Each month, ExpertFlyer sits down with an executive in the travel industry to provide insight to changes in the landscape and how it affects the way you do business. It’s another way ExpertFlyer is providing additional information to empower the business traveler.
This month, ExpertFlyer sat down with Steve Selwood, vice president, Premium Products and Experiences, American Express.
“At American Express, we are focused on providing our Card members value, service and access in a world of black-out dates, restrictions and unexpected delays. Our goal is to strengthen relationships with Card members who rely on us because they appreciate the value of world class service and the benefits of our premium products.”
– Steve Selwood, Vice President, Premium Products
and Experiences, American Express
As the executive lead for the American Express Platinum & Centurion Card Management Team, what are some of the innovative ways you are leveraging Amex’s resources in the travel arena to attract premium card members?
At American Express, we design our premium cards — Platinum and Centurion — to address the needs of consumers who value service and access, especially related to travel. And we continue to evolve and enhance the Cards by adding new benefits and services to meet their changing needs.
For example, the Platinum Card is the perfect travel companion and provides exclusive access to the Platinum Travel Service, which is a 24/7 full-service American Express Travel Agency. By working with the Travel Service, Card members can take full advantage of several benefits including our Fine Hotels & Resorts, International Airline and Cruise Privileges programs. By tapping into these benefits, Card members get access to everything from late check out at hotels to complimentary international companion airfare.
In addition to adding value, our benefits also add piece of mind. For example, whenever Platinum Card members travel more than 100 miles from home, they have 24/7 medical, legal, financial, and other emergency assistance from our Premium Global Assist Hotline staff.
Through this service, American Express can direct Card members to English-speaking medical and legal professionals and arrange for a transfer to a more appropriate medical facility, even if an ambulance is required. The service also helps with prescription replacements, emergency hotel check-ins and cash access, lost luggage or passports, Emergency Card Replacement, and more.
Amex operates the world’s largest travel network serving consumers and businesses. What are some of the travel trends you are seeing or anticipating this year and over the next few years?
From a macro level, we are seeing that travel is bouncing back with more and more people hitting the road and taking to the skies. In fact, according to the American Express Consumer Travel Network, spring travel is up 8% year over year, and consumers are taking vacations of 6-10 days, on average.
One of the key travel trends we are seeing is this idea of an “Expertcation.” What this means is that travelers are looking at a very specific passion of theirs and are creating an entire vacation based on it. Some of the more popular types are expertcations focused on food, golf, yoga and spa, but we are even seeing even more niche travel like knitting cruises and vacations focusing on salsa dancing.
We are also seeing that travelers are looking for more cultural experiences and exploring new exotic destinations. The emerging destinations some are taking a first look at include Vietnam, Thailand and South Africa. And we are seeing more exotic cruise destinations, including Australia, New Zealand and China.
What is Amex doing to improve or update its customer loyalty and rewards programs related to travel benefits?
At American Express, we’re committed to transforming travel into an enjoyable and stress-free experience. And with that in mind, we recently introduced a new suite of travel benefits for our Platinum Card members, including a $200 Airline Fee Credit, a 20% Travel Bonus and a Travel App.
o $200 Airline Fee Credit: Every year, American Express will cover up to $200 of incidental airline fees that are charged on the Card member’s enrolled Card on a selected airline. The $200 Airline Fee Credit can apply to fees such as baggage fees, flight change fees, in-flight food and airport lounge day passes.
o 20% Travel Bonus: When Card members use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points to pay for part or all of their travel including airlines, hotels, cruises and vacation packages, they will get 20% of those points credited back to their account.
o American Express® Travel App: This complimentary mobile app will help keep travelers informed with flight alerts, an airport lounge locator, airport guides and more.
Additionally, we just announced that in the coming months, American Express will eliminate foreign transaction fees for U.S. consumer and small business Card members who make international purchases with their Platinum Cards or Centurion Cards.
These new benefits, combined with existing ones, reinforce the Platinum Card as the smart choice for travelers looking to get more value for their money and time all year-round.
What travel services do you find your cardholders request or would find useful that aren’t currently available today?
We work to anticipate the needs of Card members based on the evolving travel landscape — and we develop new benefits accordingly. For example, as I mentioned, we know that international travel is becoming increasingly important to our Cardmembers, and in response we are eliminating foreign currency transaction fees on purchases made oversees. We are also working to add new benefits to enhance the international travel experience, so stay tuned.
What is the Fine Hotels & Resorts Program?
The Fine Hotels & Resorts Program is one of the most popular benefits for Platinum Card members. With this benefit, Card members enjoy not only the best available rates, but also special amenities when staying at any of our 650+ hotel partners around the world. They receive a complimentary room upgrade, daily breakfast for two, a 4:00 p.m. late checkout and a unique amenity that is unique to each property but can include anything from a free round of golf to a spa treatment. Combined, the amenities Card members receive are worth a minimum of $450 per stay.
We know that American Express Travel Services are used by Fortune 500 companies, but what specific programs do you have in place to help small business travelers?
Small business Platinum members have access to all the same benefits of our consumer Card members — including the Membership Rewards® Pay with Points program. From flights and hotels to cruise and vacation packages, Card members can use points to pay for all of part a trip. Unlike booking with frequent-flier miles, the Pay with Points program allows American Express Card members to book any airline, anytime with no blackout dates or seat restrictions when using Pay with Points. We’ve heard from our small business Card members that this benefit is critical for them as they often use it for business travel.
Small business Card members also get automatic discounts on every purchase they make with their cards at OPEN Savings partners, which include brands like Hyatt, AirTran and Courtyard by Marriott.
In addition, Card members can take advantage of American Express Global Business Travel services, which offers small and mid-sized companies access to negotiated discounts on travel fares and rates, an online booking tool, and consulting services to help identify additional ways a company can maximize their return on travel investment.