My experience with Amex’s natural disaster purchase coverage
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The floodwaters from the remains of Hurricane Ida ended up christening my move to New York City last August.
Pulling up stakes in Texas to start afresh in Brooklyn, I found an apartment on Zillow that seemed like a smoking deal: right in the lively Bed-Stuy neighborhood, recently renovated and surprisingly affordable.
The catch was that the bedroom was in the basement — something I later discovered was actually illegal.
“No big deal,” I thought when the realtor showed me the apartment. “At least it will be dark when I sleep.” Within days, I would realize what an awful mistake I had made.
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After signing the lease, I bought a mattress, a dresser, a bed frame and other apartment essentials on Amazon with my American Express® Gold Card.
The only thing left to do was to fly back to Houston, grab my car and embark on the long drive across the country. During the multiday road trip, I was giddy thinking about how much fun living in New York would surely be.
Mere hours away from Brooklyn, however, my newsfeed started to buzz about the remnants of Hurricane Ida leaving a path of destruction across the Northeast. Minutes later, a rapid succession of text messages blew up my phone.
From my new landlord: “Hey, I hate to be the bearer of bad news here. …” I held my breath. Could something have gone wrong with the lease? “… But your bedroom is flooding. There is about four inches of water so far. It came from the street, so you’re probably going to need new stuff.”
The message concluded with the frowny face, water and shoulder shrug emojis.
Translation: Welcome to New York. Just so you know, this is your problem and I am not going to do anything about it.
Amex to the rescue
I resigned myself to sleeping on an air mattress in the kitchen until my landlord remediated the bedroom. (Spoiler alert: He never did.)
Thankfully, a colleague at The Points Guy knew that I have an Amex Gold Card and that the card carries purchase protection that should, theoretically, insure my purchases against damages from natural disasters.
In addition to covering natural disaster-related damages, Amex’s purchase protection also covers items that are stolen or damaged. The card’s coverage extends up to 90 days after purchase and $10,000 per item (and up to $50,000 per eligible card per calendar year). However, its natural disaster protection is only up to $500 per covered event, so that would be the number to which I was limited.
Once I started the claims process, it was surprisingly straightforward, proving once again why American Express has such a sterling customer service reputation.
Thanks to the card’s policy, Amex covered $500 of my losses from Ida — enough to hire a lawyer to help me break my lease and move out of the water-logged apartment.
I tend to focus on the Amex Gold Card’s flashier benefits, like up to $120 annually in Uber cash for rides and Uber Eats orders in the U.S.; up to $120 in annual statement credits toward dining with Grubhub, Seamless, Boxed and other participating partners; and earning 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar on dining at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year (then 1 point per dollar), 3 points per dollar on airfare booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel and 1 point per dollar on other purchases. Enrollment required for select benefits.
However, the natural disaster purchase protection the card afforded me really drove home how valuable the card’s benefits can be and why it was worth paying the $250 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Coverage terms and tips
Luckily, my purchases were covered under pretty clear-cut circumstances. However, for others with this card or other Amex products that also offer purchase protections, the issuer’s definition of natural disasters can include fires, earthquakes, storms, freezes and floods.
When such mishaps occur, you’ll need to take the following steps to make a purchase protection claim:
- Confirm that you actually used an eligible Amex card to purchase the goods in question and that the purchases were made within the past 90 days. If you did not use your Amex to purchase the damaged stuff, unfortunately, you’re not eligible for reimbursement.
- Call American Express within 30 days of the natural disaster, but ideally as soon as possible, to inform them that you plan to file a natural disaster claim. The U.S. number is 1-800-322-1277. You can also call collect at 1-303-273-6498. Once you speak to a representative, they will send you a claims form within 15 days. Alternatively, you can file the claim completely online, but I preferred talking to an Amex representative on the phone to fully convey the urgency of the situation.
- Locate and archive receipts. Digital or physical receipts both work. Since all of my damaged property was from Amazon, I just submitted screenshots of the receipts.
- Take thorough photos of all the damaged items. I actually blundered this step. I was so anxious to get the nasty, water-logged stuff out of my apartment that I threw everything away without taking photos. Luckily, the Amex representative who worked with me on the phone was understanding and agreed to process my claim without photos — again, epic customer support on Amex’s part.
- If possible, hire an adjuster to assess your damages. Adjusters usually charge 5-15% of the reimbursement amount. While this step will make your claim stronger, Amex does not require it since the maximum amount for reimbursement is not a huge sum ($500). I did not hire an adjuster, but my claim would have been processed more quickly if I had.
- Complete Amex’s claims form. Once Amex emails you the paperwork, fill out your address and biographical information, briefly describe what happened and attach relevant photos, receipts and any statements from adjusters. The forms and attachments should be uploaded to this link.
- Wait two to four weeks. If your claim is accepted, Amex will credit your account. I got the full $500 from Amex, enough to compensate me for about 80% of my total losses.
Since I didn’t have photos or a statement from an adjuster, my claim took longer than it might otherwise have to process.
Amex never outright rejected my claim, but I received an email from the company two weeks after first submitting the paperwork saying that it required more information to move forward. After another phone call (mercifully, without more than a minute or two of hold time) the first representative escalated the case to his supervisor.
I explained the situation in detail to the supervisor, who had read the news about Ida’s damage in New York and was sympathetic to my plight. He assured me that he would personally review my case and apprise me of his decision.
Two weeks later, I checked my Amex portal and saw that $500 had been credited to my account.
Although using a rewards card for purchases can be a great way to rack up points or miles for your next trip, sometimes the most valuable benefit a card can offer is purchase protection that covers your items against theft, damage — and, as I discovered, natural disasters.
My Amex Gold Card was a lifesaver after the storm waterlogged items I’d purchased for my new apartment. I only wish the coverage cap had been higher. Still, the $500 I was reimbursed was enough to get me back on my feet … and into a better living situation.
It never hurts to double check your cards to see which ones offer the best purchase protection. Make sure to save your receipts, whether digital or physical.
If something does happen to your purchase, be prepared to accurately describe what happened in your claim report and take photos of the damage. The busy work, including time on the phone, should not take more than a couple of hours, and claims usually process within a few weeks.
In my experience, Amex fully delivered on its reputation for unrivaled customer service. It did not make me jump through a thousand hoops to get reimbursed, and even when my case ran into snags, the company went above and beyond to help. Hopefully there aren’t more natural disasters in my future, but if there are, at least I know my purchases will be protected.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, click here.
Featured photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.
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