Commonwealth Bank axes American Express credit cards

Commonwealth Bank axes American Express credit cards

EXCLUSIVE | The Commonwealth Bank will stop issuing new American Express credit cards later this year and will cancel all existing CBA American Express cards in Australia before year's end.

All current customers will find their CommBank Awards American Express cards disabled from November 1 2018, meaning all CBA AMEX transactions will be declined from that date.

This applies to both personal and business credit card holders, so whether your card is Standard, Gold, Platinum or Diamond, issued directly to you or via your business, if it's a Commonwealth Bank American Express card, you won't be able to use it come November.

Internal Commonwealth Bank documents sighted by Australian Business Traveller outline the bank's plans, which CBA has since confirmed.

To continue earning points in the Commonwealth Awards program, you'd need to revert to the 'backup' Mastercard also provided as part of your CBA credit card account – or the backup Visa, if you're a long-time customer and haven't changed your card type in many years, which will become your only CBA credit card.

New customers applying for the bank's various Awards credit cards will still receive a new AMEX card, plus a companion Mastercard, if their application is received and gets final approval by August 31 2018 – but from November 1, those AMEX cards will be still disabled, as with all CBA AMEX products.

Customers applying for new CBA Awards credit cards on and from September 1 2018 will receive a Mastercard only, and will not be able to request an American Express card.

The same is true for existing cardholders migrating from one CBA credit card to another from September, as their new card will be Mastercard-only.

In related news, the bank has also axed its personal Gold Awards AMEX + Mastercard credit card combo for new customers, who can only now apply for Standard, Platinum and Diamond Awards accounts.

Why is CBA ditching its American Express cards?

According to internal Commonwealth Bank documents sighted by Australian Business Traveller, the shutdown stems from the Reserve Bank of Australia's decision to cap interchange fees for bank-issued American Express cards to the same rate as Visa and Mastercard.

Read: How the interchange cap will affect credit card frequent flyer points

Banks traditionally issued American Express cards to customers because businesses paid higher fees to process these payments: and a portion of those fees were passed along to the banks to help fund higher frequent flyer points earning rates on AMEX transactions, compared to traditional Visa and Mastercard purchases.

Now, with bank-issued AMEX cards providing no extra revenue per transaction than a Visa or Mastercard, there's no incentive for banks to continue issuing these cards alongside Visas and Mastercards, with ANZ, NAB and Westpac all having ditched their direct-issued AMEX cards, although Westpac has recently introduced Westpac-branded AMEX cards issued directly by AMEX, which aren't subjected to interchange fee caps.

"This (RBA) change affects the ability of banks to reward AMEX credit card customers with higher Awards points earn," CBA's document explains.

"We regularly review our product offerings and have made the decision to close our AMEX companion credit cards from Thursday 1 November 2018," a spokesperson for the bank told Australian Business Traveller, which mirrors the information distributed to CBA employees today.

CBA is advising its customers of the withdrawal of AMEX cards next week and will provide them with similar information to help them manage the change, the spokesperson shared.

“The RBA’s regulatory changes introduced in July last year created widespread disruption of the digital payments landscape with banks choosing to either devalue their rewards programs or remove the American Express companion cards," an American Express spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller.

While "Commonwealth Bank American Express companion cards will close on 1 November 2018... American Express’ other commercial arrangements with Commonwealth Bank will continue", the spokesperson added, such as the Simple Merchant Plan for small businesses which makes it easier and more affordable to accept AMEX.

What now for CBA American Express cardholders?

Firstly, as all existing CBA AMEX cards will be cancelled come November 1, if you currently have any direct debits or other automatic payments being charged to your CBA American Express card, you'll need to move these payments onto a different card before that date, as all CBA AMEX transactions will be declined from November 1.

Don't forget about services which store your credit card number for use, either – card details on platforms such as PayPal and Uber will also need to be updated.

The Commonwealth Bank has confirmed to Australian Business Traveller that it will not be reducing annual fees charged on any of its Awards products in light of this change, nor will it be increasing the number of points awarded on Mastercard spend.

Commonwealth Awards points which have already been earned can continue to be spent even after American Express cards have been closed, which for most savvy card users means converting them into Velocity Frequent Flyer points with Virgin Australia (Qantas Points are an option too, but are credited to your account monthly, not manually transferred).

But as we've previously highlighted, CBA cardholders already earn more frequent flyer points per dollar spent under the current two-card program by using their Mastercard for most purchases, not their American Express card, which actually has a lower earn rate except in a few bonus categories like department stores and overseas spend.

Read: CBA's credit cards among the country's worst for earning frequent flyer points

With bank-issued American Express cards coming to a close, the only American Express cards remaining in the market will be those issued directly by American Express, which offer some compelling frequent flyer earning rates.

For Qantas frequent flyer points, the Qantas American Express Ultimate card offers 1.5 Qantas Points per $1 spent, plus 55,000 bonus Qantas Points. There's a $450 annual fee, but that's offset by the inclusion of a $450 Qantas Travel Credit every year to spend on Qantas flights – so if you'd have spent that much on flight bookings anyway, the card is practically free.

Spenders preferring Virgin Australia Velocity frequent flyer points could instead look to the AMEX Velocity Platinum credit card, providing a similar earn of 1.5 Velocity points per $1 spent, 50,000 bonus Velocity points for new customers, a free return domestic flight with Virgin every year and airport lounge visits, aside a $375 annual fee.

Another option for Velocity points or for miles in popular overseas programs like Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Emirates Skywards is the AMEX Explorer credit card, giving the equivalent of 1.5 frequent flyer points per $1 spent through AMEX's Membership Rewards program, with the $395 annual fee offset by a $400 travel credit (travel voucher) every year.

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

24 comments

  • Nicho Kiu

    Nichokiu

    6 Jun, 2018 05:00 pm

    That’s really sad, I’m disappointed. I loved the Amex card for the no exchange fee when spending overseas.
    Wonder what other cards will allow no exchange fees?
    Member who gave thanks

    daveozsydney

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    6 Jun, 2018 05:07 pm

    Hi Nichokiu, some options for earning points overseas without bank-imposed transaction fees include Bankwest's Qantas Platinum and World Mastercards and the Coles Rewards Mastercard (earns Flybuys which convert to Velocity). The 28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard is also a popular 'no fee' card for use overseas but doesn't offer any points.

    No member give thanks

  • Stm Aus

    stmaus

    7 Jun, 2018 01:45 pm

    Can recommend 28 Degrees mastercard.
    Member who gave thanks

    Greg84

  • Greg84

    Greg84

    7 Jun, 2018 03:28 pm

    Only downside of 28 Degrees is no points - the CBA Amex was good for no FX Fees & Points
    No member give thanks

  • parishiltons

    parishiltons

    8 Jun, 2018 03:13 pm

    And you can put the 28deg card in your phone's wallet and use Applepay. CBA is still dragging the chain with STILL no Applepay so I find I am using their cards less and the 28deg card more - particularly with the current 5% cashback promotion.

    No member give thanks

  • Lachlan Chambers

    LackyLachy

    8 Jun, 2018 03:20 pm

    I recommend ANZ travel rewards for: a) no FX fees, and b) points-earning potential. Annual fees of $225 is somewhat offset if you utilise the complimentary return domestic flights. I usually apply for this card just before an overseas trip, then cancel it once I'm home in order to reset my bonus points eligibility period (after booking my flights, of course!).
    No member give thanks

  • CQ

    MEL Traveller

    6 Jun, 2018 06:55 pm

    There goes my access to the Amex lounge at Melbourne Airport ☹
    No member give thanks

  • Dec1971

    declanr

    6 Jun, 2018 07:37 pm

    Such a shame. Will start to seek out an alternative. My business banks with CBA and to be honest they offer so little on both a buisness and personal banking front these days I wonder why I use them. We never see our business banker (forgotten his name!), yet we have millions in trust at any one time. To me this is another reason why we should widen our perspective away from the big four. Open banking is the way forwards. Sorry for the rant.
    No member give thanks

  • lind26

    lind26

    6 Jun, 2018 07:48 pm

    I'm amazed you got access to Internal bank documents!
    No member give thanks

  • Tom Wilson

    tommygun

    7 Jun, 2018 08:36 am

    Fell off the back of a truck, probably...
    No member give thanks

  • jubsie

    jubsie

    7 Jun, 2018 10:41 am

    I am impressed too haha
    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    7 Jun, 2018 12:02 pm

    lind26: All part of the job, with thanks to our confidential sources (and of course, new sources are always welcome, and my email inbox - chris@ausbt.com.au - is always open for tip-offs. We never reveal sources who choose to remain confidential, but perhaps don't use your work email address or computer to send something 'top secret', for obvious reasons!).

    No member give thanks

  • Greg84

    Greg84

    6 Jun, 2018 09:18 pm

    Has to be the worst premium card on the market - pretty sure 95% of people that have it get it included on the home loan package (you'd be mad to pay for it) - very disappointing from CBA
    No member give thanks

  • elchriss0

    elchriss0

    7 Jun, 2018 11:02 am

    Yea CBA have the worst points earning cards with no bonus or any other incentive to even bother with them.
    No member give thanks

  • Stm Aus

    stmaus

    7 Jun, 2018 01:44 pm

    Yes, exactly. Comes with the CBA wealth package, and I never use mine.
    No member give thanks

  • Lachlan Chambers

    LackyLachy

    8 Jun, 2018 03:17 pm

    Agreed - stopped using my CBA cards a long time ago. I only pull it out during Amex's shop small or other statement credit promos. CBA could have at least cancelled the amex card on Nov 30, after shop small. Nov 1 cancellation is just cruel
    No member give thanks

  • jubsie

    jubsie

    7 Jun, 2018 07:31 am

    The card went to the pack after the rewards slashing last year. The only good thing left with it was the exchange fee free on international payments. I can see why they are ditching it though.

    If it wasn’t for their amazing online platforms I doubt I would still use CBA. Credit cards with other banks offer much better value with their rewards!
    No member give thanks

  • cian.moynihan@gmail.com Moynihan

    cian

    8 Jun, 2018 11:53 am

    Just cancelled my diamond awards card. Have had it about 7 years or so. The frequent flyer rates were no longer competitive. Now have Velocity AMEX and ANZ Black. Think I'll just change cards every year for the bonus from now on.
    No member give thanks

  • Tristan Reed

    trisreed

    8 Jun, 2018 02:08 pm

    Glad to see I'm not the only one going down this path!
    No member give thanks

  • BrisbanePE

    BrisbanePE

    8 Jun, 2018 02:49 pm

    Surprised it took them this long compared to other banks e.g. ANZ.
    No member give thanks

  • Hugh McGarry

    Journeyman

    8 Jun, 2018 07:07 pm

    Like others used it only for avoiding extra fx charge when travelling internationally. Pity can't do same with my Velocity Amex. If it wasn't for CBA's damn good net banking I'd probably ditch 'em altogether.
    Member who gave thanks

    jubsie

  • Brian Tonkin

    tonky

    19 Jun, 2018 06:41 pm

    I'm surprised that no ABT subscriber has raised the issue of whether we'll get a prorate refund from CBA when our AMEX cards are cancelled. My annual fee on a CBA Diamond card was around $400 p.a. and will still have a long time to run when it is arbitrarily cancelled in November. Surely we are entitled to a partial refund ???
    No member give thanks

  • Hugh McGarry

    Journeyman

    30 Sep, 2018 10:28 pm

    Good point. Fair trading comes to mind. Have you asked them?
    No member give thanks

  • Noah Fleiszig

    Noah

    30 Sep, 2018 03:42 pm

    I'm very dissapointed because i want to have that credit card but they banded it and a coles credit cardd you can get
    No member give thanks

Guest

24 Jun, 2019 07:40 pm

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