How many rewards programs do you belong to? Is your key ring filled with loyalty cards for all the places you shop? Wouldn’t it be nice to have every point you earn deposited into a single account that you could spend anywhere?
The new Plenti card from American Express promises to bring order to chaos by combining all your loyalty programs – and the points you earn – from hundreds of retailers into one.
But there’s a big catch to that claim that’s easy to miss: while you can earn Plenti points at 10 bricks-and-mortar retailers, including AT&T, Macy's and Rite Aid, and from hundreds of on-line retailers, right now you can only redeem them at four –- Macy's, Rite Aid, Exxon and Mobil stations.
That’s right; you can earn points at AT&T, but not spend them there.
“That’s crazy,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org. “What kind of rewards program lets you earn points at places where you can’t use them?”
American Express and its retail partners are marketing Plenti as “the rewards program that lets you earn points in one place and use them at another, all with a single card.” Ten “bricks and mortar” retail chains and hundreds of on-line stores have signed up so far.
“Bringing all of your points together into a single rewards currency is very appealing to people,” said Plenti CEO Abeer Bhatia. “I can take points from multiple retailers, pool them together and have a bigger pot available.”
But the Plenti website does include an important caveat. It says, “Use Plenti points for savings at checkout with certain partners.” And the TV ads have a disclaimer (in small print) that says: “You cannot use points with all participating partners or at all locations.”
Dworsky is concerned that people who join the program may not understand what this means.
"American Express, Plenti, and its partners need to be more up front with shoppers in their advertising and promotional materials," Dworsky told NBC News.
American Express told NBC News it rolled out the Plenti program before it could build “full functionality” for point redemption. The company said there should be more places to use those points by the end of the year. It confirmed that AT&T would be added to the list before January 1, but could not confirm the name of any other retailers
“We in no way intend to be misleading, and if you go to the individual pages where we describe the partnership and what the offers are for each brand, we’re very transparent about it,” said Charlotte Fuller, vice president of corporate affairs and communications at American Express. “Obviously with a 30-second TV commercial it’s sometimes challenging to give consumers all the information they need, but we appreciate the feedback and it’s something we can work to improve.”
While you will, ultimately, be able to use Plenti points at various retailers, American Express promises it will not be sharing your transaction information with all those retailers.
“There has been some confusion around this,” Fuller said. “If you go into Rite Aid and buy a certain type of shampoo, no other partner is going to know that you did that. We are not sharing transaction information with any partner.”