With the rise in loyalty programmes removing benefits with no advanced warning, it would seem that when American Express Platinum Charge Card removed Hilton Gold with no notice in early 2013, they thought it would slip through with only minor hitches. Except one of my readers decided to take things further than most.
The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) is a UK Government initiative to allow consumers to start an arbitration proceeding against any financial institution. It is free to the consumer to use, as the £500 arbitration fee is borne by the financial institution being investigated, in this case American Express.
For those who submitted complaints to American Express directly, they were offered between 1 000 – 10 000 Membership Rewards points as compensation. I was offered 3 000, which I appealed. My offer was raised to 5 000 and I accepted that. I already had Hilton Gold so this was pure profit for me.
My reader was not satisfied with the outcome of the initial complaint. It seems like there was not even any points on offer going by the look of the response from Amex Customer service in March 2013:
You are unhappy that the Hilton HHonors Gold Membership benefit has been withdrawn for The American Express Platinum Charge Card.
Details of my investigation into your complaint
The American Express Platinum partnership with Hilton Worldwide was available through to 31st December 2012. At the end of this period the partnership ceased, and so the benefit has been withdrawn. [more text about how it would have been valid had my reader applied before 31st December]
On the basis of the information provided, and the results of my investigation, a final conclusion has been reached, While I appreciate your disappointment, our Platinum partnership with Hilton Worldwide was only available through to 31st December 2012, As the partnership has now ceased American Express has not acted incorrectly by no longer offering enrolment into this benefit.
…[3 paragraphs about the other benefits of the card]…
I am very sorry that you have had cause to complain but trust you understand the reasons why your complaint has not been upheld.
Executive Customer Relations Consultant
With the first step over, which is to complain directly to the supplier, proceedings can be brought to the FOS. The complaint was sent in April 2013, and one year later in April 2014, here came the decision from the Ombudsman.
I would expect AMEX to have provided you with reasonable notice, before it removed the Hilton HHonors benefit. AMEX has not said that it sent correspondence to you notifying you of the benefit removal. It has also not provided any evidence, such as a letter (and confirmation it was sent), to show that reasonable notice was provided.
You have said that you intended to use the benefit during 2013, but you didn’t register sooner because the membership would only last for 12 months.
With this in mind, I am satisfied that you would have registered for this benefit before the end of December 2012 – had you been given reasonable notice that it was being removed.
If you had done this, the membership would have been in place until December 2013 and the benefits would have been available to you.
In summary, I do not think AMEX acted fairly as it did not provide reasonable notice that the Hilton HHonors benefit would be removed.
For the reasons explained above, I confirmed to AMEX that I felt this complaint should succeed. AMEX has explained that you cannot be given the Hilton HHonors benefit now, so I have considered what compensation is instead appropriate. I recommended that AMEX should:
- Pay £150 to you to recognise the distress and inconvenience it caused by removing the benefit, without providing reasonable notice to you.
AMEX has agreed with my conclusions and is therefore willing to pay £150 to you, in full and final settlement of your complaint.
A great result for my reader and reward for their tenacity. Combined with the all the fees, this has cost Amex at least £650 plus internal staff overheads. Now we have this precedent we can threaten this kind of action against them should they not announce any changes in the future.
Given it's been over a year since the benefit was withdrawn, I imagine it is too late to submit new complaints about the same problem, but it goes to show you can get your own back on companies when things like this happen.