Why wasn't I told about what they sold as gold?

plastic problems
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The Independent Culture
Snoo Wilson applied for an American Express Gold Card because of the promise of an overdraft guarantee. When he wanted it, it wasn't there.

It all started with a mailshot, more than 10 years ago. I was invited to apply for an American Express Gold card. My main reason for replacing my green Amex card with a gold card was rather cowardly; it meant I would be able to obtain an overdraft of pounds 10,000 without having to pick up the phone to my bank.

Since my income dives in and out of the sufficient, like many a scribbler, it seemed worth paying the extra fifty quid or so a year for losing the aggro. Praise the Lord, Amex thought so well of me that it would guarantee my financial good health, without taking my temperature. My self-esteem soared.

The only person who has ever been remotely impressed by my possessing a gold card, was an old friend, a wealthy but unworldly painter who I recently had lunch with. He had known me when I could (and indeed often did) put my possessions into a large decrepit Gladstone bag.

After the card had been admired by her in the restaurant at the end of the meal, in a way that edged perilously close to a badly written advertisement for its services, the plastic was borne away to do its work in the land of cybercredit, and we chatted.

Later I modestly slid the card back in my wallet and tried to assess its merits dispassionately. You get points for spending with an Amex card. I had notched up enough points for a visit to Disneyland. I could even go for six meals at Halifax's Wallis Simpson Restaurant in Yorkshire. I was not sure how to reconcile the stick-like woman with batter, steak and kidney and treacle puddings but I was willing to give it a try.

Shortly after the painterly lunch, with my bank balance poised to nose shyly into the red, I decided to check with American Express that it would be able to support the overdraft service which I had been paying for all these years. I was told frankly over the phone that Amex, plagued by bad debts had lost so much money on the scheme it had withdrawn it some years ago.

For a number of years, I realised, I had been paying for an item that was something of a paper tiger when it came to overdraft protection. I cancelled my gold card and got a green one. A card is a card, is a card, as Gertrude Stein would undoubtedly have written.

I wrote to American Express asking when the overdraft guarantee had been withdrawn, and when its customers had been told. Over the years, with the exception of this incident, American Express has been generally exemplary, deleting or suspending payment on items on the bill I have queried. It never occurred to me that it wouldn't tell cardholders immediately of crucial changes.

I didn't get a satisfactory reply. Or a reply at all to my second letter or my third. I phoned, twice, without success. The bill for the new green card came. I took pleasure in chopping the card up, and sent it back, saying I needed an answer to my questions before I allowed their plastic to darken my wallet again. The Yorkshire pudding in the Wallis Simpson restaurant receded into fantasy as I waited, having made myself cardless, for a reply. And waited.

Finally after six weeks, I got a letter. It was clearly not from the cutting edge of their public relations department. "Please except [sic] my apologies as previous correspondence relating to this issue has not been replied to." I learned that the overdraft guarantee had been binned five years ago. The company had told the cardholders who banked at American Express, but no one else.

The letter was a rather feeble attempt to weasel out of responsibility, telling me that if I wanted satisfaction I should take the matter up with my bank. I wrote to the president of American Express summarising my dispute but my letter was ignored. They wanted the trouble to go away, and thought that if they kept quiet, it would.

Institutions told to rue on cue seldom do, but I would like Amex to rue the day it tried to sweep this one under the carpet. I fantasise about a class action of thousands of indigent ex-Gold Card holders, who would shake the company down for what it had done. But do I want to spend the next few years instructing lawyers to prance and spout on my behalf on such a piddling matter? Life's too short.

So, Amex, I'd like a properly spelt apology for the years I've spent handing over money for nothing, and my card back, (because it is a Useful Card) with my points restored. I could celebrate by hopping on a train and pigging out on chocolate ice cream with my family at the Wallis Simpson. One can never be too rich or too thin.

"HRH", a play about Wallis Simpson, who married Edward VIII, by Snoo Wilson, opens at the Playhouse Theatre, London, on 7 October.

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