Amex To Cut Spending By $3 Billion In 2020

Filed Under: American Express

Yesterday American Express has their first quarter earnings call, and during it they emphasized that they’d be cutting spending in 2020. In this post I wanted to take a look at what that means for those of us with Amex credit cards.

Amex’s first quarter financial results

In the first quarter of 2020:

  • Amex’s net income fell to $367 million, from $1.55 billion during the same period the previous year
  • Amex’s revenue excluding interest expenses fell to $10.3 billion, from $10.4 billion
  • Amex’s total expenses were down by 5%, to $7.2 billion, due to lower operating expenses

Here’s some interesting data regarding customer spending and rewards:

  • In the first quarter, Amex customer spending fell by 3% in the United States and 11% in overseas markets
  • Travel and entertainment constituted 30% of Amex spending in 2019, and is down almost 95%
  • Amex spending on card member rewards fell by 2%, to $2.39 billion

Amex profits are down 76%

Amex will cut expenses by $3 billion in 2020

With quarterly profits having decreased by 76%, Amex plans to cut spending by nearly $3 billion in 2020, as the company sets aside more money for a wave of potential delinquencies.

According to Amex, the deterioration in the economy accelerated in April, and has significantly impacted spending volumes. The company expects operating expenses to be down $1 billion in the next three quarters, but that doesn’t do enough.

Will Amex cut any expenses with Centurion Lounges?

Where will Amex cost cutting come from?

Amex says that they’ll cut costs across the company, and especially with marketing. Should you be worried that the rewards on one of your favorite cards will be cut, or what all does this mean?

If I had to guess, I’d say:

  • It sounds like much of the cost cutting will come from marketing; Amex spends so much money on sponsorships and creating brand awareness, so I’d expect that to decrease
  • I would also expect less money will be put into new cardmember acquisitions, whether that comes in the form of smaller welcome bonuses or less money on marketing new cards (including through affiliates, refer-a-friend, etc.); until the economy stabilizes new cardmember acquisitions are risky
  • Personally I think we may see some mild cuts for existing cardmembers, whether that includes cost cutting in Centurion Lounges, some additional restrictions being added to card benefits, etc.

That’s purely my guess, though I wouldn’t expect for existing cardmembers to be impacted by this too much.

Could we see benefits scaled back on some cards?

Bottom line

Amex is planning on cutting costs by $3 billion in 2020, and much of that reduction in spending will come from marketing. That being said, I would expect some mild spending cuts across the business.

The reality is that the current uncertainty is risky for credit card issuers. A recession is one thing, because there’s precedent for that, and in a way it’s even an opportunity for card issuers.

But the economy virtually coming to a stop for several weeks and no one knowing what the future will be like is truly something that hasn’t been faced in the past several decades…

Amex does plan on also refreshing some existing cards, which I covered in a separate post.

What are you expecting from Amex spending cuts?

  1. In Canada Amex has been busy since early March. They’re closing accounts they deem risky in myriad ways. Those who approach credit cards with creativity and flair are hunkered down, hoping not to attract attention. It’s not clear what their criteria are, but clearly from this article, they must be concerned and active in risk mitigation, as they see it.

    One thing is clear: spending that doesn’t make sense, according to one’s stated income, or according to Amex’ algorithm, raises flags and they’re currently paying more attention to red flags.

    US situation is likely different in minor ways (Amex Bank of Canada is a separate company) but not likely in major ways, IMO.

  2. Lucky – you missed the news that Amex is going to try to add new benefits to a lot of their premium cards in May to offset the loss of the use of travel benefits. Who knows if they will be worthwhile. I’m personally interested to see if the 2x MR for Amex Platinum that we are seeing in international markets comes to the US.

  3. @ Ben — What AMEX is gonna see is alot of card closures. I am sure as hell not paying annual fees for cards with lounge benefits, airline incidental fees, uber credits, etc. that are now totally worthless. Bye, bye Platinum and Gold cards. I’ll gladly reopen them when they offer me 100,000 points again.

  4. Some of the cost cutting for Centurion Lounges will come naturally between not being open for likely 2+ months and once they do reopen, having many fewer travelers there, which means less food consumed, fewer drinks ordered, etc.

  5. I agree with the “other” Ben above, their Centurion unit will benefit from prolonged closings, and then I’m sure between the downturn in users and minor cost cutting around the edges, the experience won’t be that different once reopened. Maybe the biggest change we see is they close the LGA Centurion early, and dont reopen until the new CTB is finished. The 3b in cuts will come from downsizing staff, a massive reduction in marketing, and a cut in whatever capital expenditures they had cooking; announced centurion lounges that aren’t near completion or havent yet begun construction will be delayed indefinitely, risky development investments cut, office and existing centurion leases renegotiated, sponsorship deals either canceled or reworked etc etc.

  6. One more from me… Gene, the Amex Gold card is as vital as ever. 4x on grocery (big category these days), 5x on Grubhub (with the 1x additional point Amex offer through 12/31/2020). 4x on dining when dining comes back. Amex Platinum is a much more difficult case to make – let’s see what changes they make to the card in May. Uber/Saks credits still are worth face value (Uber Eats,, but the airline incidentals are more challenging. I will still likely keep mine. There are other cards that can be cut instead…

  7. I agree with Anthony. I’m keeping my Gold card. Thus far it’s the only card I’ve really used this past month due to grocery shopping and takeout (both 4x.)
    Be vigilant though. I bet if you miss just one payment that would easily raise a red flag with Amex.

  8. @DenB®

    I don’t think there is any special reason to get busy recently. AMEX has been notorious for doing financial review of flagged accounts, and they flag a lot. One thing I do see is AMEX values your history with them a lot, so if you are a 30 year card holder, they might go easy on you. (but not enough to refund your annual fees)

    I don’t think AMEX closing your account is a big problem as you closing your AMEX card. The Platinum benefits are almost useless.

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