Programs: United 1K, AMEX Plat, Priority Club Plat, Starwood Gold
It was always my assumption that the ZAG program was kind of the same whether you went through USAA or AMEX or whichever flavor. I may be totally off base, and haven't looked closely at other version of ZAG besides USAA.
I have used the USAA version, and I was really impressed. I got about 18% off of sticker on a Ford Edge Limited w/ NAV. Yes, you can do similarly negotiating by yourself. But, I like spending as little time in the dealership as possible. I think that I was in and out in about 2 hours.
I used the program in March and came in $800 below invoice on a Mazda. I also checked Edmunds and the price quoted through AmEx was actually quite good, so I went with it. Three dealers phoned me and I actually mentioned to one of them (my local dealer) that one of their competitors (72 miles away) had a lower price, so they matched it. It was a very painless process.
One of my colleagues is after a Prius. He has been negotiating with dealers for several weeks and I gave him the AmEx link on Monday. AmEx was $1,200 below what he was able to negotiate on his own.
I've tried Costco and others, but AmEx seemed to work the west for me (with minimal hassles).
[Moderator edit] I used the program over a year ago, I personally found it a worthwhile way to shorten the negotiating process and felt I got a pretty good deal. YMMV, as your end result likely depends on the dealers who you are referred to.
Last edited by mia; Mar 2, 11 at 12:05 pm.
Reason: Remove commercial link
Whether you use the program directly with a dealer participating in the program or indirectly without identifying the dealer, I've found this part of the program useful. There's an analogy to Priceline where you get some information about the seller but don't necessarily get all of the information early in the process. In 2009, I used this service to research cars within a 200-mile radius of my home in Virginia. I saw a number of options, including several dealers clearly within the Baltimore area. I didn't attempt to set up anything through Amex; I just realized that the lowest price in Baltimore was several thousands less than in my home area. It was worth the effort to go to Baltimore and negotiate with the dealer I suspected was the dealer in the Amex program.
When the time to start talking dollars arrived, I just pulled the sheet from my folder and said, "I don't know if this is your dealership. But I do know that I can get this price by hitting the Send button and getting American Express to identify the dealership. If this isn't the dealership, it probably doesn't make any difference to you, except that if you can't match the price, I'll be walking out of here, knowing that I've narrowed the list of remaining dealerships that will offer this price. And if I've picked the right dealership, I've just saved you the percentage you'll have to pay American Express for sending my business your way."
I got the price within 10 minutes. Could I have done better? I'm sure I could have saved several hundred dollars more. But could I have had an easier purchase? No, because I'm sure I had the right dealership in hand, and they knew I was right. They would have lost several hundred on the sale if I'd actually asked Amex to identify the dealership I could have negotiated with, in turn forcing the dealership to pay Amex a "finder's fee."
The caveat: I negotiated in June 2009, just before the Cash for Clunkers program was formally announced. I figured that once the general public knew that many could get thousands for their worthless trade-ins, the dealers would simply up their prices by the amounts of the anticipated rebates. And since the dealer I used had a website with their published, discount prices, I was able to check several weeks later, after the Clunkers program was announced, to see that the price for the car I had bought had risen by $2000.
I actually used the Amex program to my advantage a couple of years ago when I bought my last new car. Since the program worked, and maybe still does work a bit like Priceline (a general search for unidentified dealers within a certain distance from the zip code you enter), I went online and searched for all dealers within a 200-mile radius from my home. One dealer in particular had a very low price for the car I wanted, and I figured out from the mileage that it was probably a dealer in the Baltimore-DC area. I then reentered a search, using a Baltimore zip code, and what appeared to be the same dealer went from being 180 miles away to 10 miles away.
Taking a shot on the specific dealer, I didn't enter the program to identify the specific dealer (and bind myself and the dealer to the program) but just went to the dealer in the Baltimore area during a weekend visit with some friends there. When it came to doing the deal, I gave the salesman the sheet I had printed from the Amex site with the price for the car with all of the options I wanted.
I told him, "I don't know if this is your dealership. If it isn't and you can't do the deal, I'll just click on the button on the Amex site when I get home and get in contact with that dealership. But if it is your dealership, then you know I can ask to put at least $5000 of my purchase price on my Amex Plat card (a requirement for a dealer to participate in the program, at least at that time) and I've gotta assume you're also paying Amex some kind of finder's fee. I'll split that amount right now with your dealership; here's my price."
A couple of minutes later, I had the car at my price. Could I have gotten the car for less? Maybe, but the price I paid was probably $5000 less than I would have paid if I had visited a dealer nearer my home. Well worth the money.
I think the car buying program is a great information source, but there's a lot of truth to the idea that you'll save money on the car by using it for that purpose only and by paying by traditional means.
Right now.. in the market for a brand new Sienna..
We've got the Amex Aeroplat card.. Is there anyway to run an entire Toyota Purchase through Amex? Any sources?
Got cash down.. so we can pay for the entire vehicle when the bill becomes due..
I guess I'll look into the Amex vehicle program..
Since I've learned that Amex seems to offer different benefits with a similar card in different countries, I won't guarantee that Aeroplat includes this benefit, but I found it through the US Amex site by clicking on the "Rewards" heading on the main page and then selecting "Shopping Discounts" under "Card Rewards and Benefits."
This information was included on my page: "All participating program dealers will allow you to put at least a portion of your vehicle purchase on any American Express Card. Vehicle purchases are not required to be charged in full to an American Express Card." I thought I remembered a guarantee that a dealer would allow at least $5000 on the card when I looked at the program in 2009, but I'm not certain about that. This language would indicate that a dealer could allow any amount, no matter how low, and still participate in the program.