When I purchased my last vehicle, I attempted to charge the entire price to my American Express card. But as expected, the dealer didn’t want to pay the processing fees so they capped the amount customers could charge at $5,000 (which I still did, because even at 1% cash back that’s still an extra $50 in my pocket). More recently, I heard about the American Express car buying program and it sparked my interest because I assumed it must be a program that allows you to pay for the entire value of the car on your American Express card.
Can you charge the car purchase entirely to your AmEx?
I called the American Express Auto Purchasing Program customer service number to ask if this program obligates the dealer to allow the charge of the entire purchase price to the card. As it turns out, the American Express Auto Purchase Program does not allow you to finance your vehicle purchase using your AmEx (which is understandable, I suppose, since that would put them in the auto finance business, which is not their area of domain). Rather, it’s a pricing service that allows you to get a no-haggle price upfront on both new and used cars.
However, the Amex Representative that I spoke with did say that all dealers that are part of the program are required to allow you to charge at least $2,000 to your American Express card. Anything above and beyond that amount is completely the dealer’s discretion.
Who can use this American Express car purchase program?
This service is surprisingly open to everyone – even to those without an American Express card. In fact from what I can gather, American Express doesn’t even operate the program – a company called Zag based in Santa Monica, CA is who runs it. This is probably a good thing, because it appears auto retailing services is all that Zag does, so they certainly will know more about it than if AmEx attempted to manage things.
Are additional benefits involved?
|All vehicle quotes are guaranteed to be below the Kelley Blue Book retail value|
|There are more than 3,500 dealers participating|
|Vehicle history reports through CARFAX are included free of charge|
|There is a free warranty on qualifying vehicles|
Are the prices really lower?
I ran a couple test scenarios for the Los Angeles area to see how the prices from the American Express car buying program compare to the advertised prices on the dealers’ websites.
Test #1: Porsche Cayman (used)
I found this used ’07 Cayman and here was the price on AmEx auto purchasing website:
The dealer’s name or contact information isn’t provided anywhere on the listing (you’re supposed to submit using the contact form on the right) but this particular car had the dealer’s logo on the main photo. My guess is that is against the rules, but nonetheless, it allowed me to go to dealer’s website directly to check the price. This is what I found there…
Verdict? AmEx was the same price as the dealer’s website. Not impressed.
Test #2: Ford Escape (used)
I came across this lovely ’09 Escape for $19,887 through the AmEx auto purchase program. Once again, I could see the dealer’s name (Sunrise Ford) in the picture.
Visiting the dealer’s website revealed that the “internet price” was also $19,887…
Verdict? American Express is the same price.
Test #3: Chevy Cruze (new)
Ah-so… so this is where it gets tricky to compare the American Express car buying program to the dealer’s price. Why? Because they only show stock photos of the cars…
On the next step they list unnamed “Highly Rated Certified Dealers” with their distances to the zip code searched. Based on that info, I suppose it might be possible to find out the specific dealer depending on your area and the vehicle you’re looking for.
Verdict? It’s difficult to make a black and white, sweeping generalization on this program. I have a good guess who the “Highly Rated Certified Dealers” are based on their distance but without knowing for sure, I don’t want to conclusively say one way or another.
As I mentioned earlier, I was hoping this would be a program would entail being able to charge entire vehicle purchase price to an American Express credit card to earn crazy amounts of membership rewards points. Unfortunately, that’s not an option with the American Express Auto Purchasing Program. The prices on used cars may not be any better than the dealer’s internet price, either.
On the other hand, for new cars it looks like you will get a price lower than MSRP… but how much lower is the question? This is where I need YOUR help. If you’ve used the American Express car buying program for a new car, share your experience in a comment below about how much you did (or did not) save compared to lowest price on the dealer’s website.
Written or last edited on August 31, 2015