Even when it became a stupid move to pay a $150 annual membership fee for AmEx Gold in an age when other cards offered many comparable benefits for free, I continued because it's the only card I have in my married name. So it matches the one on my passport.
Like two of the many Amex celebrity spokespeople over the years -- Tinas Turner and Fey -- I also like the longevity.
I'm funny that way. My checking account at JPMorgan Chase was opened in 1984 when it was still Chemical Bank and my first employer in New York City offered free checking there. This quality hasn't accelerated my home mortgage refinancing, which now enters month five. (But that's a story best left for another day.)
It was something of a surprise last week when I opened a form letter that arrived in a window envelope from American Express. No rich and creamy embossed stationery. No "Dear Laurie." No acknowledgment of membership since 1980. Just a subject line, Re: Blue from American Express, followed by a headline in bold print: Important Account Price Increase Notification.
I skimmed the bulleted list of "principal changes" and can expect to see an Increased Annual Percentage Rate on purchases -- shifting from a fixed rate to variable rate. Raised APR on cash advances. Raised APR on late payment balances, and increased fees for late payments.
My favorite: "In addition, we are pleased to let you know that we will not charge you a fee if you go over your credit limit ... Thank you for being a Cardmember. We look forward to continuing to serve you."
Despite this downright chilly treatment, I'm one of the lucky ones. The Wall Street Journal last week chronicled the tales of folks whose accounts were canceled unbeknownst to them as part of the sweeping move by the credit-card industry to tighten things up before new government restrictions kick in on their fee-charging abilities. Among the institutions doing this, according to the WSJ, are Citigroup, Bank of America and HSBC.
"We feared issuers might make some of these changes and now we see them starting to take place," says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com. The site has a tool enabling consumers to compare rates on cards all over the country.
"These changes will continue as issuers try to find new ways to generate revenue and do anything they can to regain profitability," Hardekopf adds. "Many households can expect changes so we should all pay attention to the white, non-descript envelopes that we receive in the mail and the stuffers in our monthly credit card bill. This is how issuers notify their customers about changes to the terms of their credit card."
I called the AmEx customer service number on the back of my Blue card to see how the company is positioning this for long-standing members. It took some effort to get through to a human being, but a rep named Joy eventually answered my questions. She confirmed the APR is going up by 2.5 percentage points.
Me: "But why are you doing this if I'm such a great customer?"
Joy: "It's basically the same measure all our competitors have taken ... to adjust to the economic adversity."
Reading from what sounded like a canned script, Joy then told me American Express is "still Number 1," because no card benefits are being taken away even though, she claims, everyone else is curtailing them. What action would result in forfeiting my account? AmEx says it sometimes opts to suspend accounts that go unused for two years.
I'm not in that category. I also intend to fully pay off my balance before the new rates go into effect. If I need to use credit, I have other cards with lower rates. At the moment, anyway.
Still, I'm a bit nostalgic for the AmEx of old. It feels like a lifetime between now and then.