Think AMEX Financial Reviews can only happen to hard-boiled MS-ers cycling tens of thousands of dollars a month? Think again!
I met Emily, who runs Let’s Roam Wild, at the TBEX conference in Cancun and was impressed when she told me how she had applied for a few credit cards and gotten some nice bonuses without studying the hobby all that much. She asked me for a few pieces of advice, and you know me — I just can’t keep my mouth shut when it comes to my favorite subject — so I gave her a few pointers. Among other things, we discussed meeting spending requirements for some cards she would apply for, because being a normal person has its limitations, you know. This stuff ain’t easy.
We continued to communicate via email. Emily needed to spend about $10,000 quickly ($5K for the AMEX Starwood card), and I mentioned the Amazon Local Register as an option to meet the spend easily and economically even if she wouldn’t use an AMEX gift card as an additional step. As you know, ALR has this 1.7% promotional fee vs almost 3% offered by other credit card “swipers“.
Of course, I also mentioned that she shouldn’t use her own credit card, but rather give a card to an authorized user she could trust. Considering that AMEX assigns a different number to an AU’s card, it seems to me as a perfect solution to meet the spend cheaply and call it a day.
And then I received this DM on Twitter.
Am I Going to AMEX Jail?
I’ll let Emily tell her story.
That dreaded phone call came straight to my cell phone and my work line within minutes of each other.
“This is not a telemarketing call – please call me back as soon as possible” rang through the phone. I checked online and it had happened: my account was suspended.
I’m going to AMEX jail, for sure, I thought.
In this risky little hobby of ours [wink, Andy], there’s really very little information out there to know what’s right and what’s wrong – legally or through policy. I’m definitely an amateur at travel hacking and it’s a steep learning curve. So when I got this phone call, I knew I had done something (or many things) wrong.
Here’s what we believe raised red flags:
1) It was a newer account with few purchases on it.
2) I added an authorized user to the account. This user made a large purchase – significantly larger than any purchase I had made.
3) I used Amazon Local Register with the SPG Amex card in my authorized user’s name, but it still showed up as paid to me on the account – meaning I had paid myself and AMEX knew it.
After frantically emailing Andy, I called back the next day to sort it all out. Even though I knew the worst thing that could happen would be that they would shut down my account, I still was pretty anxious! I hate getting in trouble!
The financial review process was time consuming, but we actually had it all sorted out over the phone in about an hour. These were the questions I was asked specific to this big, apparently not-so-kosher, purchase from the AMEX financial review representative after the typical verify your account questions:
“Ma’am, can you tell me a bit about the last purchase from your authorized user?”
“Sure, what exactly would you like to know”
“Well why does it say that it’s charged to your name?”
“I conducted some business school consulting services for him and he paid me for them. Is that not okay?”
“Well, no ma’am you have a vested interested in the business and this is cause to shut down your account.”
“I had no idea that that was not okay. I definitely will not do this again. I am excited about SPG’s Amex card and would like to keep the account open. I truly apologize for my mistake.”
“We understand. Just be aware that if this happens again it will be an automatic shutdown of your account. We’d like to keep you as a customer too, ma’am, but we’ll need to talk to your bank to verify some information.”
We then conference called my bank and she verified that I had enough money (three month average balance) in my two primary accounts (you can pick the accounts you share, I picked one checking and my largest savings) to make sure I could pay my bills and that I did not lie about anything on my application.
After this, she removed the hold on my account and all was well again in AMEX world. I still received points for the purchase, and vowed never to break AMEX law again.
HOW TO SURVIVE THE AMEX FINANCIAL REVIEW PROCESS:
1) Be honest. I think being honest here worked in my favor.
2) Be timely. Call them back immediately as they will go ahead and shutdown your account if you do not call back within 15 days.
3) Be compliant. If you really want to keep your account open, let them conference call your bank with you.
Alternative to Amazon Local Register – Use Venmo!
If you are trying to hit your minimum spend, send a trust friend money through Venmo and have them write you a check back (do not have them send it back through Venmo) and pay the 3% fee. You’re clearly in a hurry if you’re trying to hit your minimum spend by using Amazon Local Register and most of the time it shouldn’t put you out that much. Consider it your travel hacking tax. I guess you also could have your friend set up ALR and you could pay them (with the 1.75% fee), but you better buy them dinner because it’s kind of a pain!
Have you had to go through the dreaded AMEX financial review? Tell your story in the comments!
Having thought about it, it was my mistake rather than Emily’s. In my mind, I thought of ALR as a business version of Amazon Payment. You have no idea how often I and my AUs have used the same AMEX card to transfer money between our accounts with no adverse effect.
In reality, ALR is a completely different thing. With AP, a credit card issuer had no idea where you sent the payment. However, when you are swiping it with ALR, AMEX could tell immediately the name of the person receiving the funds.
Does it mean I’m buying AMEX’s “you have a vested interested in the business and this is cause to shut down your account” bullshit? Hell no! I have paid my relatives and friends multiple times for doing totally legitimate work for my business. What’s the difference if I pay them with cash, check, or a credit card of which I am an authorized user? This is all a bunch of baloney!
However, it’s their card, not yours. And it’s their policy! Here are a couple of contributing factors that might’ve added up to the conundrum, and that I failed to mention when I had talked to Emily about this.
1. An unusually large purchase is an attention grabber. Call the credit card before you are about to do anything out of the ordinary.
2. As a general rule, they don’t like it when authorized users are more active than cardholders (but a one-time large purchase will be OK if you call ahead).
I think what happened was, that first, a large purchase was flagged, and then the FR unit got engaged when they saw whom the payment was made to.
I felt terrible about what happened and was truly relieved when it ended well. When you mentor somebody, don’t leave out any details. Things can go wrong on every level.
Finally, while I can appreciate the simplicity of Venmo, Square or Google Wallet, especially when you are pressed for time, I can’t recommend using these and other “expensive” options if you churn cards on a regular or even semi-regular basis. Once or twice is fine, but there are other much cheaper options available, so it pays to learn what they are.
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Secret FB Group: Reminder
Those of you guys, who want to join my secret FB group, please don’t forget that you need two things. First to friend me on FB, and second to send me an email. It’s not enough to do one or another. I have other people who friend me on FB, who have nothing to do with the hobby.