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December 16, 2004 12:14 AM

Broken: Amex Rewards calculator

2331Robert Hruska writes:

My friend Elaine works in Marketing and buys a ton of stuff for the company on her American Express card. This gives her reward points, which recently have been matched up with other rewards programs at various conversion rates.

She wanted to find out how many American Express Rewards points she could convert into Starwood Points, & tried to use the (rather backwards) points calculator. The calculator returned an error, asking her to only use multiples of 333. If she somehow knew multiples of 333, why would she even need the calculator? This is so totally broken.


Not broken. The common sense interval of 333 is used because it is 1/3 of the minimum allowable 999. irrelevant of knowing multiples of 333 you arent going to know the conversion factor off hand, because 1/3 of 999 is not the same as 1/3 of 1332, and they would not wish to give or take points away by it being necessary to round them up or down.

Posted by: Dragon at December 16, 2004 01:59 AM

Most definitely broken. Any calculator that requires pre-calculated data entry, however simple, is a shoddy calculator.

Posted by: Peter Hodgson at December 16, 2004 04:43 AM

Anybody ever heard of reducing fractions? The conversion rate is not 999:333, it's 3 to 1. Why can't the calculator use this ratio, and inform you if of the minimum amount of 999 and let you know how many points you have left over?

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at December 16, 2004 05:29 AM

I definitely agree with Robby. It's just 1 to 3 conversion ration. So, actually, the calculator is veeery stupid.

Posted by: dusoft at December 16, 2004 07:15 AM

As noted in the description, the calculator appears to be have a bit backwards. Given teh number of AMEX points I have, I'd want to know how many Starwood points I would get. So the input to the calculator would be a number of AMEX points available for conversion rather than a desired number of Starwood points.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at December 16, 2004 08:28 AM

Broken. There is no excuse for having the customer having to enter numbers of a certain multiple into a calculator.

Posted by: Jay at December 16, 2004 09:01 AM

And check out the rigamarole you have to go through to redeem your points! Make a reservation, then transfer your points (which is not reversible), then wait 3-5 business days (what the heck for -- do they do this manually?), then call them back and apply your points!

Do you get the feeling they're just hoping people will give up and not use their points?

Posted by: E.T. at December 16, 2004 11:01 AM

Exactly ET; it's like a rebate. Obfuscate the process as much as possible and people will spend the money requred to get the reward without actually claiming the reward. Dirty pool!

Posted by: brian w at December 16, 2004 11:58 AM

It's hard to say whats more broken. The calculator or the person/people who decided it was a good idea to use that type of logic on their web site.

I'd say both equally broken.

Posted by: Trevor Hall at December 16, 2004 12:01 PM

Oh, how sad! I designed this calculator, but it's not supposed to work like that. The response to how many MR points you need to transfer should be the number that will get you AT LEAST what you entered. It should have calculated that 1332 Starpoints = 3996 MR points. (And then it would put 3996 in the text box at the top.) The reason we added the calculator was so folks wouldn't have this exact error occur. Sigh...

Posted by: kleepet at December 16, 2004 03:54 PM

Wow. And math teachers complain that calculators are freeing kids from difficult math. *shudder*

Posted by: Bianca at December 16, 2004 05:28 PM

I just went through this exact situation transfering MR points to Starwood for a ski trip. Anyone who spends this much $$ on their AMX to gather this many points should be able to divide or multiply by three. A functional MR calculator would have been nice, but I saw it more as a Starwood problem- they could have stepped up and made it 4 to 1 and really gained some customer loyalty.

Posted by: C Wooosh at December 17, 2004 12:08 AM

kleepit: Thanks for chiming in! It's fantastic to hear from an actual designer whose implementation has appeared on this site. But I have to be honest, I still have no idea what the calculator is supposed to do. Can you explain it in more detail? And---here's the kicker---do you have ability or the interest in improving it based on feedback here?

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at December 17, 2004 07:37 AM

But it does not state anywhere that it's dealing with dividing by three--if I saw a calculator telling me to work in multiples of 333, I would not think, "oh, it is a simple matter of dividing by three". I would be confused as all heck.

Posted by: Bianca at December 17, 2004 01:51 PM

In a nutshell... Once you earn MR points you can redeem them for rewards on the AMX site or transfer them into your existing frequent flier or frequent guest programs. Because all point programs are not created equally, some programs (like Starwoods) require you to convert them- like you would to convert dollars to euros. Most programs are a 1-1 ratio to make transfers easy, but starwoods is not.

Posted by: C Wooosh at December 17, 2004 02:28 PM

I'm still trying to figure out if Dragon's opening comment is actually a parody of the usual "duh, that's not broken" that every single posting here seems to attract. The words "common sense interval of 333" make me suspicious. Otherwise, Dragon is definitely hanging out at the wrong site...

Posted by: Carl at December 17, 2004 07:06 PM

I have to say that the Amex rewards calculator is not just broken, but extremely broken.

A look at the Starwood web site shows that if you have Starwood points, you redeem them in increments of reasonably round numbers, like 1000, 1500, 5000, or 7000, for an upgrade or a free room night.

The conversion ratio for MR points to Starwood points is 3 to 1. So the Amex calculator should be set up to perform the not-particularly-complex mathematical operations of both "multiplication by 3" as well as "division by 3." You say you need 4000 Starwood points? Fine, you have to trade in 12000 MR points. You have 5000 MR points? Fine, you can get 1666.67 Starwood points. Heck, they could even tell you that you would get 1666 Starwood points and throw the fractional point away, and it would still be better than the current setup.

There is no logical reason for this web page to talk about divisibility by 333, because Starwood points aren't earned in units of 333 nor are they redeemed in units of 333.

Posted by: Joshua at December 17, 2004 11:36 PM

In response to Slaughter's question about what the calc's supposed to do, it was designed to surmount a business requirement that a lot of Amex's partners have: a transfer ratio that isn't 1:1. We wanted to prevent users from being asked to calculate a funky ratio themselves.

Originally, the calculator let you select the number of MR points you wanted to spend OR the number of partner points you wanted to get. (Now it's fixed on partner points.) So the user is supposed to think, "I need 1000 Starpoints in order to get this upgrade I want. Gosh, I wonder how many MR points I will need to transfer, since it looks like I can't get an even 1000?"

Even if Starwood had made the ratio 2:1 or 4:1, the user is prevented from transferring ANY number of MR points they please. Another option would have been to round down from the number of MR points they entered to the nearest permitted multiple on the next page, but we thought that was too surprising and tricky.

Anyway! There's no harm in me asking around to see if we could use the feedback here to get it fixed to at least the way we originally designed it. (It won't be possible to get Starwood or the other partners to agree on a 1:1 ratio.) We'll see...

Posted by: kleepet at December 21, 2004 08:55 AM

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