How Far Will Your Credit Card’s Concierge Go to Help You?

For a while now, I’ve had a couple credit cards in my wallet that offer concierge service, but I never used this perk until recently. I’m planning a trip to Japan and am in the process of booking accommodations. While hostels (which are in the business of catering to foreigners) often have English websites, my travel buddy and I were running into problems booking a capsule hotel for our first night.

Finding capsule hotels that have English websites, allow women (not all do) and are by the train station we wanted to be near (to catch an early-morning train) was proving time consuming.concierge service desk

So, I gave World MasterCard concierge a ring.

After taking a few minutes to explain to the concierge what, exactly, a capsule hotel is, I was promised a 24-hour turn-around on properties meeting my specifications. I got an email the next day with a list of properties (including a bunch that hadn’t come up in any of my Google searches). My concierge had contacted the properties, too, to see if they would accept reservations this far out. None of them were, so my concierge and I exchanged a few more emails to narrow my options so she can make the booking for me when the time is right. All in all, I was happy with the experience. While I may have been able to find the same information on my own with a little digging, handing someone else the shovel saved me a lot of time.

Although concierge service was once a perk exclusive to those with higher-tier American Express cards (American Express, a CreditCardForum advertising partner, pioneered this perk), more and more credit cards are offering it, including a slew of low- and no-annual-fee Visa Signature, World MasterCard and World Elite MasterCard products. So, if you’ve never experienced concierge service it can be one of life’s little luxuries to have a personal assistant, even if for a single task. Although it was once a privilege reserved for the moneyed class, these concierge services are free if you have the right card.

Read on for what concierges can (and can’t) do – and for some personal stories shared by credit and travel experts who have put their cards’ concierges to the test.

How concierge service works

Just call the concierge number associated with your card (find it by logging in to your account online or by looking in your benefits packet) and give your request to the concierge who answers the phone. That concierge will oversee your case, although the research and fulfillment of your request may be outsourced to a third party.

The concierge will then call or email you with any follow-up questions, or at the very least contact you to confirm that your request is being handled along with an estimation of when you can expect to have an answer.

Can you pay with your card?

If your request involves a fee (such as a delivery fee) or a purchase (flowers for Mom, for example), can you just tell the concierge, “Put it on my card”? That depends. Visa Signature concierges don’t have access to your credit card account, according to a Visa spokesperson. American Express Platinum concierges do and can make purchases with your approval. As for MasterCard World and World Elite concierges, your card number is captured for the purpose of providing services you request, said Sheryl Sleeva, global lead for MasterCard card benefits — and concierges abide by strict guidelines to protect your data.

What can concierges do?

Concierge services specialize in things you could do yourself, but don’t want to (or don’t have time for). But how far will they go to serve you?

A few years back, on the blog Four Hour Work Week, John Hargrave described his experiments with the Visa Signature concierge, which he tested to its limits. Long story short: The concierge was able to help him procure a giant tub of nacho cheese, complete a crossword puzzle and research trips into space. It was not, however, able to provide him emotional support via daily affirmations.

Want more stories from the trenches? Someone claiming to be a former American Express Platinum concierge has posted her some of her more memorable experiences on Reddit.

There’s no way to concisely list all the things a concierge service can do for you, but I asked for some examples from Visa and MasterCard:

A Visa spokesperson provided the following examples regarding the Visa Signature concierge:

  • Finding a 24-hour pharmacy or a restaurant that’s open late in a city you’re visiting
  • Helping you arrange for an online grocer to deliver to your house
  • Giving you directions
  • Securing last-minute dinner reservations
  • Finding tickets to sold-out concerts

MasterCard’s Sleeva provided the following examples of services the World and World Elite concierge can provide:

  • Getting table reservations at popular restaurants and tickets for in-demand shows
  • Booking travel worldwide (including airfares or more complicated bookings, such as safaris and tours)
  • Tracking down hard-to-find luxury items
  • Booking conference facilities
  • Locating translation services

More specifically, according to Sleeva, MasterCard’s concierge has helped clients with an array of more unusual requests, including sourcing a clown for a child’s birthday, coming up with ideas for a romantic marriage proposal, hunting down a cellphone battery for an international traveler and helping a cardholder perfect a costume for a costume party.

What can’t they do?

If you’re looking for illegal substances or services, no concierge will be able to serve you. American Express, Visa and MasterCard all draw the line at unlawful requests.

Visa’s spokesperson also called out a few services that may be legal, but not do-able, including:

  • Getting you a reservation at a completely sold-out hotel (although the concierge can scope out other nearby properties for you)
  • Doing your job or school work
  • Making personal phone calls or running personal errands
  • Planning your wedding (although the concierge can recommend a wedding planner)

Also keep in mind that, if your request involves going out and buying an item or having something delivered to you, the friendly concierges on the other end of the line won’t be able to do that themselves. But that doesn’t mean they can’t help. Visa Signature concierges can put you in touch with a personal shopper or courier. MasterCard concierges can also help you with “on the ground” services by working with a local delivery partner (your card will be charged for any associated costs), Sleeva said. As for AmEx, a spokesperson confirmed that, while concierges themselves deal mostly with virtual research tasks, they can arrange to hire a delivery service for you.

True concierge stories

Because credit and travel experts are well practiced in flexing their cards’ benefits, I asked around to see if any had used their card’s concierge. Check out their stories – and their thoughts on concierge services.

Gabi Logan, blogger at Reward Expert
One of my favorite ways to use credit card concierge services is when your flight goes sideways. Especially at busy hub airports like Chicago O’Hare. My family lives in California, but I’ve lived on the East Coast for more than a decade, and I’m constantly flying back and forth. It seems like there’s no end to how many times I can get stuck in weather in O’Hare or Houston. It’s always a good sign you’re about to get stuck overnight when the first leg of a cross-country trip sits on the tarmac for so long you know you’ll miss your connection, so I call then, before I’m stuck at the airport with hundreds or thousands of others trying to get rerouted. Then when I arrive at the hub, my flights have already been changed and overnight accommodation arranged if needed, so I can pick up my bag and get on with my day.

Casey Ayers, managing editor at PointsAway

I recently visited Philadelphia for the first time. Before heading out, I sent an email to my American Express Platinum concierge and asked if they had any tips on where we should eat and what to see in the city. I was blown away by the response: a curated list of five restaurants good for various dining situations and tastes, with substantial descriptions of each, and an attached 60-page travel guide filled with things to do and places to see while in town. I’m sure I could have found much of the same information by searching myself, but there’s no doubt I saw a few extra things and saved a bundle of time on planning the trip thanks to the concierge’s assistance.

Keith Nichols, credit card expert with Money Crashers
I once used my credit card’s concierge service to run out and buy a new computer mouse. Mine had broken, and although I did have a backup, it was of rather poor quality. I was working on an assignment with a hard deadline and didn’t have time to run to the store. I had my new mouse within about two hours.

John Ulzheimer, credit expert, president of The Ulzheimer Group, contributor at Mint.com and National Foundation for Credit Counseling
I have used the concierge services offered by my credit cards for dinner reservations. I’m fully capable of doing that myself but I have been either stuck in a court proceeding or on a flight, so my access to the Internet or a phone was cut off for many hours.

Jason Steele, credit card expert at Card Journalist
In the past, these concierge services might have been invaluable in a world without the Internet. Yet today, I imagine most cardholders are better served by finding their own information using Google and their smartphone. Nevertheless, I can imagine some scenarios where these services are still useful. Someone who doesn’t have access to the Internet could rely on these services, and the concierges may have better information about foreign destinations than can be easily found online.

I have tried all of these programs just to get a feel for their capabilities, not because I couldn’t find the information I needed on my own. I found these services to be somewhat inconsistent with the quality varying widely depending on the representative you happen to speak with.

 
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