AmEx ate my miles!

by Christopher Elliott on May 25, 2006

Question: American Express offered to upgrade my charge card to a corporate card more than a year ago. But when it did, it lost all of my frequent flier miles.

I found out about the missing miles recently when I went to cash them in for my honeymoon. When I told American Express what had happened, they asked me to file a claim in writing. I wrote them, and they sent me a form letter that showed they had not even read my letter.

I wrote them again, and they sent me the exact same letter again. Every time I call, they say the department that handles this is only reachable by mail. I’m sickened that American Express is completely unreachable.

I’ve called every phone number I could find. I’ve sent in all the records — old card and new card — showing that I was in a mileage program. I just keep getting the same response. Please help me!

– Michael Levine, Los Angeles

Answer: I contacted American Express on your behalf to see if we could find out where your missing miles went.

According to Desiree Fish, a spokeswoman for the company, someone at American Express finally read one of your letters. She says the company was “working on resolving [the] case when you got to me.”

At any rate, after sharing the details of your phantom miles, Fish explained the problem.

“When a card member transfers from one card to another, they can continue to maintain enrollment in the American Express Membership Rewards program and transfer their points,” she says. “There was a system error that showed that this card member was no longer enrolled in the program, and that was inaccurate.”

American Express not only credited your account, but it also threw in an extra 60,000 points for the inconvenience.

I’m impressed by American Express’s generosity. Considering the runaround it gave you and the hassle of losing your miles, I think it took appropriate steps to make amends.

It goes without saying that American Express should consider taking a hard look at its troubleshooting procedures. The fact that it forces its customers to file grievances by mail suggests that it’s about a decade behind the times. Not only should it accept customer complaints electronically, but it should also offer a phone number where service agents can field inquiries — and act to fix them quickly.

Your mistake was waiting months before checking the status of your miles. You should always read your charge card statements and check your mileage balance online, because this certainly isn’t the first time someone’s miles have been misplaced. By waiting nearly a year to file a complaint with your charge card company, you made it difficult to get an immediate response. American Express had to search through old records to pinpoint the problem. Your timing may have also left the company with the impression that this was a low priority.

Editor’s note: We’re happy to report that Christopher Elliott’s column, “The Travel Troubleshooter,” is now nationally syndicated. (Here’s the news release.) This column, “AmEx Ate My Miles!” is a rerun of a column first published in 2002. Next week, we’ll begin picking up the new syndicated Travel Troubleshooter feature. Congratulations, Chris!

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