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The American Express Anti-Loyalty Program

Posted by Daniel Flamberg on February 28th, 2011 at 11:40 pm

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.

12 Responses to “The American Express Anti-Loyalty Program”

  1. sumeet says:

    i totally empathize with you Daniel, a classic case of over promise and under deliver. Considering the universally accepted 80:20 phenomenon the corporates still have a lot to learn. Seems like everyone is going in circles with learning and unlearning while learning nothing new...

  2. Christopher says:

    Welcome to dealing with Amex.

    Not that it'll make you feel better, but imagine trying to market their product to your customers when there are competing teams, with differing landing pages, URLs, offers, and so on.

    And yes, there's a gap between each of the card product "families", and trying to get someone who understands the various families won't come easily, or cheaply.

    You've also uncovered the back-of-house dirty little secret: you can built the shiniest loyalty program ever on paper/powerpoint, but if you don't invest the time, money, and energy in running it properly, your customers are just hamsters running on a wheel chasing a carrot they may never get while pellets hit them in the face, and you the marketer are constantly trying to convince them they aren't.

    I do think you made a good point, though...you went to another vendor who had one-stop shopping, and they got your business. Easy peasy.
    I wonder...did you finally charge that vacation getaway on your Amex? *smile*

  3. Dan Sullivan says:

    Fantastic commentary. I think you just saved me a bunch of time. I have AMEX and have considered consciously shifting my spending activities that way for the perks... no more.

    Thank you.

  4. Susan McNamee says:

    Platinum Rewards? $200 airline fee credit? Try getting it. I have called five times trying to get the $102.00 that American Airlines charged me for baggage fees credited by virtue of Platinum holders "new" platinum benefits. I was told tonight that I signed up too late. I have been a member since 1978

  5. mike says:

    amex sucks. I am a very big spender, about $40k per month. I applied for the card because of the no preset spending limit. Thats Bullshit. Despite the 450.00 i shelled out for the card, i practically have to call them every day because despite my 809 on my credit report, they only gave me a 4k limit to start. Even sears gave me more than that. Very deceptive...

  6. Miller says:

    Every time I enter an airport I am subjected to harassment from the sale/recruiting people pushing the american express Platinum card. I have repeatedly informed them i am a Platinum card holder --- they become more agressive, "but this is better, this one offers more" and they are yelling it.". It really isnt worth this hassle when i travel frequently. The hard part, my mother taught me well - dont be rude to people. But i have had it.

  7. kevin says:

    Disagree with amex being a problem. i've never had an issue with their travel services. compared to citi cards, they are a dream.

    everyone speaks english (i'm of indian descent so i'm not being an ass), the first words out of rep's mouth is, "how can I help you," not "Are you interested in some other product that I can sell you on."

    Maybe the card or company isn't for everyone, but the problems listed above and in the comments haven't been typical to me. I can't complain and I figured i'd post it to even out the negativity a little.

  8. unknown says:

    five JD power and associate awards enough said...

  9. Michael says:

    cant wait to share my experience with the new American Express open card. I have been a member since 07 and for the past 4 months have been dealing with customer service as well as the online notification system, for some reason I have not been getting the notifications out of the blue. Well this month I was 2 days late on my payment only to find out today that they have raised my apr to 22% I called customer service4 and talked to a rep named Lisa who informed me that there was nothing I could do, I asked to talk to a Sup to see is I could get help. I talked to a Sup named Lynn only to be told again nothing could be done to help.. I am sure I am not the only one.. But I will end my relationship with them in March pay the care and move all my CC needs to a credit union Card.. Thank you guys for the abusive relationship.. I have had enough, just glad to say it was only four years and not 50...
    P.S. We will no longer accept this card..

  10. You explained the topic very well. The content has provided meaningful information thanks for sharing this.

  11. Khiaao says:

    Good info, I was thinking about upgrading, I will pass now

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