Concierge Experiences

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Concierge Experiences

Postby Spunky » Sun Oct 13, 2013 5:13 pm

So I've had a concierge service benefit available for quite a while through my USAA Amex for a while but didn't pay much attention to it until my recent research into rewards and benefits.

Now I don't really see the value in using something like this for the most straightforward scenarios like making typical dinner reservations, especially in my home city. However, I coincidentally had a couple legitimate needs for assistance and decided to try this service out, and after joining AMEX directly even ran a little lightweight comparison exercise to see how the services stack up for needs that are nothing extraordinary or exotic, but go beyond something I could easily do for myself.

What I've learned is that USAA seems to use VIPDesk Services, and I assume AMEX is still using Circles. I was able to get direct email and telephone numbers for both, which makes them tremendously more accessible. So my experiences so far:


1) I was traveling for work and realized our agent had not booked a rental car. I was about to step onto a regional plane and had tried two different car rental agencies, both of which would be closed by the time we landed. I called up the concierge for my USAA card who located the only open rental agency near the destination airport, made my reservation, and called back at a specified time after landing to ensure I'd gotten the vehicle as planned. I could have figured this one out on my own, but this definitely relieved a bit of stress from the situation.

2) Next up, I made two requests to both USAA (VIP Desk) and AMEX, one more routine than the other. The first was to research boutique camping or semi-rugged accommodation recommendations for a vacation, the second to help research a potential relocation overseas in the medium future.

The Amex concierge responded within about a day with an extensive reply. For the relocation he recommended focusing on one area of the specified country, and included an overview of each major region, a cost of living example for running an apartment with two people, and a summary of visa information with links to the US and destination consulates. I found quickly that probably 90% of the content was copied directly from sources like Frommers, etc but it did provide a really good starting point. When pressed on a couple followup questions for details on specific visa and tax considerations, the concierge politely referred me to the provided consulate links. Additionally, the agent provided decent PDF writeups of areas for the vacation, and a list of B&B-style establishments.

VIP Desk took an entirely different route on both points. I was first asked for some more specific details about the vacation, and for the relocation effort was directed to first address the visa question to see whether I would be able to work in the destination country. After giving some more parameters for the holiday, the concierge replied with a timeframe to respond with results. Right on time, she found several flight options (which slightly beat out what I was finding online for comparable itineraries/carriers) and a much more narrowed but in my opinion higher quality set of accommodation options.

3) I made a request only to USAA/VIPDesk to help track down a car part, specifically a car with matching model being parted out or salvaged. I didn't expect to get help finding an essentially used or repurposed item, but a gain someone responded and notified me that they would need a few days to do the research. She returned a list of several used/salvage dealers.

4) Lastly, I was having difficulty making a big ticket purchase from an overseas seller due to time zone differences and language barrier. I asked the AMEX concierge if they could track down any alternative supplier for this specialty item, and if not, could they try to coordinate the sale on my behalf--I was hoping they'd having someone who spoke the language and could call them during their business hours. The concierge let me know that they tried contacting the supplier, but did not specify how or what they said until prompted. He stated that there was no telephone number listed on their site, so they could only use an email form--although I was able to find one myself later. I ended up resolving this on my own... they did seem much more responsive by email at this point, but I was maybe hoping for something a bit more proactive.


As I stated earlier, the value of using concierge for simple daily arrangements seems marginal at best--unless there really is a last minute event I forgot to book for perhaps and need help tracking down something. However, I am very interested now in using this service as a starting point for research projects and to offload a bit of legwork for things requiring a lot of back and forth.

In my assessment of Amex vs USAA/VIP, they interestingly seem to follow a pretty different model. VIP Desk had a longer turnaround time but seems more consultative and patient in their effort. Amex so far seems to prioritize quick response and breadth over depth, at least with their initial reply--and while there were reference links provided for some material and there was nothing directly misleading, it felt open to interpretation that the writeups he provided were more bespoke than they were.

I do agree with previous statements that you need to be very specific with the outcomes that you're looking for; just about any remotely open-ended part of a request has gone essentially ignored. I wonder if they are specifically discouraged from outright saying "no" and may instead gloss over more difficult areas to address.

I've got some other things of interest and do genuinely feel some relief from having access to something like this. One thing I'm wondering is how often to reasonably make requests, and whether requests should be broken up separately or made together. Anyone else have experience or tips in being effective with this service?
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