By Adam Jusko,,

American Express has offered you the possibility of getting instantly approved for their consumer credit cards and charge cards for quite some time. More recently, however, Amex has begun allowing new cardholders to use the card instantly as well, meaning you can potentially make purchases today, even before you have the physical card in your hand.

They call it “Instant Card Number”

American Express describes it like this in the fine print of their cards’ terms & conditions:

“Instant Card Number eligibility is based on our ability to instantly validate your identity. If you are eligible for Instant Card Number, you will receive an instant Card number that you can use virtually anywhere American Express is accepted and a physical Card will not be required. You may not have access to your full credit line to use anywhere the Card is accepted until after you confirm receipt of your physical Card. We will mail your card in 3-5 business days of account approval.”

It’s not clear what criteria must be met in order for Amex to “instantly validate your identity.” It may require you to follow up with a customer service representative by phone if the information on your application is not enough to convince them of your identity.

Consumer Cards Only

The “Instant Card Number” is potentially available to you on any American Express consumer credit or charge card that is actually issued by American Express, including partner cards issued on behalf of Delta Airlines, Hilton Hotels, or Starwood/SPG. However, small business cards from American Express are NOT eligible.

(American Express cards issued by other banks are also not eligible. For example, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express would not offer the Instant Card Number.)

Where can I use it?

In practice, you are easily able to use your new American Express account immediately for online or phone purchases, since you have a valid card number. However, you might find it more difficult to get retailers in the real world to accept your new Amex when you don’t actually have the card in your hand. That might involve a further call to American Express customer service while at the store counter to verify the validity of your account.