Home > American Express > Schooling the Amex Retentions Department. Twice.

Schooling the Amex Retentions Department. Twice.

September 4, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

The easiest way to get frequent flyer miles is through credit card signups, but what do you do when the first year honeymoon is over and you need to pay an annual fee? In most cases, it’s wise to call up the credit card company and ask if they can offer a retention bonus, a little sweetener to keep the card an extra year. Often times, the “sweetener” matches or outweighs the cost of the annual fee.

Over the past couple days, I had two conversations with American Express Business Cardmember services. Last year, both my folks signed up for the Business Gold Card, which had a 75,000 point bonus. They kept using the card for their businesses, mostly because it offered them flexibility in Membership Rewards points, had American Express purchase protection, and got them an extra 25,000 MR points after spending $50,000 each calendar year. A lot of money, but for a business with lots of expenses, not unheard of. Since business expenses can be a tiring thing to keep track of, both of my parents prefer to keep a minimal number of cards in order to put everything on auto-pay (although they have been more willing to put business expenses on their personal cards in order to hit those bonuses … ;)).

I recently got them Chase Ink Bold cards, since their businesses spend a lot on the categories with bonuses, and United miles are better for our purposes. They’ve since switched spending to the Ink Bolds, but there’s the question about what to do with the American Express cards. We still have points in each account, and I’m in no rush to transfer them out and cancel the cards, so I called Amex for each account, first at the number on the back of the Gold card. I was home for Labor Day weekend, so I had my parents around to authorize the details, and then went ahead with the conversations myself:

Me: “Hi, the fee recently hit on my American Express Gold Business card, and I was debating whether or not to keep it. Are there any offers to waive the fee?”

Notice that I didn’t say anything about canceling it, since I’d want to move the points out before doing something like that. The front-line rep transferred me to the business retentions department, and given the direct number, which is (800)-875-5592.

On the first card, the representative talked about the flexibility of Membership Rewards points, to which I responded:

“In the last year, your program lost Continental as a partner, which was the partner we have transferred the most points to. You kept British Airways and Aeroplan, but their rewards programs have severely devalued for our purposes since they now require more points and charge more fees. Chase, on the other hand, kept Continental/United, and so their points are more useful and comparatively fee-free.”

The representative understood my concerns, and said that he could upgrade my dad’s business to the Premier Gold Business card, which costs $175 (not the $125 for this card), and earns 3x on airfare and 2x on gas/advertising.

Me: “That’s great and all, but our Chase Ink Bolds offer 2x on gas as well, so that’s a tie. 3x on airfare is great, but we have a Chase card that earns a bit over 2x, so the incremental value of that is very small. Lastly, Chase earns 5x at office supply stores and phone providers, and as you may see from our business expenses, we had a lot of those transactions. Amex only offers 1x on those transactions.”

The representative got where I was going here, and proffered a bonus of 15,000 Membership Rewards points to keep the card. Now I may not think MR points are the bee’s knees, but I’m no dummy. 15K MR points are worth at minimum $150, and possibly more if I need to transfer to British Airways (which currently has a 40% bonus, making it 21,000 Avios). We agreed to the terms, which included paying the $125 fee.

Another reason why this was a good deal was because the account in question still has over 100,000 Membership Rewards points, and a lot of the value in that is that those points are flexible. I don’t know when I’ll need to dip into those points to book a trip for a family member, but there is value in being able to look at what each partner has to offer before transferring the points out. To me, that was worth the $125 fee, but the 15,000 MR was icing on the cake.

—–

I called a couple days later to talk to Amex again, this time for my mother’s account, which hasn’t spent as much as the other account. This time, I called retentions directly, at the number above:

“Hi, the fee recently hit on my Amex Gold Business card, and I was thinking of what to do with it. Are there any offers to waive the fee?”

The rep talked about how we had received a lot of value from the card, such as getting the 75K points a year ago and hitting the $50K spend threshold for an extra 25K MR points, but I once again talked about how we were switching a lot of spending toward Chase, especially for transactions that would give us bonus points, and how Chase Ultimate Rewards was a better program than American Express Membership Rewards. His first offer was a $75 credit, meaning we’d still have to pay $50 for the card. Not impressed.

Me: “Sorry, but that’s not going to cut it. Do you have any other offers?”

Rep: “Sir, we may have lost Continental as a partner, but you can still fly United/Continental by booking with your points through Amex Travel.”

Me: “But then I’d need to spend more points. And if I wanted to use points as cash, I’d sign up for a Capital One Spark Card*, which gives me 2% cashback for travel at a lower rate. Why would I keep an Amex for that? Your program is great for the mileage transfers you have, except you lost a major one in the last year and 2 other major ones have devalued drastically.”

*disclaimer: I don’t even know if that’s the right card, the important thing in every debate is to just sound like you’re right.

Rep: “Alright sir, before you hang up, my final offer is a $125 credit.”

Now that’s more like it. It may not be more Membership Rewards points, but it helps us keep the flexibility of the points in the account for free. Neither of my parents has another Amex MR card, so closing out this card would have made them lose the points.

It’s important to note that these cards did have a high level of spending on them, so it’s in Amex’s best interest to keep these accounts. We were able to get a ton of value by transferring to British Airways, Aeroplan, Singapore Krisflyer, and Continental (9/30/2011 — never forget). But with Chase Ink offering so many possibilities, Amex just doesn’t offer as competitive a program anymore.

Neither rep was willing to budge at first, but once I hit them with the facts, they pretty much had no choice but to offer up a retention bonus. In the case of the 2nd call, it was important to wait out the first offer to get to the better second offer. Thinking back, maybe I could have gotten more than 15K MR for the first call, but I’m still happy with that result.

As we were wrapping up the first phone call, the first rep told me:

“I deal with these phone calls everyday, but you’re the first person who’s showed me how competitive the market is for products like these, and that consumers really are looking at reward possibilities.”

Exactly. Having a good American Express product helps us all, so I hope they go out and strengthen the Membership Rewards program. Until then, we’re a Chase family.

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Categories: American Express
  1. Ron
    October 19, 2012 at 1:47 am

    Very well written !!

    • Amol
      October 20, 2012 at 2:57 am

      Thank you for reading!

  1. September 6, 2012 at 4:25 pm

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