May 22, 2008

Getting The Orwellian Hazing of a Lifetime by Citibank and American Airlines Advantage Miles

Ok, let me just get this out there first. I hate Citibank. It wasn't always like this. I got my credit card through them 15 years ago, because I wanted American Airlines miles. But lately, the past couple of years, Citibank has just gotten worse and worse. It's like they actively subscribe to that newish thing corporations have been doing where they treat us all a little worse and a little worse, to make incrementally more money. And we all take it, because it's just a little and we don't have time to fix them by going away.

It started maybe five years ago, when they told me I couldn't walk in a check from my bank (not a Citibank check) to deposit a payment on the credit card any longer. Since I would sometimes forget to do the online billpay or mail a check in time for the deadline, I could walk in to the branch two blocks from my house and pay. Well, no longer. They simply wouldn't accept them in person unless I opened a Citibank account. Well, that seemed like the worst marketing ever to me (coercion), to get me to open a new account there.

After that I mostly used online billpay, and generally did it at least 5 days ahead of the deadline, because my bank takes 2 days to send them a notice that the money is waiting at my bank. Sort of an internal bank-to-bank email, that prompts Citibank to collect the money. They ask for it right away, and it's essentially a cash wire. Then Citibank credits my account right away. No problem.

Until recently.

I started getting calls from Citibank about 10 days or so after doing the online billpay, to, get this: "verify my payment." I literally said the first month they called, "You're joking, right?" I mean, they had a cash wire from my bank. Some online billpays are done via bank check and take five days, but not to major corporations and other banks like Citibank. Those take two days, and are very efficient. The minute I hit the "enter" button on my screen to send payment from my checking, money is withdrawn and held by my bank to make the payment to Citibank.

After the call, where I reiterated that Citibank had cash in hand from my bank, and we hung up. I assumed all was fine. No way. They "held" the funds, just to "make sure," for another 5 days, twice declining my card (i had just gone on vacation and was maxed out, thus, a large payment). These declines were for $10 and $24.95. I called and was told about the holds. They said something about how they usually allow small amounts through, but when I pointed out that $10 and $25 were pretty small and how small were they talking, anyway.. they dropped that one.

Then, a month later it all happens again. I get this call to "verify payment." Now I'm mad. Apparently they are only looking at the last six months of payments (the person I spoke with could not see back any further in the history) and since the payments had each been a little more than the last (by at least $200, so in other words, one was for $2500, the next for $2800, and the most recent for $3000), I'm now suspicious to Citibank. WTF. Why is that suspicious? Especially when I've had the same checking account at my other bank also for 15 years. So I'm told that paying more makes me risky. Nothing else matters. Wo.

So, basically, they hold the $3k again for 5 days just in case. And in my calls to them, they tell me that the department that does security sets the heuristics (my word, not theirs) for holds and Security told the woman I'm speaking with that there is nothing they can do. So while she understands Citibank is getting cash from my bank, directly, and that it's generally bad for them to decline purchases because they are losing money (they didn't the second month decline anything due to the hold but did it the prior month post vacay), they have to follow the security department's algorithms (again, my word, not hers). Great.

So then yesterday, I go to buy gas. And my card, which now has tons of room and almost no new charges, and is wide fucking open for a skyhigh-priced tank of gas, gets declined. The pump tells me to go inside, to the attendant. Great. Do so, even in bit of rush. And he swipes it, and it says on the screen: Declined. So I pay with ATM (I only carry one CC card, though I have more at home). Get gas. Call Citibank.

They explain that the charge hit a limit for the amount of gas I can buy (WTF!) in a month, and that I bought too much, or it could be that that station hasn't raised their limits what with all the new high gas prices per gallon to allow people to buy more in a month. Ok. So I buy gas twice a month. Costs around $90 to fill the tank. Your kidding me right? I can't spend $180 a month on gas if I want to? And I do.

So I reply, well, what is the answer? She tells me, you should tell that station to up their limits for CC charges per month. Again, WTF. Like I'm supposed to know about the backend heuristics and algorithms that Citibank and Union76 use to combat fraud? And do something about it? I haven't even bought gas at that exact station in over 2 months. And she verifies this in my records. But I bought at another Union76 station within the last month (my engine/mechanic asked me to get either Union76 or Chevron or Shell gas.. what can I say, I'm following order because I don't freaking understand car engines).

So basically, with gas prices rising, Citibank and the gas companies have some weird heuristics, that we don't even know about. And I got caught in one. So I respond, "You and Union76 are big companies and you must talk to each other because I'm sure a lot of people buy gas there with Citibank cards. So why don't YOU work out the raised limit for purchases instead of me?" To which she had no response and wanted to know if there was anything else she could help me with. OMG.. the possibilities are so great.

Anyway, I called Citibank back again to discuss more things about my card, as I got the next bill in the mail, and just decided I hate them too much to stay there, even if the only reason I have the card is to get AA miles. Which leads to the second clusterfuck going on here.

I have several hundred thousand miles generated through the use of this stupid card, over 15 years. And I've only once actually used the damn miles. Because every time I call to use them, they laugh at me because I only called say, in February for a June trip to Europe, or 2 months ahead for an upgrade. Once, once, an upgrade actually came through but not first without spending three months on the wait list to get the upgrade.

In other words, AA may be the gambit to get you to use the card, but you can't really use the stupid miles if you have a life and can't plan, oh, years in advance to get a plane ticket (i usually buy tix to europe a few days to a month ahead, and everywhere else, like days ahead, because I have a life, thanks).

Anyway, that's the story. So today I worked out getting rid of Citibank. I liked it because I have the number memorized for online purchases (probably the biggest reason I've put up with Citibank's crap). But I will memorize a new CC number. And I'm going to plan a trip like a year ahead so I can use up all the miles (I'll probably have to take about 8 people with me to someplace like Antartica) because if I don't have the card AA will probably cancel all the miles I've earned. And then this whole stupid corporate hazing I've been experiencing, with increasingly stupid rules, for good paying customers that make them a lot of fracking money! will have been for naught. So, where do all my readers want to go?

Posted by Mary Hodder at May 22, 2008 05:35 PM | TrackBack

Let's all fly to CitiBank's HQ!

Posted by: Adam Kalsey at May 22, 2008 07:01 PM

You will be lucky if there is an American Airlines in a few weeks. Iceland would be nice.

Posted by: charles at May 22, 2008 07:43 PM

Yes, I have this card, and yes, they are starting to decline in odd places. I don't have the other problem because I have autopay. (Though they still do the DAMN STUPID practice of just emailing me to say there is a bill, rather than emailing me some numbers from the bill.)

Anyway, what's happening is we're starting to pay the price as they realize what a grossly insecure system the credit card companies built. Used to be they took the heat for it (or rather, merchants did and thus customers did) but now they want customers to take more of the heat directly.

Really, just handling the money should not cost 2% of the world's economy for 15 days credit and some transaction costs -- unless you design a sucky system.

I'm thinking of moving away from miles cards. You get one mile per dollar. How much do you value miles? 1 cents or 2 cents? It's usually in that range. 25K miles will get you the sort of ticket that costs about $350 (you don't earn miles on the flight and you pay taxes etc.) Sometimes it gets you a much better ticket, but what's your average?

It's easy to get a card that gives you 1% cashback, so if you only value 25,000 miles at $250 or less, the 1% cashback card is a no-brainer.

In fact, there are cards that give you 2% to 3% cashback on certain types of purchases. And with no fee.

The math on the Citibank AA card is as follows. Say you spend $25,000 in a year on it.

That gives you one flight, from a dwindling supply of seats, or maybe 1.5 upgrades.

Subtract your $60 to $80 annual fee.

Subtract the taxes and short-notice booking fees you might pay on those flights.

Does that give you a number well above $250? If so, use the card. If not, toss it for a cashback card.

Posted by: Brad Templeton at May 22, 2008 08:52 PM

omg that sad news...

iceland is too cold

Posted by: eric at May 28, 2008 12:30 PM