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You may have heard the story of the man who charged a $170 million painting to his Amex card, but is it really possible to swipe your card to pay for high-ticket items? Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr shares his experience paying for a brand-new car (and earning many thousands of points) with Amex Platinum.
After three years of living in Japan, where I was stationed with the Navy, I’m currently in the middle of moving back to the US. We sold our cars when we left the States, and we needed every month of our time abroad to save enough money for the car we wanted when we eventually moved back. Last week, I finally bought a new Kia Sorento, and I was able to maximize the purchase to enjoy a benefit I wasn’t expecting: just shy of 40,000 American Express Membership Rewards points.
When I purchased the new car, I was able to have dealership place the entire purchase price — including all taxes and fees — on my Platinum Card from American Express. Because the Platinum card is a charge card, there’s no preset spending limit. Unless you enroll in the pay over time feature, you have to pay the balance in full at the end of each statement cycle. This is why it was necessary to save the cash for a new car over the last several years.
From the beginning of the car-buying process, I knew it would be a long shot for a dealership to allow me to put the entire purchase price on a card. Aside from the merchant fees the dealership would lose to American Express, some states don’t allow dealerships to accept a credit card for a new car because it’s an unsecured account. I test-drove cars at five different dealerships, and found that four of them would only allow a maximum of about $5,000 on a credit card.
American Express does have a car-buying service, specifically advertising dealerships which accept an Amex card for the entire purchase amount. However, my brief search through the service still found that most dealerships listed had a $5,000 maximum.
When I found the car in the model I wanted, I approached the dealership’s finance manager with the idea of placing the entire charge for the car on my American Express. At first, he mentioned the maximum of $5,000, but he then offered to run multiple $5,000 transactions until the purchase price was covered. I gave American Express a quick call to make sure the card wouldn’t be locked after the first few transactions, and a customer service agent told me it wouldn’t be a problem; they would annotate the account for the incoming transactions.
At the dealership, it quickly became clear that I was the first person to attempt this. One employee stated that they were going to lose 3% of the purchase to American Express, which caused the finance manager to pause and almost back out. After running the first two $5,000 transactions, he had a brief chat with a few employees, then decided to run the rest of the balance on the third transaction. I signed the three receipts and took delivery of my new Sorento!
While a few other co-branded cards would have yielded points more valuable than American Express Membership Rewards, The Platinum Card from American Express is specifically designed for purchases such as a car. Also, I didn’t want to attract any negative attention from any of the other issuers. The bottom line: The Platinum was an appropriate card to use in this case, and with the total price of the car on my card, I earned a sizable haul of Membership Rewards points.
While my experience is probably the exception rather than the rule — and the finance manager may learn a tough lesson on the back side of the transaction — I’m certainly thrilled to have earned thousands of points for the equivalent of paying cash for a car. The moral of the story? As TPG often says, it never hurts to ask.
Have you ever been able to pay for an entire car with a credit card? Share your experience in the comments below.