By The Pointer
From Day 1 of this site, I made an Ethics Pledge to make sure I’m always being transparent and doing right by my readers, even as circumstances change. Well, they just changed! Normally, I earn money when you click through one of the links on this site, and you’re approved for a credit card. American Express is trying something new(ish). They’re offering you the same power. If you refer someone you know (or yourself) for one of their credit cards, you’ll earn a rebate.
I say that this is newish because AmEx and a number of other issuers have been doing this for a while, but this time is different for a few reasons:
- The referral offers are actually good offers! In the past, you could get a commission of maybe 10,000 Membership Rewards points for referring a friend for an AmEx Gold card with a 20,000-point sign up bonus. Sure, you got something out of it, but you’re screwing your friend by sticking them with a bad bonus that they can only apply for once. These new offers seem to be good offers. You can always go to the Best Offers section to confirm.
- You can refer people for cards that you don’t have. It used to be that if you had, for example, an AmEx Everyday card, you could only refer someone for that specific card. Now, most people with a few AmEx cards appear to be able to refer others for almost any other AmEx card.
- You can refer yourself for a new card..AND get the referral bonus. It’s unclear what AmEx intended with this program, but now that you can refer people for cards you don’t have, you can effectively refer yourself for a new card. I recently logged into my AmEx account, and through my American Express Blue Cash Preferred card page, I referred myself for an American Express Gold card. After my application was approved, I received $75 in cash back rewards (in addition to the 50,000 points I’ll earn for completing the minimum spending requirement on the Gold card). You can do the same (though the specific offers will change over time), and I’ll show you how below.
How to do it
To get started, you need to have at least one American Express card. If you don’t have an AmEx card yet, sorry. You could always be kind enough to use one of my referral links or help out a friend with an AmEx card. For those existing cardholders, just log into your account and scroll down to where you see a message like the one below.
This is the message I saw when I logged in, and went to the page for my American Express Blue Cash Preferred. After clicking “Refer Now”, the unit expands, and you can see more of the offer details.
If you scroll down a bit below the message, you have the options to refer someone by email or using a link. You’ll want to use the link.
Another way to get to this point is by going to http://www.americanexpress.com/refer. It’s not a familiar interface for most people, but it could be easier for some.
No matter how you get to the referral link, click “Copy”. Then, paste the URL for your referral link into a new window. When you get to the page, it’ll be clear you were referred.
After you click “Continue” it appears as if you’ve only been referred for this one card, but that’s not the case. If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll see options to see other cards.
Since I came to this page through a referral from a personal card (Blue Cash Preferred), the icons for “Cash Back”, “Travel”, etc. are referring to personal cards. If you want to see business cards, you can click “Looking for a Business Card?” at the bottom. Yes, you can use a personal card to refer someone for a business card. For shits and giggles, let’s click “All Personal Cards” to see what comes up.
With some zooming out, we can see that through my Blue Cash Preferred, I can refer up to 17 personal cards, and the full list is available here. You can even see the offer for the American Express Gold Card that I already signed up for. With any of these cards, simply click “Continue to Card Details”, and you or your friends can apply for the card you want.
Who can refer which cards
One thing to keep in mind it’s that it’s not as if having one American Express card allows you to refer people for ANY other AmEx card. The rules as to who can refer which cards are somewhat intuitive:
- American Express branded cards that earn Membership Rewards or cash back (eg. Blue Cash Preferred, Platinum, Everday, etc.) appear to be tied for “most powerful” when it comes to referring other cards. They allow you to refer almost any other AmEx card except for some of the special Membership Rewards cards with partner branding (eg. Ameriprise Platinum, Schwab Platinum, etc.).
- Those special Membership Rewards cards with partner branding (Ameriprise Platinum, Schwab Platinum, etc.) also allow you to refer almost any other AmEx card as well. The exception is that even they can’t be used to refer people for those partner Membership Rewards card (ie. even if you have an Ameriprise Gold, you can’t refer someone for an Ameriprise Gold).
- Partner branded cards that issue their own rewards currency (eg. Gold Delta Skymiles, Hilton Aspire, etc.) only allow you to refer cards with the same reward type (ie. if you try to refer someone through a Hilton credit card, you can only refer them for other Hilton credit cards).
The latest commission schedule
The next logical questions is, “If I can refer myself or others for almost any other AmEx card, which one I should I refer through in order to earn the most?” Below is the latest commission schedule, which basically shows that premium cards tend to give the best commissions, but they give commissions in their own rewards type. In other words, the Business Platinum card and the Delta Reserve Business card may both offer 15,000 points, but I’d consider 15,000 Membership Rewards more valuable than 15,000 Delta Skymiles.
It's also worth keeping maximums in mind. There is a limit on how much you can earn from referrals on each card during each calendar year. For example, if you have both AmEx Gold and Green cards, and you've already referred 5 friends with your Gold card, then you should have earned 50,000 points. However, there's a 55,000 point maximum for that card. Your next referral (from your Gold card) will only earn 5,000 points until the next calendar year. You're better off making your sixth referral using a link generated from your Green card. Then, you'll get 10,000 points if that person is approved.
A note on taxes
Whether or not these referral bonuses will be treated as "rebates", which aren't taxed, or "income", which is taxed is unclear. I'm not an accountant, but I can say that if American Express reports these referrals to the IRS as income, the IRS will expect you to pay taxes on them. There have been reports of some people receiving 1099 forms from American Express stating that their 2018 referrals were reported to the IRS as income. I only made one referral in 2018, and I didn't receive a 1099 from AmEx so this may be based on volume. It's unclear whether these referrals will be taxed.
The Pointer's Take
As long as you recognize these referrals may be taxed, jump on this while you can. It’s something special when you can get the best available offer on a credit card AND you earn a bonus on top of that for referring yourself.