After 20 years at the University of Oregon, I have retired. So, I will begin posting about my new experiences here and hope you find them interesting.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tricky rewards programs mislead shoppers!!

Last week I read an article about the best credit card rewards programs to use for maximum benefits. One card that the article listed as one of the best programs was the American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card because it pays 6% cash back on groceries.  It charges a $75 annual fee but with the rewards for groceries so high I thought I would still come out way ahead by using that card.  So I applied and was approved for the card and received it last night in the mail.  This morning when I called to activate the card I asked the account representative if Walmart, where I buy most of my groceries, was considered a grocery store?  "Oh, no," she replied, "Walmart is considered a superstore like Costco or Sam's Club so rewards would be 1% cash back. By grocery stores we mean Kroeger's or a chain like that."  I told her that those chain grocery stores charge as much as 50% more for groceries than Walmart so I would lose money by shopping there as opposed to saving money that was my original goal for acquiring the card.

For example, my husband and I like Grandma Sycamore's bread made by Sara Lee (sorry, no grandmother involved!).  I can purchase a loaf of that bread at Walmart for $2.50 or less.  At the local Albertson's (that would qualify for the 6% cash back) I would have to pay $3.79 for the identical loaf of bread.  That's 51.6% more for the same bread.  I'm afraid the 6% cash back wouldn't begin to cover the extra cost of shopping there.

I asked the American Express customer service representative to cancel the card and she was very gracious and did so without any high pressure tactics to keep the card.  After I hung up I thought about the annual fee and wondered if I would be charged the fee even though I cancelled the card on my activation call.  So, I called back and got a nice young man who assured me the card was cancelled and I would not be billed for the annual fee.  I wish all customer service representatives were as nice as those that work for American Express.  It's just too bad that the card will not save any more money for anyone who shops for groceries at Walmart.than a typical cash back card without an annual fee.

So, I guess the moral of this story is you have to be particularly vigilant if you are trying to save money using a rewards program that specifies different cash back amounts for different categories of purchases.  Although the author of the article did mention the card would not pay 6% at Costco or Sam's Club they did not mention Walmart that is considered by many people a "regular" grocery store since no membership fees are charged.  At least the Citicard Double Cash Rewards card pays 2% cash back for any purchase regardless of the source.
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