American Express – Gold Card

My previous Credit Card company was Barclaycard and I was with them for something like seven years. In those years I missed perhaps three or four payments through sheer forgetfulness or some trip away, but each time I came back, paid the late fine and continued on. I use it as a Charge Card, I pay it off in full every month. I left Barclaycard because at one of those missed payments I received a really nasty letter threatening legal action, obviously a standard letter without any regard of my previous history.

I went through weeks of attempting to contact them and get some form of explanation. Nothing but hassle at not accepting emails to their Internet support area, that coupled with the devaluing of their points system when it moved to Nectar made me decide to move.

At that time, American Express hit me with a free invitation to sign up for a Gold Credit Card. Yes please, have some of that, especially with a 1% cash back. I have to say there’s been no problems, and I’ve been with them for a year and five months.

However, due to the Christmas rush and changing to the emailed Credit Card statements, I’d missed a payment. They were kind enough to phone me and tell me, and I dealt with the payment that night, full balance including charges paid by switch directly to them.

Next day I tried more Christmas shopping and could not, calling their support line I was told I had to pay a minimum of £8 for the card to be unblocked in the next 10 minutes, otherwise there would be a 48 hour wait. This despite the fact they could clearly see my payment in the account and the impeccable payment history. This also totally contradicted what the first customer representative said.

This was like deja-vu for me. The Card and offers have been excellent to date and the cash back system is excellent, however the repeated need for a backup “high street” Credit Card for those shops who don’t take American Express and this “bad debtor” treatment at the first sign of trouble is unacceptable. Especially since they are asking me for additional payments to use my card.

The complaint letter I sent follows:

I am writing to express my frustration at the service I have received today from your company, a company that seemingly prides itself in treating its customers better than the average high street Credit Card companies.

Yesterday, 20th of December at approximately 18:22, I received a call from a representative of your company to explain to me that I had missed a payment on my credit card. I immediately realised I had and was most apologetic, having been a member since July 2003 I had never missed making a full balance payment each month and had only done this as I had changed to MySt@tement and had been caught up in the Christmas rush.

The representative suggested that I could pay by a debit card immediately, unfortunately I was on a public bus at the time and did not want to give out such details, I asked if I could make payment via the Internet from home. He said I could but that the lockout on the card would remain in place for the next 48 hours, this was a surprise to me and must have been something I missed from the small print upon application.

At this point I asked if I could unlock the card when I made the payment to allow me to continue Christmas shopping tomorrow, I was told that this was perfectly fine, I would just have to call a Credit Accounts Department number once I had made the transaction. Although he passed me this number and I recorded it on my mobile, I unfortunately lost it after the call ended.

That evening, approximately 21:00, I made the Internet payment by Switch card directly. This was the full overdue balance, the late payment charge and the interest charged, I had no qualms in paying this amount as it was after all my fault for the late payment.

The following day, 21st December at approximately 16:22, I called the Customer Service number for the third consecutive time after being cut off when my call was answered by an operator on the previous two attempts. When I spoke to another representative of your company I explained the situation and the previous phone discussions.

He informed me that I would have to pay a minimum of £8 to unlock the card to be able to use it within the next 10 minutes. I asked what this charge was for as I was not aware of any further charge and had not been told of one the previous day, as well as having paid the full amount of the outstanding balance and charges on my account. Your company representative checked the account and verified that he could in fact see the full balance payment was made by Switch the previous evening.

I asked again if the card could be unlocked, as per the conversation with the representative from the previous day, and allow me to continue shopping. I was again told that the card would not be unlocked without a further payment of £8 made by debit card over the phone. I explained again that I had already paid the full outstanding balance, including charges, and that he had just verified that he could see that payment, and that I was confused as to why I was being asked for an additional charge of £8.

Your representative was clear to point out that this was not an additional charge but could not explain what would happen to this payment should I make it, other than the card would be unlocked within 10 minutes for me to use.

Working in the financial industry and being aware of the discussions recently between various Credit Card Companies and the Government concerning their operating behaviour, and having an understanding of the Credit Consumer Act, I am uneasy as to where these actions lie as regards the operating remit of Credit Card Companies.

I fail to understand why another payment is required to unlock my account, and I was left arguing this point with your customer representative while attempting to purchase a box of wine as a Christmas present. This failed, as I was unwilling to pay an additional charge for the unlocking of the account when your representative agreed that the amount had been paid, and I had been told the previous evening there would be no problem in continuing.

Upon informing him that I was not going to use American Express he said not to do that, however when I asked how I could use it I was pointed back to the request to pay an additional £8. I refused to do this and reverted to a high street Credit Card that I carry for when American Express is not accepted and this transaction was carried out without any issue.

I must say I am extremely disappointed in this level of service, I had previously regarded American Express as a company that provided excellent service to its customers, much higher than that of other high street Credit Card Companies, and I had certainly not expected such unannounced additional charges and inconsistent messages to be given to customers.

I am also concerned as to why after making a payment of over £1,000 by debit card the previous night I was again being asked to pay another amount by debit card to unlock the card. The explanation given at the time was far from satisfactory and the service left me with somewhat of a bad taste.

I would ask for an explanation of this matter, including an explanation of the company policy on such additional unlocking charges and why, after already paying the full amount as directed, I was still asked for further monies again by debit card.

That was sent on the evening of the 21st December, updates as they come.

Update: 29/12/2004

I received a call from American Express today to discuss the problem, and they were very thorough in explaining what had happened and why. Apparently the second Customer Representative didn’t explain things properly to me, the explanation goes something like this:

There is no £8 charge, that was the minimum payment for my current balance, it appears that the Representative was suggesting that I should make the minimum payment to allow the Computer System to show that the payment was made and the block to be lifted, even though this had already been done by paying the full balance on the Internet using my Debit card.

What he should have said to me is that I should make the payment with the card and when the Retailer returned it saying that it had not been accepted I should have asked them to call American Express to verify it. At that point they would have told the Retailer it was fine and allowed the transaction. This is because the block makes every payment go to manual verification, something the Retailers don’t like doing, and the block wouldn’t be removed until the full payment was made.

The whole explanation was very good and they talked about the failing of the Customer Representative. Unfortunately there was nothing I could do to push them on the matter, and what good would it do anyway? At least they were made aware of the situation and it did sound as though they had carried out a thorough investigation and were genuinely apologetic for the treatment. That was good customer service. Plus I was assured that my credit record showed no problems and they wouldn’t hesitate to open the account, so that was good news. With that, I’ll increase the review rating, as they dealt with me efficiently, politely, and admitted their failings in this case.

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