So I have an American Express Gold Card. Now what?
November 4, 2007 11:10 AM   Subscribe

So I have an American Express Gold Card. Now what? Reading the promotional materials makes me feel like I've been living in a cave, and not in a good way. I only signed up for it because I was offered a free miniature radio for filling out the application.

Some burning questions:

a) I have a vague notion that if you buy certain things with an Amex card, and you aren't satisfied with the purchase, you can get the money back from Amex without actually returning the product. Or something. What's the deal with that?

b) Amex cards must be paid off at the end of every month, right? . Except that my card's online statement shows a balance due of about $300, but an "amount due" of $0. And it will not allow me to pay off my balance at this time. I don't understand.

c) My card apparently has "no pre-set limit." That's bizarre to me. How can that be? On what basis are they going to decide what the limit is? If I go out and try buy a Picasso tomorrow using my card, on what basis will they decide whether or not I can have it?

d) Most of the rewards of having an Amex card seem to be related to cars and travel. I don't have a car, don't rent cars, don't even drive, and rarely travel. What category of purchases should I be using my Amex card to make?

e) Does my card's "gold" status actually indicate anything? Or have those signifiers ceased to have meaning?

f) Every time I log into my account info, I get ads for all the other types of Amex cards. The blue card, the clear card, etc. Trying to compare features gives me a headache. Would one be better than another for my purposes?

Here are the sorts of things I that I typically spend money on (using my non-Amex debit card): books (usually via Amazon), clothes (usually from a designer store like Brooks Brothers), food (usually from a non-chain neighborhood health food store), dining out (restaurants in Manhattan), and rarely, drinking out (using the card as a tab), and using various online services, such as consumer reports, Greencine, iTunes, etc.

Connect the dots for me, please.
posted by bingo to Work & Money (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
a) Not that I know of.

b) Yes, the full balance is due each month. You might have to enter your bank account information in order to be able to pay online. Once you do, there should be a link to "Pay Bill" where you can choose to pay the current balance (i.e. what's on the bill) or the outstanding balance (what's on the bill + anything you've charged since then).

c) You can call Amex to talk to them about this, but they look for patterns in your spending habits. If you normally spend $500/month and suddenly try to charge something that's $20,000, they will probably hold it. You can also call ahead of time to let them know you're going to make a big purchase.

d) AFAIK the category of things that you buy doesn't affect the number of points you get. You get a point per dollar spent no matter what (although sometimes they give bonus points for things like groceries, or used to). You can then use those points to get swag. Sure, you can use your points towards frequent flier miles or something, but they have plenty of merchandise to choose from.

e) I don't think the gold status has any cachet these days; black is the new gold.

f) I'd be interested in seeing a benefit matrix, myself.
posted by Addlepated at 11:23 AM on November 4, 2007

On what basis are they going to decide what the limit is?

Your purchasing and payment history.

Does my card's "gold" status actually indicate anything?

Not really. Well, it will mean that you'll get an platinum card application sooner or later, probably after you've coughed up the first annual $70-odd fee for the gold card that you'll inevitably forget about until it's charged to your account.

(Basically, if you don't find it useful for the things that AmEx does well -- travel and luxuries -- cancel it before the year's up.)
posted by holgate at 11:28 AM on November 4, 2007

A) My former boss used to sort-of take heavy advantage of this. That is, he didn't buy things and then state that they were inferior and kept them. His scam was purchasing porn - videos, magazines, and sessions at "Gentelmen's Clubs." When such charges showed up on his Amex Gold Card, I was instructed to write a letter to Amex stating that these were unauthorized and fraudulent charges, and please remove them (which Amex always did.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:40 AM on November 4, 2007

C) I know you get an advanced go at much sought after sporting events like the US Open and NBA games. It's usually also at a discounted rate (but I don't know where the seats are in comparison to regular priced seats).
posted by spec80 at 11:52 AM on November 4, 2007

While there is some hard limit on how often/ for how much they will do it American Express will refund/replace things that you buy if they are lost or stolen within 90 days. Or at least they did a couple of years ago when they did so for me. Call the 800 number on the back of your card to ask about it. Also, depending on what plan you are on you may get double points for some categories of purchases.
posted by frieze at 11:54 AM on November 4, 2007

Amex cards must be paid off at the end of every month, right?

Not necessarily. Their Blue card lets you carry a balance.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:09 PM on November 4, 2007

a) If you are significantly dissatisfied with a purchase, call AmEx and talk to them about it.
b) That's the money that's available to be spent right now.
c) It changes based on your credit and spending history. You won't be able to buy a Picasso with it.
d) There are other rewards programs. You may or may not be able to change your card's rewards program easily. You should not pick your credit card based solely on the rewards program, but rather on the interest rate and fees.
e) It means you have a basic card.
f) Stick with the card you have until you've built up a decent amount of credit.

Your card is not a substitute for money. Do not use it simply because you have it. In general, it should be a tool for emergency use only. If you would like to build some credit history, you might like to make one small purchase on it per month that you can afford to pay in cash, then immediately pay off the balance. Doing this each month will show you are reliable and a safe credit risk, and additional credit and offers for credit will come in. Ignore them, for the most part.
posted by MaxK at 12:11 PM on November 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

His scam was purchasing porn - videos, magazines, and sessions at "Gentelmen's Clubs." When such charges showed up on his Amex Gold Card, I was instructed to write a letter to Amex stating that these were unauthorized and fraudulent charges, and please remove them (which Amex always did.)

You can't count on that.
posted by grouse at 12:13 PM on November 4, 2007

As noted above, there isn't a whole lot to the whole gold/platinum thing. I think it's only useful if you have a lot of money to begin with, because AMEX does things like make it easier to spend money on luxuries like concert tickets, hotel rooms and plane tickets. They offer advanced tickets for special events for example. As for prestige, well I guess it depends on who you are trying to impress :)

The one thing I will say, the AMEX extended warranty program is the real deal, although it's not just a gold card benefit.

A few years ago I bought a computer and decided to forego the manufacturers extended warranty, if you put the whole purchase on your Amex, the standard 1 year warranty is doubled. Sure enough, one year and one week (literally) after my purchase, the motherboard went bad. Getting the replacement was $800 bucks or so and Amex covered it without a blink of the eye, just had to fill out some paperwork.
posted by jeremias at 12:21 PM on November 4, 2007

I had a green card for work years ago and replaced it with a gold card for personal use so i could keep my points. I've used up almost all the points and just got a blue card for the 12 month 0% apr deal. I don't actually use my gold card anymore, but am hanging on to it for the time being as I'm traveling overseas and they seem to have travel protection services on the gold card that I don't think they have on the blue. But after that I will most likely cancel the gold card b/c there's not enough of a difference between the blue and gold to justify paying $100ish a year on annual fees and I don't anticipate taking another vacation for a long long time.

To answer some of your specific questions...

b) The $300 is probably a hold that either amex or someone else put on your card until whatever the actual charge is goes through. This happens on other cards too -- it's like putting down a deposit. They do this a lot when you're reserving hotel rooms. They put a hold of a certain amount on your card until you've stayed at the hotel and actually paid for it. Then the $300 charge goes away and your actual charge appears. Not sure if I explained that well, but that might be what it is.

c) I would assume that they only approve people with really good credit for the gold plus cards, so they're assuming that you're going to spend the same way that you have in the past and aren't too worried. Plus, they probably make enough money off of other things (including annual fees) to offset the losses that they get from people like that which are probably few and far between anyway.

d) Use it for whatever you want. Personally, I find the points on my citi preferred rewards accumulate much, much faster than amex points and offer a wider variety of rewards, so I don't put anything big on my gold amex anymore and only put large purchases on the blue amex that I want to pay off over a couple months b/c of the 0%.

e) There are some benefits, but like i said, other than travel, I don't find it to be SO much better than the blue. I haven't ever had problems with purchases and stuff though, so I could be wrong.

f) If you have lots and lots of money and want lots and lots of benefits then someday they'll invite you to go platinum or black or whatever and offer you mad concierge services, but until then, the only reason I'd get another card is for the 0% offer they have going on the blue. I think they have a new cash back rewards card too.
posted by echo0720 at 12:33 PM on November 4, 2007

Your card is not a substitute for money. Do not use it simply because you have it. In general, it should be a tool for emergency use only.

This advice isn't applicable to everyone. I use my credit card as if it were my debit card, and once a week just log on to the bank's website and pay off the balance. It builds credit quickly, and lets you cash in on any rewards the card might have (which will actually take a lot of spending before you get anything worthwhile).
posted by spiderskull at 12:43 PM on November 4, 2007

As you stated that you only applied for the card to receive the promotional item they were offering, you may want to find out if they've waived the $130 or $150 annual fee for the first year (or not.) The annual fees differ between the Rewards Plus Gold Card and the Preferred Rewards Gold Card.

I'm a cardmember and their customer service is indeed exceptional, but only you can determine if the benefits of holding the card outweigh that annual fee that you will most certainly be charged.
posted by Asherah at 12:47 PM on November 4, 2007

I've been a cardholder for about 12 years and I just upgraded to the gold card when I got married.

The gold card in most cases includes:

1. Membership rewards without an extra yearly fee (different from the standard green card).

2. Up to five (I think) authorized cardholders on the account at no extra fee.

I think there are some concierge perks and the like, as well as some travel benefits but I'm not sure. The platinum card, with it's hefty annual fee can pay for itself if you'll use the companion tickets and other perks that come with it, but you really have to understand your card usage and travel patterns ahead of time.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 12:56 PM on November 4, 2007

The "Black is the new Gold" link above mentions competitors in general, and specfically the Natwest Black Card.

I had their Black Card for several years, getting it for free as a client of Natwest's private bank. Didn't really do much for me, in fact the hassle factor was rather large as Natwest tried to cross sell a lot, so I cancelled the card rather than pay £650 (or so) per annum when I moved my accounts to another bank.

I'm currently using an Amex Platinum which I'm very happy with. I push all my corporate and personal spending through it, primarily as Virgin takes Amex rewards points mile for mile in their frequent flier club.

I pretty much always take Virgin Upper Class on holidays but rarely pay full fare as the rewards - and miles - accumulate fast. Especially so if you're doing a hundred thousand miles a year in business travel.

Another thing Amex UK recently started is the ability for establish a line of credit, and drop larger purchases on that rather than having to pay everything off a the end of the month.

I set that up simply so I would know I'd have a specific amount of credit available should I need it. I just got married in Vegas and the very large credit limit was useful, even though I paid off the total at the end of the month.
posted by Mutant at 1:06 PM on November 4, 2007

Best answer: You can't pay off your balance until the first statement is actually cut and sent to you. This is typical of most credit cards. Some kind of fraud prevention, I guess.
posted by yeoz at 1:35 PM on November 4, 2007

One thing which is handy about my Amex is that when I lose it (which used to happen often), I can get a replacement the same day at the local AmEx office free of charge.

The travel benefits are non-negligible. I don't have to get insurance on rental cars, for example.

I see you live in Hoboken, so you might want to keep track of what New York theater and other cultural events sell tickets exclusively to AmEx cardmembers for the first few weeks. Some of these quickly sell out. I always stumbled on these accidentally, so can't tell you if there's an easy way of tracking this.

Last time I cashed in my rewards was last year and I got Crate & Barrel gift cards at the rate of roughly 1000 points to $10. My fancy food processor is lovely, and they had plenty of other participating stores.

I've switched to a Starwoods AmEx last year, which is better for travel rewards but not as good for everything else.
posted by whimwit at 2:53 PM on November 4, 2007

there was an older thread about what kind of insurance AmEx gives you on your purchases, look for it. as others have said it's a great card for converting membership reward points into frequent flyer miles -- I really like membership rewards and try to do most of my spending using my green AmEx -- I got many, many free airline tickets in 15 years. I wish I could pay my rent with my AmEx, too. seriously.

but I had to get a Visa (now a Mastercard) because simply there are places that won't take AmEx because of AmEx's higher fees, so that sucks.
posted by matteo at 3:14 PM on November 4, 2007


e) no, gold doesn't mean anything at this point, all my friends who have "upgraded" have regretted it
posted by matteo at 3:15 PM on November 4, 2007

This is in Australia, and maybe not up to date, but:
- the green card required earnings of 75% of median weekly earnings when I got one.
- the gold card required 125% of median earnings.
- platinum and (oooh-ah impress the shop assistant) black cards seem quite rare here. I know two platinum card holders, they both earn circa 300% median earnings. I met a black card holder - he was cranky when his card was refused at a pub restaurant because the bar maid didn't know what it was. He said "if I can fill up my Lear jet, I think I can pay for some steaks with it".

Some of the advice up thread is for credit cards, this is a deferred payment card, so it doesn't really apply.

The annual fees are considerable, and I would not keep this card for the points unless you were able to push a large amount of your spending through it.
The fees are not, however, compulsory. I have had them waived one year when I threatened to cancel. The next year I rang back to ensure it would be waived again and the supervisor said it was not possible to waive them, but did give me a free night in a hotel of about the same value.
I forgot to call last year, but it is worth the threat.
posted by bystander at 3:17 PM on November 4, 2007

posted by meehawl at 5:07 PM on November 4, 2007

This comment refers ONLY to the Rewards Plus Gold Charge Card, NOT the standard Gold Charge Card.

Please call the number meehawl posted and speak to someone in customer service. They'd be delighted to help you and they have accurate information.

By Invitation Only/Gold Card Events are indeed a benefit of the Gold Charge Card. You get special opportunities for things like Per Se evenings, concert tickets and the like.

But please, please call customer service. Don't rely on internetians about your credit card.
posted by winna at 7:19 PM on November 4, 2007

(b) You are required to pay off each month what was on that month's statement. If your statement is a statement of the charges as of the 7th of the month, and it's due on the 30th of the month (I'm just making up dates here), anything you charge on the 8th of the month will not appear on that month's statement, and won't be due until the 30th of the following month. The $300 is the amount you've charged to the card and not paid off, but the $0 was your balance as of the last statement date (probably before you got the card, since it's new).

And yeoz is right: you can't make a payment until your first statement has been issued--I found this out when I recently got an Amex Blue card. I'm in the practice of paying off the total balance on my cards each month, regardless of whether the charges have appeared on the current statement or not, just because I find it easier to assess how much I actually have to spend once I've done that. I couldn't do that the first month I had my Blue card. After you've received your first statement, however, you can pay charges beyond that "in advance" if you want to.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:31 AM on November 5, 2007

a) I've used this functionality once - but did have to return the merchandise, which I had absolutely no problem doing (and why wouldn"t I, if I was so dissatisfied). It took some time, but it was great to have someone else hassle the merchant for me. I believe they undertook to try to negotiate a settlement with the merchant first, but if he continued to resist, Amex would foot the bill.

On another occasion, I bought a pair of sunglasses for about $100 using my gold card, a couple of days later I took them to the shooting range, and put them down while I wore my eye protection. I left the range without the sunglasses, came back an hour later and they were gone. Upon phoning Amex, they credited my account the $100 dollars and I went and got a new pair. I doubt that they would do that too often to the same card member, though.
posted by Sk4n at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2007

I use my Gold Card for almost every purchase I make, if the vendor allows it.

- Automatic insurance/replacement: Doubles the mfg's warranty, and they'll reimburse you if the item is lost, stolen, or damaged. That's significant, especially on electronics purchases (iPod, laptop, camera gear, etc).

- Rewards: Not the greatest return (Basically you get $1 worth of goods for every $200 you spend), but it's better than nothing, and if you use the card for everything, it adds up that much quicker

- Must be paid off monthly, meaning you can't get yourself in too deep if you're dangerous with a credit card

- Allows flexible spending, meaning that if you do know what you're doing and can accept the responsibility, you can spread out expensive (over $300) purchases and pay them off over time. Obviously a standard interest rate applies, but it's nice to have the flexibility if you want to make a purchase on the card but don't want to pay it off immediately. I did this with a recent laptop purchase; I wanted to use the Gold Card for accident protection & extended warranty coverage, but I didn't want to pay the complete balance at the end of the month. Now I'll just pay it over 2-3 months and get all the benefits.

- Free car rental insurance

- Travel bonuses, security, etc

- Annual fee

- Not cash back

You just have to decide whether the benefits it offers are important to you. Personally, I'd much rather have double warranty and accident coverage for everything I buy than a few measly bucks in cash back.

Also, I'm slightly concerned that someone would sign up for a credit card (especially one with an annual fee) just to get a free miniature radio (that probably could've been bought on eBay for a fraction of the annual fee, and without any hassle whatsoever).
posted by sprocket87 at 8:02 AM on November 6, 2007

Oh, and about the "no pre-set limit" thing; instead of having a pre-set credit limit, AmEx has something called an "exposure limit" which basically is determined at time of purchase. It's not exactly "pre-set" and it can fluctuate based on your spending habits (frequency/type/number of purchases) and payments, etc. Too large a single purchase, or too many small purchases in a very short time period can trigger hitting the exposure limit. Mostly in the name of fraud prevention.
I once made a ten thousand dollar purchase on an amex corporate card, and they called me about it, asking me to to confirm that it was actually me.

You can call up customer support and ask them to see if you can figure out what your exposure limit is, or ask any other questions you might have.
The CreditBoards forum is also a very good place to ask this kind of question.
posted by yeoz at 8:20 PM on November 6, 2007

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