Way back in ’89, I first became an American Express cardmember. For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be in that charge card financial club, and when I became a graduate student at Columbia University in the City of New York, that yearning was finally realized. Sure, an American Express card has expensive membership fees, and it’s a sort of snotty status symbol — but I was thrilled to have that card in my hand.
As what usually happens with a charge card, you quickly realize in 30 days that, unlike a credit card, the full balance is due every single month, and you sort of gasp for air a little as you wonder how you’ll ever pay it all off before your due date.
After some early inconvenience-through-misunderstanding on my part, I kept and used and enjoyed my AMEX card for many years. Then, one day, I decided to to close my American Express account because the membership fee was starting to outweigh my interest in continuing to use a charge card instead of a credit card.
Now that I’m older and, I hope, a bit wiser, I realize I should have just kept my AMEX card all these years and dealt with the yearly membership fee. I have missed the outstanding customer service and benefits of membership. I liked the ability to build a good financial relationship with an ancient company founded in 1850.
I touched a toe back in the American Express baby pool with my prepaid Serve card experience, and while a prepaid Serve card is an “American Express” card in name and logo, it is not a traditional American Express card in the common vernacular of charge cards. That means you can’t login to the main AmericanExpress.com portal and manage your Serve Card. You go to Serve.com instead. You also can’t use the keen AMEX apps for iOS with your Serve card. You use the Serve app instead.
Last week, I was invited to leap back into the AMEX charge card fold — I’m guessing because of my newfound love for Serve splashed me back in the AMEX pond — and I decided to jump back in the Big Boy pool with both feet. I took back my American Express Gold Card — this time with “Premier Rewards” added — and it feels quite lovely to be back in the AMEX wallet.
One disappointment was that my new Gold Card arrived with this year’s “Member Since” date of “12″ instead of my original date of membership way back in “89.”
“Yes,” the “Member Since” date doesn’t mean much when it comes to using the card, “yes,” I vainly wanted my 23-year “history” with AMEX memorialized on my new card and, “no,” AMEX had no problem backdating my card to my original membership year and cutting me a new card.
Before I made my backdating request, I did some research on the internets and learned AMEX is fine with backdating your card if you are in their system. That is good and smart business on their side, because it builds brand loyalty and foments customer appreciation, and, looking back over 23 years of living, is both stunning and satisfying to remember where I was then and where I am now.
It will take them two days to get you a new, backdated, card. The first day is spent verifying your original member date, and then updating your online account to reflect that original year. The second day is spent verifying the backdate update took place and then preparing the replacement card with the new “Member Since” date for shipment.
AMEX loves to push you paperless and online to manage and interact with your account and I love that more than they do — another really smart move on their part. I can also now use their excellent iOS apps on my iPhone and iPad, and I was even able to create an iOS 6 passbook card that gets auto-updated throughout the day with new charges and outstanding balances.
Now I will use my AMEX card as I planned to use my Serve card — to manage my life without having to press into a credit card. I like Pay-As-You-Go and AMEX works well for realizing that end every month — especially with mid-cycle card payments — plus, I get some killer rewards back and some neat travel opportunities to boot!
If you want to get cash using your AMEX charge card, you have to call customer service and they will do one of two things in setting you up in their “Express Cash” network. You can either link an existing AMEX card you own that has a credit line — like the American Express Blue credit cards — or you can link your bank account, and when you use your AMEX card at an ATM, the cash will get pulled straight out of your banking account as if you were using your bank’s debit card. By “Express Cash” linking your AMEX card, you don’t have to carry around a debit card just to get cash from an ATM. Your American Express card becomes one card to serve them all!
Another fun, modern, thing American Express has done is to create a “Sync with Facebook” feature. Once you install the app in your Facebook account, AMEX will scan your “Likes” and then present special discounts you can “add to your card” based on your interests, and those discounts will become automatically applied when you make a charge with your card.
When I used my AMEX card this morning at Duane Reade, the cashier asked me for my Zip Code for a $10USD purchase before the transaction would go through. Ugh! I flashed back 23 years remembering this “live-and-in-person verification hassle” special only to American Express.
I provided my Zip Code and the charge went through. AMEX sometimes wants that Zip Code check for purchases under $25 or $50 in lieu of collecting your signature. I can tell you right now, writing my name is faster than holding up the line to speak my Zip Code to everyone within earshot and having a slow cashier enter it on her computer.
That said, I am wholly delighted to be an American Express cardmember again. Membership really does have its privileges, and I’m now more than happy to pay an annual membership fee for access to living an easier, and more joyful life, in the Big City.