Amex cuts concierge service after review
End of personal assistance for Platinum credit card customers leaves issuer with less scope to differentiate itself from its bigger rivals
George Chen and Kwong Man-ki
American Express is partially withdrawing the concierge service for high-end clients that it launched to mark itself out as a classier option than rivals Visa and MasterCard.
In a recent letter to its Platinum credit card holders, Amex said its "concierge service from restaurant referrals and reservations to flower delivery will be ceased with effect from May 1, 2013".
Amex did not provide any particular reason for suspending the service, linked to what it describes on its website as the "most popular" card in Hong Kong.
"In Hong Kong, we review the features of our card products from time to time with an aim to provide the most suitable benefits and services which meet the lifestyles and changing needs of our card members," said Priscilla Wat, an Amex spokeswoman in Hong Kong, in an e-mailed response to an inquiry from the South China Morning Post.
The suspension of the concierge service will affect only Amex's Platinum credit card holders rather than all higher-level card holders such as those who have Amex's Centurion card, Wat said.
Widely known as the "Amex black card", the Centurion card is popular among senior finance-sector executives.
The concierge service has been one of the most actively promoted and vital marketing weapons in Amex's arsenal when it comes to attracting new clients. It allowed card holders to call a direct line to arrange anything from tickets to cultural events to visiting a spa.
The concierge service did not entail any additional charges for its users, as its costs were factored into the Platinum credit card's annual fee of HK$1,600.
In Hong Kong, to apply for a Platinum credit card, a person must have a minimum annual salary of HK$300,000.
"It is disappointing," said one American Express card holder, a local financial professional who chose to be identified by just his surname, Wong. "But if American Express wants to cut its services, will it also cut its annual fee? That would be only fair."
Industry watchers see the suspension of the special service as a cost-cutting move, since running a 24-hour customer service call centre comes at some expense.
However, Wat said: "The discontinuation of the concierge service for Platinum credit card has no impact on our staffing needs."
Many retailers and restaurants in Hong Kong do not accept American Express cards, although most local merchants take Visa and MasterCard. Amex has been trying to capture market share from them by offering various value-added features such as the concierge service.