New Initiatives For American Express

DENVER—American Express announced plans for the upcoming year and revisited events and successes of 2006 at its annual American Express U.S. Representative Network Conference, held this year in Denver, CO.  Ellen Bettridge

Travel Agent was at the conference, which is a conclave of travel agents who are American Express Travel Services affiliates. American Express provides special promotions, packages, tools and deals, which can result in bolstered sales for agents who buy into the network. American Express Travel has more than 2,200 locations around the world, representing a mix of offices wholly owned by American Express and subsidiary representative agencies.

The three-day event at the Colorado Convention Center was kicked off by three of American Express's main principles: Lynne Biggar, senior vice president and general manager, Consumer Travel Network; Ellen Bettridge, vice president, U.S. Representative Network; and Steve Gorga, president of American Express Vacations. Bettridge introduced seven new affiliates: FL-based Fugazy Travel; NY-based The Travel Team; ME-based Hewins Travel; TX-based Arta Travel; MI-based Passageways Travel; CA-based PNR Travel; and VA-based CI Travel.

While the conference is an opportunity for American Express to thank travel agents for their dedication and hard work, it is also a chance to showcase new programs, packages and promotions. One of American Express' biggest initiatives has been fostering partnerships with other recognizable brands that can deliver value to agencies. Agents often complain about high overhead costs, so American Express partnered with UPS and Staples to mitigate these expenditures.

"Representatives look for purchasing power," said American Express's Bettridge. The Staples deal gives agents 18 percent off all office supplies, while UPS gives discounted rates on shipping.

Another partnership with JetBlue is a way for agents to clear commissions from a travel segment that routinely does not offer any. Agents who book travel on JetBlue via an American Express card are eligible for 4 percent commissions.

The company announced an American Express Incentives Saving Card, which acts as a credit card. The cards can be branded with an agency's logo and handed out to clients in increments of $10. Bettridge believes distributing the cards will go far to maintaining strong agent/client rapports.

Another service that will go into effect in 2007, although it's reserved for Platinum and Centurion card members, will ease agents' bookings of American Express's Fine Hotels and Resorts. With the FH&R Direct Booking Capabilities program, agents can book properties directly through their GDS, eschewing the previous requirement to go through American Express' agency services desk.

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