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The explosion of premium credit cards in the last few years, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Prestige, has made a number of luxury travel perks readily available to most consumers. For example, it’s rare to see a high-end credit card these days that doesn’t offer some form of a Priority Pass lounge membership and a travel or airline credit worth hundreds of dollars.
All three of these major premium credit cards also offer a concierge service to their cardholders. These services are provided by third party companies and not by the issuers themselves, so the responsiveness and quality of the results can vary. We decided to put them to the test and see which concierge service was best equipped to handle your needs.
Creating the Perfect Concierge Test
Designing the right “experiment” was tricky here. In the interest of not wasting everyone’s time, I didn’t want to make three identical restaurant reservations and then cancel or no-show all of them. I also had a strong hunch that, outside of the fanciest restaurants in the country, there wouldn’t be much variation in how well these concierges could lock down a reservation for me. The same thing goes for travel itineraries — unless you’re going to a remote island in a far corner of the world, all concierges should have access to the same flight options for you.
So I needed a request that would give each concierge a chance to show some creativity. As luck would have it, my own laziness created the perfect opening. I just left for a year abroad in Shanghai, and I flew out on EVA Air’s phenomenal business class. My itinerary included a 12-hour layover in Taipei (TPE) and I was 100% committed to getting out of the airport and exploring the city a bit.
But between graduating and packing for my move, I’d completely forgotten to plan out my layover, so I called the Chase, Amex and Citi concierges roughly 48 hours before departure and asked them for help with four relatively simple questions:
- Where can I store my luggage (carry-on and backpack) at the Taipei airport?
- What is the cheapest and easiest way to get into the city?
- Where would you recommend I eat in order to experience authentic and local cuisine?
- What are the “must sees” or “must dos” to make sure I get the most out of my 12 hours?
Some of the concierges subdivided this request into two parts. For example, I received one email from Amex with luggage storage information and another with a more complete city guide. While I ended up getting a lot of useful information for my trip, each of the three responses had some serious pluses and minuses to be aware of.
First, the table below shows the amount of time it took to get through to each concierge, from the time I dialed the phone number to the time my account had been authenticated and I was speaking to a live human. You can also reach the Amex Platinum concierge by chatting them through the Amex app — while this is great for simple requests like restaurant reservations, I wanted to speak to a human for a more complicated request.
|Trial #1||Trial #2|
|The Platinum Card from American Express||3 minutes, 57 seconds||1 minute, 9 seconds|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||1 minute, 23 seconds||1 minute, 37 seconds|
|Citi Prestige||3 minutes, 10 seconds||2 minutes, 53 seconds|
Most of the hold times I experienced were due to lengthy automated menus or having to type in my entire 16-digit card number. Only Citi actually made me hold for the next available representative. As you can see, there isn’t much variation here, certainly not enough to choose one concierge service over another.
Luggage Storage in Taipei
While I wanted to be overprepared for this trip, it turns out that even after a 15-hour flight, the signs for luggage storage at the Taipei airport were impossible to miss. Yet surprisingly enough, none of the concierges got this request quite right. Citi and Chase linked me to the following page from the airport website:
My girlfriend and I had two backpacks and two carry-ons to store, and we only needed them stored for roughly eight hours. A service that charges by piece and weight wasn’t right for us, and there was no reason to pay for a full 24 hours.
On the other hand, Amex sent me a link to the following page, which displayed the correct pricing for the luggage lockers we ended up using, as well as a terminal map. Unfortunately, the page was in Mandarin and my computer wasn’t able to translate it:
Although not directly related to luggage storage, Amex gave me one other useful piece of information for my time at the airport. TPE has five Priority Pass lounges spread across two terminals, lounges I’d have access to with all three of these premium credit cards. Amex included a link to the location and hours of all five lounges to help me further maximize my comfort at the airport.
Winner: If the airport signage hadn’t been so clear, this incomplete information could have ruined our trip before it even started. I give a slight edge to Amex for sending me the most relevant storage option, even if it was in the wrong language. Although I ended up using the EVA Air Business lounge instead of a Priority Pass one, I also really appreciated Amex telling me which lounges I could access.
While Amex won the first category, it dropped the ball on this one. When I went through the packet of information the Amex Concierge sent me, I noticed it made absolutely no mention of public transit or advice on getting around the city. Given that that was 25% of my request, it felt like a glaring omission.
On the other hand, Citi gave me the short and sweet description of exactly what I needed. The Citi concierge told me the cost and time of a train into Taipei City, as well as suggesting I take the purple express train instead of the slower blue commuter one. Nothing fancy, but highly practical information.
Chase’s response was a bit confusing, and I didn’t appreciate how heavily they relied on external links to provide me information.
I asked explicitly for help getting downtown from the airport, and while that information was given in one of these links, it was buried among other useless stuff and hard to find if you didn’t already know what to look for. The link next to “air” brought me to a Lonely Planet article about flight deals to Taipei, as if that would somehow help me on my layover after I was already there.
Winner: It felt like Citi was the only one to listen to what I was actually asking for. Public transit is not a complex request, and I appreciated that the Citi concierge gave me that information in a clear and concise manner.
As jet lag caught up with us, we ended up not trying any of the recommended restaurants, instead stopping in to a breakfast place that looked wildly popular with locals. That being said, there was some serious variation in the quality of responses I received from each concierge.
First, Chase gave me the following three recommendations for lunch:
While I obviously can’t comment on the quality of restaurants I didn’t eat at, I’ve been to Din Tai Fung before and was a little bit disappointed to see it on the list. While the food is delicious and the chain was founded in Taiwan, there are now branches all over Asia, so this is hardly the type of hidden gem I was hoping to find. A cursory Google search of “best food in Taiwan” would have yielded this exact same result. To me, it’s like telling a tourist in Japan that Ippudo Ramen is the best representation of local cuisine, or that if you’re visiting the US for the first time, you must eat at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse.
Amex was the only concierge service not to offer specific restaurant recommendations. Rather, they suggested areas of the city like Daxi Old Street, where I could wander around and find good food options. The irony is that my phone call with Chase was much longer and more detailed, and I specifically requested general recommendations like this that would allow me to find my own path. My call with Amex lasted no more than two minutes, and I could see this type of generic response not working well for many travelers.
Finally, Citi gave me three dining recommendations as well, and prefaced them with an extensive introduction to Taiwanese dining, including some advice that rings true around the world (emphasis added):
“It is difficult to recommend specific restaurants, partly because they open and close so quickly and also because they tend to go up and down in popularity. Traditional restaurants sell standard Chinese fare, although it should be pointed out that Chinese food in Taiwan is different from that in the West. Don’t expect the majority of restaurant staff to speak English; take a guidebook with items written in Chinese. Don’t leave Taipei without sampling food from the market vendors. There are strict health regulations in place, but that does not mean the food will always be fresh. If a lot of people are eating at a stall, it indicates the turnover is fast and the food is likely to be fresh.
Also, make sure you have an idea of what the meal costs before ordering. Generally when a menu is presented without prices, the prices are high. Finally, avoid ordering items made from exotic animals. A number of indigenous animals, including the pangolin (also called the scaly anteater), are being hunted to extinction for restaurant tables. Shark-fin soup should also be avoided.”
Winner: An authentic local experience requires more than just finding the right restaurants. You also have to understand the culture that both spawned them and dictates how they operate. Citi was the only concierge service to blend advice with information, something which I really appreciated.
Even though the Chase concierge I spoke with spent a good 15 minutes asking me questions about my trip in order to provide the best recommendations possible, the information I received from them was impersonal and, at times, downright wrong. Their PDF included one page each for markets, temples, and must-see entertainment options. The very first item was the Dongmen Market, one of the spots I actually did make it to.
Once again, the use of outside links here felt inexcusably lazy, and when I clicked on the link for the Dongmen Market, it brought me to a page for a market of the same name… located in Shenzhen (in mainland China). Even ignoring the political ramifications of that mistake, the information is completely useless to me. Similarly, a night market does me no good as I told the concierge (several times) that my flight to Shanghai departed at 4:30 pm, long before the markets would be open. After such a long call, I was hoping for a personalized response, but I received what felt like a form email.
Citi once again kept things short and sweet, with a simple list of 3-4 sights to see. All of them, such as Taipei 101, the world’s former tallest building, could have been found with a quick Google search, so I didn’t really see the added value here. That said, at least the Citi concierge didn’t get anything wrong.
Amex completely blew me away here, with a 23-page city guide that covered everything from history to museums, gardens to hikes and nightlife to day trips. There was absolutely too much information here, but I loved it, as it allowed me to really explore and compare different options and visualize the different types of trips I could have, depending on what mood I was in and how the weather held up.
Winner: Amex’s information overload absolutely requires you to put in more work, as you’re not being spoon fed an itinerary, but it also did the most to improve our time on the ground.
Each of these three concierge services offered something that the others did not, so if you hold multiple premium credit cards and have access to multiple concierges, I’d encourage you to utilize them all. While it’s easy to pick a winner for individual categories, it’s harder to do so overall. I’d say the overlap of information, advice and recommendations I received from all three were far better than any one service on its own.
Personally, I’ll certainly be asking Amex for their massive city guides before any future trips as a way to supplement my own research, and I’ll be asking Citi to handle transportation logistics and dining requests. I can’t say I’ll be asking Chase for anything specific, except to improve the quality of its concierge results.
Know before you go.
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