A warning from Bali: American Express – don’t leave home with it!
This Crikey contributor has just returned from a holiday with the
family on the magical isle of Bali with a salutary tale to tell.
Armed with a Gold Westpac Visa card linked to ample savings accounts,
cheque book, Gold Amex Card with a CREDIT balance and ample cash,
money would not be a problem – or so we thought.
Until day 3.

Two of our three kids came down with the dreaded Bali Belly –
number two daughter dangerously ill with a BP of 80/60 and dropping
fast. One hotel room was converted into hospital ward with drips hanging
from light fittings as two doctors (our two treasures and heroes of the
Bali Bombing) worked for seven hours to stabilise the kids. Four days of
doctors visits.

Dr Utoyo’s fees were no trouble, on hotel account, but Dr Budi has to be
paid in cash – several million rupiah. That’s OK because we’re
insured and his earnings going back into his clinic for those less
fortunate.

Off to an ATM to replenish our diminished stock of cash. Tried just
about every ATM on the island to no avail. Not to worry, always got
the Amex and its credit balance.

In the meantime we had hooked up with fellow Aussies, John and Anna
Dean from Mooroolbark, Victoria. Seasoned travellers and Platinum
Amex holders. We needed about $AUD500 only to tide us over and John
and Anna needed a paltry $AUD1500 extra cash to conclude a business
deal.

This contributor rings Amex, transferred to Sydney where Amex
representative advises I could write a personal cheque up to $AUD2200
to be cashed by Amex. The Deans rang Amex Sydney’s Platinum Service
where they were told by Carmen they could have up to $AUD5000 without
the need of a cheque.

Carmen confirms the money would be waiting at
the adjoining Bali Beach Hotel if we would like to go and collect it.

So Anna Dean and this contributor march off to the Amex office where
a very nice lady, A.A. Tri Jestarini informs us she had only just got
off the phone to Sydney. Problem. This was the only Amex office on
the island and they were there for merchant support and carried no
cash on the premises. To get the cash requires authorisation and
despatch of the cash from Jakarta. Jakarta office now closed and
would remain closed the next two days (31st Dec and 1st Jan).

The earliest cash could be obtained was 5th or 6th Jan.

The next 21/2 hours was filled with conference calls as the Bali rep
went to bat for us. It appears Carmen did not log any approvals
before she went home so we talk to Mia and Jakarta manager. Mia
informs we Gold members were still entitled to cash cheque for up to
$2200 but Platinum Deanes now limited to $1100. All in all not
satisfactory but it will do.

Bali Amex rep rings Sydney for the last time. Mia has now gone home
and new Amex rep has no knowledge as Mia has not pre-approved. Final
word – no money at all to this Gold member with or without cheque and
only $US1000 allowed to the Platinum Deanes. At least this was
couriered the next day.

Basically, the Deanes and this contributor spent the whole day
desperately seeking funds only to be disappointed by Amex. We
managed with a little help from the Deanes and our hotel manager,
Keith Bell of the Sanur Paradise Plaza Hotel. I am extremely
grateful to the marvellous staff at this hotel for making a difficult
time more bearable.

As a long-time Amex merchant I had always been told by Amex they
could justify the extra commission they demanded due to the extra
services they offered their clients. To American Express I can only
say thanks – for nothing.

I would have thought a client in trouble
with a credit balance in place would have been deserving of a little
more assistance than was offered which leads me to my current line of
thought:

American Express – don’t leave home with it!

Post script. On the 8th January I rang the American Express number
in the Sydney White Pages where I was transferred to a call centre in
India. I asked for the name and the email address of the General
Manager, Sydney so I could send him this missive for comment. I was
brusquely informed the General Manager was a busy man and they
couldn’t give out such details. I then obtained a direct line for
Amex Sydney to be told if I want an email address I should log on to
the amex website. Service has its rewards.

Jay the disgruntled Traveller writes:

In reply to “Disgruntled Gold Amex holder”, we need to start a support group. My Amex story spans three continents.

In Feb 2003 I left Australia for an around the world trip, but in
January I rang Amex to have my Gold card replaced. A crack had begun to
open up on it due to swiping it so much, and also it was due to expire
in 6 months.

“I’m sorry sir, we don’t re-issue cards unless they are either
completely broken or lost. And the re-issued card will still expire on
that date”. Ok fine, it’s going to be a pain because I had no idea
where I was going to be when it expires, but I’m sure I will be able to
manage.
 
Also in January, I hooked up Fast Cash to my Amex card, so I can
withdraw money from my account using it, as well as using my ATM card
which has the PLUS symbol on it. I wont say which bank I am with but
lets say Jack Thompson has done some adds for them.


Frankfurt, Germany.

No word from home on my Amex fast cash PIN in four weeks, but no
matter. I insert my ATM card into a machine bearing the PLUS symbol. No
go. I try another. Nup. Later I realise that the bank only has deals to
use maybe 5 different banks in all the world, none of which I could
find. So now the only cash I have immediate access to is travellers
cheques. It’s good to plan for worst case senarios.

Stockholm, Sweden.

My Amex card finally breaks. I resort to transferring cash online to my
swedish friend’s account in order to not starve. I visit a branch and
get a new card issued. Amazingly, in two days it’s FedExed to my
friends place. Score one for Amex I think.

Amex Fast cash PIN finally arrives at home two weeks later, 2 months
after I mailed off the form. Not happy with the wait, so lets call it
even so far.

Basel, Switzerland, Sunday night.

No ATM I could find in the whole city will take an Amex card. No
foreign exchange places are open and all I’ve got is Euros, no Swiss
francs. Banking capital of the world, hah!

Toronto, Canada.

My Amex card finally expires. I ring Amex Canada and asked to be
tranferred to the Australia helpdesk. “I’m sorry sir, we don’t transfer
to international helpdesks. Here’s the number.” Grrrrr. I make a call
to Australia and get put in the priority queue. It’s 2am in the morning
and I’m paying for an international call. I talk to one person, get put
in another queue, then am served by a girl with a thick accent. It’s a
really bad line, and both of us have to repeat everything we say twice.
I explain my situation and ask to have the card that obviously has
arrived at home in Australia to be cancelled, and a new card issued and
sent to me in Toronto.

“Sir you will have to pick up your new card at a branch”. No I don’t
think so, I say. I had one sent to a house address only 4 months ago,
and I’d like the same thing done. “I’m sorry sir, there’s been a change
of policy. We don’t do that anymore.”

She tries to send me to the Scarborough branch office. I’m currently
living in Brampton, and I dont have a car! That’s like me living in
Melbourne and sending me to Geelong, or Sydney to Newcastle!
 ”I’m sorry sir, I don’t know where these places are or their
distances from each other.” Silence and incomprehension from me, and
then penny finally drops. What city are you in? “Bombay.”

I hang up, go outside (3am now) and punch the ground for a bit. Then I
go back inside and call Amex Australia again. My first sentence; “Good
afternoon, do not transfer me to the India Helpdesk”. I get served by
Aussies all the way through.

My card gets mailed to the house I’m staying at (against policy for the
India helpdesk, they just arent allowed to do it) and I make a
complaint over the phone to the call manager, which by the way is the
only person I could rant at over the phone because they don’t actually
have a complaint department. The manager is very understanding and
polite, and also says that I could have called collect and avoided the
international charges.

I must say that this series of events is the first trauma I’ve had with
Amex. It been pretty good until last year. But outsourcing these sort
of specialised services to places where the call staff cannot relate to
the customers is IMHO the biggest mistake a service industry can make.
Talking to a girl with a thick Bombay accent on a line that went three
quarters way around the world at 2am after being awake for 20 hours was
the most aggravating thing I did last year. People who ring for these
services need help and dont deserve the added difficulty.

Jay the Traveller.

Amex comes through in Spain

I was in Madrid in January 2001 when two large and rather unfriendly
gentlemen took a liking to my “Manbag”. I have to carry the aforementioned
manbag because I am Diabetic and need enough space for needles, Insulin and
Blood Sugar Level monitors and strips.

Anyway, they rolled my wife and I and left us dazed and confused. We went to
the hosiptal who were convinced I was dealing in drugs and would not give me
needles, but would inject insulin.

I went off to cancel my cards, including my Amex. I was on my way back to
the hospital when I received a call from Amex. They simply said what can we
do?

I said “Insulin, Needles, Cash. In that order.”

We returned to the hotel room at midnight from the hospital, and were woken
at 4am by a knock on the door. It was the Amex sponsored courier with my
needles, my insuiln and some cash. The replacement card took another day,
but that was not an issue.

I found Amex to be excellent, and think they deserve some credit.

Anyway, can’t put my name out as I like to keep my medical situation to
myself, but that’s my story for you guys.

More Amex woes – this time from India
 
First, to my surprise, I found out when in India (or anywhere else for
that matter) I have facility to withdraw A$3,000 per week from their
ATMs but only A$800 over the counter. It won’t be a surprise to readers
to learn that the Amex ATM is located in the same building as the Amex
bank and linked by a door. Why is this important? I wanted to get a
bank draft for considerably more than A$800 but Amex would not perform
this task for any funds not issued over the counter. The fact that I
could make the ATM withdrawal was entirely irrelevant to them. Of
course, I also thought I prepared adequately to offset these problems
by A$10,000 in cash to have my account in credit.
 
The next step was to try and get Amex to reply to emails – that is
clearly impossible, as they don’t address problems this way. So the
next move is to telephone the number in Sydney. Now I know perfectly
well that there are Amex call centres located in India that handle many
calls for Australian clients. I was assured though that my call would
be handled in Australia – wrong, the call was transferred to Gurgaon
which is a satellite city just outside New Delhi and 30 kilometres from
where I using my mobile phone with an Indian sim and local number.
Given the fact that I had to hold for few minutes awaiting the operator
and that I was told I would need to hold for a period of time while
Amex investigated I suggested that the operator might call me back on a
local number as this would save me considerable phone charges and would
save Amex diversion costs. The call centre operator advised that this
was impossible and that I would have to call through Australia and
could not even contact the call centre direct.
 
Many will be aware that Indian bureaucracy may be the problem but the
fact that I could do pretty much what I wanted through a local Indian
Bank (I just had to queue for longer) I have to conclude that it is
Amex bureaucracy gone mad.
 
Upon my return to Australia I made call after call after call to try
and understand what had happened. I had to repeat the problems many
times to many people who invariably advised that they would have to
investigate and call back. No calls back. I even tried to call Amex
administration but was told the only way to get an answer was through
the call centres. About three weeks later explanations were forthcoming
– verbally, never in writing.
 
Nick Klotz

Adelaide Amex story

This is not as “continent spanning” your previous contributions (other
than the fun I have with the Bollywood Call Centre…vis a vis…listen
mate, put the script away, pipe down…I have a question, and no I
didn’t see the cricket last weekend, I don’t know if it was great…).

I had a Gold Amex through the ASCPA (member type deal) and cancelled it
about 2 years ago. I forgot about a Cellarmasters standing yearly
account charge ($27.50). One day this statement lobs into the snail
mailbox, I added it to the to be paid list and made a note to transfer
the charge to my new credit card (an AMP branded Amex). I forgot to pay
it by the due date.

That same week it was due (the deal breaking $27.50) I go to use my
credit card and get denied. I ask the waitress to try again…declined
(with plenty of credit available). Hmmm. I get a letter that night from
my gym stating that my standing monthly membership charge has been
denied, they had been advised by Amex that the account “wont
work”…and the gym ask me to give them another account to take me
money from.

I get a bit fired up, contact Bollywood and speak to Rani who informs
me in a pleasant lilting English tone that because I had overdues (from
the old Amex) my current Amex (in fact anything Amex) gets shut down,
switched off with extreme prejudice. As I am talking to her I am paying
the outstanding $27.50 + $0.63c interest. I ask her nicely what happens
if I pay it today, but because it has accrued an extra $0.04c interest
from the statement date and I don’t pay that will the same thing
happen, do I get shut down again for the $0.04c? That flew straight
over like a Qantas 737. 

Peter Fray

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