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AmEx and Me: Of Cards, Costs, and Customer Loyalty


Thirty years of commitment make little difference in this economy.

My relationship with American Express (AXP) dates back to 1980. From Green Card to Gold Card, Optima to Blue, my privilege of membership has endured the test of time.

Even when it became a stupid move to pay a $150 annual membership fee for AmEx Gold in an age when other cards offered many comparable benefits for free, I continued because it's the only card I have in my married name. So it matches the one on my passport.

Like 2 of the many Amex celebrity spokespeople over the years -- Tinas Turner and Fey -- I also like the longevity.

I'm funny that way. My checking account at JPMorgan Chase (JPM) was opened in 1984 when it was still Chemical Bank and my first employer in New York City offered free checking there. This quality hasn't accelerated my home mortgage refinancing, which now enters month 5. (But that's a story best left for another day.)

It was something of a surprise this week when I opened a form letter that arrived in a window envelope from American Express. No rich and creamy embossed stationery. No Dear Laurie. No acknowledgment of membership since 1980. Just a subject line Re: Blue from American Express followed by a headline in bold print: Important Account Price Increase Notification.

I skimmed the bulleted list of "principal changes" and can expect to see an Increased Annual Percentage Rate on purchases -- shifting from a fixed rate to variable rate. Raised APR on cash advances. Raised APR on late payment balances, and increased fees for late payments.

My favorite: "In addition, we are pleased to let you know that we will not charge you a fee if you go over your credit limit … Thank you for being a Cardmember. We look forward to continuing to serve you."

Despite this downright chilly treatment, I'm one of the lucky ones.
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