Want to know an easy way to tell the uber-rich from the well off? Take a peek at the plastic they’re dropping. Those in the highest echelons of the one-percenters often pay with credit cards so exclusive, you might not have even heard of them.
You can’t even apply for many of these ultra-glamorous cards — you’ll need to nab an invitation to join first. If you do get one, it’s pretty safe to say you’ve arrived.
But, with annual fees so high they’re sometimes kept secret, and minimum spends often hitting the hundreds of thousands mark, do the perks these cards offer really make them worth it, or is it all about stroking the ego? Here, we evaluate five options.
This card is embedded with a stunning .235 carat diamond and is trimmed in gold. The annual fee remains undisclosed to anyone who hasn’t already been initiated. Allegedly, buying into this card “buy[s] you a relationship manager that provides royal lifestyle management,” says Patricia Russell, a certified financial planner with FinanceMarvel.com. “The Bank of Dubai won’t say any more, so everything else is left to pure speculation.”
She says there appears to be no limit to the credit line and the Bank of Dubai focuses more on the service they offer than money. “Since only the ultra-wealthy obtain this card, the philosophy is that they should just swipe it and watch their wish come true. It is said that even on holidays, requests for high ticket items must be met with prompt service. This might very well be the most exclusive card on the planet,” says Russell.
This all-black card is shrouded with mystery — rumors of an ultra-exclusive no-limit black card from American Express began circulating in the 1980s. The Centurion was officially introduced in 1999 by invitation only to people who charged in excess of $250,000 to $1,000,000 the previous year, says Mark Huntley, co-founder of CreditKnocks.com. How’s that for a status symbol? But, you’ll pay royally for it. “The initiation fee is $7,500 and $2,500 annually,” says Greg Mahnken, a credit industry analyst with Credit Card Insider.
In addition to the private lounges and bar access around the world offered by other American Express cards, Centurion cardholders are allegedly able to purchase literally anything they desire. “While a majority of these cases remains hush hush, there is one famous story that makes its rounds across the internet,” says Russell. “It is said that one cardholder wanted to purchase the horse rode by Kevin Costner in the film ‘Dances with Wolves.’ Amex managed to locate the exact horse in Mexico and had it flown out to Europe for their client.”
So what do experts say about its value? “If you are looking for a credit card solely for clout, there is none better,” says Huntley. “However, if you are looking for a prestigious credit card that also includes incredible perks and value, this is not the card for you. This is a card for people who are looking to make an impression when they pull out their credit card.”
J.P. Morgan Reserve Card (previously called Palladium)
Rumor has it this card is made out of palladium and can only be acquired by those with at least $10 million stashed in Chase Private Bank. Much like the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, this one comes with a $450 annual fee and $300 travel credit. However, “the visual differences are quite striking, and it easily differentiates the one percent of the one percent from the rest of Chase customers,” says Russell.
One of the best benefits of the card is that it is a hidden trade line and doesn’t appear on the cardmember’s credit report, says Jason Alderson, head of the wealth management division of Elbert Capital Management in Denver. “This card earns points in a similar manner to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, but offers additional unpublished benefits allowing the ultra-rich to travel in style.”
When it comes down to it, though, the card may not have much real value beyond the flash. Still, “it offers an exclusive experience to the cardholder and makes one hell of a clink when thrown on the Nieman Marcus counter,” says Alderson.
This black card with a large C emblazoned on it is said to only be available to anyone with enough money in their Citigroup brokerage account. “The exact threshold is unknown, but the card features a $300,000 credit limit,” says Russell. The card has a $500 annual fee and comes with perks like a 24-hour concierge service, exclusive access to private lounges, and additional travel upgrades available only to cardholders.
Stratus Rewards Visa
The perks to this one are pretty appealing. “You get a a personal concierge available at your convenience to help with travel plans, or potentially get you a chili cheese hot dog with jalapenos and crushed potato chips at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday,” says Russ Nauta, owner of CreditCardReviews.com. Then, there are free nights and upgrades at luxury hotels, redemption of points for access to a private jet, or even business-class airfare for you and six travel companions. He says you have the ability to pool and redeem points with family and friends.
So where’s the catch? “The $150,000 annual spend and $1,500 annual fee,” says Nauta. “But it probably won’t make cardholders bat an eye.”
Sheryl Nance-Nash is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, travel, and business. Her work has appeared in Money Magazine, Forbes.com, Newsday, ABCNews.com, Global Travler, Afar, Fodors, RD.com, Orbitz, ShermansTravel, and Upscale Magazine, among others. She lives in New York.