Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why I Hate American Express

Of all my credit cards, my American Express card was my favorite.  As I child, I fell for those television commercials with Karl Malden who warned us, "don't leave home without it."  And who wouldn't want to have the same card that Ellen DeGeneres and M. Knight Shamalayan carry?   I was overjoyed a couple of years ago when first received I got the amex that allowed me to earn frequent flyer miles.  Although this particular card had a revolving line of credit, I judiciously paid off the card monthly because THAT was the card I chose to have around if I ever ran into trouble.  I don't mess with advice from Karl Malden.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I traveled to Berlin.  Before I left, I contacted my bank to let them know I would be in Germany to ensure that I could access my funds.  This may sound like a touch of overkill, but the last time I was in Germany, my bank blocked my ATM card.  After several lengthy and expensive calls to New York and a fax my driver's license, I was able to transfer money into my husband's account.  For some reason, his ATM card issued from the same bank had no issues.  Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice I'm not as clever as I like to think I am, as they say.

When I got to Berlin and tried to use my ATM card the machine ate it, insisting I was not authorized to use it.  I made an immediate call to my bank at the rate of 99 cents a minute for roaming in Europe.  Now imagine talking to electronic voices and prompts at 99 cents a minute.  I did eventually reach a very concerned live person who quickly appreciated the dire nature of the problem and connected me to the head of the fraud department.  He was a very, very nice man who confirmed that my account had notes in it that I had called in advance to inform them I would be in Germany.  He gave me the direct dial line to his phone and suggested that I take money out on my credit card.  He realized this was little to offer, but it was the best he could do at that moment, and he offered to refund any fees immediately and post them to my account.  

I don't normally take PIN numbers for my credit cards because as I rule I never use them for cash advances.  So I would have to go into a bank and speak with a teller.   After going to several banks, I learned that in Germany, there is no such thing as a cash advance on your credit card.  Sensible.  I think Germany's credit crisis will be a tiny bit softer than ours here in the U.S.  But they offered to help me get cash if I had a PIN ...

My next idea was to go online to my amex account.  I mean, wouldn't that be the first card I should try?  VIP service, helping people in trouble, and so on?  That is what they've built their reputation on, of course.  When I went online, I learned that I could call them to get a PIN, and even access cash in my bank account through them.  Wow, amex was really good, I thought for a second.  A second later, I changed my mind with near hysterical incredulity.

Three different customer service representatives regretted to inform me, at the rate of 99 cents per minute, that my card had been unceremoniously cancelled two days before my call.  I sunk into a deep depression until I was slightly buoyed by company in my misery.  My sister and her husband, who have pristine credit and likewise have a perfect history with amex had their credit limits drastically reduced on their amex cards.  Then my friend Noelle informed me that amex had cut the credit of 50 percent of their customers.

Now I understand where amex is coming from.  They want to limit their credit risk during this economic crunch.  It wasn't personal, it was business.  But do they really want to piss off the people who actually pay their bills?  Or did I piss them off too many times by not allowing them to incur interest on my revolving line of credit?

Anyway, it's done.  We're divorced, American Express and I.  It was clean and simple, but definitely with some hard feelings on my part.  I guess Karl Malden was not as credible as I thought.