The Lounge

We all get them-the credit card applications. The better credit you have, the more letters you get in the mail, proposing that you should get one more credit card.

Funny thing is that many of those cards advertise themselves as a way to buy more, as if you’d never have to pay back anything. I can’t stop being amazed at the promises they make, as if they were little magic wands.

And when you try to find out how much it would actually cost to use the cards, you find microscopic, dense, text with all kinds of legal mumbo-jumbo. In the end, it usually says that the card company can change any of part of the cardholder agreement whenever they want to. And you can usually say goodbye to that bold introductory rate pretty much as soon as you get the card.

Many fall into the credit card trap and end up with debt on their back and nothing to show for it except exorbitant interest rates and sky-high penalties when banks “forget” to apply payment to the balance. A big part of this industry is really nothing but a legalized scam.

No wonder that there is not a single industry with more consumer complaints lodged against them than the credit card companies.

But sometimes the credit card companies do something really unexpected.

Yesterday it was American Express, which really surprised me. As I walked though the local shopping mall I suddenly discovered a fancy new café. Only it wasn’t a café, it was an American Express Lounge. I’d never seen anything like that, except for the business class lounges at airports where the wealthy travelers with expense accounts separate themselves from the poor peasants who have to pay for their own ticket.

In fact, this new facility looked just like a very exclusive airline lounge.

So I asked what was going on, and the gentleman charged with admitting only American Express card holders informed me that American Express wanted to “give something back to their customers.”

Of course, I’ve never met a single corporation who didn’t want something in return for “giving something” to their customer.

But as I took a tour of this secluded oasis, free of people who hadn’t had the foresight and wherewithal to get an AmEx card, I had to admit that this concept was pretty smart. I mean, I know all those card companies waste endless amounts of money on ads, commercials, and other things that give me no pleasure whatsoever.

But here, in an attempt to make the AmEx card really cool, they offered a free lounge, with designer furniture, coffee, and other goodies.

I think such an initiative should be encouraged.

Imagine if we could get more corporations to do the same thing? Instead of advertising and direct mail, you’d have the Chrysler Lounge, the Mars Chocolate Bar, the Citigroup Funplex, and so on. All of them free for their customers.

That would be marketing which actually returned some value to their customers.

Of course, American Express offers other rewards as well. If I spend a minimum of $250,000 per year I may be offered a Centurion card, made of hand-crafted titanium, which reportedly makes it feel more solid than a conventional “plastic” card. Allegedly it offers a desirable “plunk-factor” when dropped onto a desk.

I can’t imagine every reaching such a spending level, so I guess I’ll have to get used to the thought of continuing to use plastic. At least now I’m welcome in my own private lounge.

Then again, I can’t help being reminded by Groucho Marx’s famous words: “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”

Peter Rost, M.D., is a former Vice President of Pfizer. He became well known in 2004 when he emerged as the first drug company executive to speak out in favor of reimportation of drugs. He is the author of “The Whistleblower, Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman.” See: http://the-whistleblower-by-peter-rost.blogspot.com/


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