What You Need To Know About American Express Retention Offers

We all hate the annual fees associated with credit cards and they’re especially hard to swallow with all the cards out there that offer the first year free. So why not just cancel your credit card and move to another card? Well nothing, except that credit card companies often try their very best to retain you as a customer.

I thought that I knew a lot about retention offers but it turns out I was wildly mistaken on some fronts. I’m going to walk you through the background of what happened to me and then give you some interesting insight into the behind the scenes decision making process at American Express so you also understand how retention works.

The Background

In the past I have churned American Express cards in order to collect the sign-up bonus again and again, but about 2 years ago, AMEX changed the language in the terms and conditions of their rewards cards to state (emphasis mine):

For current or former American Express® Gold Rewards Cardmembers, we may approve your application, but you will not be eligible for the welcome bonus.

This effectively stops people from churning their cards for points but you could still cancel your card and re-apply, and assuming the card product your are applying for has a first year free offer, you could still escape the dreaded Annual Fee (AF).

Often times when I called in to cancel my card, I would be either transferred over to their retention group or be made an offer by the representative on the phone to keep the card.

My experience has been that each card would have its own offer depending on the spend on the card, your payment history and a bunch of other factors that I don’t have full insight into.

About a month ago, I had three cards that had their annual fees post, the American Express Gold, Gold Business and SPG Business. When I called in to cancel the cards, the representative I spoke to told me that there was no retention offer available for my SPG Business, which made sense because I hardly put any spend on that card.

The other two cards had offers available. The Gold Personal had an offer of 25,000 Membership Rewards and the Gold Business had an offer of 20,000 Membership Rewards.

I cancelled the SPG Business and retained the Gold Personal and Gold Business and expected 45,000 Membership Rewards points to be posted to my account.

Well, it never happened. And here’s why.

Did You Know?

When front line reps are faced with a customer threatening to cancel their cards, they refer to their computer systems to give them guidance on what can be offered to the customer to retain them. Now each card has it’s own offer and often times, there’s two offers available. The first offer is the one that is initially offered, and the second offer is offered if the first is refused. Your mileage may vary here but that’s been my experience.

Typically, once you accept the offer, you commit to keep the card for another year but here’s your fair warning. If you accept the offer, you may not necessarily receive the offer, as was the case with me.

You see, what happens is that any offer that is made that is over a set amount of points (I believe that number to be 10–15,000 Membership Rewards), gets referred to a Supervisor or Team Lead for approval. These level of management have the ability to overrule the offer made by the front line representative.

Why Would They Overrule?

When I noticed that the points hadn’t been credited to my account, I called into AMEX to get an explanation. I actually was expecting to get an ETA on when the points would be deposited rather than be notified that I would not receive the points.

I was told that the matter had been referred to a Team Lead and that the Team Lead had rejected my retention bonus because I had been made a retention offer of 40,000 Membership Rewards in May for my American Express Platinum Business Card. That was an offer I had accepted.

Based on that offer, I was no longer eligible for another retention bonus for 1 year from May 2017.

Now this goes against everything I thought I knew about AMEX retention offers and I was obviously perplexed so I asked for the Team Lead that made the decision to call me back for an explanation, especially considering the fact that I was made an offer of 25,000 and 20,000 Membership Rewards to retain my Gold and Gold Business cards respectively.

The Call

I received a call from a Team Lead named Peter this morning and over a span of 22 minutes, we had a discussion about what had happened and why AMEX was not willing fulfill their offer of 25,000 and 20,000 Membership Rewards points.

What came from the call was that I was made aware that the representative that made the offer was not properly trained. What should have happened is that the representative should have looked at the previous retention offers that were made to decide whether or not an additional offer could be made.

That obviously didn’t happen.

Am I happy about the explanation? No. But i was interested to pick up the following tidbits:

  • Retention offers are made on a per client basis, not a per card/product basis
  • A retention offer can be claimed once per year
  • Any offer that is made to a customer is automatically logged in AMEX’s systems. In order for a representative to see the offer, they must click a link and that click is logged so anyone that is doing an audit on a customer file sees exactly what has been offered
  • Representatives can see at a glance how many cards have been opened and closed on your card over the lifetime of your relationship with AMEX
  • Representatives know how many Membership Rewards you have earned on your account and can see the breakdown (spend, referrals and signup bonuses). Based on my interactions with Peter, it is clear that this information is at their fingertips
  • Escalations of issues with AMEX goes from the Customer Care Professional (front line staff) to the Supervisor and then to a Team Lead. The Team Lead is the highest level you can escalate a phone call to according to Peter. The next level of escalation is at the President’s Office level and that must be done in writing. The mailing address for the President’s office is:
  • AMEX Bank of Canada
    PO Box 7000, Stn B
    Willowdale, ON
    M2K 2R6
  • Representatives have the ability to “write off” amounts on your account
  • AMEX views their points to be worth 1¢/MR
  • AMEX refers to their retention offers as “Saver Card Offers”
  • AMEX uses a call centre in the US and in the Philippines

Next Steps

I’m unsure how to approach the next steps … perhaps you have some thoughts that you would like to share with me?

The issue I have most heartache over is the fact that the offer was made and then resided. All levels of management at AMEX admit as much. I’ve actually had a few errors made by other vendors in the past. Shaw Communications had a representative make an offer that was wildly incorrect to my benefit and after reviewing the call, they decided to honor the offer because it was the right thing to do. AMEX is going the other direction and while I understand that it is a business, there should be some level of accountability. Even a goodwill gesture of something like half of the offer would have been better than how this issue has been handled.

On one hand, I very much like American Express and their credit card products, as has been evident in my posts, but on the other hand, the way this has been handled has left a sour taste in my mouth.

Am I blowing this out of proportion or am I right in my frustration?