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American Express is well known as one of the pioneers in providing payment cards. They are best known for their charge card, but are one of the larger suppliers of credit and debit cards.

American Express was originally a New England express mail company that started in the nineteenth century. They specialised in providing services to travellers on business during the twentieth century. Their original charge card started in as a service to business travellers and they were one of Canadaís first payment card providers.

The American Express charge card is the card which made American Express famous. It is still the backbone of their credit card offering. There are three types of charge cards, the original (green) card, a gold card and a platinum card. The cards have varied amounts of rewards, with the programme being supplied at a fee to the green card users and being complimentary and at a very high level for the platinum charge card holders. There are many extras to the card such as damage coverage, extended warranties and travel insurance. The rewards are paid for by a large annual fee and high discount charges (the term American express uses for the merchant charges charged to shops accepting American Express).

The American Express card grew from the travellerís s cheque which American Express pioneered at the end of the nineteenth century and which aimed to make up for more cumbersome letters of credit which until that point had been the only way for most travellers to get funds if they were going abroad. The charge card was issued in reaction to the charge cards issued by Dinerís Club. Unlike Dinerís Club, which was aimed at people who often used restaurants, the American Express Charge Card was intended to be used by the same people who used its travellerís cheque service.

The charge card is quite different from a credit card, as the balance must be paid back every month when the statement arrives. This means that a credit balance cannot build up and so large interest charges will not grow.

The charge cardís affluent clientele means that American Express has developed an exclusive reputation. American Express has attempted to extend this to its credit cards. American Expressís card offering is aimed squarely at business travellers. Its rewards and perks financial services include insurance and travel agency services. Their support line is considered the best in the industry, and this is heavily marketed.

American Express offers the Aeroplan cards in conjunction with Air Canada. The rewards programme for the Aeroplan cards are integrated into Air Canadaís frequent flyer programme, and earn frequent flyer points with Air Canada. As Canadaís official airline, or flag carrier, Air Canada enjoys a wide international network. It also has as an unrivalled domestic network. Card holders are limited to flights with Air Canada but this is compensated for by more generous rewards than the more flexible air miles programmes. There are a number of Aeroplan cards, the standard, gold and platinum with an increasing level of service according to which ones are chosen.

For a wider choice than is offered by the Aeroplan cards there are blue and platinum air mile cards that claim that they are accepted by a wide variety of airlines throughout the world. They offer free supplementary cards. The Blue Air miles credit card does not charge an annual fee.

A number of Platinum cards are offered by American Express across its range of cards. These try to give and air of exclusivity by offering a higher level of service and a more generous rewards programme.

As well as travel reward cards American Express also operates the Holt Renfrew card which can be used to earn discounts at the designer clothing store. Like other American Express cards it is covered by the insurance and helplines.