Why Are American Express's Cardholders Happier Than Bank of America Corp or Wells Fargo's?

The J.D. Power Credit Card Satisfaction Survey found American Express has the most satisfied customers for the seventh consecutive year. What's their secret?

Jun 26, 2014 at 10:36AM

According to J.D. Power's most recent credit card satisfaction survey, American Express (NYSE:AXP) earned the top spot for the seventh consecutive year. So, what is American Express doing right that other major card issuers like Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) could learn from?

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American Express makes sure customers know the benefits
In the survey, one-third of credit card customers said they were unaware of the benefits associated with their card.

Card benefits can mean a variety of things including travel protection, purchase protection, and fraud protection. The study found that those customers who understood the benefits offered tended to be more satisfied with the company issuing the card. In fact, the satisfaction rating was nearly 8% lower for those customers unaware of their benefits.

American Express scored a perfect five out of five in terms of customer satisfaction with their card's benefits and features. Bank of America scored three out of five and Wells Fargo only managed a two, indicating their customers are either unsatisfied or unaware of the benefits and features included with their card.

A quick look at the companies' websites shows the emphasis Amex puts on their benefits. For example, if I go to the American Express Platinum card page, the company clearly breaks down the benefits into categories such as travel, entertainment, and shopping. In fact, thorough descriptions of the benefits take up most of the page.

In contrast, the page for Bank of America's Cash Rewards card makes you click another tab to read about most of the benefits, and doesn't go into nearly as much detail as American Express.

American Express has better and more exclusive reward programs
Not only does American Express offer generous reward programs for airlines, hotels, home improvement stores, and cash back to name a few, but the company has exclusive partnerships with some of the most popular companies in their respective categories.

For example, the only credit cards that will earn you Delta miles and Starwood Hotel's SPG points are issued by Amex. Not only that, but there are additional benefits with each partner that the competition simply can't match. Some other cards like Citi's AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard allow flyers to earn status-qualifying miles, but not as generously as Delta's Amex Reserve card. American Express' threshold is lower ($30,000 vs. $40,000) and the earning possibility per year is higher (30,000 qualification miles vs. 10,000).

American Express' customers feel the costs are worth it
American Express also scored a perfect five for satisfaction with their credit cards' terms. That is, customers feel the interest rates are fair, and the annual fees are reasonable.

This is particularly impressive considering American Express has some of the highest annual fees in the business. The company's well known "Platinum" card has a $450 annual fee, and even the Delta cards can charge up to $450 per year. American Express' highly desired Centurion, or "black card", carries an astronomical $2,500 annual fee.

However, customers feel the rewards and benefits more than justify the costs. Take the Amex Delta Reserve card, which comes with the $450 annual fee mentioned above.

Well, the card entitles the holder to a free checked bag for themselves and up to eight other people on the same reservation, worth $50 per round trip per person. It also includes free access to Delta's Sky Clubs, which normally runs $450 for an annual membership. Additionally, the cardholder receives a free companion certificate good for a first-class or coach ticket when one is purchased. This benefit alone can be worth well over $1,000 if used for a first-class transcontinental flight.

So, in addition to the normal "airline card" benefits like earning miles, the card can be worth thousands of dollars per year to frequent travelers.

In other words, consumers don't necessarily choose American Express' cards for the ability to earn miles or points. The cards have a ton of other benefits that make them so much more than just "rewards cards".

In contrast, not one of Bank of America's credit cards has an annual fee, but customers would be more than happy to pay it if the benefits justified it.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em
Recognizing American Express' loyal and satisfied membership base, Wells Fargo recently decided to partner with Amex to issue two new credit card products, both of which offer a more attractive rewards package than anything else Wells Fargo offers.

This should definitely help Wells meet its goal of putting a Wells Fargo credit card in the wallet of every banking customer.

As far as Bank of America and other card issuers are concerned, they need to find a way to make customers aware and appreciative of their cards' features and partner with other companies to create exclusive partnership cards their customers are happy to pay annual fees for.

Or, the other banks could follow Wells Fargo's lead and partner with American Express...

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Matthew Frankel has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends American Express, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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