Road test: How many stores accept American Express?

Amy Bradney-George 13 June 2018 NEWS

Armed with her own American Express credit card, Amy Bradney-George set out to see how many places would accept it over the course of a week.

While American Express acceptance has been steadily growing over the past few years – and surcharges are now capped at the “reasonable cost” faced by a business – it's still hard to know exactly when and where you can use your card. This also means you could be missing out on earning points for your spending.

So, I thought I’d explore the issue of Amex acceptance for myself by aiming to use my card for all (or most) of my expenses. Over seven days (from 12 May 2018 to 18 May 2018), I pulled out my Amex before any other payment option – and asked every business whether they would accept it. Here’s how it panned out.

Day 1: Saturday 12 May 2018

Number of places that accepted Amex: 86% (6/7)
Surcharges: None, but there should have been one.

This particular Saturday involved a lot of shopping (for me). First up was the weekly food shop at Woolworths, where I already use my Amex card.

After that, I headed to the Melbourne suburb of Richmond in search of a particular brand of tea I wanted to get as a gift for my sister (who lives overseas and can’t get it there). I found it at a health food store but, sadly, they didn’t take American Express so I had to use another card.

From there, I made my way to the homewares and kitchen store Matchbox for a new cup. They accept Amex but had a note about a surcharge at the register. I paid anyway and, when I checked my statement to see how much the fee was, I realised I hadn’t been charged extra. But I would be aware of that potential cost in the future, especially since the Matchbox website doesn’t even offer American Express as an option.

Other shopping that day took me to another health food store in Melbourne CBD, Priceline and Rubi shoes. All of them accepted American Express at no extra cost.

INSIDER TIP

If you shop at a store that doesn't accept American Express, you can call the number on the back of your Amex card and the team will see if they can sign the store up. You can also find places that accept American Express without a surcharge through Amex's online merchant map or via the app.

Day 2: Sunday 13 May 2018

Percentage of places that accepted Amex: 100% (2/2)
Surcharges: None

Sunday started with brunch at a café on Melbourne’s well-known Chapel Street. It was a small, locally-owned place and took my Amex without question or surcharge. I also went to Bakers Delight for bread, with the same outcome. That’s the only spending I did for the day.

Day 3: Monday 14 May 2018

Percentage of places that accepted Amex: 100% (2/2)
Surcharges: None

I had my regular check up at the dentist and was very happy to learn I could at least earn points on the bill by paying it with my Amex card. I also popped into Coles on the way home to pick up something for dinner. As with my shopping at Woolworths, I was able to pay with my American Express card without any extra cost.

I also mapped out the parts of Melbourne where I'd used my card so far, noting the red dot is the only place that didn't accept Amex.

Day 4: Tuesday 15 May 2018

Percentage of places that accepted Amex: 0% (0 of 1)
Surcharges: None

The only transaction I made was paying my rent. While there are ways to do this by card, my agent prefers BPAY payments, which are often processed as cash advances on a credit card. Besides that, I have already set up BPAY from my everyday account. Still, I’ve included it for any pedants who might want to know.

Day 5: Wednesday 16 May 2018

Percentage of places that accepted Amex: 67% (2/3)
Surcharges: None
I caught a taxi to the airport for a work trip to Sydney and was able to pay with my American Express card. This attracted a “service fee” for choosing to pay by card, but the only way I could have avoided it was to pay in cash.

The only other spending I did that day was buying breakfast (a quick bite from Hudson’s Coffee in Melbourne airport) and topping up my Opal card in Sydney. Sadly, the Opal card machines don’t take American Express. I also know from past experience that you can’t top up with an Amex online, which is annoying.

Day 6: Thursday 17 May 2018

Percentage of places that accepted Amex: N/A
Surcharges: N/A
I didn’t spend anything, largely thanks to the supplied breakfast and lunch at finder.com.au’s Sydney office.

Day 7: Friday 18 May 2018

Percentage of places that accepted Amex: 100% (1/1)
Surcharges: One
Another day of few expenses as I headed back to Melbourne after work. However, it is worth noting that while I was waiting at Sydney airport, I came across a store that didn’t charge a fee for Amex – but did for Visa and Mastercard.

Once again I caught a taxi from Melbourne airport home and paid the “service fee” for using a card. I figure if I’m paying a fee for using any card, I might as well earn points in the process.

My week in numbers

Total number of purchases: 16
Number of Amex purchases: 13
Percentage of purchases made with Amex: 81%
Surcharges: 2 (but should have been 3)

Overall, I was pretty impressed by how many places accepted my American Express card. I was also really happy by the low number of surcharges, especially because the two I paid on my taxi trips would have been applied to any credit card payment.

What about earning points?

My American Express card earns 1 frequent flyer point per $1 spent. In this case, my spending ranged from $6 to $120 per transaction, with most on the lower end of the scale.

All up, I earned 465 frequent flyer points and made $62 worth of card transactions that didn’t earn points. (I’m excluding rent because of the BPAY situation I explained above). While I’m not exactly a big spender, this could still add up to over 24,000 frequent flyer points per year if every week was similar to the one above.

Another way to estimate points would be to look at the percentage of my purchases made with Amex. If 81% of my spending can be made with this card, that gives me a good idea of how many points I could earn based on my budget.

POINTS FINDER TAKE

Assuming you can’t use an Amex card might mean you're missing out on points. So, what this week taught me is that if you want to earn points, it always pays to ask.

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Pictures: Shutterstock, Amy Bradney-George

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