American Express, take a look if you travel

10th September 2010  

On this day 47 years ago American Express opened its doors for business for the first time in the UK.

Holders of the newly issued charge cards could use them to settle their bills in nearly 3000 shops, restaurants and car hire companies in the UK. They could also use them to buy travel tickets. The American Express card was also accepted at 83,000 establishments abroad.

Holders of the US version of the card had been able to use them in Europe for several years before, but only if the retailer was happy to accept the ultimate payment in US Dollars.

American Express started as an express mail business in New York in 1850, and has grown to become a diversified global financial services house encompassing a wide range of cash back credit cards, charge cards, and traveller’s cheques.

Rated as the world’s 22nd most valuable brand by Interbrand and BusinessWeek, American Express differs from other card issuers in that it’s ingeniously built its business model taking the lions share of all the fees associated with transactions on its cards where other credit card processers like Visa and MasterCard typically have to split the fees with the merchant or retailers bank as well as the card holders bank or affiliated scheme.

American Express has then shrewdly used this extra slice of the action to provide high quality retail rewards and travel services for its card members, and with clever marketing built an enviable reputation as the card of choice for nigh net worth individuals and international travellers. The American Express Centurion Black Credit Card is reportedly the toughest card in the world to get your hands on.

Amex has also been clever in the way it finances its customer’s accounts. Where most banks and finance houses have struggled trying to borrow money on the wholesale markets in the turbulent financial environment of the last 2 years, American Express has continued to fund a large part of its business from the customer cash sitting in uncashed American Express Travellers Cheques which it issues as part of its international travel services.

So whilst its competitors have diversified into less profitable prepaid cards and 0 balance transfer credit cards to keep their businesses moving forward in recession, American Express continues to maintain it sky high profile, offering quality travel benefits and seemingly limitless travel and retail rewards program.

If you travel on business, their credit cards and services do merit closer inspection. The level of service you get from their Concierge Services, Travel Assistance and Insurance Schemes varies depending on whether you opt for Gold or Platinum Charge Cards but all offer a consistently above average level of assistance.

The new American Express Platinum Cash Back Credit Card also offers a class leading 5% cash back for the first 3 months, as well 0% on purchases (APR) for the first 6 months – all with no annual fee.

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