For a long time, the American Express Centurion (the "Black Card") was king of credit cards. Now, financial institutions such as Bank of America offer high-reward prestige cards with perks like customised concierge service, discounts and travel lounges. There is a lot of competition for VIP clientele and banks are clamouring to offer the next best luxury item.
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Luxury charge cards are prestige items that separate the biggest spenders from normal consumers. Since many are invitation-only, they are an instant marker to "those in the know" about a person's financial stature and spending power. These low-interest, exclusive cards are gateways to a large variety of special functions and perks. For instance, prestige cardholders may request a round of golf with Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, or have a nice glass of champagne while perusing the latest at Harry Winston. Luxe cards are a signal to others that the holder is accustomed to nothing but the best.
For many, the American Express Centurion card is still the one to have. Called "the Black Card," the Amex Centurion is crafted from solid titanium and is owned by a scant 17,000 card members. According to CNN Money, members "must charge at least £162,500 a year. Then there's a £3,250 initiation fee and an annual fee of £1,625. On the plus side, there's no annual percentage rate, because cardholders are generally required to pay off their balance each month." Amex cards are technically classified as charge cards, not credit cards, so the total bill must be paid in full monthly.
MasterCard and Visa programs are a bit more accessible. According to AOL Money, "MasterCard and Visa offer their own versions of these chichi cards. The annual fees aren't too frightening, £55 or less in most cases, but you have to earn at least £81,250 a year and spend at least £1,300 a month with your card." One of these cards, the Stratus White Visa, is among the best of the best because of its travel-related perks.
These luxury cards are often found in the hands of the rich and famous. Hollywood celebrities such as Diddy (Sean Combs), Jay-Z and Paris Hilton have been sighted shopping with their Black Cards. Luxe card holders also frequent shopping hot spots like Fifth Avenue in New York City, Los Angeles' Rodeo Drive and the prestigious Short Hills Mall in New Jersey.
There are other prestige credit cards in the world. England's Queen Elizabeth II holds a Coutts & Co. World Card, available only to the private bank's account holders who have several million pounds on deposit. A black, diamond-encrusted credit card called the Dubai First Royale Black MasterCard is now the hot card of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates. Wherever the jet-setters go, the luxury cards follow.
There are countless benefits to these credit cards. For instance, the Stratus White Visa comes with access to special airport lounges, price breaks on private jet rentals and gift bags that rival those handed out at major award shows. The Neiman-Marcus InCircle card gifts its user with shoe fittings at Salvatore Ferragamo and trips to New York Fashion Week. The Queen's Coutts card concierge service will arrange for after-hours shopping at the cardholder's favourite retail locations. Amex Black Card stories include auditions for soap operas, custom-built children's cars and surprise lunches with celebrities.
In the past decade, there's been increased competition for the business of the wealthy. With so many cards and services on the market, it seems like many of their perks and benefits run together. There could be a saturation of the luxury card market. Or, in times of economic hardship, could the luxury cards look frivolous and callous? As wealth and luxury become more international, these high-class credit cards could become more common in parts of the world that are rising economically. Card companies may be tasked with figuring out ways to cater to wealthy clientele while still keeping safe from economic hard weather.
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