Eight months ago I was pretty excited about my American Express Blue Cash Card. I love rewards credit cards because I love to get paid for buying thing I would have bought anyway. Awesome.
The problem with some credit card rewards programs is that they can be misleading. Actually, to say I was misled would be misleading; as far as I’m concerned, American Express flat out lied to me.
When “Cash Back” isn’t Cash Back
My card, the American Express Blue Cash (which is no longer offered) was advertised as “Up to 5% Cash Back”. I followed the rules, made my purchases, and knew that after a year I would have some amount of cash back. I actually had a really good year for rewards money over the last 12 months and I got $216.43 in what American Express calls “Reward Dollars”.
Wait a minute… You advertised cash back and now you’re telling me I’m getting reward dollars? I didn’t want reward dollars. I want the cash you promised me.
I logged onto their site and luckily there is an option to redeem reward dollars for a statement credit. So I should be able to turn my $216.43 of Reward Dollars into $216.43 of real dollars with a statement credit. Perfect.
Except that would be too convenient.
No, you can only redeem Rewards Dollars in $25 increments. I could get a $200 statement credit, but then I would have $16.43 of unused Rewards Dollars that would never do me any good.
And while I’m pissed off, I’d like to point out that a statement credit is not cash back. Can I put a statement credit inside a birthday card like cash? Can I use a statement credit to give money to a beggar at the Preston exit ramp off George Bush? Can I slip my favorite performer a statement credit to let her know how much I appreciate her dancing abilities? The obvious answer to all of these questions is “no”.
FYI, I don’t give cash to beggars. I’ll hand them food if I have some, but no cash. I was just proving a point.
FYI2, I personally find strip clubs disgusting so I would never actually do the third one either. Again, just making a point.
The American Express Rewards Store is a Joke
Since I knew I wouldn’t be able to redeem all $216 for cash back, I decided to look at some options in their store. I figured if I could buy something for $16 out of the store, I can at least get some value out of the leftover rewards.
Or not. The cheapest thing they have is $25.
Maybe I can find something for $41. That way I can spend my Rewards Dollars down to $175 and get the rest in a statement credit. I sorted the entire store by price and tried to find something I wanted.
The only option that remotely interested me were golf balls. I golf occasionally, and Lord knows I lose enough golf balls in the water/woods/back yards of people who don’t even have a golf course view. A dozen balls might get me through half a round, so I figured it would be a good use of my rewards.
There were a bunch of different types and brands, so I just picked the one closest to $41. It was a dozen Callaway Warbird Plus Balls for $38. Seems expensive for golf balls, but these are probably really nice.
I was kind of looking forward to golfing with nice balls. I even started to convince myself that my failure to golf better than your average double amputee is due to my lack of appropriate equipment instead of my miserable swing. And if not, at least it might finally keep my golf buddy from making fun of the $0.47 balls I get on the clearance rack at Golf Discount.
Before I made the purchase, I decided to do some comparison shopping. How much does Amazon sell the same golf balls for? This is where I get a little pissed off.
Amazon sells the exact same balls for $14.86, marked down from $25. (even the full retail price is nowhere near the $38 Amex is trying to charge)
Now I’m curious. Where could they possibly be getting this $38 price? I decided to price check some other places. Callaway’s website lists the same product for $16.99, marked down from $19.99. Yes, the retail price from the actual retailer is half of what Amex is selling them for.
Just for kicks, I did one more search and found out that I can get a 36 pack of these balls from Amazon for $32.97. That’s 36 balls for $5 less than American Express wants to charge for a dozen.
American Express Lied to Me
I love getting rewards for my credit card purchases, but I hate rewards programs. Chase does a great job of making 100 points = $1 of rewards. Citi will give you $1 for 100 reward points, but only if you save up and spend your points on big purchases.
It’s too much of a hassle to learn about all these programs and make sure you are getting a fair exchange for your points before deciding if the rewards are worth it.
That’s why I was so excited about a “Cash Back” card. I was under the impression that I wouldn’t have to deal with rewards crap.
I will take a little bit of blame here because I’m sure I missed some fine print somewhere, but if I were a lawyer, I would sue the pants off of American Express for falsely advertising this card as a “cash back” credit card.
There’s nothing “cash back” about it.
For more on credit cards, how to find good ones, and how to not get into credit card debt check out these articles.
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