Saturday, June 13, 2009

Finding rewards cards with local customer support

By Randy Petersen

Cashing In
Cashing In, Randy Petersen
Randy Petersen is editor and publisher of Inside Flyer, which is considered the leading publication in the world about frequent traveler programs. At, he writes Cashing In, a weekly feature in which he answers readers' questions about credit cards rewards programs.

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Question for the expert

Dear Cashing In,
I am searching for a great travel rewards credit card that has customer support based in the United States. I have great credit, and need a high balance. I think I'd prefer miles, but don't fully understand the points system. Thanks. -- Amy

Answer for the expert

Dear Amy,
There has certainly been a number of concerns from various credit cardholders over the past few years in the area of global customer support. As a result, some of those companies are now rethinking their customer support deployment. In fact, just recently, Delta canceled its contract for offshore customer support following continued negative customer feedback.

Many companies started outsourcing customer support calls to other countries, citing the economic challenges after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Other industries, notably technology companies, have tried with spotty success to rely on outsourced customer support for many years. You are not alone in making such a request, and in this case, requiring it. There's no question that customer support outsourcing is a volatile issue, and while it can touch upon social, economic and labor issues, it really is more often an issue of just knowledgeable customer service.

Based on your question, the first travel rewards credit card program that popped into my mind to recommend to you is the American Express Membership Rewards program. For whatever reason, I seldom hear many complaints about the level of customer support for this credit card and its ensuing travel rewards program. Based on the experience of thousands of program members, most -- if not all -- of the customer support is based in the United States.

American Express is certainly a friend to those with great credit since its cardholders are often given higher credit lines. So, it seems to be a perfect fit. Plus, you might be aware that you can move upward in their credit card offerings (Gold Card to Platinum Card to the Centurion or Black Card) and still retain the same consistent benefits of the membership rewards program.

In case you are wondering why I would recommend the membership rewards program versus a mileage-based or other travel rewards card, let me explain. I want to recommend a program where you would be exposed to various options of miles and points. While there are often distinct advantages of credit cards directly attached to an airline (a miles-based program), I thought it best to provide you with a program that will allow you to learn what types of rewards you actually want and need from a travel rewards program.

I often see members get in the wrong program because they haven't had enough experience and time to really decide what it is they want. If there is one thing that the AmEx Membership Rewards program can do for you is to highlight and offer you just enough choices for you to learn what it is you want. Just like you explained how you were looking for a travel rewards credit card with domestic customer support and high credit limit, I think that after a year with this rewards program, you can then seek additional advice because by then you should know exactly what you want and enjoy from travel rewards.

Hope this makes sense and to learn more, visit American Express.

Update: Chase just announced a new comprehensive miles and points program called Ultimate Rewards. As with any new program, it will take some time to determine the best use of value, and while it is certainly positioned as a worthy competitor of Membership Rewards, there's nothing in my advice that would cost you any newfound travel rewards. Once you begin to feel a bit more comfortable with miles versus points versus personal options, we will revisit.