Opening Remarks – August, 29 2003

Opening Remarks – August, 29 2003

Time to gripe. Time to complain. Time to ask some questions.

Like the readers of this magazine, I spend my time actively participating in these programs. Being the publisher of this magazine does not grant me any special privileges in the kingdom of miles (and that is fine), as I seem to have the same problems that you have with your programs.

One of these problems, which I’m sure you are all familiar with, is proving that I’ve met the requirements for a given promotion.

This month I’m going to publicize a recent problem I’ve encountered, which has put thousands of miles and points at stake. The purpose of exposing this dilemma is not to use the media (in this case, this magazine) to cajole a program into a settlement, but rather to heighten the awareness of the executives in charge of these programs that things aren’t yet working the way they are supposed to.

My particular beef is with Starwood Preferred Guest, though this program is by no means alone in the type of activity I am about to describe.

For years, I have, from an editorial position, highly recommended the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, though, until recently, I had never owned one. The benefits of the card speak for themselves, and appropriately afford much flexibility to those who put one in their wallet.

In March of this year, Starwood ran a promotion on its Web site that offered this card along with a 10,000-point bonus. Bonus points speak to me, and thus I enrolled online via the link from the Web site (there were some technical problems, which were acknowledged by a phone call, but all in all the enrollment went off without a hitch), paying special attention to beat the posted March 31 deadline for the bonus. I received the card within a short time and proceeded to earn a few points from its use.

Later, in May, I noticed that points earned from purchases were showing up on my Starwood account, but that the 10,000-point bonus was missing-in-action. A call to the Starwood service center ended with an apology and a promise that they would look into it. Sounded fair enough to me. After all, this is a Freddie award-winning hotel guest program offering a credit card backed by one of the best names in the business — American Express.

As many of you have probably believed when faced with similar circumstances, I assumed I’d see the anticipated bonus the following month.

Well, June arrived and no bonus. Another call to Starwood was met with no knowledge of the bonus offer and the suggestions that this was, perhaps, a problem with American Express — I was given another number to call.

I’m now a little steamed because my time is valuable and I’m starting to think, “If this is happening to me, might it be reasonable to think it could also be happening to others who might not be paying as close attention and could be losing bonus points as well?” So a call to American Express lasted for approximately 20 minutes, during which I very carefully outlined my concern and all the background on the missing points. At this point, I also realize that I’ve lost interest in this card and it slides to the bottom of my credit card wallet.

July comes shining through and a check of my Starwood account leaves me with the distinct impression that no one is listening — I want my bonus points. I was further put off by the following letter, which arrived from American Express regarding my three efforts of getting this matter corrected:

Dear Randy Petersen:
This letter is regarding your Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express.

We will gladly research your claim; however we are unsure of the nature of your inquiry. Please provide us with a detailed explanation along with any pertinent documentation so we can further investigate your claim.

L. Seiser
Supervisor, Customer Service

Clearly, my voice was not being heard either at Starwood or at American Express. I’ll continue with my efforts to get my bonus points and will likely reach that boiling point that many of you have faced — the hell with it, next card please. For the record, I’ll continue to recommend the card because it’s value and flexibility is very good for a large segment of the credit card point-earning population and I’ll continue on with my plight to get my promised enrollment bonus (As an aside, this promotion was a general online marketing campaign to solicit new card members).

OK, that’s the example. Now, here’s a question to Starwood, American Express, United, American, Delta, Marriott, Hilton and the many other programs — In this day and age of online marketing, how have you, your staff and more importantly, your program partners, revised your customer service so that members get the credit they deserve for responding to your marketing efforts? As this example clearly illustrates, the world of your promotions is not perfect. I’d be interested in hearing from some of you.

And one last thing — it seems whenever I contact a program to address a problem, their first reaction is almost always defensive. Evidently they have all been highly trained to suggest the member has not properly followed the directions and instructions. Of course, the customer service reps don’t know me from Adam, but I can proudly say that if anyone has spent the time to understand the fine print of these programs, it’s me.

P.S. As we mark the anniversary of September 11, let me close by repeating the words I’ve come to fly by, words that will never be taken from my memory — “We Will Remember You.”

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