Apr 072011

— American Express vs Chase Mastercard

Last October my girlfriend and I booked

a business trip to Arizona.  The owner

of the property we were scheduled to

visit called a few days before the

flight.  There had been a flash flood

and the land was inaccessible.  Our

trip was postponed.  In the months

that followed, we learned the hard

way that Chase Business Mastercard

and American Express are not the

same thing.

Costa Rica Santa Teresa Adam Marelli

Local girls in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. Leica M6, 28mm Elmarit & Fuji Provia 100F Adam Marelli.

Friends on the Road

The logistics of a trip can be complicated.  Whether its a quick flight from New York to California or a longer trip around the globe.  There are a new set of travel rules that affect photographers as we rent cars, buy airline tickets, or run into trouble on the road.

I wanted to share two stories about travel mishaps, one which worked out well and the other one that was a total headache.  The only difference between each experience was the credit card that started the trip.

American Express Platinum Card Adam Marelli

American Express is designed for photographers who need to travel.

The Good Story: Costa Rica

A few years ago, I was traveling in Costa Rica with four friends.  The trip, the car rental, ferry ride, and all ensuing adventures went well.  There were no major problems with two exceptions.  My friend needed to be rescued when his leash broke in some heavy surf.  (Bivo we love you!)  He survived and his surfboard was mildly damaged, but all things considered he was lucky.

Problem two was our rental car was broken into and our bags were stolen.  The enterprising thieves punched out a small window in the truck and took most of the carry on bags.  I usually carry my Leica bag and passport everywhere, so they were sitting next to me as the car was being ransacked.  The car was robbed in broad day light with no less than twenty people in plain sight of the car.  Once we discovered the car was broken into my heart dropped.  In the car was my entire Hasselblad set up (lenses and backs), tripod, light meter, and all the film from the trip.  While I did not immediately burst into a fit of rage or a ball of tears, we looked through the car to survey the damage.

As it turned out three of the five carry on bags were missing, but all of the Hasselblad gear was still in the car.  By a stroke of good luck it was in the back of the truck.  We assume the “shoppers” grabbed the lightest bags on the top.  The Tenba bag packed with a few thousand dollars worth of gear was not touched.  THANK GOD.  But onto the problem at hand.  Three of our friends had lost a combination of cameras, iPods, and passports.  Only two of us could actually fly out of the country.  The next day was spent communicating between their families at home, who were going to wonder why we left as five and returned as two.

We went to the local police station and filed a report because since the car was rented under my name, with an American Express card, I had $2,000 of coverage for lost or stolen luggage.  When I returned home, the police report and itemized list of stolen goods was sent to American Express.  In total we actually lost more than the $2,000 that Amex covers, but it was a big help.

Depending on your level of card, you can either purchase additional travelers insurance for around $20 per line item or if you have a higher level card the insurance is covered in your annual fee.

When we leave for a trip the last thing on our minds is “What is going to go wrong?”  Focusing on the potential negatives is a terrible way to travel, but that does not mean we should neglect the option to safeguard against  a few road bumps.  And if things are going wrong the last thing you want to do is argue with an incompetent customer service agent who keeps repeating,” I’m terribly sorry for your inconvenience Mr. Marelli, but there is nothing I am able to do.”  It makes you want to reach through the phone and choke out customer service and tell them to stop talking you like an (expletive!) robot.  They don’t feel your pain, could not care less about your problems, and in most cases appear to derive some level of pleasure from tactfully explaining that “You are SCREWED.”

American Express Adam Marelli

There are options for travel insurance with every American Express Card at all levels. You do not need a Platinum card to have access to the travel insurance. When I first started traveling as a college student I used an Amex Blue Card. Its a dream.

Up until this Costa Rican mishap, I had only used my travel insurance when my bags were delayed, if I missed a connecting flight, or I needed to cancel a flight.  I had no idea how painful or painless claiming stolen goods would be with Amex. The entire process took one phone call to a single customer service representative and three minutes of scanning the police document and the itemized list of stolen items.  The dealings with American Express were fantastic.  Before this experience I liked my Amex card, but afterwards I realized the extra $20 dollars for the theft protection was worth all $2,000.

The Bad Story: Arizona

On a last minute trip to Arizona in October, my girlfriend bought our tickets through Orbitz on US Airways.  There were actually two problems that occured in this operation.  First, airlines have started a “bait and switch” when it comes to buying tickets.  It is now possible to buy a flight with (Company A) and in the fine print you will see that your flight is actually operated through (Company B).  If you have experienced this switch, you probably have stories about why this system is horrible for travellers.  If something goes wrong, it is unclear who to call and who is responsible.

Who Is Responsible?

Now instead of only having two huge corperate entities to deal with, like Orbitz and (Company A), your flight is now operated by the third party (Company B).  By adding another party to the itinerary it insures that no one will take responsibility if anything goes wrong.  The pool of customer service theives (I won’t give them the credit of being called agents) can pass the blame between the other two companies.  And if you are really lucky, the operating airline will not have Customer Support by phone.  The newest airline scam being pushed by US Airways is, and I quote,” Our customers told us they prefer to communicate by email, so we eliminated our phone service.”  This is the most fantastical lie I have heard from any company.

The tickets for Arizona were purchased with a Chase Business Mastercard.  When we opened our Chase Business accounts they explained the card is geared towards small business owners.  It would be able to cover the needs of any small business, travel included.  When we learned the property in Arizona was flooded, we needed to cancel the tickets.  With American Express this is quite simple.  You call Amex and tell them, “I will not be flying, I would like to cancel.”  The money is refunded in full, there are no extra charges, cancellation charges, or re-booking fees.  American Express’ travel insurance covers the cost.  And just so I do not recieve a flood of emails, the insurance needs to be purchased on entry level cards.  On Gold, Platinum, Centurion cards and many of their small business credit cards, it is included in your annual fee.  If you have any questions ask American Express.  They are good about explaining terms and conditions in english instead of refering you to three pages of micro legal print.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche, 1834. National Gallery London, England.


The Chase Business Rewards Mastercard sounds distinguished, but like most defunct royalty the long name is a cover for its inability to render a useful service.  When we called to have the tickets cancelled Chase refunded the money.  Sounds great, right?  WRONG.  Chase refunded the money, but US Airways and Orbitz went around the Chase refund to come after her directly.  Is this legal?  Right now it is.  My guess is within a few years they will find this practice to be financial extortion and entirely illegal.  If it sounds like the similar scams that cell phone companies used to run, you are correct.

I will save you the next (8) hours of phone calls between Chase, Mastercard, Orbitz and US Airways.  The end result was Chase suggesting that if we did not like the service they provide that we could close the account.  I would love to share that piece of information at a Chase Management meeting.  We now have a credit for the cost of the tickets with US Airways and two ($150) re-booking fee for each ticket.

Adam Marelli Car Rental

If you do this to your rental car American Express will take care of the boo-boo. Leica M9 & 28mm Elmarit Adam Marelli.


The moral of the story is all cards are not created equally.  When it comes to using a card for work and travel American Express is light years ahead of the competition.  Their customer service is personal, their coverage makes sense, and they come through when things go wrong.  While I would not turn down any endoresment from American Express, I don’t recieve any compensation from them.  Using American Express is simply my preference, one that proves itself to be useful time and time again.  The only reason I carry a Mastercard is because not everyone takes American Express, but from now on all tickets, car rentals, and expensive purchases will be with American Express.





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