Last fall, the Delta Skymiles American Express card announced a new look and new perks for cardholders. It offered substantial signup bonuses for the entire suite of cards if you signed up a few months before the changes took effect. But when January rolled around, some of those card signup offers for new customers were noticeably higher than they had been in the fall.
Which made me wonder: Can you negotiate a signup bonus?
In my time covering credit cards, I’ve learned that almost everything is negotiable, from your interest rate, to your annual fee, to your late payment fees. Credit card issuers want to keep your business, and so they’ll (sometimes) bend over backward to keep you happy.
But some negotiation points are tried and true more so than others. I remember so clearly the Oprah episode that taught me how to negotiate my credit card interest rate back 2009—probably because it worked. We still recommend asking your issuer to reduce your rate if you have good or improving credit.
But what about that bonus? I asked around my network of credit experts and learned that you can certainly ask for a better bonus if you’ve just signed up for a card and are now seeing a better offer. But as with most negotiations, your mileage may vary.
“In my experience, Chase and Citi are the most lenient when it comes to matching sign-up bonus increases,” said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “Upon request, both frequently give the higher number as long as the sign-up was recent. Within the past 90 days seems to be the typical cutoff.”
American Express used to match higher offers more consistently, Rossman said, but called it “less of a sure thing these days.” But he still said it doesn’t hurt to ask.
But when I searched for someone who had asked their new card issuer for a better signup bonus, I had a hard time finding success stories.
Kelly Waggoner, editor in chief of Finder.com, asked American Express for a better deal when she signed up for the Blue Cash Preferred card. She wanted an upgrade from her Blue card, which was her very first credit card.
She had seen a signup bonus of $300 (after spending $1,000 in the first three months) advertised online, but after she was approved online, she was only offered a bonus of $250. The trouble spot: The $300 was available to new customers only.
She fired up an online chat to ask if they could make an exception. The representative, while friendly and understanding, according to Waggoner, ultimately told her no.
“I’d be lying to say I wasn’t disappointed,” Waggoner said. “This is my first new credit card in more than 15 years and my first credit card with annual fee, and so I didn’t take it lightly.” She said that because her credit score is good, she could have shopped around for a better deal elsewhere. “I’d hoped my Amex loyalty would be worth the extra $50.”
So, as usual, there’s no harm in asking—but don’t be surprised if you get turned down. And before you even make the call to inquire about getting a better signup bonus, make sure you’d be able to achieve the requirements in a reasonable fashion. If you can’t justify spending an extra $1000 in the same 90-day period to get a handful of extra points, it’s probably not worth the effort.