The application rules for American Express are pretty straightforward for the most part, but they require you to be familiar with the different policies between charge cards and credit cards and to always keep tabs on your total opened accounts.
Will Amex combine hard pulls?
Amex (or more accurately the credit bureaus) can definitely combine hard pulls for multiple applications.
The only issue with this is that it doesn’t always happen. I’ve applied for multiple Amex cards on numerous occasions and each time the hard pulls were combined. However, there are data points out there where applicants were hit with two hard pulls. If I had to guess, applying for two charge cards probably makes it more likely for a combined hard pull than applying for two credit cards, but I can’t tell you what Amex will do for sure.
As an interesting aside, existing Amex cardholders will usually not incur a hard pull upon an application rejection. Unless Amex detects a significant change in your credit report, they will usually only conduct a credit check using their own internal credit check system and deny you.
The Amex 90 day rule: No more than two credit cards in 90 day period
The Amex 90 day rule does not allow for you to be approved for more than two credit cards within any 90 day period. Remember, this rule applies to credit cards, not charge cards. Some people are lucky enough to get around this rule and get 3 credit cards in 90 days, but I think those people are outliers.
There’s actually no strict limitation on charge cards, although I’d probably try to limit charge card applications to 2 per 90 day period but not more than 4. Just my personal recommendation.
No more than one credit card application per day
American Express limits you to one credit card approval per 5 business days.
This is an automated fraud-prevention feature that Amex uses and it will usually apply whether you’re applying for personal or business credit cards. As far as I know, there’s no way around this besides getting lucky. Typically, your second application will go to pending for 3 to 5 business days and then you might be automatically approved or receive a rejection and need to call into reconsideration. That’s the problem with combining hard pulls with multiple Amex credit card apps — that week-long processing period often results in two separate hard pulls.
On the other hand, you can definitely apply and be approved for multiple charge cards at the same time. I’ve heard of people being approved for up to 4 charge cards at once. However, the maximum number of charge cards that I would apply for at once is two, because it’s not uncommon for Amex to hit you with financial reviews if you quickly open 3-4 new accounts.
Four Amex credit cards total
One of the rules that is very clear is that you’re only allowed four total Amex credit cards at any given time.
I’m not aware of anybody getting around this rule so this is a must-follow in my opinion. Update: it appears this rule has become more lax as many have been approved for 5 credit cards but just remember YMMV.
This rule applies to both personal and business credit cards so there’s no getting around it that way. However, the good news is that if you are an authorized user on an Amex card, that will not count against you for purposes of this rule.
Unlimited charge cards?
It’s a tad unclear if Amex has any limits on charge cards. Some state that the rule is four total charge cards but there are several data points showing others getting approved for more than four Amex charge cards. I would personally try to keep it at four or five and only apply for additional cards with the expectation that you may very well be denied.
And again, I’m only talking about charge cards right there. That means that you could have a total of at least 9 Amex cards (5 credit cards and 4 charge cards).
Bonuses are once per lifetime
One of the biggest limitations recently imposed by American Express is the oncer per lifetime bonus. This means that once you earn a sign-up bonus for a specific card, you can never earn that bonus again even if you cancel your card and reapply. And now, this rule even applies to business cards. There’s no difference between charge cards and credit cards with this rule, either.
There are only two potential ways around this rule.
One way allows you to capture the difference in bonus points between your original sign-up offer and a later sign-up offer that you meet. For example, if you met the sign-up offer for 40,000 Membership Rewards for the American Express Platinum in 2013, canceled the card, and then met the sign-up offer for 100,000 Membership Rewards in 2015, American Express would grant you the difference for your second bonus: 60,000 Membership Rewards. This is a pretty controversial method that appears to be dying out, so I don’t recommend it.
Another way around the this rule, which is the only true exception, is to jump on targeted offers. This method is still YMMV, but it’s a way to get a bonus for a card for a second time. I would suggest checking the terms and conditions of the targeted offer first to see if the sign-up bonus is limited to new cardholders. If it’s not, then you at least have a basis for making an argument with Amex that you deserve the bonus.
So, in conclusion, you should ask yourself the following three questions before applying for American Express cards:
- Do you have a total of five Amex credit cards? If so, you cannot apply for another credit card (but you can still apply for a charge card)
- Have you opened up more than two credit cards in the past 90 yes? If so, you cannot apply for another credit card (but you can still apply for a charge card)
- Have you ever been given the sign-up bonus for this card before? If so, you probably will not be given the sign-up bonus again (subject to the above exceptions).