It rarely makes sense to own a credit card that charges an annual fee. I own one credit card that charges an annual fee after the first year — Continental Airlines OnePlus Card which was replaced by the United MileagePlus Explorer Card– and I might cancel before they charge my first annual fee. Even if I don’t, I fly United often enough so that the services provided, including free checked bags, make the fee worthwhile to me.
This card’s annual fee is modest, particularly when compared to cards that market their services to the super-rich and those who think they ought to be. These “luxury” credit cards offer access to airport lounges, dedicated concierges, and travel assistance. Some services are available to owners of free credit cards, but in some cases, the rewards go beyond what is typical. Some atypical rewards include free hotel stays at prestigious locales and invitations to special private events.
Most of the appeal of these cards is status. The mystique surrounding the “American Express Black Card” existed before the card itself existed, and American Express took advantage of that reputation when it created the Centurion card. If owning a credit card can be prestigious, this is the one to get, but it will cost you.
Citibank Chairman Card
For a $500 annual fee, you could become a member of the Citibank Chairman Card. This card is offered on American Express’s network. Like all luxury cards, the Citibank Chairman Card offers travel and concierge services. In addition to commercial travel benefits, like access to airport lounges, customers have the option of becoming members in programs that allow access to private jets.
Visa Black Card
The Visa Black Card, offered by Barclays Bank, is purported to be available to only 1% of the population of the United States. That’s still about three million people, so membership isn’t quite so exclusive. Nevertheless, the Visa Black Card offers benefits that are more inline with The Platinum Card from American Express. If you use concierge and travel services, you may find the $495 annual fee worthwhile.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Unlike the above two cards, The Platinum Card from American Express is a charge card, not a credit card. There’s no APR because you’ll owe your bill in full every month. If you’d prefer to fly privately, the card offers chartered flights, membership in a private jet company, and fractional ownership.
When traveling, you can use American Express Platinum Travel Services for exclusive reservations at villas and resorts. The card’s $450 annual fee is easily recovered if you’re a frequent world traveler and you utilize the no foreign transaction fees with purchases made on your card and the annual airline fee statement credit of up to $200 when you select a qualifying airline. Terms & restrictions apply.
American Express Centurion
The dollar version of the American Express Centurion Card costs $2,500 each year you own it, in addition to a $5,000 initiation fee when you are approved. It’s available by invitation only, so you won’t find any links here to apply for the card. If you charge more than $250,000 a year on an The Platinum Card from American Express, you may be eligible to enroll.
This card is a favorite among celebrities both real and fictional, who are often pictured in the media spending frivolously using the AmEx Centurion Card.
For most people, these cards will never fulfill the promise that the high fees provide. The cards excel at consolidating the types of benefits world travelers with significant amounts of disposal income might enjoy, like private travel, access to unique events, and vacations in isolated locations. Celebrities whose image is important to their future earning capacity could possibly argue the need for a Centurion Card, but the argument isn’t completely solid. Many celebrities would be better off by not spending frivolously.
Most of us are not celebrities and have to watch our spending closely. We many never take advantage of the services offered by these cards, such as private jets and exclusive hotel reservations.
What do you think about these luxury credit cards?
Updated August 23, 2016 and originally published February 22, 2011.