When Al Wolstein tries to use his two American Express Prepaid Cards, he finds that monthly maintenance fees have reduced the balances to zero. But those fees should not have been assessed. Can we help him get his balances back?
Question: I acquired two American Express Prepaid Cards with $80 balances as rebates from a Tiger Direct promotion. But when I tried to use the cards months later, I found that the balance was zero. A monthly maintenance fee of $4.95 had been charged against the balances. I did not realize that American Express charges a fee against these balances because it was not disclosed on the face of the cards.
I wrote to Doug Buckminster, President of American Express’ Global Consumer Services Group, who is listed in your executive contacts for American Express, asking that the balances be restored to my cards. I’m a holder of the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card and tried to use this as leverage in my request for reinstatement of the balances. Buckminster hasn’t responded.
Also, I called American Express’ customer service number for these cards to ask that the balances be restored. My call was routed to the prepaid card resolution unit, where I spoke to a representative and a supervisor. However, no one in the unit responded to my request after taking note of it.
Can you help me get my balances back so I can use the cards? — Al Wolstein, Temple, Texas
Answer: It’s very disappointing to acquire cards and then find that the balances aren’t there when you try to use them. We’ve published stories about gift cards with missing balances, so this seems to be a plastic phenomenon.
American Express is no longer issuing these cards. It began assessing the monthly maintenance fees in October 2015 against existing holders of the cards, apparently as an inducement to get the holders to close their accounts. This may be part of the reason why you didn’t get a response from the prepaid card resolution unit.
The terms of your cards indicate that there is a maintenance fee assessed every month. But buried in the fine print of the card member agreement is a provision that the fee does not apply to residents of certain states — including Texas.
As a fellow resident of Texas, I can sympathize with your wanting to get your balances back since the fees should not have been assessed against your account. Unfortunately, it appears that when you tried to self-advocate your case, you went to the top executives before calling the prepaid card resolution unit. An important lesson imparted by your case is to start at lower levels and work your way up the corporate hierarchy when filing a complaint, rather than starting at the top as you did.
You contacted our advocates for assistance, and American Express confirmed to us that because you live in Texas your card numbers are not subject to the maintenance fee. However, you would have to call the prepaid card resolution unit yourself to have the balances reinstated. But when you made the call, you were told by the American Express agent to whom you spoke that the cards were issued by a third party called Afligo, about which she could give you no information.
Since then, you’ve told us that you plan to cut up your American Express card and send it with the two gift cards by certified mail to Ken Chennault, the CEO of American Express, with a letter about your experience. While I doubt that this will get back the money you paid for the cards, it will certainly convey to Chennault not to mess with Texas.