Today is a symbolic moment for the UK payment cards industry, although – in a sign of the times – it won’t actually impact many people.
The American Express Green Card has been removed from the UK market.
This is the first half of a two-part announcement today. Amex has also announced that The Platinum Card will become a credit card and not a charge card – with a huge sign-up bonus of 60,000 points and an extra £200 to spend on travel – you can apply for that here.
Originally launched in 1969 in the United States, the Green Card was, at least when I was young, the symbolic archetypal American Express card. Despite that, it wasn’t actually the first Amex card, which was purple.
If you are a certain age, as I am, the words ‘American Express’ immediately conjure up a picture of the card above.
You probably also remember TV ads like this one, with the ‘Don’t Leave Home Without It’ strapline:
Click here to see the original of that ad on YouTube. Note the bit at the end recommending that you go to Oracle page 196 for more information ….
Today, American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is arguably the most high profile of Amex’s own brand cards. The British Airways cards dominate the co-brand side. There is no real role for The Green Card.
Neglected, but The Green Card had its fans
The Green Card has been neglected. We didn’t even mention it on HfP until a couple of years ago, and even recently our coverage was limited to one card review per year. It has never been on our main credit card directory page.
That said, it wasn’t entirely useless. I know that there are HfP readers who have the card primarily for its purchase protection coverage, which is NOT standard across other Amex cards.
To quote from the old Amex Green website:
- When the manufacturer’s warranty expires on your favourite new purchase, we’ll give you a year’s Extended Warranty up to £1,500 per item
- Enjoy Refund Protection on eligible items. If the UK retailer won’t refund or replace the eligible item, we will, up to a maximum of £200.
- You also get Purchase Protection. If you bought it on your Card and it’s stolen or damaged within 90 days, we’ll replace or repair it, or refund you up to £2,500 per eligible item.
A surprising (to me) number of people were happy to pay £60 per year for The Green Card in order to access the purchase protection benefit.
That said it also, of course, got you access to Shop Small, kept your Membership Rewards balance from expiring if you were cancelling a more expensive Amex card and came with the usual Amex statement credit offers. You were very likely to get your £60 back in savings over the year.
An iconic image
The Green Card is, without a doubt, one of the iconic consumer images of our time.
Whilst Andy Warhol never got around to painting one, when I was in Palma last year, I saw this image – which is about three foot wide – for sale in a gallery:
I doubt we’ll be seeing the Tesco Clubcard Mastercard credit card treated the same way in a hurry …..
The Green Card was, apparently, originally known as the Money Card and the colour was chosen to match dollar bills. It was launched at the same time as the Boeing 747 opened up international travel to the American middle class (Pan Am started operating the 747 in early 1970, The Green Card was launched in 1969) and was intended to work alongside the key American Express business of issuing travellers cheques.
The card became a status symbol and was promoted – as per the Roger Daltry ad above – as something to be used for travel and business. It wasn’t meant to be the card you used at Tesco. The idea that Costco would eventually become the biggest American Express co-brand partner in the US would have been anathema. (The Costco deal was lost in 2014, a blow so hard that the Amex share price fell by 50% and took three years to recover).
Over the years, of course, The Green Card has faded. As competition in the payment card space increased, American Express was forced to add better rewards and benefits to its products.
Rather than wreck the ‘purity’ of Green, and potentially to keep annual fees from Green cardholders coming in without offering anything extra, new cards such as Amex Gold were introduced.
It soon made little sense to pay £60 per year for The Green Card, a card which didn’t even come with a sign-up bonus.
With the closure of The Green Card and the conversion of The Platinum Card to a credit card (437.9% APR!), American Express is getting close to exiting the charge card business in the UK.
For consumers, the charge card model has few benefits except for people who want a card which forces them to repay their balance every month.
Whilst the charge cards used to be promoted as ‘you don’t have a credit limit so you can buy anything you like’, this has not been the case for a long time – the charge cards do have limits, albeit unpublicised to users. The Amex app even has a ‘Check Spending Power’ button. Click it, type in a transaction value and you will be told if it will be accepted or not.
The Green Card isn’t totally disappearing, at least for now. It will continue to exist in other markets and, if you really want one, American Express will let UK residents apply for the International Dollar Card or International Euro Card. I have an Amex Green card in a US$ version via this route, something I use purely to access different Membership Rewards partners.
For clarity, if you currently hold The Green Card in the UK, nothing changes. It will continue to function as usual and will be renewed. The card is only withdrawn today for new applicants.