American Express has been pushing back rather hard against those they deem to be abusing Amex credit cards for points and benefits. Frozen points and closed loopholes appear to be in response to people using online application links discovered by some technically savvy individuals.
These links tend to be attractive because they offer much higher than normal signup bonuses for the Platinum Card. There have been reports from those that used these links that their Membership Rewards accounts have been frozen and previously awarded points have been clawed back.
In addition to the points freezing, a once reliable method of monetizing the airline incidental fee credit suddenly stop working. The common thread: this loophole stopped working on November 23… the same day the most recent “hacked” link was discovered.
One major benefit of the Platinum Card is the annual $200 airline incidental fee credit. Card members choose an airline in January, and any fees they incur from that selected airline (baggage fees, change fees, lounge passes, etc.) charged to the Platinum card will be reimbursed–up to $200 each year.
Over the years, card members have found various loopholes to monetize this credit, mostly by buying airline gift cards. The favorite method has been by using the United MileagePlus X shopping app. Purchases via the app, like Amazon Gift Cards, have been reimbursed for Amex Platinum card members who selected United as their airline.
That appears to have changed. I haven’t seen any reports of MPX purchases being reimbursed by American Express since November 23.
“Leaked” Online Application Links
Back in May, a Reddit user uncovered an online link to a Platinum Card application that offered a much better signup bonus than the normal public one. This link offered 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months. The regular bonus is 40,000 MR points.
That link was intended to be for targeted applicants, but was quickly publicized on Reddit and picked up by many bloggers. This generated a wave of applications. I initially resisted posting about it myself, but the following morning the link was still live and at that point widely reported on, so I shared it on this site. About an hour later, American Express shut it down. The end of the application frenzy was only the beginning of the story.
A few weeks later, many who applied using the “leaked” link began to report that their Membership Rewards accounts had been “frozen” by Amex. They were unable to redeem or transfer any MR points–even those that were earned with other cards.
American Express decided to review all spending by those that applied using the questionable link. Bonus points were denied or, if already awarded, clawed back for any reason that Amex could come up with, including manufactured spending, merchandise returns, as well as currently or previously holding other variations of the American Express Platinum Card product (ie Ameriprise or Mercedes Benz version of the card).
Approved applicants who were well-behaved and met the minimum spend requirement organically did finally have their points unfrozen after months-long reviews. That is small consolation to those who missed a points redemption opportunity.
On the night before Thanksgiving, another dubious link surfaced on Reddit. Given the problems detailed above, this link wasn’t as widely publicized. I didn’t share it except to tweet this:
Here we go again pic.twitter.com/yfJyq6ac0P
— PointsYak (@PointsYak) November 24, 2016
Once again, reports of frozen Membership Rewards accounts are being reported–even before the new Platinum cards have been received by those who were approved using the new link. The saga continues.
Any conclusions I can come up with are pure speculation. It’s too soon to declare the MPX loophole dead. There were similar reimbursement delays this time last year. They all cleared up by mid-December. I do, however, find the timing coinciding with the last leaked link worrisome.
Freezing Membership Rewards accounts during the review process after already rewarding the points seems awfully heavy handed to me. Amex is assuming your guilt before the investigation even takes place simply for using a link that they failed to secure. Just because you applied through a link you found on some points blog doesn’t mean you’re a credit card abuser, right?
For the time being, I would be very careful meeting the minimum spend requirement for any American Express card. Purchasing reloadable gift cards at a local drug store WILL raise red flags as that technically violates the terms of the bonus offers. As always, YMMV.
Please share any frozen points stories in the comments.