For a certain generation, American Express cemented its travel reputation with the motto "don't leave home without it." If there's one person ensuring this habit remains a reality in the ever-changing landscape of travel, it's Audrey Hendley, President of Global Travel & Lifestyle Services at American Express. On a personal note, I'm addicted to the airplane perks my Platinum Card gets me (which I started using as an AmEx Platinum Card Ambassador). On a wider note, we wanted to know how credit cards have helped change the way we travel. Another one of our Great Women in Travel, Audrey answered our travel and work questions, revealing that while she'll eat fresh fish anywhere, please don't ask her to taste the crickets.
Tell us about your work.
As the head of American Express Travel, I am responsible for delivering premium travel, dining, and entertainment services to American Express Card Members through a network of more than 5,000 travel consultants. I also oversee the digital travel booking experience, travel benefits and programs, and marketing and engagement strategies for the premium card member base. I truly believe in the value that American Express Travel delivers to our card members, so for me, I am constantly looking for ways to continue enhancing our capabilities to better serve our customers — really focusing on where high tech meets high touch.
How did you end up here?
Landing in a role at American Express Travel was a dream for me, following more than twenty dedicated years at American Express. I have always had a curiosity to wander the world and to witness others experiencing what daily life looks like for people of different cultures. Some people find travel relaxing and some travel for the inspiration. You could say that my passion has always lay at the service of travel. I also love technology, customers, and leading a large team, and my role incorporates each of these aspects.
What did you do before this?
Prior to joining the Travel business, I led the Card Product and Consulting Services teams within the Global Commercial Services organization. In this job, I was responsible for bringing breakthrough products, features, and services to businesses of all sizes around the world. My first foray in the Commercial business was leading the small business acquisition team. In this role, I was focused on helping small business owners thrive by providing them with the capital needed to fuel their business growth.
What was your dream job growing up?
I wanted to be a school teacher because I wanted the freedom to have summers off and travel the world!
What's a typical day like for you?
There’s really no typical day. My team is global, so I spend a lot of time traveling and meeting with my teams and business partners across the world. I’m also a working mother, so when I’m not traveling, the early part of my day involves reading emails from my teams in Asia and Europe and getting my family off and running. When I get to the office, my day is often packed with business updates, team meetings, and partner updates to collaborate on the next big idea. The end of my day is family-focused and typically involves wearing multiple hats such as homework tutor and chef.
Why is travel such an important part of the credit card experience?
At American Express, we are focused on backing our card members, in all they do, and a huge piece of their lives is travel. They travel with purpose through our trusted travel consultants and Card Member benefits. The modern traveler wants to experience the world in new ways, and the American Express Card and the benefits associated with it are perfectly suited for this. We are focused on backing our customers, supporting them in big ways and small, in the things they love to do most — including travel. We believe our travel products and services provide our customers with unparalleled access to meaningful experiences. From American Express’ Future of Travel Study, we know that 73 percent of millennials travel for new experiences and that 81 percent of millennials indicate that focusing on meaningful life experiences is more important than focusing on their profession.
What are the changes you've seen in terms of how people are use their credit card when they travel?
It is interesting to see how spending trends have shifted to focus on more meaningful experiences. Travelers seek authentic, unexpected moments and want to experience them with the people who matter most. Millennials say they’re looking for something new when they travel – more adventurous, local and personal. Food, environment, music, art, culture, and cultural aesthetics are the sensory, experiential elements that travelers — especially millennials — are most hungry for. These are the components of tourism that break down the artificial barriers between people – the elements of tourism that drive peace, knowledge, and understanding.
Tell us about a career highlight.
I’ve had many career highlights, but a top one has certainly been being appointed to this role. It’s a perfect match of what I like to do – working with customers, marketing, and being in travel.
I started taking advantage of the bleisure trend at a young age.
What is most rewarding about your job?
The card members. Getting their feedback through our travel consultants or seeing through social media how the benefits of American Express Travel impacts their lives. I’m also fortunate to work with many great colleagues across the world. I love meeting with our teams because I constantly learn and am challenged by their questions.
How has travel influenced your work?
We, as people, draw on our experiences, and our experiences shape who we are. I’ve been fortunate to travel to many places, and I work in a global company, which has afforded me the chance to meet lots of great colleagues. It’s given me perspective on how to appreciate the similarities and differences of people across the world.
What's a great place for women to travel?
Everywhere! Why limit yourself?
What's a lousy place for women to travel?
The world is full of amazing places for solo travel, and a few places that require a bit more caution. Travel for women can be an incredibly fulfilling way to experience the world and an enormous opportunity for personal growth. Often you get time to reflect, learn about yourself and the destinations along the way. Even if you find yourself in a place that’s not your taste, I always think you can find a way to enjoy a great meal and glass of wine.
Tell us about the first time you traveled alone.
I first traveled by myself on a business trip to Salt Lake City at the age of 20. I enjoyed it so much that I extended my trip so that I could visit the genealogy research center and spend a full day exploring. In modern-day language, I started taking advantage of the bleisure trend at a young age.
What haven't you been able to do in your career? And did being a woman prevent you from doing it?
I think the biggest challenge for me — and many people — is not finding enough hours in the day. There are always so many interesting thing to do and learn, and I can never seem to find the time to do it all.
For me, being woman has not prevented me from doing anything. I am so fortunate to work for a company that is dedicated to supporting its female colleagues and leaders — from our Women’s Interest Network to our 20-week paid parental leave policy.
Speed Round of Favorites: The Fathom Questionnaire
Favorite destinations: Dublin, Ireland – my home; Croatia; Sydney, Australia; Japan.
Dying to visit: Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.
Bizzare travel rituals: While this may not sound bizarre, when I’m on a trip, I’m always planning the next adventure.
In-flight relaxation regimen: An aisle seat, my new wireless noise-cancelling headphones, and my iPhone.
Always in carry-on: My calendar, a picture of my family, and a pair of flip flops.
Concierge or DIY? Concierge for travel tips.
See it all or take it easy? Depends on the destination.
Drive or be driven? Drive.
Travel hero: George Clooney in Up In the Air. His travel process was seamless and impeccable. I’d also like to travel like Superman – it would make things much easier.
Weirdest thing seen on travels: My husband eating crunchy insects in the Amazon.
My favorite hotels is anywhere I feel comfortable because a good hotel puts you at ease.
I dream about my meal at a beach hut that sells fresh fish anywhere in the world.
Best hotel amenity: Soft, white sheets and a great bathrobe.
Favorite childhood travel memory: I have two. The first is taking the train by myself at age twelve to go to Irish summer camp. The second one is a school trip to Paris, which was my first international trip.
Everywhere I go, I check out the hotel lobby to get a flavor for the overall personality of the hotel.
When I arrive in a new place, I learn the lay of the land by pulling out my phone and talking to the concierge and as many local people as I can.
I always bring home the unused amenities from the hotel room, because we donate them to charity.
If I never return to the Amazon, it'll be too soon because my husband will make me eat the crunchy insects too!
I travel for the fun and enjoyment it provides to my family and me.
More Women Who Go the Distance
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Meet Cynthia Dunar, the Globetrotting GM Leading Ladies into the Great Outdoors
In Iceland, It’s a Woman’s World