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American Express Adds Luxury Tier to Loyalty Program

By Dec 27, 2006

American Express cardholders with several million points burning a hole in their pockets now have a new catalog of rewards to choose from.

AmEx has added an uber-rich level, called First Collection, to its Membership Rewards loyalty program. First Collections’ boutique-style premiums are available only to Platinum and Centurion cardholders, the highest echelon of AmEx customers.

First Collection launched in November with 11 partner brands and has since expanded to 18, with more partners expected to sign on in early 2007. AmEx will mail an inaugural First Collections catalog to qualifying cardholders in February or March.

The collection has about 60 items available, from jewelry and watches to travel and lifestyle accessories. Its most expensive item so far: an 18-karat white gold and diamond bracelet watch from Chopard, worth a cool 93.2 million points. (Yes, there are members with more than 90 million points in their account, but AmEx won’t say how many there are.) The least-expensive item is a Davidoff black leather cigar case for 20,500 points.

That’s far beyond the wider, but more pedestrian collection of goods in the regular Membership Rewards catalog. Those items, from 140 promotional partners, range from magazine subscriptions (at 400 points) to a Tag Heuer watch at 280,000 points. Goods in the 5,000-point range include $50 gift certificates from several retailers and brands.

All Membership Rewards participants can spend vast amounts of points through AmEx’s concierge service. A concierge puts together reward packages by request—usually for one-of-a-kind experiences—then assigns a point value based on the package. One member used 1 million points to rent a private island, for example.

Cardholders get one point for every dollar they charge to their card. Occasional promotions—often with specific retail partners—give double or triple points for a limited time.

First Collection has already distributed some luxury rewards, including a Monarch custom-built billiard table (3.3 million points) and billiards equipment package (110,000 points), an IWC Portuguese chrono-automatic steel watch with black crocodile strap (640,000 points), and a Mikimoto Akoya cultured pearl bracelet (133,000 points).

AmEx supports First Collection with e-mail, bill stuffers and a newsletter targeted to qualifying cardholders. New York-based AmEx handles Membership Rewards in-house, with an assist from several agencies on fulfillment and marketing.

Meanwhile, AmEx continues a double-points promotion and a sweepstakes for its American Express Business cardholders. Through January, cardholders earn extra Membership Points for all charges to the card that exceed the charges they made in October. The points giveaway serves two purposes: to boost card usage among current Membership Rewards business members, and to enroll more business cardholders into the loyalty program.

The accompanying OPEN Business Bonus Sweepstakes will award a $100,000 grand prize. Business cardholders register online or via phone to enter the sweeps, then get an additional entry each time they use their card through January. A random drawing in April will award the $100,000 as a credit to the winner’s account; four first-prize winners each get a $10,000 credit to their accounts. Two thousand winners get a $25 Starbucks gift card. ePrize, Pleasant Ridge, MI, handles the sweeps.

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