Why American Express Lost Our Business (and United too)

Why American Express Lost Our Business (and United too)

This blog was never a place to just air grievances. And I promise that is not what we have become. As I slip into my new groove, this blog and Kosher, She Eats will get back on track. However, I have found that this is the best way to broadcast a large amount of information. So … here is the letter my husband sent to American Express and why AmEx lost our business. Names and amounts have been redacted to protect all involved.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to inform you that, after spending more than $XXX on my SPG American Express card last year and using it nearly exclusively for many years, I will no longer be using the card. The intention of this letter is to explain why I’ve decided to give all of my business to Visa instead.   Over the course of several months, I’ve tried repeatedly to get an answer about a disputed charge and the customer service I’ve received was awful.  First, I initiated the dispute over the phone, with nonsensical results.  When I called back again, the agent I spoke with suggested that I include a letter explaining the situation.  I did just as she suggested and even included supporting documentation.  To keep myself organized, I will first incorporate that entire letter sent on 10/11/2013 via fax:

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to provide an explanation for a $XX charge from United Airlines that I am contesting as well as supporting documentation.  This is actually my second time contesting the charge.  On my first attempt, I was told that I would be contacted by American Express before any resolution.  Instead I got a resolution letter that doesn’t really address the issue, more on that below.  I understand that you only need the last five digits of my account number (xxxxx) in order to link this letter to the contested charge.

My issue is that I do not believe I authorized payment for the flight that United is trying to charge to my card.  My wife and I purchased our tickets with the specific purpose of attending two weddings, in two states, in two days.  Therefore it was an imperative that our return flight was early, so that we wouldn’t miss the second day’s events.  When we booked our ticket, we are absolutely positive that we booked a morning flight.  A few weeks before our trip, we received an itinerary change from United that has us booked on an evening return flight.  I immediately called United and explained that this must be a mistake, but the agent told me that my claim was a literal impossibility.  I found the original email we received from United after booking the ticket, and very atypically, it only showed dates and departure/arrival cities – no flight number, no flight times.  We would have noticed this omission right away, but this is the first I’ve heard of a confirmation email not actually confirming a clear flight.  And in any case, the information in the email was accurate for the morning flight that we booked.  United’s representative told us the following: 1) It was impossible that we received the truncated confirmation email from united (attached to this letter) that we claimed.  When we offered to send him the email for review, he refused. 2)  Any complaint would have to be submitted online and a resolution would only come weeks later.   He said that we may not even get onto the flight we wanted at that point, since the flight may full by then.  3) We would have to spend hundreds of dollars rebooking the flights back to our original choice if we didn’t want to risk the multi-week complaint process.  4) Since I authorized United to charge my card, it doesn’t matter that they gave me the wrong flight and I likely made the mistake anyways.  I would have had to make this mistake twice, since my wife’s flight was booked with points in a separate transaction.

United never sent us the incorrect itinerary on the day we purchased the tickets.  Had they sent the email, I could have canceled right away without penalty.   Also, bear in mind, United refused to fix the problem in time for us to book the replacement flight.  We were left with no choice, so we contested the charge and booked another flight on a competing airline.  I was doubly confused after I read American Express’ first reply letter which claimed that the charge was not cancelled by United.  I am not even sure what that means, especially in light on what I was told over the phone by United’s representative.   In any case, we took another flight, I did not authorize United to charge us for an evening flight and I don’t want credit because United had no right to charge me for the wrong flight.

The attachments to this fax are the following:
1)    
United’s original truncated itinerary
2)    
United’s flight change email
3)    
The United agent sent us another email while on the phone, claiming that he had a record showing that we were in fact sent this itinerary the day of the purchase.  I do not believe we received this email and, as such, I believe United has no record demonstrating their position.

I would like for American Express to contact me about this issue at my mobile number xxx-xxx-xxxx.   I realize my problem is atypical and may benefit from some explanation over the phone.

Thank you for your time, Daniel Haykin

American Express never contacted me as I requested, and over the course of the next few weeks I disputed the charge multiple times with contradictory and irrelevant replies.  Additionally, on my Amex statement, where there are usually flight numbers, dates, times, and airport, it was suspiciously blank. My wife and I looked at other flights we purchased with our Amex and those details were always there, except in this case.

As mentioned in the original letter, American Express first told me to call United’s customer service to book a replacement flight.  This was particularly curious, since United told me I would sacrifice my flight during my original conversation.  Even stranger, when I resubmitted the exact same dispute again, your reply changed to “not cancelled and no value status.”  Why the change?  Did I ask one too many times?  I suppose so, because I kept getting similar letters every time I submitted my info.  And why would I repeat the same thing over-and-over expecting different results, am I insane?  No, but your customer service told me to resubmit my claim each time, making me borderline nuts.

After each denial, I called Amex to explain that the central issue was never dealt with.  United booked me on the wrong flight, sent me a strange truncated itinerary (taking away my ability to cancel or change my flight without penalty), and told me that my story couldn’t possibly be true.  I provided those very emails as proof to American Express, time and again.  On occasions, the customer service reps ‘could not see’ any supporting documentation, despite the fact that I faxed it to the number given.  They said try again, and so I did.  I would call back and pages would be missing again, they said upload them online, and so I did.  Sometimes the replies would include an electronic imagine of United’s credit card system, showing that my card was charged for the wrong flight.  As if anyone was questioning that they charged my card.  That was the whole point!  What in the world does that prove?  Either way, why will no one address the letter I keep sending you over and over, and why won’t anyone call me back?  Maybe I wasn’t talking to the right person.  Sometime in December, I asked for a supervisor.

I was transferred to XXX (#xxxx) and since then, in fits and starts, I’ve dialogued with her on this issue.  The first time we spoke, I spent more than an hour, in total, explaining the situation.   When we got disconnected, she called me back to make sure she understood the issue fully.  Admittedly, XXX seemed bright, polite and very competent on our call.  I was reassured.  Finally Amex was going to take care of me; I was a valued customer!  She told me, from my best recollection, that she would contact me no later than the following Thursday.  That day came and went.  I waited a few more days, called the supervisor line again, and through another rep, left XXX a message that I would like her to call me back, as promised.  After a few days, XXX did call back and apologized, without giving a reason for not calling.  She said she needed more time, and again, gave me a firm date for her reply.  That day also came and went with no call-back.  Yet again, after a few days, I called the supervisor line.   This time I didn’t hide my frustration.  I told the rep that I am beginning to feel disrespected.

Let’s put aside that the revenue American Express receives from my card is sizable.  Isn’t it just rude to waste so much of my time?   Does your company actually want my business?   The representative expressed regret and said they would pass the message along to XXX and her boss.  I heard from XXX a few days later.  She apologized that she repeatedly did not call me back, she said she made a mistake and she wanted to buy us dinner with a $50 credit to my card.  But she also informed me that my dispute was not valid because of some irrelevant detail of my original conversations with an agent months ago.  I was floored, she didn’t actually look into the question of the email/itinerary at all, despite keeping me waiting.  At this point, I had been disputing the same charge, with the same question, with all the same documentation for months and still no clear answer.  XXX apologize and asked for more time, to which I agreed with a new caveat.  I was done calling Amex and wasting my time stuck in your telephonic customer service horror show.

I informed XXX that if she was not willing to help me, I would stop using my American Express and start a letter writing campaign to help the company understand why I took this action.  She told me that she understood and would call back, and did so a few days later.  She had been talking about my issue with her boss.  They decided, on an open-ended basis, to reopen my dispute and force United to answer my claims.  The dispute would not go away unless one of the two following scenarios was satisfied: 1) United produces an actual email itinerary on the day of purchase as they claimed that they sent, or 2) explain why they are allowed to book me on the wrong flight, not send an itinerary and then not fix their mistake.  XXX asked for me to send another piece of documentation, which I did.  She promised she would be in contact with me with the resolution.  Hallelujah, exactly what I wanted from the beginning.   Weeks later I noticed the dispute disappeared from the Amex website and I got a form letter from American Express again, and no surprise, I never heard from XXX.  Same letter as countless times before with an addition, United actually provided the email they sent me.  This is progress.  And you’ll never guess what they sent your company – the exact email they claimed could not exist!  Why was that sufficient for you to close the dispute?  Doesn’t that prove what I’ve said all along?  United circled things on the email and drew arrows, did that confuse you somehow?  We may never know.

I called the supervisor line yet again, this time to get XXX’s ID number for this letter.  The representative I spoke with sounded very concerned when she heard my story, she told me XXX was a longtime employee and asked that I give her some time to contact XXX and her manager.  I agreed to wait until Monday (2/24/14), which no surprise, came and went with no call back.   Perhaps the perfect final punch line to this awful joke:  I just checked my Amex statement, XXX didn’t actually give us the $50 credit for forgetting to call us back like she promised.

Having failed through endless calling, I will instead try to get your company’s attention by sending this letter and making it as public as possible.  You must understand how much I loved using your card.  At every opportunity, I made sure to tell friends and acquaintances alike how much I value my SPG Amex card.  With similar fervor, I will publicize why this is no longer the case.  My wife is a social media specialist by trade, I’m sure she will help with this effort.  To tell you the truth, I do feel disrespected by your company.  As I’ve told your ‘supervisor’ line now multiple times, I am willing to reconsider only when your company reaches out to me, but I do not intend on calling you on this subject again.  I may not be an important customer to American Express, but I’m sure Visa will like my business.

Daniel Haykin

What it doesn’t say in this letter is how HORRIBLY we were treated by United Airlines as well. Including but not limited to one of their reps legit hanging up the phone on me after spending an hour trying to fix this. Thus, American Express and United are on our NO GO list from now on.

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