Black Is The New Platinum

I remember way back when credit card companies offered just one type of card. Any “prestige” associated with a credit card was based on who issued it.

In my senior year of college, American Express offered me (and presumably the entire graduating class) a credit card because it wanted a long term relationship and was confident I’d become the type of card holder they want. I jumped on that offer because American Express was a prestigious card with no specified charge limit. That was my first credit card. From there, I worked my way down to VISA and MasterCard. 😉

Then, the stratification began. American Express came out with a “gold” card that offered many benefits other credit cards did not. Such as extended warranty, purchase protection for lost, broken or stolen items, and secondary insurance coverage on rental cars. And even though the annual fee was higher, those benefits were worth it and so I upgraded.

But when VISA and MasterCard came out with their gold cards, with almost identical benefits as American Express but without an annual fee, I reluctantly said goodbye to American Express. (I returned to American Express a few years ago because their “Blue Cash” card offers 3% back on grocery purchases and 2% back on department stores and gas purchases.)

Then, “gold” cards were replaced by “platinum” cards. I don’t think there are “gold” cards any more.  Some credit card companies do not offer a “platinum” card. To my knowledge, Discover does not.

Now it appears there’s a new “prestige” credit card level – black. I believe that as with the “gold” card, American Express was the first to develop this ultra premium card. Here’s some info about it:

“Known as the “Black Card”, the Centurion gets its distinctive color from the anodized titanium used to make it. Unlike most credit cards, for which anyone can apply, to get a Centurion card you must be invited. Like the Platinum card, the Centurion earns Membership Rewards points, and includes a bounty of exclusive, concierge-style perks like guaranteed tables at three-star restaurants, priority bookings at luxury hotels, invitations to private cultural events, personal shoppers at major retailers, and the bling factor of slinging a heavyweight metal card that few people have ever actually seen in person. In order to maintain Centurion membership, a card holder is expected to make and pay off at least $250,000 worth of purchases a year.”

American Express proclaims that “membership has its privileges.” Like any other snooty club, membership isn’t cheap. There’s an “initiation fee”…$5,000. And an annual fee…$2,500. That keeps out the riff raff.

So where am I going with this? A few days ago, we received an invitation for a VISA black card. Well, not “we”… Susie received it.

The invitation came from Barclay’s. I have a Choice Hotels Rewards card from Barclay’s. Susie has no credit card from Barclay’s, so her name must have come up from checking with the credit reporting bureaus for a list of folks with high credit ratings. (Our credit ratings are very similar, so maybe I’ll receive an invitation soon, especially since my 827 credit rating score is just a tad bit higher than her 822, with 850 being the maximum.)

Normally, we toss any credit card offers since I have four rewards cards and she has two. (We use whichever card gets us the most rewards.) But I wanted to see what all the fuss about black cards is about. The envelope was a lot heavier than other offers we’ve received, an indication they were making a strong pitch.

So we checked the offer out…

barclayblack

The Barclay’s black card describes itself as “the ultimate buying tool.” They note that this black card has twice the rewards value of “our leading competitor”when points are redeemed for airfare.  But  the footnote says the “leading competitor” is the American Express Platinum card, which seems to be comparing apples and oranges. Why not compare black card to black card?

If you’re not interested in airfare for rewards, you can use points for hotel stays or cash back. As with the American Express black card, members have access to hundreds of airport lounges. Also, “VIP treatment” (whatever that means) at over 3,000 hotels around the world. And a 24-hour concierge service.

The Barclay’s black card is made of “a stainless steel front and a unique carbon back.” Although it’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Barclay’s is not interested in flattery. The card design and construction are protected by not one but two patents.

Of course, all these benefits are not without cost. But compared to American Express’ black card costs, Barclay’s is a relative bargain  No “initiation fee.” And just a $495 annual fee (plus another $195 for each additional authorized user). No mention  of an expected minimum annual spending amount to keep the card.

Of course, we are not going to apply. I’m not trying to impress anyone. But it was nice to be invited…

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