Manhattan wouldn't be the same without its 13,400 yellow taxis, but boy, are they expensive.
The average cab ride in 2013 cost $13.40, according to the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, and that excludes the typical 18 percent tip. That means grabbing a cab just twice a week in New York can cost around $1,644 a year.
Avoiding that expense usually means taking the subway, the bus or walking. But until June 1, there's another way to put the brakes on cab fare: Use your American Express Card in a yellow medallion taxi. For that window of time, cardholders can get 50 percent off $200 worth of cab fare in New York — but they have to follow a few important steps. (“Yellow medallion” refers to the taxi with a small metal plate on the hood, signifying that it is registered to pick up hails in New York City by the Taxi & Limousine Commission.)
How it fares
The first rule is that you have to use your American Express card via the Isis Mobile Wallet app, which you install on your smartphone. Go to PayWithIsis.com and make sure your phone is compatible with the Isis app — it works on about 50 “select devices” from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, according to the company.
Once you have the Isis Mobile Wallet app on your phone, add your American Express card to it (fun fact: Wells Fargo and Chase cardholders can also use Isis). Isis says its app is PIN protected, and the sensitive data is stored on a special chip in your phone called “the Secure Element.” If someone steals your phone — or you leave it in the cab — you can call Isis or go to its website and freeze all the cards in your mobile wallet.
After you've got your American Express card in your mobile wallet, register it with the Amex taxi program. After that, you're good to go.
Hailing the rewards
Setting up your mobile wallet and registering your Amex card are the hard parts; the rest is easy. Every time you ride in a yellow medallion taxi in New York until June 1 and pay with the Amex in your Isis mobile wallet, you'll get a statement credit for 50 percent of the cab fare. (Amex says you should get the credit within 90 days.)
There are a few caveats, of course. First, you have to remember to pay with your mobile wallet. If you hand over your plastic Amex card, you won't get the discount.
Second, you'll only earn a maximum of $100 in statement credits between March 1 and June 1. At a 50 percent discount rate, that means the deal only works on your first $200 of cab fare. Considering that it costs about $100 plus tolls and tip to take a taxi round-trip from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Manhattan, you might burn through this pretty quickly. But saving $100 is better than spending $100, right?
You can register more than one American Express card, too, so that expands your rewards potential. Also, you can register an Amex consumer or small-business credit or charge card, but Amex gift cards, corporate cards and Amex-branded cards issued by other financial institutions don't count.
The final toll
What this really amounts to is an Amex-funded sale on cab fare, and it's good timing: April is one of the busiest months for cabs. But it's also an example of how rapidly taxicab payment technology has changed. Before 2008, none of the medallion taxis had credit card readers. Today, 55 percent of all trips are paid by credit card, according to the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission.