Thanks to high unemployment and rising personal bankruptcies, banks in the credit card business suffered their first losses in decades last year. But bankers need not fret. The rich still love their plastic, and banks are ready to soak them for all they’re worth with an array of elite cards–keys to exclusive and expensive privileges most working stiffs can only dream about.
Appealing to James Bond wannabes, they come with high annual fees and minimum spending requirements north of $250,000. They can be used to secure a private jet, rent a yacht at a moments notice or drop in the VIP tent at the Monaco Grand Prix. Even the cards themselves are different, made with titanium or carbon or embedded with diamond chips.
American Express Centurion Card
The Black card was an urban legend until 1999, when, according to the website luxuryplastic.com, Amex came out with an actual product. It is invitation only and said to be targeted at people who spend more than $250,000 a year on their cards–the types of people who need to rent a submarine in a hurry, for example. The annual fee is $2,500 and the fee to open the account is $5,000.
American Express Platinum
This is what more normal high-end people get from Amex. The annual fee is $495 and for that you get a variety of travel and shopping perks and access to exclusive events and around the clock concierge service. Platinum is currently offering cardholders a trip to the Ryder Cup golf tournament in Wales and a private dinner with golf talent for $8,600 a person or 1,075,000 rewards points.
Issued through several U.S. banks with the Visa logo, the Signature program recently rolled out a partnership with luxury hotels worldwide, offering card holders automatic upgrades, food vouchers and VIP status. Signature card holders also get first crack at tickets for things like the upcoming James Beard Foundation Awards in New York, including a gala reception featuring 25 top chefs.
Issued outside the U.S., these also offer a variety of concierge and travel insurance and assistance perks and shopping and cultural event discounts. South African cardholders currently are being offered a trip through wine country with a noted wine maker. U.K. cardholders are being offered 20% off the penthouse at a boutique Covent Garden hotel.
Offered though Barclays, it is available to just 1% of U.S. residents “to ensure the highest caliber of personal service is provided to every cardmember,” according to its website. The fee, $495, is comparably lower than Centurion. Barclays boasts the card is made with carbon and is “guaranteed to get you noticed.” Or mugged, maybe.
Stratus White Card
Stratus, a Santa Barbara, Calif., company, offers a variety of exclusive lifestyle-enhancing perks for people who are too sexy for their shirts and definitely never fly commercial. Now beginning a push in Europe, next month it is holding events for cardholders at the Monaco Grand Prix including “three days of priceless hospitality, celebrity parties, track side race viewing, and exclusive on track hot laps on the world famous Monaco Grand Prix circuit.”
Now a part of Royal Bank of Scotland, Coutts & Co. is the private bank to the Queen of England. It issues a purple card to an ultra exclusive group said to number only in the 100s, according to luxuryplastic.com, including Elizabeth II. Its concierge service will charter a yacht, find a nanny, or recommend an interior designer.
Citibank Chairman’s Card
Offered to clients of Citi’s private banking and brokerage groups, this card offers a variety of travel and concierge services and rewards points for a $500 annual fee. Amenities include reduced fees and flight time credits for Marquis Jet/Luxury Private Jet Services and complimentary breakfast for two and room upgrades at Ritz Carlton, Mandarin Oriental, Fairmont Hotels and others
Offered through the private bank and private client divisions of Bank of America and its Merrill Lynch brokerage. Bank of America offers clients with more than $200,000 in assets in the bank “enhanced” benefits like identity theft protection and recovery services, and access to more than 500 airport lounges. They also match charitable contributions.
This has a tiny diamond embedded on the face of the card. With a $1,000 annual fee, it is issued through commodities-rich Kazakhstan’s Kazkommertsbank and Dubai First, the consumer finance arm of Dubai Group. Both cards offer “lifestyle” managers who are at cardholder’s beck and call around the clock. Dubai’s offering has no preset spending limit.
Offered in Asia, this card has a $2000 annual fee and features perks like exclusive one-day use of a 80-foot luxury Ferretti yacht, 48-hour use of a Maserati 4200 Spyder; and a chauffer-driven Bentley limousine throughout the day until midnight.