Category Archives: First World Problem

Amex ruining ApplePay in the UK

Amex and ApplePay

A few days ago, the good folk at American Express kindly sent word of an offer: Spend £3 in Starbucks and get £1 back – up to a maximum of £5. Not the most Earth shattering offer, perhaps, but given how much I spend in SBs each month, it represents free money (well, ignoring the occasional extra muffin to take my purchase over £3, of course). Thank you very much.

If only it was so simple.

I invariably use my Starbucks card on my phone – quick & easy (usually), and I get one in 16 drinks free. This offer therefore forces me to break my habit a little by using Amex. However, that shouldn’t be a problem as their’s was the first card I added to ApplePay the day it launched in the UK. As I tend to double-tap my phone’s home button to launch Wallet rather than the Starbucks app, it is actually one less swipe to use ApplePay. All good.

Except that my experience is that Amex rarely works contactless in the UK. Card or ApplePay. Turns out, it certainly doesn’t in Starbucks.

A quick search of Google and Twitter suggest I am far from alone on this – though to be fair, a lot of the results I saw were from 2015. Even accepting that things may be getting better; American Express’s flawed roll-out of contactless in the UK must have damaged confidence in using what should be a simple way of carrying out a transaction. It is bad enough that the £30 limit virtually cripples ApplePay. Yes, I know that “real” ApplePay merchants aren’t subject to that restriction. However, given that anyone can – and do – display Apple Pay logos, regardless of whether they are formally part of the system, that distinction is moot.

In the case of my recent experience in Starbucks (a “real” ApplePay partner?), the barista apologised and said Amex contactless has never worked for them, so I reverted to my Starbucks card. Yes, I could have used my Amex card in chip & pin mode… but for a £3ish transaction, that seems to be overkill, as well as being a huge metaphorical step backwards.

I honestly look forward to the day when contactless terminals are ubiquitous: Imagine getting served in a pub where they are plentiful and easily accessible at the bar… no messing with change or getting soggy banknotes back from the server whose hands are still wet from the overspill! Beep and they are on the next customer.

Contactless payment using devices rather than cards is obviously still in its infancy and while I have no wish to see Apple dominate the market to the exclusion of all else, I do genuinely hope we reach a stage where we, as consumers, don’t need to worry whether “our” particular system will work at any given venue. At the very least, is it too hard to ask that we be given some sort of clue up front? The official Amex page is woefully unhelpful. Who in the UK knows that the £30 contactless limit doesn’t (shouldn’t) apply to “real” ApplePay merchants?

Thanks to Amex, we are still a long way short of that. Their card hasn’t been the default on my phone for a long time and the way things are going, I may as well remove it all together. While I’m at it, why don’t I go to another card provider … one that works all the time?


With a hat tip to Duncan Stevenson and his Contactless Life blog, who has tried to get a grip of this situation, but has clearly been busy in his real life recently.

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One Little Green Light

Timing is everything.

The Blinking Green Light of Frustration

The Blinking Green Light of Frustration

After many more years than I care to count spent with Demon, I swapped broadband to BT about eight months ago. The reason for the swap was plain and simple – a binge purchase of a box set on iTunes meant I exceeded my ‘Fair Usage’ download quota, so my connection was throttled for the rest of the month. That hurt. I’m not so naive as to believe BT’s Totally Unlimited package is without its Fair Usage policy, but I’m fairly confident the bar is higher than Demon’s.

All of which is by-the-by for this particular exercise in venting, save to say that until Thursday of this week I’ve been perfectly happy with BT’s internet offering.

Then an odd thing happened. My broadband connect went down. Actually it must have gone down while I’d been out as I came home to find no connection. I performed the usual finely tuned and deeply researched suite of diagnostic processes (turned everything off and back on again!) and still nothing. I delved into the settings of the router, changing nothing, simply (blindly) looking for something that didn’t look right, watching the ADSL connection status go from Handshaking, to Training to – eventually and not always – “Show Time”. Even then, despite the status page assuring me all was well and the router was ready to connect – it stubbornly refused to do so.

Then, suddenly, it connected.

For a good ten minutes it remained connected – enough for my Twitter timeline to update and a few spam emails to find their way into my inbox.

Then, just as suddenly, it was gone.

Handshaking – Training – Show Time – nothing – Handshaking…

Then it came back.

It was gone again not much later.

Clearly a hardware issue, I thought. Luckily, in the elephant’s graveyard that is my back bedroom, I was able to resurrect another ADSL modem. This time it happened to be a BT branded one (whereas the one which had served me well was a cast-off Netgear router which, if everyone had their own, was Kay’s from when she had a Post Office broadband account). I hooked it up, tinkered with the IP address and user name to mimic those I had by now learned by heart from the old one. Then, nothing.

A few rants & raves at no-one or anything in particular, then I happened to notice Twitter had refreshed and I was on line. A breakthrough. Not for long though; the same pattern repeating itself with this lump as the first, but it was enough to tell me it wasn’t a hardware issue.

Having swapped everything back (I  prefer the Netgear lump – it’s decently compact), I rang Kay to commiserate and generally whine about my lot. It was then that I noticed the loud buzz on the landline. Kay confirmed she could hear it at her end, and a later call to my mobile confirmed it indeed originated at my end. Kay made the eminently sensible suggest that I could use my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot feature to tide me over for as long as I needed. Except that my carrier, Three, in common with most mobile services, seem to regard my village, and my part of it in particular, as not worth pointing an antenna toward. I get one bar of service and a 3G signal – but only if I position myself at a window. If I hang out of an upstairs window at the back of the house, I get two whole bars.

At least that was enough to get onto BT’s website and – veerrryy sllloooowwwwwllllyyy – go through their online diagnostic tools. That assured me there were no faults on my line nor any issues with their service which would be causing my problems. There was a link to a series of self-help pages which, when distilled to their core themes, can be summed up as “turn everything off and back on again”. There was another link which kindly offered to connect me with BT’s technicians, but as I had the temerity not to use their Home Hub (I have a perfectly good Apple Airport set up for my WiFi, why would I want BT’s kit), I would have to pay for their “help”. No thanks.

Somehow, I found another line test link, this time solely related to voice call issues, but as I legitimately have a noisy line, that’s what I went with. Success (of sorts) in that this tool reported that it had indeed found a fault and — wonder of wonders — it was in the BT exchange. The OpenReach engineers would be dispatched to deal with the problem without delay, the report told me – adding that this would be within Three Working Days. Given that this was Thursday evening before Easter, Three Working Days equates to the end of business on the following Thursday. 

The subsequent weekend (it is Sunday lunchtime as I type this – in a Stabucks, so as to get a consistent net connection!) has followed a pattern of unpredictable connectivity. Friday morning I awoke to nothing, but when I came in on Friday evening it was back up, and remained so all evening. Thankfully it remained up long enough to watch the last two episodes of Season Two of the fantastic House of Cards (I knew I was taking a risk, but imagine the temper tantrum if the connection fell down ten minutes from the end!). Saturday morning I awoke to discover (based on the Twitter timeline) that it had gone down pretty much straight after I’d gone to bed.

I spent Saturday at home, trying to get something written, thankfully most of the material I needed being either in paper form or on my laptop, but it was immensely frustrating trying to do any fact-checking. The evening followed a similar pattern of mostly-up-but-occasional-short-drops, so I rediscovered my DVD collection. This morning it has mostly been down.

What I hope that my unnecessarily verbose commentary has conveyed is the indescribable sense of uncertainty all this has engendered. All weekend I have found myself instantly swivelling around to stare daggers at the little green light which signifies a connection every time a web page so much as stuttered as it loaded. All too frequently I was rewarded by the sight of its notable absence. My life has become subservient to a green light!! (ok, gratuitous melodrama, I know!).

Roll on the end of Three Working Days.

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