1. PayPal has a 4% cashback deal for six more days at Safeway with apparently no transaction size limit. Even better, according to brykupono at reddit, you can cycle the deal repeatedly for up to an hour by re-adding the offer to your account after each transaction.

    To trigger the deal you’ll have to checkout with a PayPal QR code from your mobile app which is interesting for other reasons too, like for hitting Chase Freedom Q4 bonus categories or for other less obvious games.
  2. Vanillagift.com has fee free physical and virtual gift cards with promo code cyberdeals22. These cards are usually easy to liquidate, but watch out when purchasing because lately they’ve been charging as a cash advance on American Express cards.
  3. Nearside, the King George III of banks, accidentally announced on Monday via email that part of their business operations were shutting down in the near future. They quickly followed up with an “oops, sorry, ignore that message”, then yesterday sent a message saying essentially “actually guys, sorry, lol, mah bad, we’re dying on December 23 for Christmas, lmfao”. I guess unlimited 2.2% cashback on debit transactions may not be a sound business decision, but what do I know anyway?

    If you have money at Nearside, I’d transfer it out sooner rather than later (I did the moment the first message came in, I didn’t need to wait for the rest of the drama to play out).
  4. Dell is 15x and Saks Fifth Avenue is 10x at Rakuten’s shopping portal for the holiday, so it’s a good time to liquidate American Express Platinum and Business Platinum credits. Even better, SideShowBob233 notes that Drop has 100 points per dollar or 10% back at Dell, and it stacks with portals too. If my math is correct that brings Dell prices down to about par with other retailers, except you still get the frustration of Dell’s order system for no extra charge.

Nearside wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving. No, wait, go away! Just kidding, Happy Thanksgiving.

UPDATE: MSN Flyer reports that American Express charged a cash advance on a purchase at vanillagift.com as well. The issue appears wider spread than we thought and is a troubling development.

American Express is historically very forgiving with cash-like purchases, seeing a cash advance show up on a statement is effectively unheard of unless you visit an ATM, run a bank teller cash transaction, use it at a casino, or for a payday lender transaction. In fact, I’ve never seen a cash advance on any of my American Express cards in my manufactured spend history, even when the merchant sells nothing but gift-cards or when buying literal currency from the US mint.

There’s something rotten in Denmark Manhattan though: There are now two reports of a cash advance fee being charged at a mostly under-the-radar Mastercard gift card online retailer when using an American Express. One of the reports from includes a screenshot of the transactions. (Many thanks to reader Nick)

I haven’t purchased gift cards from this retailer in several weeks so I don’t have a datapoint of my own, but I can say that this retailer has been wonky with American Express for about two months. Some of its quirks:

  • Requires AmEx SafeKey, but only sometimes
  • Orders occasionally pass SafeKey but then sends a failure to the retailer
  • SafeKey tokens can leak to or from other sites
  • Pending charges started appearing with a merchant name of “OTH MISC” or was blank, and the name only corrected when the charge actually posted.

Was the cash advance charge intentional on American Express’s part? I’m honestly not sure, I think it’s equally likely that the vendor messed up their merchant account in some other way that caused the cash advance and it may be fixed in a few weeks. Also, recall that historically when American Express is sick of manufactured spend at a particular retailer they just stop awarding points but still let the transaction through rather than charging a cash advance fee, like with Simon.com purchases, so it’s an odd turn to blatantly charge cash advances on a similar retailer.

Regardless of the cause, watch your American Express manufactured spend charges closely for the next couple of months until we get a better handle on what’s up.

The plumbing between a certain gift card vendor and their merchant processor.

  1. There’s a new offer for turning your American Express Platinum and Business Platinum Clear credits into a $75 Uber voucher. In the past you’ve only needed a new email address to get these to work even if you already have Clear, and I assume this time is no different.
  2. Meijer has a promotion for $50 off of $500 in many third party gift card purchases. This is the less lucrative version of this offer versus a straight discount, but still generally very lucrative. Notable exclusions are Apple and Amazon, and worthwhile inclusions are BestBuy and Home Depot. (Thanks to GC Galore)
  3. There are multiple reports in the MEAB slack and elsewhere that Mastercards from MyPrepaidCenter have been fraudulently drained since late last week, likely from a site-hack based on the data-points and given that the site was offline for much of yesterday. If you have any of those cards, I’d suggest you drain them as soon as possible, or at minimum double check the balances. If you have cards that were compromised you should be able to dispute the charges and get your original balance back, but it’ll probably be a slog.
  4. Check your email for a targeted offer from Discover bank for $100 or $150 bonus for brining either $10,000 or $15,000 in deposits into the bank by the end of September, and maintaining an average balance of at least that much through the end of November. The terms and conditions are here. (Thanks to 5 via MEAB slack)

A scammer liquidating a gift card.

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.