Whither and Wither, Amex

I got a postcard from American Express today, telling me that all I need to do to is call a toll free number and they will give me double “points” on all my gas and grocery purchases. (Points can be turned into miles on airlines and that sort of thing.) But rather than call the number, I threw the postcard away.

Why? Because I don’t trust American Express. They fooled me a bunch of times on things, and I gave up on them.

For instance, they once sent a long letter explaining that they were giving me a free, really nice, leather-bound calendar. Then, in the tiniest of print on the back of the envelope in a place I really wasn’t supposed to look, they informed me that if I accepted the free gift, I would receive another calendar every year for something like forty dollars, and that to cancel I would need to send a letter to a special address.

Another time, they sent me a letter explaining that I had been subscribed as I requested (which I hadn’t) in some type of revolving credit account. I didn’t even understand what the credit account was. The letter was signed (stamped) by a head of customer care who offered to answer any questions I might have. All I had to do was call him at the number provided. I did, twice. Waited 45 minutes each time, and gave up. I sent a letter addressed to him instead, to the address on the envelope, kindly asking for any information about what I was enrolled in. Never heard back.

There are a bunch more, but you get the point. I signed up with American Express when I was traveling a lot, earning a lot, and felt I had the two hundred bucks to spare for access to all the airport lounges. Now, I don’t.

Of course, I wouldn’t have thought to have this conversation with myself after a dozen or more years “membership” had American Express not foolishly exploited their real relationship with me to sell silly things like calendars, and to do so in a shady manner. Or kept sending me letters that looked like bills just to get me to open them, when they were actually offers for other unrelated products. It’s not nice to leverage a relationship in that way.

There’s a lesson in this for businesses of all kinds: do really shitty things and set your consumers free.

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