Amex in Spain - Forget it

Old Aug 1, 10, 3:58 pm
  #1  
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Amex in Spain - Forget it

The past 30+ places I have tried my amex in spain don't except them (mostly restaurants but including stores and supermarkets). Almost all restaurants seem to use hand-held devices now and none of them seem to take amex. It was bad last year, but this time it is 0%. Just a warning for those who are fixed on using amex.
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Old Aug 1, 10, 6:59 pm
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mia
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The handheld devices sound as if they are the wireless Chip & PIN terminals. If you are still in Spain it would be useful to know if they are declining the card because it is American Express or because it does not have a Chip. How are you paying, with a USA-issued Mastercard or VISA?
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Old Aug 2, 10, 10:53 am
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Originally Posted by mia View Post
The handheld devices sound as if they are the wireless Chip & PIN terminals. If you are still in Spain it would be useful to know if they are declining the card because it is American Express or because it does not have a Chip. How are you paying, with a USA-issued Mastercard or VISA?
US MC and Visa work fine with handhelds - w/o pin requirement. Have asked every time and been told they just don't accept Amex.
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Old Aug 2, 10, 11:49 am
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Originally Posted by erik123 View Post
The past 30+ places I have tried my amex in spain don't except them (mostly restaurants but including stores and supermarkets). Almost all restaurants seem to use hand-held devices now and none of them seem to take amex. It was bad last year, but this time it is 0%. Just a warning for those who are fixed on using amex.
AMEX definitely does not have the coverage in Spain that it has in the U.S. but I just got back from spending several weeks in Spain and my AMEX charge card was accepted at all the restaurants I went to (except for one mom-n-pop), all the stores I shopped at (except for two clothing stores that target the teenager/twentysomething crowd) and all the travel related places (hotels, airlines, trains, etc).
Given the structure of the banking system in Spain, I was actually pleasantly surprised at how much I was able to charge on my AMEX.

I use my AMEX in the U.S exclusively and I seldom worry about it not being accepted; being in Spain (and most other European countries) I'm definitely a lot more conscious about non-acceptance and I carry two non-AMEX cards as backups.
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Old Aug 2, 10, 12:39 pm
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mia
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Originally Posted by Okto View Post
Given the structure of the banking system in Spain,
Could you elaborate?
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Old Aug 2, 10, 2:54 pm
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Hi, this is my first post in Flyertak!

As a spanish citizen and AMEX Plat cardmember, I know that AMEX coverage in Spain is not as good as the Visa/Master combo because of the higher fees that AMEX charges the vendors but in general is widely accepted except in (really) small businesses.
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Old Aug 2, 10, 3:36 pm
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Originally Posted by mia View Post
Could you elaborate?
The banking system in Spain is made up of two distinct types of institutions, each accounting for roughly 50% of the market. One segment is formed by traditional deposit-based banks, publicly-traded with their own shareholders, in which Santander and BBVA are the 800-pound gorillas (there are a bunch of other small/medium sized banks and a few foreign banks of little consequence such as ING or Deutsche Bank).
The other 50% of the banking system is made up of something similar to a savings/loan thrift ("Cajas de Ahorros"), but these institutions are neither publicly traded, nor do they have discernible owners. Supposedly the depositors own the thrift, but in reality all decision-making is in the hand of a board appointed by the regional government (this translates into a lot of corruption, but that's not relevant right now for this discussion).

So, we have, essentially, Santander, BBVA and regional thrifts. All of them massively push their own Visa, MC or Maestro product. While there is stiff competition between them, there's no competition outside Visa/MC products.
It is common for banks to require having people direct deposit their pay check into a savings account before they are offered a credit card. It is also common for people to have their mortgage loan at the same institution where they have their savings account. So, banks manage to have very captive customers.
Most merchants have business relationships with the major banks, and, as expected, the banks incentivize the acceptance of their credit card products by the merchant. Once people get their bank-issued Visa/MC, there is little reason for them to go get an AMEX card, unless they are frequent travelers.

Separately, the average salary in Spain is ~ EUR 24,000/year. Most people treat their Visa/MC as debit cards and given their spending ability, they have little motivation to accrue points in an AMEX-style rewards card. I believe AMEX understands this and does not try to push their product on everybody like it does in the U.S. I remember seeing the application for the Platinum Card a few years ago and, in addition to being something like 6-8 pages long, requiring all sorts of documentation, it set a minimum income level of EUR 60,000 / year (not sure what it is today).
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Old Aug 2, 10, 4:13 pm
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Originally Posted by Okto View Post
I remember seeing the application for the Platinum Card a few years ago and, in addition to being something like 6-8 pages long, requiring all sorts of documentation, it set a minimum income level of EUR 60,000 / year (not sure what it is today).
Yes, the minimum is still 60k/year and the yearly fee is 540 (which includes Priority Pass).

The application for any credit card is so long due to the risk management applied in Spain, they evaluate you before issuing any card (not only amex) and create a risk profile. Of course you have to provide all kind of proof of income. The procces of getting an amex card may take up to a month

But after you get the card they won't bother you with financial reviews unless your bank refuses a charge of the monthly bill, in that case they automatically cancel the card(s)
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Old Aug 2, 10, 5:20 pm
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Originally Posted by mia View Post
The handheld devices sound as if they are the wireless Chip & PIN terminals. If you are still in Spain it would be useful to know if they are declining the card because it is American Express or because it does not have a Chip. How are you paying, with a USA-issued Mastercard or VISA?
Minor correction - today I asked a few places and two of them was able to use my Amex w/o chip with the handheld. The others told me they didn't take it (but I am unsure if they were unable or unwilling)
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Old Aug 2, 10, 7:51 pm
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Originally Posted by erik123 View Post
The past 30+ places I have tried my amex in spain don't except them (mostly restaurants but including stores and supermarkets). Almost all restaurants seem to use hand-held devices now and none of them seem to take amex. It was bad last year, but this time it is 0%. Just a warning for those who are fixed on using amex.
Consider yourself lucky. Hopefully you used cash or a card that charges less than a 2.7% forex fee.
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