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American Express Travel is celebrating their centennial milestone in the month of July with a handful of special promotions and marketing campaigns.
For Skift, though, the centennial was a chance to look at old brochures, posters, and advertisements from the first 50 years of American Express, when traveling could still be exotic, was often challenging, and usually involved letters and travelers cheques.
Travelers cheques were American Express’ first product, allowing people who were traveling in foreign countries to purchase goods and services without worrying about carrying large amounts of their home currency. In the days before ATMs and international wires, cheques were an essential element of any traveler’s trip.
The demand grew for travel and so did American Express Travel. They started to organize unique trips with newly formed relationships with travel suppliers. For example, in 1922 the Cunard S.S. Laconia offered a 54-day luxury cruise around the world complete with onboard and port staff that provided concierge services.
Their travel services at the turn of the last century spanned the range from offering tickets for domestic and European tours, handling mail, hosting travelers in rooms where they could read and write, storing baggage, and arranging steamship accommodations and luxury cruises.
Today it has clearly expanded upon these services to include a wide range of banking services in addition to maintaining travel service offices worldwide, a wide network of travel specialists and destination experts, corporate travel solutions, travel insurance, and foreign exchange services. They still have travelers cheques, too.
As far as offering a sanctuary for the modern travel, American Express Travel has grown from its writing and reading rooms, to Centurion Lounges at airports to maintain their appeal to its affluent clients.
While their membership rewards programs are facing challenges from the likes of Capital One and Chase, American Express recently launched its Plenti card that goes beyond earning points from their airline and hotel partners.
Some of our favorite images from the first five decades are below.