MBNA Switches Cal Alumni Credit Card Without Member’s Approval: By ZELDA BRONSTEIN

Special to the Planet
Tuesday November 30, 2004

Cal graduates: Did you, like me, get your MBNA/MasterCard though membership in the California Alumni Association?  

If so, did you, like me, receive an unsolicited new credit card in the mail last week?  

If that’s so, too, I’m hoping that, unlike me, you immediately noticed that MBNA had switched you from MasterCard to American Express.  

In my case, it took a customer service rep at the New York Times to alert me to the switch. “Is the new card also a MasterCard?” she asked. I noticed, at last, that it was not. My new card bore on its emphatically blue-and-gold front a large Cal insignia; the California Alumni Association’s logo with its stylized campanile; and in the lower righthand corner, the sign of American Express.  

The MasterCard to American Express changeover was not one I would have made voluntarily, since in my experience, MasterCard has much wider acceptance.  

The cover letter from MBNA seemed to indicate that I had no choice in the matter: “Please verify name and address, and sign Card(s) immediately to validate,” it said. “Notify us if corrections are required. Please destroy any cards and unused access checks you previously received.”  

Though I’d already activated the new card, I hadn’t yet destroyed my old one. I resolved to get MBNA to switch me back to MasterCard. Easier said than done: neither the “24-hour Customer Service” number on the back of the American Express card nor the number on my old MBNA statements yielded a live person who could hear my plea, much less do something about it.  

I decided to call the California Alumni Association and complain. I was handed over to a woman who graciously supplied yet another toll-free number for MBNA (1-888-880-6262). If that doesn’t work, she said, call me back, and I’ll put you in touch with the person here who deals with “our royalty partners.” I asked how many Alumni Association members had gotten MBNA credit cards through their membership in the Association. She guessed 30,000. When I wondered if anybody else had complained, she said that although I was the only person who’d called to protest the switch and the seeming impossibility of contacting MBNA about switching back, the Alumni Association itself was unhappy with the company and was making its dissatisfaction known.  

I called the new toll-free number for MBNA and reached a live person who readily switched me back to MasterCard. I’ll still be getting a new credit card number, and, it follows, a new card. But at least I’m back with the credit card company I prefer.  

When I expressed my displeasure about the process, the MBNA rep told me that a month or so ago, the company had sent letters notifying clients of the imminent change. Failure to decline an American Express card was taken as acceptance of it. I assume that I threw away the earlier letter, unread, just as I throw away all unsolicited mail from credit card companies.  

The MBNA rep also said that the American Express card had been made available only “to select groups.” I silently wondered if I’d been classified as “select” because I pay my credit card bill in full each month. MBNA isn’t making any money off of me; perhaps that’s why they switched me to American Express.  

As for my notion that MasterCard has greater currency: The company rep said that the company had researched my area and found that American Express was as widely used as MasterCard. “Maybe it’s just where you shop,” he politely suggested.  

The moral of the story: Read all your junk mail. And, MBNA customers, write down that toll-free number (1-888-88-6262), and put it in a safe place. The next time you want to talk to a live person about your account, you’ll know what to dial.  


Zelda Bronstein (B.A. ’70) is a lifetime member of the California Alumni Association.