We Accidentally (on Purpose) Sent You …

American Express (Amex) is a premium brand I’ve long admired. When they issued their first paper credit card in 1959, its annual fee was $6 — $1 higher than Diners Club (the industry leader), carefully positioning Amex as a premium product.

American Express LogoAmerican Express (Amex) is a premium brand I’ve long admired. When they issued their first paper credit card in 1959, its annual fee was $6 — $1 higher than Diners Club (the industry leader), carefully positioning itself as a premium product.

In 1980, I became a proud Amex cardholder and when they started co-branding with Delta Airlines, I quickly converted my card, collecting enough mileage points over the years to travel first class, with my entire family, to several different continents.

In early December, I called Amex to dispute a charge on my card (I should note that every phone interaction with Amex has been superior). As the call was wrapping up, the customer service rep inquired about another Amex card I carried but rarely used, and suggested that I might be more interested in a new and different product. The sales spiel included a notation that I’d get double miles for certain purchases. Now that I have kids in college with travel requirements, that was music to my ears. Sign me up!

The rep was quite clear that there was no annual fee with this new card, so I was surprised when a $95 charge appeared on my next statement. I added a call into Amex to my “to do” list, and promptly forgot about it the next day.

Yesterday, however, I received a letter from Amex apologizing for sending me the wrong card. They noted that they had already credited my account for the first year’s fee, but if I wanted to switch to the card originally promised, all I needed to do was contact them.

Of course, now I wanted to know the difference between the card I got and the card I was supposed to get, so I Googled it. And discovered that the card they sent me was even superior in mileage point collection. Instead of two-times the miles, in some instances I was getting three to four-and-a-half-times. Sorry Amex, but you won’t be able to rip this card from my fingers!

With all the automation of systems, call centers, fulfillment centers, etc. encompassing Amex operations, I started to think, “How could Amex make a mistake like this?” And, upon further reflection, perhaps it wasn’t an error, but a deliberate marketing strategy.

Sell the consumer a fee-free card, ship the wrong card, notify the consumer of the error after the fact, waive the fee and, upon feeling the benefits of those extra points building in the account, convert non-payers to payers. Is this a brilliant bait and switch move?

Thanks for the new card, Amex. And thanks for your (supposed) mistake. You’ll be enjoying my $95 next year, but in the meantime, I’ll be booking myself another (free) flight.