Don't use the American Express prepaid card for your travels

I’m in the habit of preparing well for my vacations, especially when it comes to safeguarding my money and making sure I can use it. To this end I put together a plan. I would have two prepaid debit cards. One would be on my person at all times while the other would remain at the hostel, in a safe if possible.  I would load funds onto the cards as I needed them, a few days in advance and never very much. I confirmed that there would be no problems using my cards in Peru and that, if one was lost or stolen, I could easily notify the bank and have the funds transferred back to my bank account or to the other card.
My online research told me that American Express had the best prepaid debit card. There would be no extra fees and no monthly charge. When I called them, they assured me there would be no problems using the card in Peru and that I would have the flexibility I desired.
But when I got the cards, I was unable to load funds onto them from my bank account using their website. I notified them of the problem and it took them almost two weeks to get it working. Fortunately, I had left myself plenty of time and it was fixed well before my departure.
Or so I thought. A few days after arriving in Peru I tried to load funds onto one of the cards – and got an error message that my account could not be verified. I could only call them during business hours, and even then I was getting tech support from what appeared to be India. They weren’t much help. Each time I called (3 times if memory serves me right), I was told the problem was fixed and that I should try again in a little while. Sure enough, the error persisted. I called again and demanded to speak to a supervisor. He told me everything was working fine and there should be no problem. That the funds had been loaded onto the card. From my experience in the U.S. I knew that if this were the case, my bank account should show a pending withdrawal. It did not. I informed him of this and was told that this is not always the case. I was told to be patient and wait a few days. According to their website, it can take up to 5 business days. Those 5 days elapsed and the money still wasn’t there. The following morning, steaming mad, I called again (each call had to be made from an internet cafe’). This time the Indians told me they’d load the funds themselves. In the end, the funds did show up – about a week and a half later.
When I returned home, I wanted to unload the money back into my bank account, something I was originally told could be done. Now it turns out it cannot be done. Had the cards been lost or stolen, the only thing they could have done was to send me a new card. Where would they have sent it to when I was traveling around Peru?
I normally don’t like advising against an option unless I have a better one to suggest. At this point, I think the best option is to carry one or two regular debit/credit cards with you and some cash safely hidden. American Express has proven itself to be technically incompetent, ignorant (or misleading) of its own policies and careless with its customers. It might be that American Express is less willing to spend money and resources on its prepaid services since those customers typically have less means or influence than their regular customers.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Don't use the American Express prepaid card for your travels

  1. BAF says:

    Ha! You are learning not to trust any of these companies that use foreigners.
    I’ve had my share of Indians with Dell, Microsoft, Verizon, Comcast, and U.S. Naturalization and Immigration Services. Yes, our government hires mostly minorities and foreigners. Also, at a state university medical school hospital.
    The call to INS was a waste of time. This Indian knew nothing.
    After three times with Microsoft, my problem was not solved. One Indian crashed my computer so that it was unusable. Called Dell, problem, not solved. Paid $250 to Dell, my problem was solved by a Canadian and he gave me many good tips. He was great!
    As for the hospital, my experience warns me not to be treated by anyone from a Third-World country even though they might have been a medical student or resident in this country unless you want to die. They aren’t smart enough to be doctors and make a lot of life threatening errors. Minorities and foreigners can enter medical school with a 98 IQ. Others, not minorities or foreigners, must have an IQ of at least 115. Think about that.

  2. Zimriel says:

    I have had two experiences recently where the Corporation fouled up. One was Kaspersky; one was T-Mobile.
    Kaspersky were awful. They tried to palm me back on the big-box store which handled my account in the first place, Best Buy; Best Buy were blameless. Eventually the issue got fixed, but no-one told me that, and I had to figure it out myself. And I didn’t get any refund nor an extension.
    T-Mobile by contrast consistently kept me in the loop and offered a partial refund, which was generous on their part.
    I dealt with people Not Like Me on both occasions. Kaspersky used an Indian on the phone. T-Mobile used a Hispanic – mixed Peruvian / Galician I think – in person. (Best Buy, I don’t remember, but since it wasn’t their fault anyway, it didn’t matter as much.)
    As far as the racial angle goes, I don’t know that I have one. But not everything has to be racial.
    I’ll say this much: T-Mobile wins points for having someone I’ve actually met up front, and know he’s a stand-up guy. Kaspersky loses points for refusing to take responsibility until forced to it. (Best Buy seems a wash; but since they did provide what they said they’d provide, I can’t complain. Anyway I’ve been getting generally good service from them.)

  3. In general, AMEX is useless overseas. So many merchants have been robbed via AMEX travelers checks that AMEX is poorly received. It seems it’s ONLY AMEX that tells the merchants “this check is no good, the signatures don’t match”. Their credit card commissions are excessive, and they are slow-pay.

  4. Robert Marchenoir says:

    I live in France. I used to have an American Express card. Many stores officially accepting Amex used to tell me, as soon as I flashed it : don’t you have a Visa card ?
    After a while, account statements started to be sent from America. As a result, they always arrived one or two days after Amex had drawn whatever I owed them from my bank account, making them completely useless. My complaints went unheard. I finally cancelled my card. They managed to charge me for one extra year — I had to ask for a refund.
    From my perspective, American Express used to thrive on the fact that owning a credit card was once a status symbol. This has long gone, but Amex hasn’t come up with a new reason to chose them (except the lack of a pre-set spending limit, which might or might not be an advantage). Antagonizing business owners was anything but a smart strategy, and defeated the very idea of an upscale credit card. How “exclusive” does it feel when a shop attendant humiliates you by almost refusing your means of payment ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *