What is a metal credit card?

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What is a metal credit card? Many people don’t realize how prevalent metal credit cards have become—and how easy it is for people with good or excellent credit to access one.

As little as a decade ago, metal credit cards were seen as a statement piece—the heftiest credit cards, reserved for the heftiest bank accounts. Invite-only luxury credit cards often arrived in shiny, heavyweight packages, accompanied by 24/7 concierge services, exclusive incentives and perks beyond the average customer’s wildest dreams.

Today, some people still think of metal credit cards as luxury-level exclusives. However, the metal credit card—and the type of consumer who can access one—has changed. Credit card issuers have launched a new class of top-grade cards that cater to people with great credit and a dependable history, as opposed to an astronomical net worth.

What is a metal credit card?

Metal credit cards are, for all intents and purposes, the same as plastic credit cards, just a little heavier and a little fancier.

First introduced by American Express in the late ‘90s, the Centurion Card (otherwise known as the Black Card) found its way into the wallets of high rollers and titans of industry. For the first time in credit card history, the weight of a card became linked to social cachet. It wasn’t long before competitors joined the movement.

As credit became an increasingly favored method of payment, metal card manufacturing increased. Some credit card issuers began expanding their metal cards as a way of staying on top of the competition—literally. (When you’re pulling a credit card out of your wallet, you might be more likely to grab a heavier, more substantial card over one of its lesser-weight plastic neighbors.)

Ultimately, as the number of credit card applicants rapidly increased, the barrier to entry for metal card ownership began to lower. Today, many of the industry’s trendiest cards are both metal and readily accessible to responsible spenders.

Pros and cons of metal credit cards

Metal credit cards have both advantages and disadvantages. One of the biggest pros of metal credit cards are the higher-than-usual benefits and rewards that are often associated with premium or elite credit cards—but those benefits and rewards are also associated with higher-than-usual annual fees, so keep that in mind before you apply for a metal credit card.

You may want to see if you can get pre-approved for a metal credit card before you apply. Most metal credit cards are only available to people with good credit, and some cards are exclusive to people with excellent credit. If you aren’t sure whether your credit score is high enough for a metal credit card, don’t run the risk of losing a few credit score points with an unnecessary hard credit pull—try to get preapproved instead.

Here’s one more factor many people don’t consider: Metal credit cards are harder to dispose of than you might expect. You can’t just run an old metal credit card through a shredder, and the heaviest metal credit cards might require a trip to the hardware store before you can destroy your card at home. On the plus side, you can safely and securely dispose of a metal credit card by mailing it back to your credit card issuer or bringing it into the appropriate bank branch.

The best metal credit cards

Want to know how to get a metal credit card? If you have good or excellent credit, all you have to do is apply. Here are a few of our top picks:

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • 3X points on eligible travel and restaurant purchases (after earning your $300 travel credit); 10X total points on Lyft purchases (through Mar. 31, 2022) and on up to $500 of Chase Dining takeout orders and prepaid reservations via Chase Ultimate Rewards® (through Jun. 30, 2021)
  • 1X points on all other purchases
  • 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months; points are worth $900 in travel through Ultimate Rewards
  • Cardholder benefits include airport lounge access, a $300 annual travel credit, a credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, a complimentary one-year Lyft Pink membership, a complimentary DoorDash DashPass, up to $60 in DoorDash credits and more
  • $550 annual fee
  • 16.99 percent to 23.99 percent variable APR

One of the most popular travel credit cards on the market, the Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with all the travel rewards you could ask for, plus the look and feel of a top-end card. The $550 annual fee looks dramatic at first glance, but underneath you’ll find any number of perks for the frequent traveler that exceed its cost, including a $300 travel credit and a sign-up bonus that could earn you $900 toward travel if you redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • 10X points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of card membership
  • 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or flights and prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel, for up to $500,000 in purchases per calendar year
  • 2X points on prepaid car rentals through American Express Travel
  • 1X points on all other purchases
  • Earn 100,000 points after you spend $6,000 on purchases in your first 6 months of card membership
  • Cardholder benefits include a $200 airline fee credit, airport lounge access, a credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, up to $200 in Uber credits per year and more
  • $695 annual fee
  • See Pay Over Time APR

The Platinum Card from American Express has a top-level metal right in its name—and the top-level perks to match. That said, you should be able to earn back the cost of your annual fee by taking advantage of all of the Platinum Card’s benefits and perks, from a $200 airline fee credit  (Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline) to a welcome bonus that is worth up to $1,000 when redeemed through American Express Travel.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • Unlimited 2X Capital One Miles on all purchases
  • 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel
  • Cardholder benefits include $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • $95 annual fee
  • 17.24 percent to 24.49 percent variable APR

The Capital One Venture Rewards Card is a big-name credit card without a big annual fee. With 2 miles earned for every dollar spent, travel costs lose some of their weight when this metal is in your pocket. Redeeming Capital One Miles is easy, fast and flexible—simply turn your miles into statement credits for travel purchases, transfer your miles to one of 15+ travel loyalty programs or use your miles at checkout when you shop with Amazon.com or PayPal.

How to pick a metal card

If you’re trying to decide which metal credit card would look best in your wallet, remember to evaluate the entire card, not just the aesthetic. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing your next credit card, including:

  • Whether the card rewards your current spending habits—a card that rewards streaming services, for example, isn’t going to do you much good if you’re trying to pare down your media subscriptions
  • Whether you can redeem the card rewards in a way that fits your lifestyle—a card that offers its biggest redemption bonus when you use your rewards to book travel isn’t going to do you much good if you don’t travel all that often
  • Whether you can afford the card’s annual fee—and whether you’re likely to earn enough cash value from your rewards to justify the annual fee

While many people assume metal credit cards are better than plastic credit cards, we would never suggest choosing a credit card on the basis of its material composition. Plastic or metal, a credit card is only right for you if you are able to use it responsibly—keeping your balances low, making on-time payments and building a positive credit history. What you get out of your credit card, from rewards and perks to an improved credit score, depends entirely on your lifestyle and preferences.

The bottom line

Before you decide to apply for a metal credit card, make sure you’re prioritizing financial status above social status. If the only reason you’re considering a metal credit card is because of its supposed cachet, you might want to consider a top rewards card instead—after all, we make so many purchases online these days that you may rarely get the opportunity to show off your shiny new metal card.