Thursday, July 24, 2008

AMEX's Black Card Is Really A Black Mark On Their Customer Service Record

I understand the martkeing magic of the red velvet rope. The idea that one cant get into Studio 54 or Sykbar only speaks to your human instinct to truly lust after what you can't have. Once inside, you will rationalize the $22 crappy martini and even think the $3,000 a night hooker/actress/real-estate-agent might really "like you" when she over heard you talking about the movie project you have "in development".

American Express suffers from the same velvet rope malady with their lofty Centurion or "black card". Originally offered to their biggest spending clients who spent $150,000 or more per year (its reportedly $250,000 per year in spending now to be invited to get a Black Card) - the card quickly because a status symbol for the very wealthy around the world. Amazingly the card card comes with as much as $4,000 in fees yet the perks of the card (other than the status of plunking it down to pay for your $800 bottle of Cristal via "table service" in San Tropez) are few as well as being avaiable from other companies for far less money.

When the standard for getting a Black Card was $150,000 per year in spending and a $2,500 fee - my company spending was $140,000. My father convinced me to get an AMEX card before I went to college as I wouldn't spend beyond my means as most college kids do - and his advice was excellent as ususal. As my company and spending grew I got a gold card from Amex and ultimately was invited to get a $400 per year platinum card - which I still have today. I was a loyal AMEX customer for more than a decade thus accumualting points to use for a trip someday (note: AMEX has no meaningful relationship with any of the LA-based airlines like United or American Airlines) to somewhere exotic.

Knowing I was spending a lot on my company, that I was about to renovate a home and that I was going to get engaged thus needed a ring and the full Hotel Bel Air wedding - I called Amex to ask for a Black Card. The level of "the Business of No" I got was astounding. Note: I was $10,000 away from their spending limit at the time and was poised to spend hundreds of thousands more dollars and they told me absolutely no on the black card. I went back and forth with one seniour customer service person who tried to help me but to no avail.

Can you imagine what it costs to earn a client who spends strongly both for his company and personally as well as has a merchant account? Imagine the three percent fees disappearing because that's just what they did. I canceled all but one of my AMEX cards (they can be good overseas) for which I use to maintain the miles I can't find a way to use to go anywhere. I signed up for a United Airlines card which has no prestige whatsoever other than the fact I use the miles I get from it to ALWAYS fly first class on every trip I make on the airline. I am still trying to book a flight to use my Amex miles on one of their partner airlines like Delta. Delta tried to get me to fly to Paris with connections in Salt Lake City, Atlanta and then to Paris. Right.

Warren Buffett should bitch slap the CEO of American Express during his once a year during his once-per-year meeting. There is a reason why you walk into a restaurant and they say "I am sorry sir, we don't take American Express" That's because they too have been screwed or insulted. American Express needs to lean the Business of Yes to retain the wealthy clients of the future.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Don't you sort of think without adhering to minimums there is a loss in value? Certainly the card for AMEX is a money maker with the now $5000 initation fee, $2500 a year membership fees, and $1500/year per additional card member fees. Seems too late in your opinion, but here's some ways to increase spend to qualify: