Archive | January, 2012

Surprising Results From My Experiments with the American Express Platinum Concierge Service

Surprising Results From My Experiments with the American Express Platinum Concierge Service

Posted on 26 January 2012 by Austin Yoder

Jammu Night Market Temple

- Night Market in Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir (nothing to do with the post at hand, but I still like the picture)

This post is a story of 1) Three Cuttlefish Eggs for Under $20, 2) Helping a Friend Research Master’s Programs in International Development, and 3) A Database of Entrepreneurial Alumni on Christmas Eve.


Good. Read on.

Credit is one of anyone’s most important assets. Credit can do amazing incredible things for you, if you’re credit is good. This post details three of the quirkier things I’ve used the AMEX Platinum Concierge Service for, none of which would happen without good – excellent credit.


Read Time: 10 Mins
Skim Time: 5 Mins
(skim the emails and focus on the “verdicts” if you’re in a hurry)


#1 – Three Cuttlefish Eggs for Under $20

I’ve developed a strange obsession with Cuttlefish since reading Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget. Which is an excellent excellent read even not counting the Cuttlefish.

At any rate, I was curious to see what it might cost me to acquire a Cuttlefish or two.


My Email Requesting Research Help

Hi there!

I’ve been thinking about buying a Cuttlefish, an absolutely adorable little Cephalopod.

I was hoping you could help me find somewhere I can buy one, and get an idea of how much it might cost, and how much the relevant aquarium equipment might cost also?

Thanks much, and absolutely no rush.

Happy New Year!


Concierge Response

Dear Mr. Yoder,

Thank you for contacting American Express Concierge.  I hope this email finds you well and you are having a wonderful day!  I have received your email request regarding Cuttlefish and I am happy to assist you!  I can understand why you are looking to purchase a cuttlefish and I am happy to help you locate the information you need.  I have located a vendor that has cuttlefish eggs available and will be able to ship them to you.  While speaking with Michael at NY Aquatics he has let me know that it is very expensive to feed these fish as they only eat Mysis Shrimp.  It will cost approximately 30.00 per week for food.  Please see the details below.

Vendor: NY Aquatics
Address: New York
Phone Number: 914-661-3128
Contact Name: Michael
Details: Cuttlefish eggs are available here. $19.95 for 3 eggs.  Cuttlefish need to be kept in a small tank on their own with no other fish.  This is not recommended for a novice.  Feel free to contact him at the number above if you have any questions or concerns about cuttlefish.

Please let me know if you would like further assistance with your purchase, information on popular attractions for an upcoming trip or anything else, please let me know and I will be happy to assist you further.  Have a great day!





I asked for help locating Cuttlefish, and for pricing information on relevant home aquarium equipment. While they didn’t find me information on home aquarium equipment, they did find me not one, not two, but three cuttlefish eggs for under $20. Much much less than I was expecting. Amex Plat. also went out of their way to contact reputable vendors – they didn’t just call up the first search result and send me a quick note. They had an in depth conversation with the folks at NY Aquatics to find out what to feed my future Cuttlefish, and get an estimate for how much it would cost to feed one weekly.

I’m not ready to buy my Cuttlefish just yet – but how cool is it that you can get 3 Cuttlefish eggs for under $20?

I say they knocked this one out of the park.

#2 – Help a Friend w/ Master’s Program Research

Some people I’ve talked to say that they would feel goofy or selfish using a virtual assistant or a concierge service. Fine. I don’t. If you feel that way but have access to an assistant or concierge, you can always use it to help the people you care about in your life. One of my closest friends in the world is looking around at Grad programs in International Development. I really believe he will change the world some day. Aside from the fact that it’s cool to try and support people who are young now that you think have the potential to do big things to improve the future of the world, it’s just good manners to be actively helpful and useful to the people you care about in life.


My Email #1

Hi Amex Plat!

Can you please help me research the best schools with master’s programs in International Development in Europe, the USA, and Asia?

I don’t need a totally exhaustive list or anything – maybe like 10 names or so to get my search started off. Links to their programs would be incredibly helpful too, but please play it by ear however makes the most sense!

You all are awesome and I don’t know how I’d get by without you.




As someone who has done online freelance work in the past, I can tell you that researchers always always appreciate a cheerful attitude, and acknowledgement of the value of the services they provide. A lot of email is boring as hell, and if you take an extra 30 seconds, you can give someone a smile and make their day in a small way.


Concierge Response #1

Dear Mr. Yoder,

I hope you are having a great day! We received your email but need a little more information please. Are you looking for options in the USA, Europe and Asia? Do you have any specific cities or countries you want us to research in Europe and Asia as each are quite large and encompas many countries? Also please be advised we can send you options for each location you choose but we cannot guarantee they are the best, because each country has its own standards and what may be considered the best school in Paris for example may not be considered to be the best by people who live in Rome. We can certainly research them and make sure each seem like good schools and have the course you are looking for but we cannot say whether one is better than another in reputation or accademics.



My Email #2

Thanks for following up so quickly!

I guess I’m not even entirely clear what I’m looking for haha. Can you help me look up a list of the “Top Ten InternationalDevelopment Master’s Programs” for the US / Europe / Asia? The specific countries in Europe and Asia don’t matter – just looking for a place to start refining my search.

Of course I realize that “best” here is a subjective term. No worries about that – please use your best judgement and I appreciate your help!



Concierge Response #2

Dear Mr. Yoder,

I hope that this email finds you well.  Attached you will find a list of schools that I have researched for you that have wonderful Master’s Programmes for International Development.  A couple of these are international, but some of the best I found were state-side.

I have included some basic descriptions for you and also the links for each of the programmes for each school.  At the end of the document are a couple of links to a listing of schools in Europe and Asia that are categorized by country that you might want to take a look at for yourself.  I have included a couple of the choices I thought might work for you, but please feel free to browse.  It was a pleasure assisting you with your request.

If you have any questions, or need any further assistance with research or arranging visits with any schools, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Attached to this email was a three page PDF document with 6 Master’s in International Development programs listed, and a list of additional resources for further research. There was a nice spread of programs between the US, and a few countries in Europe – which is primarily where my friend is interested in doing his Master’s.


My friend was insanely thankful. He hadn’t heard of one of the programs on there before, and it linked up almost exactly with his research interests in International Development. I’ll be applying for it now, he said. Honestly, I was overwhelmed by his positive response. I barely did anything, but it seemed to mean a lot to him.

Cost to me: an extremely brief email exchange, and a tiny little bit of thought.

Result: my friend found a new Master’s program in a country he’s interested in that aligns almost perfectly with his interests. He is happy, I am happy, and my friend knows that I’m trying to actively find leads and interesting options for his personal advancement.

I say they knocked this out of the park, too.

#3 – Making a Database of Entrepreneurial Alumni on Christmas Eve

This may be the best customer service I have ever experienced. Ever.

In a nutshell: there was this list of alumni from my school that went on to become entrepreneurs. Contact info, graduating class, description of business etc. As the information was displayed, it was pretty unusable. It could be incredible information, but my school went about presenting it in a really idiotic fashion.

I wanted to take this messy jumble of information and turn it into a shiny spreadsheet. My idea was to pass this previously unusable information, in usable form, around to some young entrepreneurial folks from Georgetown. Just because. After all, it’s good manners and good karma to actively try and help the people who are important in your life.

I usually try to do something like this a few times a week, and it has done wonders to make some of the already good relationships in my life even stronger. After all, if someone out there was thoughtfully and actively doing something to help you reach a personal goal of yours, would you feel closer to, or less close to that person?

That’s what I thought.

Now this list of entrepreneurial alumni – this list was not a small list.

I didn’t think this was the sort of task Amex Plat Concierge helped with, so I sent an email to check. It’s absolutely a task that I could have done myself, but I wanted to test what Amex Plat Concierge would / wouldn’t do for me. I figured at worst they would say no, and at best they would save me a lot of time.

Here’s the correspondence that followed:


My Email #1

Are you guys able to help me compile a spreadsheet of information from a webpage? I’m not sure what the limits of AMEX Plat. Concierge are :)

Just curious and wanted to double check.

Thanks so much!



Concierge Reply #1

Good Morning,

We have received your email and would like to thank you for using American Express Concierge.  We would be happy to assist you with your request to prepare a spreadsheet for you.  Please do not hesitate to provide us with all of the details and we will begin working on your request as soon as possible.  In the meantime, we hope you have a lovely Holiday Season!


American Express Concierge


My Email #2

Excellent and thanks so much!

Please put the information from this website into this Google Doc Spreadsheet - I’ve gone ahead and done the first one as an example of what I’m looking for.

Really appreciate the help.



All I had done was make categories like graduating class, graduating year, description of business, phone number, email etc. etc. I got an email or two a few days apart stating that they were working on compiling the spreadsheet for me. I said no rush at all – I wasn’t in a hurry.


Concierge Response #2

Dear Mr. Yoder,

I hope that this message finds you well.  I have received the request that you placed with us concerning the spreadsheet that you were looking to have created.  Typically American Express Concierge can assist with providing information for you in a spreadsheet format, however we do not typically assist you with transferring your personal information.  I have started to work on this as you requested, however in the future we may not be able to assist you with this kind of service.

As the list is quite long, I am afraid I have not completed the transfer for you.  I will continue to work on your request and once it is complete I will follow up with you no later than 10:30pm EST tonight.  In the meantime if you would like more information on the services we provide for you, please feel free to contact us at xxx-xxx-xxxx and we would be more than happy to speak with you.  Thank you for using American Express Concierge and I will speak with you again soon.



My Email #2

Thanks Neil and sorry for the confusion! I tried to check in advance if this was something that you guys could help with and got a positive response back. Anyway, I appreciate the help and have a merry christmas!



That’s right. This exchange happened Dec. 24 – Christmas Eve day. If that isn’t excellent fucking customer service, I don’t know what is.

Seriously awesome job Amex Concierge dude. You deserve a raise.


Concierge Response #3

Dear Mr. Yoder,

I hope you are having a great evening.  As I mentioned when I contacted you previously, I have been working on organizing the information that you provided for us into a spreadsheet.  I have completed the spreadsheet for you and you can find it as an attachment to this email.

If you have any questions or concerns, or if you would like information on any tickets to see the traveling version of The Book of Mormon when it is near you, please contact us.  Thank you for using American Express Concierge and I hope you have an excellent weekend.





The spreadsheet was pristine. Perfect. Not a single error in there, and time signature on the email reads about 10:30pm on December 24, or Christmas Eve.

I was pretty speechless. Amex Plat. told me that this wasn’t even the type of task that they are supposed to help with. It was fairly tedious copy and paste sort of work, and that’s not even really what they do. They find information.

But guess what? They did it for me anyway.


On Christmas Eve.

I was speechless.

Closing Thoughts on the American Express Platinum Card

This card is not for everyone. It comes with a ton of benefits which you can put to use in many different and creative ways. For example, you can read about the time I used Amex to bail me out when my RV battery died after I almost got arrested with my exat a national park in Virginia, right before driving into oncoming traffic at Washington Reagan National Airport.

All of those benefits come with a fairly hefty annual fee of $450/year, or $200/year if you are able to “add on” to a family member or friend’s Amex Platinum card.

Would it be worth it for you? That’s entirely up to you to decide, and if you’re thinking about it – monitor the Flyertalk forums here to see when the best sign up bonuses pop up.

Has it been worth it for me?

The concierge service alone would make the annual fee worth it.

The best part is that is only one of the perks you get with the Amex Plat card. Other perks include free airline lounge access, discounted rates at Regus, and an annual $200 credit toward airline incidental fees. Go check a complete list of benefits here if you’re interested.

Remember not to sign up at the first offer you see – it probably won’t have the best bonus. If you monitor the Flyertalk forums long enough, you’ll see a 50,000 point sign up bonus (at least) pop up sooner or later.

Is Amex Platinum Worth the Fee, for me?

A resounding “hell yes!” from the bottom of my gut.


Question of the Day

What is the single best, or most memorable example of outstanding customer service that you’ve ever experienced?

Comments (1)

Interesting Reading

Posted on 26 January 2012 by Austin Yoder

Was going through a few papers today, and wanted to share with everyone out there. Well written and thought provoking.

Migrant Worker’s Rights in Qatar Leading up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Qatar can expect exponential growth in the migrant population during the run-up to the World Cup when infrastructure investments are expected to top $100 billion. Some estimates suggest up to one million additional workers will be needed to build the 12 stadiums, 70,000 new hotel roomsand a network of road and rail links planned for the footballextravaganza.
The Qatari government has announced plans to improveconditions for the migrant workers expected to flock in for the 2022 construction boom, including model housing com-plexes and tighter laws to prevent abuse. However, pressure will be on the world football body FIFA and the Western companies lining up for lucrative World Cup contracts toensure that workers are provided with decent working, wage and housing conditions.

Link. Hat tip to Aakash for the recommendation.

The Effect of Decreasing Electronic Storage Costs on Government Surveillance in Non/Authoritarian Countries

Within the next few years an important threshold will be crossed: For the first time ever, it will become technologically and financially feasible for authoritarian governments to record nearly everything that is said or done within their borders – every phone conversation, electronic message, social media interaction, the movements of nearly every person and vehicle, and video from every street corner. Governments with a history of using all of the tools at their disposal to track and monitor their citizens will undoubtedly make full use of this capability once it becomes available.


Parasitic Flies Turning Honey Bees into Zombie Bees (Colony Collapse Disorder)

The science in the following article is definitely over my head, but Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, is one of the most important problems in modern agriculture out there. Did you know that 1/3 of the average American diet is composed of foods that couldn’t be produced without bee pollination? Seems like this goes a long way towards explaining the mysterious disappearance of bees, and subsequent failure of their hives.

In this paper, we show that A. borealis has a profound effect on parasitized honey bees, leading them to abandon their hives at night. We use an Arthropod Pathogen Microarray (APM) to detect pathogens that have been implicated in CCD that are associated with adult flies and larvae and to detect the presence of phorids in commercial hives in South Dakota and California’s Central Valley. Understanding causes of the hive abandonment behavior we document could explain symptoms associated with CCD. Further, knowledge of this parasite could help prevent its spread into regions of the world where naïve hosts may be easily susceptible to attack.

Link. Also – this seems reminiscent of zombie ants.


Question of the Day

Reading anything cool lately? I always love getting reading recommendations, so please feel free to leave some in the comments section if you’ve got ‘em.

Comments (0)

My Cold Email to the National Palace Museum

My Cold Email to the National Palace Museum

Posted on 19 January 2012 by Austin Yoder

National Palace Museum

- National Palace Museum, Taipei, credit njj4

Today I bring you the story of a minor win. I think it’s important to celebrate minor wins, and this particular minor win comes with a message for anyone trying to reach out to successful/busy/expert people.

You know how people say that if you try to get in touch with people who are successful, or in positions of authority, a lot of the time those people will respond? Like you try and write a letter or an email to Bill Clinton, or some other person who inspires you, and they write back.

Yeah, I’ve heard stories like that a lot. But honestly, I’ve  always found it difficult to reach out to inspiring people. It’s some kind of mental resistance. Part of me feels like I might be wasting their time. Part of me feels like there’s no chance that they’d respond to me, so why bother in the first place.

I recently cold emailed the National Palace Museum in Taipei. The National Palace Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Chinese art and artifacts, and is considered to be one of the top five museums in the world. I didn’t set my hopes too high, but I figured what they hell – the worst that can happen is they don’t respond.

Super short backstory:

One of the projects I’m working on while in Taipei is setting up internship opportunities for my alma mater with local companies and institutions. It’s a fun way to try and help students, and it’s a fun way to meet people here in Taiwan. I can go to interesting people and companies with something potentially valuable to them: a smart American intern. After I get to go to person/company XYZ and offer something useful, hopefully I get the chance to befriend them and learn from them.

My success/fail rate: 20%

While I was working on this internship project, I sent out a bunch of emails to alums and companies that I thought might benefit from a summer intern.

4/5ths of my emails failed. No response at all.

But 1/5th of my emails worked. If life were just a simple numbers game, I feel like 20% wouldn’t be that bad…

Here’s the email I sent to the Director’s Office over at the National Palace Museum. Mediocre Chinese and whatever Chinese mistakes I made all included.




不好意思,我的中文水平不太好,但是想要問問您。 我去年五月大學畢業的,來臺灣繼續學習中文。(目前在_____上課。)同時想要幫助在美國對台灣文化有興趣的同學找實習機會。因為您的博物館非常有名,因為教課時我大學所有的老師們都會說是世界上最好的博物館之一,因此想要發郵件給您。幾天前我的台灣朋友幫我寫下面的內容,形容實習項目之注意!



Austin Yoder



American Study Abroad Summer Internship Program (Don’t mean to be a bother!)


I apologize, my Chinese isn’t very good but I wanted to ask a question. I graduated in May and came to Taiwan to study Chinese. (I’m presently at ____ taking Chinese classes.) While I’m here I also want to help my classmates in the US who have an interest in Taiwanese culture find internship opportunities. Because your museum is so famous, and because all of my professors always said it is one of the best museums in the world, I wanted to send you this email. A few days ago I asked my Taiwanese friend to help me write up a description of the idea of our internship program, which you will find below.

Thank you so much, and I have a lot of respect for the National Palace Museum.

Austin Yoder
American Student

Next was the content describing the internship program…


A few days later I got an awesome response back from the National Palace Museum. The Director’s Office passed my email on to the right person, and boom. Now there’s a few internship spots for my alma mater at one of the best museums in the world.

I’m following up to see if I can meet some of the museum people in person. I don’t know any museum curators or staffers, and I bet there’s a ton I could learn from them. About art, history, art history, about the museum business, about import/export of precious art… the list goes on. I don’t know how kindly they’ll take to my questions, but who knows? Maybe I can make a new friend.

Like I said – 4/5ths of my emails totally failed. And this email – the one that worked- it isn’t even that good.

What was bad about the email?

I felt hesitant to put this email online. I remembered it being better and more thoughtful when I sent it off to the Director’s Office. The Chinese is awkward and is probably written like a child wrote it. I babbled a bit. I should have been more clear about why I was contacting them.

What was good about the email?

I was sincere and respectful and tried my best to communicate respect for the museum as an institution. I tried my best to communicate in the local language, even though I’m out of my element. You know, make an effort to communicate with people on their own terms. I tried to convey that the National Palace Museum is talked about and respected across the world. Who wouldn’t like to hear that their workplace is respected internationally by professors they’ve never met before?

Regardless of how good or bad the email was, and regardless of how mediocre my Chinese might be, it worked. And the fact that it worked should give you hope.

If my mediocre broken-Chinese email can be well received, and result in cool win-win opportunities for other people, think how much better you can do if you put your mind to it.

We can learn a lot from people who are more successful than we are, who occupy positions of authority, who have built or created something interesting. A friend of mine said that learning from people a little farther along than you are is like taking short cuts through life. I like that.

You can see here that you don’t have to be a genius to make it happen. My success rate for this round of cold emails was 20%. Yours might be higher or lower.

But you won’t know till you try.

And you can definitely put together an email that’s better than this one.


Question of the Day

Anyone have a success story to share about cold emails, cold calls, or otherwise cool stories about reaching out to people?

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