Credit cards compete to make you feel like a VIP


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There are a few credit cards out there that are so exclusive that the clientele feels as though it’s mainly made up of celebrities and billionaires.

The American Express Centurion card (also known as AmEx’s Black Card) is one example. It’s available by invitation only, and if you’re lucky enough to score an invite, you’ll pay a $7,500 initiation fee and a $2,500 annual membership fee to carry the card.

In exchange, the VIPs who carry the Centurion charge card enjoy legendary concierge service (think personal assistants) and free upgrades with AmEx’s travel partners.

Most consumers won’t ever have access to a card as exclusive as the Centurion, but there is a host of less exclusive but impressive credit cards that can still make you feel like a member of an elite club.

American Express launched the elite card category decades ago with its Platinum card. In recent years, Citi, Chase and others have introduced cards targeting the same audience. U.S. Bank entered the fray in May with its new Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite card.

“Consumers are really seeking personalized services and unique experiences, and they know that they can get that value through their credit cards, whether it’s travel support through a concierge service or other conveniences,” says Marina Kissam, vice president of customer experience for Luxury Card.

Luxury Card offers a suite of three Mastercards (including the 24-karat gold-plated/carbon Gold Card and a stainless steel front/carbon back Black Card).

While uber-premium cards used to be known for their extraordinary perks, competition among the banks means that many now also offer robust rewards programs.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, rolled out in 2016 with a whopping 100,000-point sign-up bonus (now a still large 50,000 points), travel credits and an array of plum perks.

The Reserve’s launch, which was so successful Chase temporarily ran out of the metal cards, shows issuers are aiming to become “top of wallet” for affluent consumers. And issuers are fighting to stay there, too, as seen in American Express’s revamp of its Platinum card at the end of March, increasing the card’s welcome offer to 60,000 points.

As the economy, wages and consumer credit improve, more consumers may be able to access these elite credit cards.

“The credit card issuers are really going after those people who have a decent salary who are willing to absorb larger annual fees and are willing to spend deeper into their line of credit,” says John Ulzheimer, a credit specialist who has worked for Equifax and FICO.

For card issuers, affluent consumers are a prime audience.

Wealthy and aspiring, well-to-do customers spend more, and that means more interchange fees for the card issuers. And in an era of rising interest rates, any balances carried over and late fees add to an issuer’s revenue.

“We’re at a great place in the industry,” says Ali Raza, a principal with CCG Catalyst Consulting Group. “There’s a view that some regulation may go away or be lessened, so you’ve got a number of very large credit card issuers that are saying ‘I want to invest, and I want to invest in attracting a very attractive and profitable demographic.'”

While those rich rewards, extravagant perks and plum sign-up bonuses are the lure of elite cards, these cards that make you feel special come at a price — high annual fees.

With premium cards — as with any credit card — the key to determining whether one is right for you comes down to assessing the value of the rewards and perks and making sure you use them.

For example, most elite rewards cards include access to exclusive airport lounges and many offer travel credits. Each of these premium perks can save frequent travelers hundreds of dollars a year, and that can help make up for a chunk of a card’s annual fee.

“If you’re getting value in excess of what your annual fee is, then it’s no different than buying something at a discount at a store,” says Ulzherimer. “If you’re happy with the value, then there’s nothing wrong with paying a higher annual fee.”

You also get that priceless prestige factor of plunking down your elite (and sometimes heavier metal) card. For some, gold, black and other uber-premium cards can make you feel like a VIP, and that alone may make the annual fee a small price to pay.

Comparing elite credit cards

American Express Platinum

  • Annual fee: $550
  • VIP perks include:
    • Free Uber rides: AmEx Platinum members receive up to $200 in annual credits for Uber rides.
    • Access to AmEx travel lounges: Platinum members get access to more than 1,000 airport lounges in 500 cities and 120 countries.
    • Foodie experiences: Cardholders can take advantage of “one-of-a-kind” dining experiences with celebrity chefs such as Thomas Keller and José Andrés.
    • Hotel extras: In addition to getting Gold Status in both the Starwood Preferred Guest program and the Hilton Honor program, Platinum cardholders get complimentary breakfast for two and a 4 p.m. checkout at participating hotels.
  • VIP rewards include: New cardmembers get a 60,000-point welcome offer, 5x the points for flights booked directly with airlines or American Express and for stays at eligible hotels.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

  • Annual fee: $450
  • VIP perks include:
    • Free travel money: Chase reimburses cardholders for up to $300 per year on travel expenses. Cardholders also get a $100 credit on Global Entry or TSA Precheck.
    • Travel advantages: Cardholders get access to more than 900 airport lounges, special rental car privileges from partner rental car firms and special benefits at partner hotels.
    • Concierge service: The Visa Infinite Concierge can help secure dinner reservations or event tickets.
  • VIP rewards include: New cardholders can get a 50,000 sign-up bonus (with a $4,000 minimum spend), 3x points on travel and restaurant spending, and 50 percent more value on reward redemptions.

Citi Prestige

  • Annual fee: $450
  • VIP perks include:
    • Concierge access: Concierge lines can help with a range of travel-related needs, from making dinner reservations to arranging leisure activities.
    • Free extended hotel stays: Travelers who book a hotel stay via the Citi Prestige Concierge get one night free after staying four consecutive nights.
    • Private Pass BEYOND: This rewards program gets you access to presale tickets and VIP packages for sporting events, concerts and other events.
    • Complimentary tee times: Citi Prestige card members get three free rounds of golf each year at more than 2,000 public and private golf courses around the globe.
  • VIP rewards include: The card has a 40,000-point sign-up bonus, 3x ThankYou Points on air travel, hotels and travel agencies, 2x rewards on dining and entertainment.

Luxury Card Gold Card (issued by Barclaycard)

  • Annual fee: $995
  • VIP perks include:
    • High-end construction: The card is made of carbon and 24-karat gold
    • Personal service: Cardholders can arrange for a representative to meet them at the airport and serve as an escort for “expedited service” or for chauffeured transportation to an event.
    • Luxury gifts: The issuer may occasionally send gifts “from some of the world’s most iconic and recognized brand names” to cardholders
  • VIP rewards include: The Luxury Gold Card offers up to 2 percent cash back and double points for when redeemed for airfare.

U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite card

  • Annual fee: $450
  • VIP perks include:
    • $325 in travel credits: Cardholders will be reimbursed for up to $325 each year for eligible travel purchases.
    • Priority Pass airport lounge access: Complimentary 12-month Priority Pass Select membership grants cardholders access to more than 1,000 airport lounges across the globe.
    • Precheck/Global Access credit: Statement credit of up to $100 when applying for Global Entry or TSA Precheck.
    • Travel and concierge services: Cardholders receive complimentary membership to the Andrew Harper travel planning service and access to Visa Infinite concierge service.
  • VIP rewards include: 50,000-point sign-up bonus (with a minimum spend of $4,500 in the first 90 days of account opening), 3x rewards points on travel and 3x rewards on mobile purchases.

See related: Rewards card reviews, U.S. Bank launches Altitude Reserve with 50,000-point sign-up bonus

Editor’s note: This story, “Credit cards compete to make you feel like a VIP” originally was posted on