American Express is best known for its iconic Green, Gold, and Platinum charge cards, and offers credit cards of similar color levels in most countries.
In the 1950s, American Express issued its first credit card, which caught on quickly in the booming postwar economy and signaled the company's transition to a wider consumer base. In 1966, the company issued its first gold card, in an effort to cater to the upper echelon of business travel. Its platinum card debuted in 1984 and continues to be immensely popular as it is second in exclusivity only to the Centurion Card.
In 1999, American Express introduced the Centurion Card, often referred to as the "black card," which caters to an even more affluent and elite customer segment. The card was initially available only to select users of the Platinum card. The annual fee for the card is $2,500 (up from $1,000 at introduction) with an additional one-time initiation fee of $5,000. American Express created the card line amid rumors and urban legends in the 1980s that it produced an ultra-exclusive black card for elite users who could purchase anything with it.
American Express cards range between no annual fee (for Blue and many other consumer and business cards) and a $450 annual fee (for the Platinum card). Annual fees for the Green card start at $95 (first year free), while Gold card annual fees start at $125.
American Express has several co-branded credit cards, with most falling into one of three categories:Airlines: e.g., Aerolineas Argentinas, Air Canada, Air France, Alitalia, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Qantas, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, among others. Hotels: e.g., Hilton Hotels. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Retailers: e.g., Costco, David Jones, Holt Renfrew, Harrods, Macys, Bloomingdales, Lowe's, Mercedes Benz, and others.
Their card aimed at young adults is called Blue from American Express. A television media campaign for Blue adopted the 1979 UK Synthpop hit "Cars" by Gary Numan as its theme song. Based on a successful product for the European market, Blue had no annual fee, a rewards program, and a multi-functional onboard smart chip. A cashback version, "Blue Cash", quickly followed. Amex also targeted young adults with City Reward Cards that earn INSIDE Rewards points to eat, drink, and play at New York, Chicago and LA hot spots. American Express began phasing out the INSIDE cards in mid-2008, with no new applications being taken as of July 2008.
In 2005, American Express introduced Clear, advertised as the first credit card with no fees of any kind. Also in 2005, American Express introduced One, a credit card with a "Savings Accelerator Plan" that contributes 1% of eligible purchases into a High-Yield Savings Account insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Other cards introduced in 2005 included "The Knot" and "The Nest" Credit Cards from American Express, co-branded cards developed with the wedding planning website theknot.com.
In 2006, the UK division of American Express joined the Product Red coalition and began to issue a Red Card. With each card member purchase the company contributes to causes through The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to help African women and children suffering from HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.
In 2009, American Express introduced the ZYNC charge card. White in color, this card was created for people in their 20s and 30s. American Express is no longer taking applications for the ZYNC charge card.
In late 2012, American Express and Walmart announced the launch of Bluebird, a prepaid debit card similar to that of Green Dot. Bluebird is being touted as having lower fees than other prepaid debit cards with some of the benefits of traditional American Express cards, such as roadside assistance and identity theft protection. The card can also be used as a substitute to a traditional checking account. Unlike other such cards, Bluebird is FDIC-insured. FDIC backing means Bluebird accounts now have deposit insurance, check writing capabilities and customers can now have Social Security checks, military pay and other government benefits deposited directly into their accounts.Card design
The company mascot, the Roman Gladiator or Centurion, appears at the center of the iconic Zync, Green, Gold, Platinum, and Centurion cards. The figure and his pose evoke classical antiquity. These cards also feature intricate border and background designs that read "American Express." The unique designs on these cards, especially the Green card, bear resemblance to those on United States Federal Reserve Notes, and enhance the image of the cardholder as an affluent and conspicuous consumer.ExpressPay
In 2005, American Express introduced ExpressPay, similar to MasterCard PayPass and Visa payWave. It is a contactless payment system based on wireless RFID, where transactions are completed by holding the credit card near a receiver at which point the debt is immediately added to the account. The card is not swiped and no PIN is entered. Many U.S. merchant and restaurant partners now offer ExpressPay, including Meijer, CVS/Pharmacy, Best Buy, Chevron Corporation, Noah's Bagels, and some McDonald's locations. Office Depot has implemented ExpressPay in all 1200 of its stores.Small business services (also known as American Express OPEN) For more details on this topic, see American Express Plum Card.
American Express offers various types of charge cards for small businesses to manage their expenses, and the company is also the largest provider of corporate cards.
In late 2007, the company announced the new Plum Card as the latest addition to their card line for small business owners. The card provides a 1.5% early pay discount or up to two months to defer payment on purchases. The 1.5% discount is available for billing periods where the cardmember spends at least $5,000. The first 10,000 cards were issued to members on December 16, 2007.
In 2008, American Express made a decision to close all Business Line of Credit accounts. This decision was reached in tandem with the Federal Reserve's approval of American Express's request to become a Commercial Bank.Commercial cards and services
American Express also offers a comprehensive range of cards designed to support mid-sized and large companies manage their travel and day-to-day operational expenses. The core product, the American Express Corporate Card is offered in over 40 countries, and a number of complementary products for specific types of spending are offered for special needs. Examples of these products include the Corporate Meeting Card, the Corporate Purchasing Card, and the Business Travel Account. Commercial Cards differ from Business Cards as they enable company liability (business cards are issued as extensions of credit to the company's owner). In addition, Commercial Cards offer a comprehensive suite of data and reporting solutions that help clients gain visibility and control over employee expenditures.
As part of supporting Corporate clients, American Express offers a number of online solutions delivered through the American Express @ Work website. From American Express @ Work, clients have access to program management capabilities, online statements, reporting and data integration products. Information @ Work, a reporting tool targeted at mid-size companies to give them quick and easy access to their employees' spend data; Customized Reporting is provided to larger clients who require more advanced analytics and data consolidation capabilities. American Express also provides data files to clients to power expense reporting and reconciliation tools.
In 2008, American Express acquired the Corporate Payment Services business of GE, which primarily focused on providing Purchasing Card solutions for large global clients. As part of the $1b+ transaction, American Express also added a new product, called V-Payment, to its product portfolio. V-Payment is unique in that it enables a tightly controlled, single-use card number for increased control.Non-proprietary cards
In December 2000, American Express agreed to acquire the US$226 million credit card portfolio of Bank of Hawaii, then a division of Pacific Century Financial Corp. In January 2006, American Express sold its Bank of Hawaii card portfolio to Bank of America (MBNA). Bank of America will issue Visa and American Express cards under the Bank of Hawaii name.
Until 2004, Visa and MasterCard rules prohibited issuers of their cards from issuing American Express cards in the United States. This meant, as a practical matter, that U.S. banks could not issue American Express cards. These rules were struck down as a result of antitrust litigation brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, and are no longer in effect. In January 2004, American Express reached a deal to have its cards issued by a U.S. bank, MBNA America. Initially decried by MasterCard executives as nothing but an "experiment", these cards were released in October 2004. Some said that the relationship was going to be threatened by MBNA's merger with Bank of America, a major Visa issuer and original developer of Visa (and its predecessor, BankAmericard). However, an agreement was reached between American Express and Bank of America on December 21, 2005. Under the terms of the agreement, Bank of America will own the customer loans and American Express will process the transactions. Also, American Express will dismiss Bank of America from its antitrust litigation against Visa, MasterCard, and a number of U.S. banks. Finally, both Bank of America and American Express also said an existing card-issuing partnership between MBNA and American Express will continue after the Bank of America-MBNA merger. The first card from the partnership, the no-annual-fee Bank of America Rewards American Express card, was released on June 30, 2006.
Since then, Citibank, GE Money, and USAA have also started issuing American Express cards. Citibank currently issues several American Express cards including an American Airlines AAdvantage co-branded card. In January 2006 Amex issued Dillard's American Express card in joint cooperation with GE Money, however, in Mar 2008 GE sold its card unit to Amex for $1.1bn in cash only deal. HSBC Bank USA is currently testing both HSBC-branded and Neiman Marcus co-branded American Express rewards credit cards, with a full rollout scheduled for late 2007 or early 2008. Also, UBS launched its Resource Card program for US Wealth Management clients issuing Visa Signature credit cards and American Express charge cards linked to their customers accounts and employing a single rewards program for the two cards. Fidelity operates a similar program, issuing both American Express and Visa Signature cards through FIA Card Services.