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Legalese

It sounds crazy, but I love my AMEX card. I don’t know why, exactly. It could be the phenomenal rate of Hilton HHonors points I get for each $ I spend. The friendly service when I call helps, too. Their website is one of the better credit card sites, with the ability to drill down to more detail on each purchase. And the card is shiny, too. I mean, who doesn’t love shiny things?

So, when I received a letter in the mail from Amex, I was actually excited.

I opened it, then began reading.

Dear Christopher Dymek:

Thank you for being part of the Premium Car Rental protection plan offered exclusively to American Express Cardmembers. The plan is a good way to protect you while renting a vehicle. We are writing to inform you of changes to you coverage that will take effect on December 18, 2006.

As of the effective date noted above, the Master Policy for your Premium Car Rental Protection will change and coverage will be issued under Master Policy AX0610.

Ok, I thought to myself. That sounds fair enough. So what, exactly are these changes? I kept reading.

As an added service to you, we have also included enhancements to the product. Changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Added Loss of Use Coverage
  • Changes in the Definitions section
  • Changes in the Exclusions section

Additions and changes? Are there any specific changes, since changes include but are not limited to those areas above, at least according to the letter.

So I kept reading.

Please note that your per-rental premium will remain the same.

Well, at least one thing isn’t changing.

We have enclosed the Plan documents for Premium Car Rental Protection that state the benefits and changes outlined in this letter. Please read this information carefully and replace your current Plan documents with the ones that are enclosed as of December 18, 2006.

If you have any questions regarding these changes, please call…

So AMEX sent me a letter telling me there are changes, and then a legalese addendum that doesn’t actually say exactly what changed. In short, AMEX unilaterally changed their product and then wants me to compare this to the original document to find out what exactly the differences are.

I don’t get why companies are allowed to get away with this. Is it so hard to write a straightforward letter saying “Before the change you had X, and after the change you’ll have Y”. Plain English that is easily readable goes a long way. I hate the way companies, particulately the financial services companies, cram important information in unreadable documents and then expect that consumers should be able to understand these notices.

In any event, though, they do make fun reading. Take this as an example.

“Board” or “Boarding” means being in the direct and immediate act of entering the seating compartment of the Rental car. Once a person is sitting in the Rental Car, the act of Boarding is completed.

I wonder how many hours some lawyer billed for coming up with that paragraph?

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