SUNDAY! (DAY! DAY!) AT THE THUNDERDOME! (DOME! DOME!) IT’S THE CREDIT CARD DEATHMATCH! (MATCH! MATCH!)
Customer service is one of the last things that consumers think about when choosing a credit card, but it’s the first thing on your mind when you actually need to get through to someone. Let’s say your card has been stolen, or your kids just went on a shopping spree at Best Buy—you want to talk to a human being who’s polite, knowledgeable, and flexible.
Who really has the best credit card customer service? Well to find out we took three big credit card companies —Visa, Discover, and American Express—and put them head-to-head in a bone-crushing, cage-style grudge match. Posing as an insufferable, possibly insane customer, I tried to wring the best deal out of each of them, to see how they’d respond when pushed to the limit. Let’s get ready to rumble!
DEATHMATCH CHALLENGER #1: IBERIABANK VISA CLASSIC CARD (Click for Card Info)
With no membership fees, a 1.99% APR on balance transfers for the first six months, and a 25-day grace period, IberiaBank probably thought they were offering a pretty good deal. My mission: to get them to make the deal better.
Rep: Thanks for calling IberiaBank. My name is Joe, how can we service you?
CreditCardChaser: Hi, Joe. I want one of your cards, The Visa Classic. What’s your best offer?
Rep: Well sir, we currently have a very low 1.99% APR for six months.
CCC: That’s your best offer?
Rep: [Pause] There is also no membership fee.
CCC: Hmm. Not impressed with your offer, Joe.
Rep: You can get balance transfers for the same rate.
CCC: Still not working for me. I need more from you to seal this deal.
Rep: I’m sorry, ah, I cannot change these offers.
CCC: Why not?
Rep: They don’t let us.
CCC: And you’re going to take that? Rise up, my brother! Down with the man! Let’s overthrow this regime so we can give all your customers better deals on new cards!
Rep: [Awkward pause]
CCC: Okay, it doesn’t sound like we’re going to be overthrowing this regime.
Rep: No, sir.
CCC: Alright, I’m out!
Overall, I give IberiaBank customer service 5 out of 10 possible Deathmatch Points: they were polite and helpful, but the rep had no authority to bend the rules. Plus, “Iberia” rhymes with “Siberia,” which is frozen … like their credit card offer.
Fortunately, I wasn’t frozen. I was only getting warmed up.
DEATHMATCH CHALLENGER #2: DISCOVER MORE CARD (Click for Card Info)
It wasn’t the 1% Cashback Bonus on everyday purchases that got me, or the 20% Cashback bonus at top online retailers, or even the 0% APR for 6 months. It was the fact that this card came with an American flag on it.
Rep: Thank you for calling Discover. My name is Sue, what can I do for you today?
CreditCardChaser: Hi Sue. I’m interested in your Discover More Card, mostly because of the American flag.
Rep: Did you get a mail offer for that?
CCC: You mean junk mail?
Rep: The … ah, no, an offer through the mail.
CCC: No, I found this offer on the internet.
Rep: Well, what does the offer say?
CCC: Ah, Sue, I think you should guess. What’s the best deal you can give me on the Ol’ Glory? Can I call it the Ol’ Glory Card?
Rep: Sure, if you want to, sir.
CCC: I want to. What’s the best deal I can get here on the Stars and Stripes? Changed my mind. Let’s call it the Stars and Stripes.
CCC: What’s the best deal on the Red, White, and Blue?
Rep: Well, I see that there is 0% APR for six months.
CCC: That’s great, but let’s make it 0% APR for six years.
Rep: [Pause] I can’t change this offer. You see, we used to be able to modify these things, but they stopped letting us.
CCC: You gave away too many six year 0% offers, didn’t you Sue?
Rep: [Ignores question] You can double your Cashback Bonus on this card by purchasing gift cards. It’s really great — I’ve actually had this card since 1986.
CCC: You are a patriot! A true patriot. [Begins singing] “Oh, say can you see! By the dawn’s early light!”
Rep: [Nervous laughter]
CCC: Sing with me, Sue! “What so proudly we hailed! At the twilight’s…” Why aren’t you singing?
Rep: Is there anything else I can help you with today?
CCC: I want this card because it has an American flag on it, but I was also wondering if I can get my pet standing in front of the flag?
Rep: Let me see. You cannot customize the picture on the card, but we have over 100 designs you can choose from.
CCC: Do you have one with a small primate that may resemble my pet monkey?
Rep: Let me see, hold on.
CCC: His name is Chuckles.
Rep: Chuckles, that’s cute.
CCC: Yeah, it’s better than something more descriptive of his personality, like “Biteaholic.”
Rep: (No response to that) Sorry, we don’t have any monkeys available.
CCC: And we can’t squeeze a monkey in front of the flag?
Rep: Sorry, no.
CCC: I’ll just stick with the Star-Spangled Banner, then. Well, I gotta go –need to get to a monkey convention, thanks for your time.
Rep: Thanks for calling.
CCC: And GOD BLESS AMERICA!
I award Discover 7 out of 10 Deathmatch Points. Still not much room for special treatment, but she did hang in an awfully long time, and was incredibly helpful throughout. Now it was time for the ultimate throwdown.
DEATHMATCH CHALLENGER #3: STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST CREDIT CARD FROM AMERICAN EXPRESS (Click for Card Info)
This card claims one of the best credit card signup bonus offers around: 25,000 Starpoints, enough for up to six free nights at swanky Starwood hotels and resorts. Plus, American Express—and the Starwood card in particular—are known for their customer service, catering to higher-end customers who, let’s face it, are often crazy.
Rep: This is Jesse from American Express, how can I help you?
CCC: Jesse, hi, you can help me. I’m interested in your [deep breath] Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. [Panting] Wow, took a lot out of me to say all that — give me a minute.
CCC: [30 seconds later] All right, I’m back Jesse. So, what kind of offers are you willing to give me on this card?
Rep: Let me pull up some information for you.
CCC: I can see here that you offer 2.9% APR. That sounds great.
Rep: Yes, the 2.9% APR is for an intro period of six months.
CCC: Only six months? Jesse, can you offer me that for six decades? That would be better.
Rep: [Chuckles] If there was an offer like that, I would have twelve of these cards.
CCC: I don’t know what you would do with that many cards, and that’s kind of scary Jesse. Anyway, tell me more about these Starpoints, because they sound pretty snazzy.
Rep: You get one Starpoint for every dollar you spend, and double that when you spend on Starwood Hotel purchases.
CCC: Great, I’ll take 25,000 to get started.
Rep: I can get you 10,000 with your first purchase.
CCC: You can’t give me 25,000?
Rep: I’m sorry, I can’t do that. I can look for better offers from another American Express card if you want.
CCC: No, I want to get this Starwood Card because important people stay at Starwood. Dick Cheney prefers it.
Rep: [Brief pause to possibly stifle a laugh] I can waive your membership fee of $45 for this year. And annually, when you stay at a Starwood Hotel for five days, you can get 50% off.
CCC: Wait, that sounds like a really good deal. Do I have to do anything special for that?
Rep: Nope, it’s part of the card.
CCC: OK, so what sizes does the card come in?
Rep: I’m sorry?
CCC: Different sizes for the card. See, I’m bad at losing them, so I’d like an extra large one.
Rep: We only have the standard sized card.
CCC: That’s kind of a bummer. I really need a card the size of a waffle. Maybe even a Belgian waffle.
Rep: I’m sorry.
CCC: Can I get an extra card for my monkey Chuckles? He likes to shop.
Rep: Let me see if we can do that.
CCC: You guys are American Express, you should be able to.
Rep: Yeah, I’m not seeing the ability to do that.
CCC: That may be a deal breaker, Jesse. Listen, I’ll call you back later, but thanks for being a good sport. I’m sure you have to deal with some pretty crazy characters at this job.
Rep: You’re right about that, and good luck with your monkey.
And the Winner is…
And so I crown American Express the winner, giving them 9 out of 10 possible Deathmatch Points. True, they couldn’t give me a waffle-sized card, but they showed the most flexibility in waiving fees, as well as the best sense of humor.
Bottom line? Develop a rapport with your rep. Some rules can’t be broken, but by keeping the conversation friendly (and funny), you’ll be able to push them for the best deal possible.
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