Holding Serve

American Express is phasing out its old prepaid card in favor of something called Serve, and I decided I’d give the new product a test drive.

Serve from American ExpressThe most obvious difference is capacity: the old prepaid card was limited to $2,250. You can stash a million, or more, on Serve. (Not that I’d have a million, but you get the idea.) All the usual Amex bennies are in play, including product insurance. And at a buck a month, it’s cheaper than any other plastic offered by Amex.

The transaction listings might perplex the newcomer. I plugged a Serve card into the iTunes Store to cover future purchases. As is Apple’s wont, and as I expected, they requested an authorization for $1 to make sure the card was good. As I didn’t expect, this dollar stayed on the listings for eight days before being allowed to expire. This is in accordance with the card’s terms, but it seems a trifle excessive.

Saturday I swiped it to get a tankful of V-Power Nitro+. Amex responded with a $99 hold. (I was expecting maybe $75.) This was reduced Monday to the amount actually purchased: $36.10. Of course, they have no idea how big my gas tank is. But I wonder how much they’re going to hold for, say, a two-night hotel stay.

Then again, this is more information than I’m used to getting from credit cards, or even my Visa Check Card. Maybe I shouldn’t complain, since things do get ironed out on schedule.

Ads displaying Amexes (Amices?) of old bore the name C. F. Frost, who, incidentally, actually existed:

Charles Frost — or Chuck, as we like to call him —-is a real person. He was an account executive for the advertising firm of Ogilvy & Mather, which put together the original “Do you know me?” ads for American Express. Ogilvy and Amex thought it would be convenient to use Frost’s name on the sample ads rather than some phony moniker, which would probably turn out to be the real name of some joker in Pocatello who would sue for privacy infringement. Luckily for Chuck, the number on the credit card was not his real American Express card number.

Dear Ann Baker: Call me.

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