I haven't written much about American Express for Target cards since they've been thoroughly treated elsewhere in the blogosphere. I do, however, love them.
In general, each card allows you to manufacture up to $2,500 per month at a cost of about $24 and you can register up to 2 cards per Social Security number. Whether that's cheap or expensive depends on the cards you're using to load them, but suffice it to say that I find it cheap enough to happily take advantage each month.
I currently manage 3 American Express for Target cards: 2 in my own name and one in my partner's name. Out of a general reluctance to drag her along on my rounds, I never got around to registering a second card in her name until this evening.
A few months ago, a colleague sent me two unactivated American Express for Target "blanks," one of which I had used to register my partner's first card. When we brought the second blank to a local Target store this evening, none of the cash registers was capable of processing the registration transaction.
An American Express for Target blank has two exposed bar codes. One indicates what product it is, and is identical on all 4 blanks I used. The second bar code identifies the unique temporary card located inside the blank.
The Target cash registers, including at the Guest Services counter, were unable to process the first bar code, the one identifying the product. We didn't pass go and we didn't collect $100.
Instead, the register would briefly (for less than a second) flash the name of the product, then return to its resting state.
Three possible explanations
I haven't seen reports of this issue anywhere yet, so my own datapoint is the only one I've got. That being the case, three obvious explanations immediately suggest themselves, in order of seriousness:
- I got a bum American Express for Target "blank." This is the least likely explanation, since the registers didn't have any trouble reading the bar code — they were just incapable of processing the transaction. A possible variation on this explanation would be that existing American Express for Target blanks are periodically retired and new ones issued; the old blank I had lying around may have had its identifying bar code expire from underneath me.
- Some Target stores cannot process American Express for Target registrations. This is a possible, though still unlikely explanation. American Express for Target cards are not available nationwide. Instead, you have to use the "Where to Buy" tool on American Express's website in order to find a Target store location where you can find blanks. However, it's always been possible to register a blank at any Target register, whether or not the store itself carried them.
- The final, doomsday scenario would be that new American Express for Target cards cannot be registered. The American Express Campus Edition was recently retired for new applicants, so clearly American Express does at least periodically review their prepaid card offerings. With the launch of the Target Prepaid REDcard, American Express may intend to withdraw American Express for Target cards from the market.
Based on one datapoint, I'm categorically unwilling to claim any one of these explanations, or some other explanation, is the correct one for my experience today. But I admit that all else being equal, the third explanation seems to me to be the most likely one for now.
Needless to say, I'm eager to be proven wrong! So if you've registered an American Express for Target card since, say, January 1, 2015, please leave a comment or drop me a note.
We'll see if we can get to the bottom of this together!