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AmEx Discusses Upcoming Initiatives

October 24, 2006 By: David Eisen Travel Agent

DENVER–Travel Agent sat down with American Express executives at the American Express U.S. Representative Network Conference, being held in Denver, CO. to discuss new plans, programs and initiatives AmEx is now or will be rolling out in 2007. In a roundtable discussion Monday afternoon, Travel Agent spoke with Lynne Biggar, senior vice president and general manager, Consumer Travel Network; Ellen Bettridge, vice president, U.S. Representative Network; and Audrey Hendley, vice president, marketing and new business development. One of the biggest partner additions was Agent 24, an after-hour emergency, call-in center for business travelers. Agent 24 is set up in three locations currently: Ireland, Denver and Long Island.

Also noted were new partnerships, which will result in further savings for travel agents. "Representatives look for purchasing power," said Bettridge. AmEx now has partnerships with UPS and Staples, which agents can use toward savings. To date, 100 percent of network agents use UPS and on average save $21 per shipment. The Staples deal gives agents 18 percent off office supplies. Another newly forged partnership is with Jet Blue, which can result in 4 percent commissions for travel agents if they book the carrier via an AmEx card. AmEx is facilitating bookings through a tool called Booking Builder, since the airline is a non-GDS carrier.

Another new product for travel agents, launched at the beginning of the network conference, is the AmEx Incentives Saving Card. The card acts like a credit card and can be branded with the travel agency's own logo. The cards can then be passed out to customers before a trip in increments starting at $10, perhaps, as Bettridge said, in lieu of a bottle of wine.

One of the more helpful items for travel agents is AmEx's marketing product search database or MAPS. Launched two years ago, the tool is still being heralded by AmEx. The database is a listing of all special promotions being run by AmEx and is constantly being updated so agents have real-time information, which they can pass along to their customers.

A service that will see the light of day in 2007 is AmEx's Fine Hotels & Resorts (FH&R) direct booking capabilities program. To date, travel agents booking FH&R, reserved for platinum and centurion card members, have to go through the agency services desk, but beginning in 2007, agents will be able to bypass that and book directly via the GDS. Two other initiatives coming in 2007 is a new travel policy for business travelers and e-mail customer satisfaction surveys. Both programs are still in their infancy, so the three reserved comment.

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