American Express has devised the ultimate anti-loyalty program. They take their best customers and have idiots torture them by phone. In no time, you want to cut up your card and scream “AMEX sucks” into the biggest megaphone you can find. If you doubt me, just trying booking a trip using Membership Rewards.
Note to readers: If you aren’t up for a rant, bail now!
Here’s how I entered AMEX Hell. I’ve been a Platinum Card holder since 2003 and I amassed 200,000 membership rewards points. Over the years I’ve paid bills with the card, flown extra segments and generally hoarded reward points thinking they have extreme value.
So now, humbled by an extreme winter, I fantasized that I could redeem the whole lot and add my wife’s 100,000 Gold Card points for a great, free sunny vacation at an ultra-lux resort. Thus began 6 hours of phone calls over 4 days that resulted in no bookings and 30-45 minute passing relationships with Valerie, Cindy, Amanda, Tamika, Damian, Victoria, Toby, Kareem, Sally and Hovi, who subjected me to endless repeated verifications, put me on hold forcing me endure the world’s worst Musak, disconnected me, told me wrong or contradictory information or seemed entirely clueless, as if they never really talked to a sentient human before.
It all began with a call to the Platinum Concierge, where I entered a maze of corporate silos. Evidently Travel, Amex.com and Platinum Travel are different entities with different properties and rates. They don’t talk to each other. Agents in each silo don’t know the rules or parameters of their silo or the other silos. In several cases, after being disconnected we got conflicting information and different rates for the same property. When the travel people warm transfer you to the Membership Rewards desk everything goes to hell in a hand basket.
First, you wait on queue. Amex to Amex agent transfers get no priority in the phone queues, so you have an accompanied waiting experience. Then the Rewards people tell you that they don’t have partnerships or deals with the properties that Travel does so your basic plan, that you spent an hour hammering out, is un-doable. Then they tell you the real value of your Rewards (my 200,000 points was worth $1500) and your blood pressure spikes and you feel like the biggest chump in the world.
When quoting rates, I asked if AMEX got special rates, deals or packages. Only 1 out of 4 agents even understood what I was asking about it. With each passing second, I realized that there is no added service, no special or personalized treatment, no inside deals, no savvy travel insights and basically no value proposition to having a Platinum Card. As explained by Amex’s own agents, each offer has so many complicated provisions, restrictions and requirements that you walk away thinking the whole system is a switch-and-bait scheme and that AMEX has a vested interest in keeping you from getting the prize.
In a world where consumers expect seamless and immediate access to information and advice, this system is designed to confound, confuse and stymie customers. It is the antithesis of customer service. Maybe my expectations were out of line, but a 10 minute call, prompted online from the Westin website got me a vacation at the same place, at a better rate with a few extras thrown in. Evidently membership doesn’t have rewards.