applications out of the way of internal system validation. I’ve also been told that he was allegedly put in another role for about a year due to bad behavior, and at some point he may have needed supervisory approval for any new applications he brought into American Express.

Furthermore, I’ve been told that allegedly Adam would proactively reach out to current cardholders to see if they’d like to open another card or two, sometimes monthly. These cards often bypassed all internal American Express limits, and now we may have a clue as to why they bypassed those limits.

The Fallout

We’ve heard from cardholders who do heavy MS that they were shutdown, but we’ve also heard of cardholders doing nothing but organic and business spending that they were also shutdown. People with big balances have gotten the axe, and so have people with small balances. This one seems completely unrelated to any shenanigans on the cardholder’s part, and almost certainly caused by shenanigans on Adam’s part. The first shutdown I saw was on Friday and reports of more and more have been trickling in since then.

In a private forum discussing the shutdowns, reader Paul shared an article and gave me permission to share it here, and there’s a possibility that it’s related to what’s happening: Amex reveals U.S. probes into business, consumer cards sales practices

I’ve never talked to Adam or opened a card with him, so I believe that I’m safe, I hope you’re in the same boat with me. If you weren’t one of the lucky ones, my sincere condolences, this situation sucks.

Stay safe friends!

A picture of a weird scrambled eggs concoction that looks very unappetizing.
An American Express scramble. Was this made by Adam? I kinda doubt it, but the results are awful here too.

Let’s catch up from a few things over the last week or so:

1. Reader Jacob wrote in to let me know that Thursday’s offer for $0 annual-fee for the first year with the Point debit card didn’t pan out. He signed up using the trick in the post and was still charged $99. Point support said the offer was a mistake and they wouldn’t honor it despite his supporting documentation. Stefan also let me know that he couldn’t sign up using anyone’s referral code using Thursday’s trick, so they’ve patched the website too.

When I wrote about the offer I guessed it would work, but that if it somehow failed it would be that you wouldn’t get the $100 sign up bonus. Obviously this was completely backward. You’ll almost certainly get the bonus but not the waived annual fee. I’m ready to call Point a louse and to encourage you to spin up more accounts for your P2, P3, etc the next time there’s a nice boost offer purely out of spite. A “spite account”, if you will.

2. The targeted link I shared for a no-lifetime language American Express Platinum with 150,000 Membership Rewards after $15,000 in spend in three months worked despite it pushing me above American Express’s 10 charge card limit and despite already having two other Business Platinums for the same sole proprietorship. The card arrived today which was the last hurdle, and it took American Express longer than normal to send it to me so I was starting to get dubious about whether it’d appear. I’ll knock out the spend this week and I fully expect the bonus to post without issue.

Remember, AmEx won’t pull your credit for a new business card application as long as you already have an account in good standing with them. Lob in an app or two, there’s literally no consequence to a denial (except maybe your pride?) so give it a shot.

3. I wrote about American Express upgrade shenanigans on Friday — I upgraded a business gold card last week and knocked the spend out in a day (I cheated with prepaid taxes on that one, had it done within 10 minutes of activating the card). The bonus posted two days later exactly as expected. Look for upgrade offers offers, they’re real and they’re wonderful.

Thanks to Latte Larry’s for the inspiration for opening a Point.app spite card.

I’m mad at AA and myself: AA’s AAdvantage program is celebrating a forty year anniversary and they’ve schemed to get people like me to write about it by apparently giving away millions of miles, AAdmiral’s Club passes, and upgrades. Basically you go to this site, click all of the big blue buttons to earn spins, then you go spin the globe a few times to “win”.

I did it, and I “won”:

  • “15% Off; one (1) HD SimpliCam Camera and one (1) month of professional monitoring with SimpliSafe”
  • 40 AA miles

Wow, talk about lackluster. In the end, I’d say I lost and AA “won”. I’ll stick to stock market gambling in the future. Why am I writing about this then? Because I want one of you to win (without quotes) to help vindicate my sense of being bamboozled as a pawn in AA’s long game.

Yes, sometimes I’m a degenerate gambler in the stock market, but only with a small amounts of money. Most still goes into low cost index funds. Wait, is this blog about investing?

1. Hot on the heels of yesterday’s AmEx Master Value Injection for Personal Platinum cards, there’s an MVI for Business Platinums as well. The injection comes in the form of +4 points, up to 80,000 miles for certain categories as AmEx Offers. Check for them in gas, office supply, advertising, telecom/internet, and shipping. (Incidentally, there are good new offers on the Personal Platinum too, check for $50 off of $50 at BestBuy, $50 off of $100 at Home Depot, etc.)

2. Get Alaska Airlines gift cards for 10% off at Costco. These will be good for years, or for the lifetime of Alaska Airlines depending on your state’s gift card laws. This is a nice way to save on upcoming paid travel in 2021 or 2022. But, I wouldn’t hold them longer than that, a low cost index fund is a much better investment than a fledgling airline’s gift card. I’m not aware of card exchanges that will buy these quickly, so the easy gift card resale angle probably isn’t there on this one.

3. I’m sure you’ve already heard: Virgin Atlantic kersploded its award chart for Delta redemptions. You probably haven’t heard: ANA awards with Virgin Atlantic miles can’t be far behind; I’d book any fledgling miles on ANA flights for late 2021 or early 2022 as soon as practical, otherwise you may find yourself sitting on a pile of worthless miles; yes, worth less than even SkyMiles.

Kerbal Space Program demonstrates the Virgin Atlantic award chart kersplosion.

Until recently, you could bank monthly AmEx Uber Credits to your Uber Cash balance by using an accidental or purposeful cancel of a ride under certain conditions. That stopped working, which means you’ve currently got to use your Uber Credits as AmEx intended.

There’s a rub though, both Uber and Uber Eats are supposed to draw from your monthly expiring AmEx Uber Credit before they draw down your banked Uber Cash, but it isn’t working that way on Uber Eats. Instead, your banked cash is used and your credit stays put, ready to expire at the end of the month. If you’re one of the four people out there taking actual Uber rides it still works like it’s supposed to, but if you’re like everyone else, you’d probably rather use it on Uber Eats and you can’t with an Uber Cash balance.

Sam at Milenomics proposes a workaround: Spin up a second Uber account, de-link your AmEx Uber Credit cards from your primary account, and link them to the secondary account. That way, at least next month you’ll have those credits on an account without Uber Cash.

A trash panda (raccoon in a trash can).
Trash panda waiting on your non-free Uber Eats waste.