Sunday, December 5, 2010

Halloween in NY and American Express Sucks

I just landed a big customer in Virginia, leading to some trips to the East Coast and Canada. I did a full circle, flying into NY, driving to VA, flying out to Montreal and returning to NY to meet family and friends. I managed to attend the Halloween parade in NY city (side note: brrrrrr. Standing on 7th avenue on a cold October night can turn you into a block of ice in seconds). Here are some pictures, and there's even a video:

One theme was recurring throughout my trip: "Sorry sir, we do not accept American Express", followed by a mumbled explanation about how Amex charges the vendor up to twice the commission MasterCard does. I found myself reaching for my dusty backup card more than once, or ~shudder~ - even resorting to cash.

Now, I've witnessed this phenomenon occurring more often even here in California (and I won't even count Canada and Europe - where the card is treated as a useless piece of plastic), but this time it reached annoying proportions, when even large, respected restaurants refused to accept the card. I called the customer relationships department to ask them what they're doing about this, and the answer was "nothing". They just suggested I try to shop at vendors who do accept Amex. Basically getting me to do their dirty work for them, and punish vendors who can't pay their exorbitant commission.

Don't get me wrong: I like the perks that come with my card, and I've used the points I acquired several times before. But if I have to hold several cards and go into the hassle of maintaining several accounts, just because Amex feels it can fleece simple vendors, I guess I'll have to find other perk-offering cards elsewhere.

On another interesting note regarding Amex, I've been running into a bug on their web site for over a year now. When you log into their bonus rewards site (requires logging into an account), and search for "Amazon" in the list of merchants, you get a huge Java error message [geek alert: attached is the full stack dump for my Java-savvy readers to solve - doesn't take too much].

This type of alert exposes the inner workings of the Amex web stack, not to mention the fact that this type of message should never find its way to the end customer, but I'd expect someone to notice and fix it. 

I took the time to document the error, attached a screenshot of the dump and sent to their support team. The reply I got was:
I'm sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you. I do understand your inconvenience and have forwarded this problem to our technical team.

They are diligently working to correct it.

Please be advised that it is sometimes challenging to diagnose online access problems through e-mail, because there are so many factors that can affect any given situation.

Attempting to solve your problem through e-mail could be both time consuming and frustrating for you...
Well, if describing the step that gets you the error and seeing the message itself is not enough to allow them to diagnose the problem, may I offer the service of the Traveling Tech Guy consulting agency. Free of charge for Amex. Just make it so I could use my card in more places on my next trip please.

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