I have had an American Express Costco card for several years now. I have the executive membership at Costco which costs approximately $100 every year to maintain. But thanks to the Amex rebate card, I have never had to pay a renewal fee. The rebate that I get always covers the membership fee.
While that was a convenience, it was no big deal. But I noticed that Amex’s year end summary was the bomb. Last year I consciously made the decision to use Amex exclusively when possible for both personal and business expenses, just so I would be able to understand a bit about my spending patterns from my year-end summary.
Yes, I know I can sign up with mint.com, and get an even better understanding based on all my transactions from Amex, Visa, and even bank accounts. But when mint.com first came out, I read all their T&Cs and ways of working. I did not like the way they were promising to keep my information secure. Mint had an awesome interface, but that was the extent of their awesomeness for me. The level of security they offered was suspect. Even after Intuit acquired the, I’m not convinced. Especially because I have worked at several large companies and I know how individuals get around well-meaning security policies. So when I saw Amex offer the year-end summary in various perspectives, I was hooked. Until today.
Today I was swept away – hook, line, and sinker. For those in a hurry, Amex essentially tried to protect my account from a possibly fraudulent transaction. Here is what happened. I went to a Target in Sacramento and made two purchases. First was a bunch of water bottles. The second was a bunch of gift cards. The second transaction got denied. Before I could understand what was going on, the Amex computer called my cell phone, and put me in touch with an agent who verified some information and let the transaction go through.
Here is what I think happened to trigger the denial. I was more than a 120 miles away from home. I wanted to make two separate transactions. I just wanted to get some water and some gift cards. The water cost less than 5 dollars. The gift cards were for $200. To the computer it appeared like someone stole my card, went to Sacramento, and did a trial purchase buying water. Then they tried to buy what is essentially cash worth $200 – pretty much immediately after they found that my card worked. The computer denied the charge and triggered a phone call to me.
Before my phone could ring, I asked the cashier what happened. She did not know. She said I could pay with a card, but may be my account was maxed out. I was considering, “Should I try another card, or should I retry?” I took out another card, and the phone rang. It was Amex. The computer said that there was an attempted transaction that they stopped to protect me. The agent came on soon after and asked me if I really had the card and wanted to use it. I said yes. He said, “ok, try again.” I tried again and it went through.
What was amazing also was how fast the transaction went through when I swiped the card. I swiped, and I heard the agent say, “it went through” and I could see the “successfully processed” message, all in less than 2 seconds.
And all this happened when there were people in line and they did not even have to wait long enough to complain.
Oh and btw, if the Amex team is reading this, the 20 seconds or so when the computer was explaining to me that there was a transaction for $200 that was denied and that they were doing this to protect me etc was a nerve-wracking wait because I was holding up the line. Then the agent repeated the whole thing, even though I asked him to just let the transaction go through. Check the recording. John Varghese on March 3.