Published February 14, 2012
Welcome to the high life of credit cards. Flaunting annual fees north of $350, ultra-premium rewards cards pack a lifetime of luxury into a small rectangle that fits inside a Prada wallet. Holding one makes you part of a special club of cardholders.
Exactly how exclusive? Barclays' Visa Black Card is limited to only 1% of the U.S. population, according to its website.
And it's rumored only 17,000 people carry the card of cards, the American Express Centurion Card, which is informally known as the "black card."
"These cardholders have a higher level of income, higher credit rating and higher spending," says Thomas Hobbs, director of Discover Network product management, which includes the issuer's Premium and Premium Plus cards.
"Most of the time, the issuer acquires the customer through a traditional rewards (card) and based on the behavior on that card, the issuer may offer a premium (card)," he says.
So what does it feel like to hold one of these cards? Bankrate dives into the high-class world of elite credit cards and charge cards.
Travel Perks of Elite Rewards Credit Cards
You know those well-dressed individuals who bypass long security lines at the airport and breeze through the fast lanes? They are probably carrying a premium credit card. You'll also see them kicking back in the airport lounge.
Many of these rewards credit cards, such as Barclays' Visa Black Card and the American Express Platinum Card, provide access to airport lounges worldwide. Others feature access to certain carrier's lounges such as the Continental Presidential Plus card by Chase. A layover doesn't sound so bad now, does it?
That's not all. Many of these premium rewards credit cards grant cardholders priority boarding and waive certain airline fees.
The perks keep coming at the hotel. For example, American Express Platinum charge card holders receive room upgrades (depending on room availability), free breakfast, a spa credit, or complimentary food and beverages at participating hotels and resorts worldwide, according to Leah Gerstner, a spokeswoman for American Express.
Those carrying a Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card from Chase can expect similar high-end benefits. Additionally, cardholders get three Ritz-Carlton Club upgrades each year, says company spokeswoman Laura Rossi.
A signature of the Ritz-Carlton experience, Club services include living-room type lounges that offer a hot breakfast buffet, lunchtime sandwiches and salads, afternoon tea with scones and small bites, predinner cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, and late-evening cordials and chocolates.
Service Perks of Elite Rewards Credit Cards
Premium rewards credit cards also come with personal assistants, or something very close to it. Most issuers offer customer service representatives 24/7 to help cardholders with such mundane tasks as procuring hard-to-get tickets, booking a table at Gordon Ramsay's newest restaurant or coordinating one-of-a-kind travel experiences, such as a cruise with the Food Network, says Thomas Hobbs, director of Discover Network product management, which includes the issuer's Premium and Premium Plus cards.
Other unique customer services include emergency translation services, weather forecasts, ATM locations, referrals for specialty services such as dog groomers and tailors, or locating rare books or other items for purchase.
One Discover Premium Plus cardholder sought help after a tree demolished half his house the night before a big vacation.
"The cardholder called, and the concierge helped track down the cardholder's insurance company and helped them rearrange their upcoming vacation," Hobbs says.
This past holiday season, American Express expanded its concierge services to include holiday shopping for its Platinum cardholders. Those lucky enough to hold the silver card could submit their Christmas (or Hanukkah) lists to the concierge gift-buying service, which would research gift options, compare prices, buy the presents and ship them. The only caveats: The purchases had to go on the Platinum card at a retailer that takes American Express.
Exclusive Credit Card Rewards for the Elite
Top-tier credit cards make it easier to earn rewards. For example, if you sign up for an online account and paperless statement, you score 600 extra rewards points if you're a Citi ThankYou Prestige cardholder. American Express Delta Reserve cardholders receive 30,000 Medallion miles in the first year that count toward Delta's elite frequent-flier status. Other premium rewards cards offer simple ways to earn points faster than the conventional 1-for-1 rate, such as travel or purchase bonuses.
Issuers also work overtime to create elite rewards events available only to their premium cardholders. For example, American Express offers "by invitation only" events. Past events included a cookout on the Cayman Islands catered by some of the world's most renowned chefs and an inside experience at the Wimbledon Championship last year.
For only $2,650 per person, or 331,250 rewards points, the upscale cookout at the Ritz-Carlton in the Cayman Islands included food and wine tastings from the likes of Anthony Bourdain, Jose Andres, Charlie Trotter, Susur Lee, Gail Simmons, Cakebread Cellars and Screaming Eagle.
The Wimbledon event offered center-court tickets along with two days of activities, including meals, transportation and hotel accommodations, hosted by former Wimbledon champion Stan Smith. Platinum and Centurion cardholders also got to meet former tennis star John McEnroe along with other former Wimbledon competitors. The price tag? A cool $7,980 per person or 997,500 rewards points.
Status Perks of Elite Rewards Credit Cards
Some of the highest-end credit cards even differentiate themselves by card material. The J.P. Morgan Palladium Credit Card is named after the metal from which it's created. Palladium is a natural white metal that is light and durable -- similar to platinum, but less expensive. Barclays' Visa Black Card is made from carbon, according to the card's website. And the American Express Centurion Card is rumored to be made from graphite.
Both the Palladium and American Express Platinum cards also offer private jet rentals. The service starts at $600 for American Express cardholders. And Barclays' Visa Black Card offers posh gifts from some of the world's top brands, according to the website.
"We don't actually disclose the items that are gifted to card members in advance as they are meant to be surprising, luxury gifts," says Jesse Parker Stowell, a spokesman for Barclays' Visa Black Card.
However, rumored gifts on the Internet include a Cross pen set, Ray-Ban aviator glasses and a Swatch chronograph watch.
The Secret Perks of 1 Elite Credit Card
No roundup of elite credit card perks would be complete without the ghost orchid of rewards cards. The credit card issuer keeps the American Express Centurion card, informally known as the "black card," tightly under wraps. No details are disclosed on the American Express website, and company contacts politely remain hush-hush about the card.
Legend has it that, until recently, the credit card was only available by invitation to select individuals worldwide. The blogosphere now reports individuals can now call American Express to apply, instead of waiting for that exclusive invite. But that remains unconfirmed.
The website BlackCardSource.com provides a running list of celebrities who allegedly possess the famed card. Among them: Janet Jackson, Denzel Washington, Jerry Seinfeld and the Olsen twins.
One juicy detail emerged last year. American Express confirmed to Forbes it was offering Centurion cardholders car rental upgrades to the world's priciest rides. Think Ferrari, Bentley and Lamborghini. Centurion cardholders can even rent a Formula 1 car, according to the report.
So how much does this kind of luxury cost? A $5,000 initiation fee plus a $2,500 annual fee, according to its online card agreement. That isn't chump change.