Yes, Greg, Amex 4X failure is a big deal

This morning, Greg published a post about the disappointing reports about the new Amex Gold card not earning 4x at some restaurants, even in situations where Amex clearly shows “restaurant” as the merchant code online. That’s very disappointing. While Greg asserted that this isn’t a big deal, I disagree. I think it’s a huge dealbreaker for some people.

4x or no 4x?

What doesn’t work?

Some restaurants just don’t work. Based on some reader reports, it seems like some of the following are things that indicate a restaurant will not code at 4x:

  1. Restaurants that use a Square reader. It’s actually relatively common for businesses with a Square reader to be mis-coded one way or another.
  2. Restaurants that show as TST* plus the restaurant name for the merchant name on your statement / in your transaction history (according to a reader report)
  3. Some other restaurants with no clear rhyme or reason.

In my case, I went to a place called Ablueo’s Mexican Restaurant in Myrtle Beach last week. It’s a regular (large) Texas-based chain restaurant. They do have those payment terminal things you can use at the table if you want, but ours was off — our waitress took our card and ran it. It doesn’t show up with TST* and they aren’t using a Square reader. I have no idea why it didn’t code at 4x.

I looked closely at Greg’s screenshots and my statement. For a moment, I thought the fact that one address said “United States” and another said “United States of America (THE)” might be the difference. It wasn’t. I thought that maybe it had to do with whether a restaurant had a local phone number or corporate number. That wasn’t it. I tried to find a pattern so I could know which restaurants would work, but it didn’t happen.

Looking through my own purchases, I wasn’t surprised that things like Amazon and Walmart (both online and in-store) coded at 1x, but but I was unhappy to see restaurants like Abuelo’s code as 1x purchases. At least one member of our Frequent Miler Insiders group reports having escalated this several times at Amex only to be told that they are aware and working on fixing the problem, offering to eventually credit him with the proper amount of points (though anyone who got caught up with lagging referral bonuses last year probably has little faith in that happening any time soon).

Why is this a big deal?

While Greg concluded that this isn’t a huge deal since the Citi Prestige will be awarding 5x at restaurants worldwide starting in January, it obviously doesn’t sit well with those expecting the 4x payout Amex is offering. At least one reader reported a 4-figure restaurant bill on which he did not receive 4x. That’s really frustrating. While I don’t often pay for 4-figure restaurant bills, I imagine that isn’t unheard of for some families at the holidays.

And in fact, I just went out to a family dinner with a party of 12 a week ago and paid using my card (that restaurant didn’t take Amex, but it goes to my point that large restaurant bills happen). When I go out to a group dinner with friends or family, I often offer to pay and have everyone pay me back. But if I’m dining at a restaurant and I don’t know for sure that it codes at 4x, I’d have a really hard time justifying the risk of only earning 1x Membership Rewards points when I could earn a nearly guaranteed 3x on the Chase Sapphire Reserve (or 4% cash back on an Uber Visa or Capital One Savor card). Talk about opportunity cost! That’s a steep gamble on an expensive meal. This totally neuters the benefit except on cheap purchases where you might not care since it’s not so many points anyway

If I owned a small company and paid a couple grand for the holiday party on my Amex Gold card expecting 4x only to get 1x, I’d be livid.

Furthermore, for many people, the Prestige isn’t worth its coming $495 fee. With Amex adding Avianca LifeMiles as a transfer partner, I’m less convinced that earning 5x restaurants is valuable enough to make ThankYou points a more compelling choice than 4x Membership Rewards with the Gold card. If you were planning to keep the Prestige card for 5x restaurants, I’m just not sure they have enough exclusive partners that make 5x worth the $495 fee compared to earning 4x Membership Rewards points (on US restaurants, anyway).

Of course, that’s assuming the Gold actually coded at 4x. Since it doesn’t reliably, maybe that’s an argument for the Prestige, but that’s a pretty big whammy for Gold cardholders / those locked out of Citi or without Citi ThankYou cards.

What does work?

On the bright side, many restaurants did pay out at 4x for me. In fact, most of the restaurants I’ve visited have coded at 4x as expected.

All of my US supermarket spend has coded at 4x as expected, even purchases paid for with Samsung Pay. I was initially curious as to how that would work out since the purchases say “SamPayKroger” (for instance). I wondered if Samsung Pay would add a barrier like Square sometimes does. On the other hand, I was surprised that a Samsung Pay charge at Starbucks did not code 4x.

Interestingly, I noticed that a purchase at the cafe inside Barnes & Noble (with the physical card, didn’t try Samsung Pay) awarded me 4x. That prompted me to see if I could pay for merchandise at the cafe. You can, but it turns out you don’t have to. I also made purchases at the main store register at Barnes & Noble stores in two different states last month and all of my B&N purchases earned 4x. Those into reading & education take note.

I was mostly happy to see that the US restaurants and US Supermarkets I frequent the most are coding correctly. Whatever glitch it is that causes some restaurants not to code properly won’t have a big effect on me day to day.

Bottom line

The failure of some restaurants to code at 4x on the Amex Gold card is a problem. I just think it’s a massive issue for Amex to sort out. How can you advertise a card that earns 4x at restaurants and then print on the statement that it’s a restaurant and not give 4x? I feel like that’s a CFPB complaint ripe for the making.

My biggest personal issue with it is that I no longer have enough faith in Amex coding a restaurant properly to choose the Amex Gold over another card when paying for a really expensive meal. I’m less likely to use the Amex Gold for large restaurant charges simply because I don’t want to forgo 3x Ultimate Rewards points or 4% cash back in favor of only 1x Membership Rewards points. It’s an unfortunate surprise. While any new launch will have both good surprises and bad, I hope Amex is able to get restaurants straightened out…while leaving good surprises alone.

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

More articles by Nick Reyes »

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Matthew
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Matthew

It is a big deal, I agree. Since so many of these credit cards are based around just one category, like dining or entertainment or travel – if you don’t get the points for that one thing that you specifically brought out the card for, how can you not get mad?

It gets to the point that you don’t want to even look to see if you got the bonus because it’s not worth the additional hassle of dealing with CS if they didn’t code it right.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Great post and could not agree more. Thanks for making this a highlight on your blog. I will be calling Amex to get the missing points today and encourage all of you to do so. If this is not resolved, a class action lawsuit might do the trick.

If they don’t give the points, then start asking back your Annual fee for a portion of it.
Amex needs to sort this out.

Kunal
Guest
Kunal

Same thing happened to me for some of the lunch places I frequently go in SF downtown. I escalated it and a week later got a call from Amex telling me they have adjusted the points and going forward those restaurant should code as 4x and I have noticed they are coding properly now. While I was at it I also complained about apps like Doordash and Ritual not earning 4x. They fixed that too and I am now seeing 4x on those transactions as well. Hoping Amex sorts this out soon as its a pain to call them again and again.

DaveC
Guest
DaveC

Doordash gets 4x with the AMEX Gold? What about UberEats and Grubhub and Postmates? I never know what card to use for these meal delivery services.

Yuri
Guest
Yuri

UberEats code as taxicabs, limousines, so it’s better to use CSR or USB AR or Citi Premier or Ink Preferred. But I just use giftcards.

Cap
Guest
Cap

AMEX doesn’t make it easy to check on MR points activity. Plus there is that annoying delay AMEX imposes on points, often not posting until the following month beyond the statement closing date in which points were earned. FM’s recent post about the updated AMEX Recent Activity now showing what is bonused is a welcome feature though.

I’ve gone thru all my transactions & everything checks out so far, even the SamsungPay transactions. I’ve been hitting up grocers for 3rd-party GCs as a result of AMEX’s upgraded bonus structure. The Gas Rewards from my local Grocer’s Program along with AMEX Gold’s points-earning is too good right now.

This transition of upgraded bonuses and new metal cards has been a bit sketch for AMEX, however. I received a mysterious Credit Adjustment for $10 last month. No rationale for it, just a rando adjustment.

I keep getting notifications to enroll in the Dining Credit program which I already did back on Oct 4 when AMEX sent out initial email about upgraded bonus-earning.

I notified AMEX via online chat that certain stripe readers (especially those at gas pumps) can’t read the metal version (I’ve got Rose Gold). The agent’s response to my stripe concern was the same as you stated above: “we are aware and working to fix the problem.” I kinda think AMEX knows they got issues with this card since the transition. All in all, a bumpy road for AMEX in transition, but I’m just glad mine isn’t as bad as others not getting their proper bonus points.

Adam
Guest
Adam

My experience in one restaurant not codes correctly as a restaurant was it was coding as a grocery store so either way I get the 4x

etraveler
Guest
etraveler

TST stands for Toast, which is another payment system, similar to Square. I’ve seen multiple restaurants use Toast when they bring the device to your table to take payment. Sounds like certain payment processing systems aren’t coding correctly.

Kate
Guest
Kate

I agree it’s a big deal too, and very annoying. After Greg’s post about some restaurants not coding properly , I took a look at my account and sure enough I had a restaurant that started with TST and of course got 1x points. I no longer have the Prestige and frankly for those of us not deducting these annual fees as business expenses, it gets pretty expensive quickly with the Platinum, the CSR, the Amex Gold… that’s my current limit for bank cards with annual fees. I almost canceled my Amex Gold last year, and was glad I didn’t, but if this miscoding continues, I don’t know if I’ll keep it. I had a chat session with Amex online that went absolutely nowhere, the Amex person just saying Amex had no control over how it codes. Now that I know about the TST issue and it clearly was a restaurant, I’m also wondering if it’s worth putting large restaurant expenses on this card with the uncertainty.

miafll
Guest
miafll

A purchase of Cheesecake factory $25 GC on recent deal, paid at the same take out counter, does not earn 4x, nor the $10 statement credit.
A purchase of Carraba’s $50 GC taking advantage of 2x $10 bonus cards, does not earn 4x either. I have bought Carrabba’s $50 GC for the double $10 bonus cards in the past with the PRG and it earned the dining bonus. Now it does not.

This definitely would make me switch back to CSR or the TD cash card for dining, both pay 3x as well as at least one grocery store AMEX only pays 1x but TD pays 2x.

Not a single restaurant we went during our trip in Hong Kong and Australia took AMEX while they all took Visa or MC.

Not going to keep the AMEX Gold which I got from a targeted offer with first year fee waived 50K bonus back in May (my 3rd one).

The much touted 4x on dining and supermarket has not been easily earned and not worth the AF at all.

We fully recoup the net $150 AF from CSR, plus the primary rental car insurance., plus the trip interruption / cancellation insurance, and the TD Cash Card has no AF, accepts worldwide with even better forex rate than CSR despite both are Visa (TD might be like CapOne, not passing on the Visa network fee).

UPDATE
Called and talked to a rep at Salt Lake City. He offered a $20 statement credit ($10 from Cheesecake factory and $10 from missing bonus) or 1600 MR pts. Took the statement credit and be done with it.

John
Guest
John

TST is Toast, which is a POS company, but handles payments like square. They both negotiate rates, so it may be difficult for these restaurants to be classified properly.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Perhaps it’s not the sapphire killer we thought it would be. Half of my dining is out of the country, and if 10% of the purchases don’t code as restaurants, then your effective return would be less than 2x. By the way, a lot of merchants dodge the high interchange fees Amex charges restaurants by mischaracterizing their type of business.

MikeL
Guest
MikeL

Another reason to cancel this card… Chase just does a better job at points..

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

It’s not Amex’s issues. They rely on merchants. So in this case it’s merchant and merchant’s provider’s issues. Amex is not a police task force. Quit blaming Amex. This article is full of BS

Ahole
Guest
Ahole

Your comment is BS

Bern
Guest
Bern

It’s true that AMEX relies on what the merchant sign up as, but AMEX also runs the system crediting the points. If Chase can do it universally worldwide x3 on ALL travel and dining charges, I don’t see why AMEX isn’t able to use the same system. Don’t call ppl BS when you have no constructive criticism to offer.

Yuri
Guest
Yuri

Chase always code restaurants properly, while Amex is not. So your comment is BS.

Moe
Guest
Moe

Nick, I’m wondering why you wouldn’t just contact Amex upper ups and ask them what’s going on. You simply say “I’m Nick who writes for a blog that often discusses about ways to use Amex cards, and having a restaurant not code as a restaurant is totally not right, especially when the word restaurant is written in the charge “… While a CFPB might get you the points you deserve, it won’t change things otherwise.

BML
Guest
BML

I just logged on to my Amex Gold Recent Activity (from 11/17 – 11/25) and none of the 20+ charges are showing 4x bonus, nothing for Groceries or Restaurants, If I go to my previous Billing period, those show up. Are they changing the system now to show the category bonus much later? Anyone else seeing that?

Greg The Frequent Miler
Admin

You have to change the time period to see the 4X indicators. Try Year to Date and scroll to the bottom. Only the most recent past 3 days should be missing the indicators

chop
Guest
chop

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I’ve been saying this very thing from the beginning. Every other points site and reddit largely disregarded the complaints of those who weren’t receiving the bonus points. It’s bad enough that bars, cafes, restaurants inside of stadiums and hotels don’t qualify, but for Amex to promote small businesses but disqualify rewards bonuses for the same small businesses that often use Square is insulting.

And its equally ridiculous that I have to go to a particular restaurant here to do a “test run” to see how it codes before I host a 4-figure holiday dinner next month. Smh. After I’ve completed the MSR on the gold card, I’m going back to using my no-hassle, works everywhere, Chase Sapphire Reserve. I will reward Chase’s flexibility with my spend. Will use the gold card for groceries only.

Thanks again for an excellent article!

Chaser123
Guest
Chaser123

I guess I am in a minority. I do not think its a big deal. I charge 4-5k a month in 4x categories now. I do see 1 or 2 items not coded correctly maybe missing out on 100 points max. They make it so easy to check, that I love it. Easier to check than chase cards. I do go through all activity, even chase miscodes once in a while. If I had a large meal expense and it did not code I would call amex. Chase is more annoying, I have had phone charges code at 5x and 1x constantly switching over the years. No ryme or reason. Amex will remin my go to dining and supermarket card. I already know merchants that do not code as 5x, they are onlt 2 reguakrs that I use and I remember to use a different card. I only keep the sapphire right now because my local watering hole also triggers the 7% uber credit plus the 3x chase miles (plus the 5x Advantage dining credit). I do need to cut back how much I spend there.

Eric
Guest
Eric

I just had an extended chat with Amex, and the representative said that when you view each transaction “category” in your activity – that is simply the “Label” that amex applies to the transaction, but it is not necessarily the actual Category that the merchant is coded as. Apparently each merchant chooses how it is categorized, which is how amex determines whether or not bonus points are awarded. So even though Amex knows that this is indeed a restaurant, the merchant may not choose to have its transactions categorized in this way (perhaps this will impact the fees they are charged? I do not know), and you will not earn the bonus. I also think it is ridiculous.

Yuri
Guest
Yuri

This have been long time that Amex didn’t code restaurants correctly. I experienced this when I was using Blue for Business with 10x restaurant promo, or Hilton Aspire. I warned Greg about this, just before the Gold card was upgraded. Here is another interesting example. At my work, at cafeteria Amex codes as follows:
Additional Information: XXXXX
RESTAURANT
Reference: XXXXX
Category: Business Services – Other Services
and of course, I don’t get additional points, but CSR codes as EATING PLACES, RESTAURANTS, and gives me 3x.

chop
Guest
chop

Same thing at my friend’s workplace cafeteria.

And what’s amusing is that there are reports where the 4x bonus is earned on vending machine purchases!

Yuri
Guest
Yuri

At my other workplace vending machine didin’t code with Amex properly, but it did with Chase again.

Jung
Guest
Jung

I chatted amex about it on couple legit restaurants with square transactions, there’s not much they could do and refuse offer me compensation, and told me they will escalate to their investigate team and takes about 6-8 weeks….WTF i know is not much but this is getting beyond ridiculous!

miafll
Guest
miafll

Folks,
Dont use Chat. Call and the phone rep can lodge a complaint, meanwhile make some amend, like a choice of statement credit or courtesy MR points.
The phone rep I got was based in Salt Lake City. If you get an overseas one such as India or Philippines, ask to be transferred to US based and a supervisor.
The Chat reps mostly are India-based and they have very little power to fix issues.

I agree why Chase system or Visa system can correctly recognize merchants and AMEX cannot – that is a very lame excuse that the bonus is up to how the merchant identifies itself when Visa and MC work fine.

AMEX KNOWS the issue with Square but chooses NOT to fix it.

The Gold card at first looks like a CSR killer but at the end our household would keep the CSR and cancel the Gold – the CSR offers far more benefits over the Gold (travel protection and primary domestic car rental for example) and we easily recoup the net $150 fee via the PP and makes it a 0 fee card with the travel protection needed. It is much harder for us to recoup the $150 net fee due to 1) Grubhub does not work here, 2) Cheesecake factory remains the only option and it is not close by nor we like to eat there.
It takes a lot of bonus spend to just breakeven (offsetting the net $150) before the additional 1% / 2% start making any sense.

My card is from the targeted first year fee waived PRG, I will not keep the card once the anniversary / AF hits.

I am sure there would be targeted offers in the future as this current one is my 3rd PRG thru targeted offer in 5 years. No reason it would stop based on I got yet another targeted offer in Nov while I am holding this current card. LOL.

Justin
Guest
Justin

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve battled them via chat for the point they owe us. Amex better fix it quick.

Drolma-la
Guest
Drolma-la

The whole business of getting points with retail categories and retailers is all too often a gamble. A couple of months ago I found myself lunching in a Starbucks adjacent to a Hyatt. There was an Amex offer on my SPG Business card for Starbucks spend; there’s a bonus for spending on my Hyatt card at a Hyatt; and it might count as a restaurant for the category bonus on Amex Gold. As it happens, I should have gone for the Hyatt card. But there was no way of knowing at the time.

asdfafas
Guest
asdfafas

It is a big deal

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HB Guest
Guest
HB Guest

Thank you for drawing plenty of attention to this issue, because that’s what it’s going to take to get this fixed. I’m hopeful that the issue with Amex Gold will be easier to fix than the issue with Chase Sapphire, because at least the Amex transactions are coding as restaurants.

Until the issue is fixed, whether Amex Gold or Chase Sapphire codes properly for bonus points at restaurants will depend on where you use the card.

For example, an Italian restaurant near me does not code as a restaurant for Chase Visa. Even though this place unquestionably is a restaurant, and the name of the place leaves no doubt that it’s a restaurant, a phone call to Chase to request the bonus points proved fruitless. Next time we ate there, I used my Amex Gold card. The place did not code as a restaurant for Amex either, but it did code as a supermarket(!), and thus I still earned the same bonus points as a restaurant. The place is definitely not a supermarket.

A Popeyes chicken restaurant near us refuses to accept Amex, and it too does not code as a restaurant on Chase Sapphire. I recently switched from an HTC to a Samsung phone however, and now I can use Samsung Pay at this Popeyes which, when combined with Chase Pay, allows me to get 5x Chase points through the quarterly Chase Freedom bonus category.

We shouldn’t have to devote this degree of vigilance to ensure that we are getting what these card issuers have promised, but if you are paying attention, you might remember to try the other card or try something else that might work. But saying that one of these two cards is always better than the other for restaurants, in my experience, simply is not the case.