offering its most exclusive charge card to small businesses. Last week the New York card giant introduced the Corporate Platinum Card, which like its consumer version, carries a $300 annual fee and offers a range of perks, including free companion airline tickets and concierge services. Ernie Berger, senior vice president of American Express' small- business services, said the new card would be offered to businesses "that have indicated a need or desire for such a product - those that say they want it or we believe could use it." American Express is targeting the small-business segment for this card, saying it has no plans to offer it to larger businesses and corporations. The company said more than 1.5 million small businesses use its corporate cards. After getting one card for $300, businesses can acquire additional cards for $150. American Express pointed out the annual fee is tax deductible. Corporate Platinum cardholders can - without limit - receive a second ticket for a companion on flights on participating airlines, which include Lufthansa, Alitalia, Swiss Air, Aeromexico, Iberia, Sabena, Air New Zealand, and Lanchile. Other perks include concierge services that handle special requests, such as retrieving lost valuables, and sending flowers or gifts. Corporate Platinum cardholders can get reservations at top restaurants and can treat guests to a dinner even when they are unable to join them. Additionally, corporate Platinum cardholders are automatically enrolled in American Express' Membership Rewards program, so that they can earn program points toward travel, retail, and gourmet food rewards. David Robertson, president of The Nilson Report, an Oxnard, Calif.- based newsletter, indicated that the new card seemed to have all the trappings of success. "The platinum segment has been identified as a very profitable subset of all Amex cardholders," began Mr. Robertson. "They will understand that this is a premium product being offered and they will pay a premium price to get it." He added, "$300 is not throwing away money. It is a legitimate price to be paying for that level of service." Mr. Robertson acknowledged that even so, "it's not an easy sale" but will ultimately flourish because "cardholders understand what the added perks will be. The owner of a company who is already writing off his own ticket will get another one." The Corporate Platinum Card also provides travel accident insurance up to $500,000, accident disability insurance up to $100,000, express cash up to $10,000, and emergency check cashing up to $10,000.
*** Separately, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said that it began accepting American Express and Optima cards at its stores Nov. 1. Shoppers at the retailing powerhouse, which operates 2,300 locations in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, can also make purchases with Visa, MasterCard, and Discover cards. Jane Bockholt, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said that "customers had been requesting it, plus American Express said they had received inquiries from our consumers." Ms. Bockhort seemed to rule out the possibility of any joint promotions with American Express, noting that adding the brand was "more of a service than anything." "This is basically a continuation of the strategy we began five years ago, trying to identify places where cardmembers wanted to use cards and taking an aggressive approach and signing," said David House, president of American Express' establishment services division. "Wal-Mart has continued to be the No. 1 most requested establishment by our cardholders," said Mr. House. "As Wal-Mart has expanded its stores, they are reaching more metropolitan areas and are bumping up into more of our cardholders."