Market leader American Express launched its Platinum Card back in the 1980s; made available by invitation only to current American Express cardholders who had held a card for more than two years, who spent significantly on it, and who always paid it off on time. At a time when hair was big and shoulder pads were bigger, the materialistic power of that flash of platinum was almost too much to bear for any self-respecting yuppie.
Today, that shine has more or less worn away. Platinum cards are everywhere – and you certainly don’t need an invitation to apply. With gold cards more or less retired, platinum has become the middle rung on the credit card ladder. So, with the classic card below, platinum has something bigger and better above: the black card.
The Evolution of Black
Seemingly, black is the new platinum, which again, we can thank American Express for. Prior to its introduction in 1999, the Centurion Card – or Black Card – from American Express was only a myth. With rumours running rampant of an ultra-exclusive black card for elite customers, American Express decided to capitalise on this by creating the card grown out of legend.
Like the Platinum Card before it, the Black Card was – and still is – available by invitation only. In fact, this is a card that is so exclusive that much of what the card offers is not fully known by the general public. Rumour has it, you have to spend at least US$250,000 (approximately AUD$365,000) each year on your Platinum American Express Card just to be considered for an invitation.
And the perks? Cardholders may enjoy unlimited spending, as well as access to a concierge service that can reportedly make the impossible possible. Extras abound for holders of this piece of anodised titanium, many of which us mere mortals will never get a whiff of. So, what’s the alternative for you if platinum is just too passé?
Just like the platinum card, black cards have become widely available throughout Australia. While these ‘everyday’ black cards may not offer the jaw-dropping style of American Express’s Black Card, they are somewhat easier to get your hands on – and they have plenty of extras to keep you entertained as well.
Black Card Features You’ll Want To Make Yours
Checking out the black cards – also referred to as titanium, diamond, ultimate and more – currently in the market, you can see the features offered on each card range greatly. While some black cards offer little more than their platinum cousins, others promise the world. Here are some features you may want to look out for as you compare black cards.
Higher Credit Limits
Black cards are designed for big spenders, so it only makes sense they tend to offer higher credit limits than platinum and classic cards. As a charge card, the American Express Black Card doesn’t have set spending limits. And although cardholders have to prove their ability to spend and repay, there have been reports of some wild purchases on this card in the past.
One cardholder reportedly bought a US$300,000 (approximately AUD$435,000) Bentley using their Black Card, however, the largest Black Card purchase on record goes to the cardholder who apparently spent US$52 million (approximately AUD$75.3 million) on a private jet.
Higher Points Earning Potential
Black cards are often linked to rewards programs, allowing cardholders to earn points on their spending. Just as platinum cards tend to offer a higher earn rate than classic cards, black cards provide even more points per dollar spent, and may offer uncapped points earning.
As for introductory bonus offers, these again, tend to be bigger than platinum bonus offers, although they typically come with a higher minimum spend requirement. Also on offer may be birthday bonuses, providing a certain percentage of the year’s points earn back to the cardholder on his birthday, or bonus Status Credits on black cardholder spending.
Airport Lounge Access
Many of the features offered on black cards are geared towards the frequent traveller. And why not? Cardholders who have enough cash to make a black card worthwhile are surely going to spend a good deal of that money on exotic adventuring.
Black cards will often provide airport lounge access, allowing cardholders to keep a safe distance from the hoi polloi in the airport. While platinum cards also offer this feature, some will limit lounge access to a couple of invitations a year.
Not so the black card – for the most part, anyway. While it may be branded a platinum card, the American Express Platinum Card is so high end, it’s in black card territory. Alongside a dizzying array of features, it provides cardholders with access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection, including the Centurion Lounge, International American Express Lounges, Priority Pass Lounges, Plaza Premium Lounges, Virgin Australia domestic lounges and Delta Sky Club lounges.
Who needs travel credit when you have money to burn, right? Not exactly. Money is money, even to black cardholders Travel credit is offered on a number of black cards, as it can help to balance out the hefty annual fee cardholders are expected to fork out.
Currently, the Qantas American Express Ultimate Card offers $450 Qantas Travel Credit to cardholders each year, which can be used for eligible international or domestic Qantas flights when you book and pay online at American Express Travel. As this travel credit is the same as the card’s annual fee, you can see why it may appeal to cardholders who frequently fly with Qantas.
In a similar vein, those who hold a Mastercard Black Card receive an annual US$100 (AUD$145) air travel credit that can be used towards flight-related purchases including flights, baggage fees, upgrades and more, while the Qantas Premier Titanium card provides a 10% discount on eligible Qantas flights for up to two travellers each year.
Hotel privileges for black cardholders come in all shapes and sizes. The Citi Prestige Card, for example, provides one complimentary night per year at any of the card’s 80 premium partner hotels, as well as the fourth night free when staying at a range of more than 900 hotels around the world. Further hotel privileges on this card include fast track to elite status at selected hotel groups, room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, early check-in and late checkout.
Meanwhile, on the American Express Platinum Card, cardholders are provided access to the Fine Hotels and Resorts program, which is said to offer complimentary benefits with an average total value of more than $700, as well as complimentary Accor Plus membership valued at $395 per year. These programs focus on offering room upgrades where available, food and beverage credit and other lovely extras that guests staying in standard rooms would likely swoon at.
Making travelling as seamless and as stress-free as possible, black cards can also offer cardholders assistance at the airport. Where the rest of us have to slog it out in mind-numbingly boring queues at every turn, those with a Citi Prestige Card can enjoy a ‘Meet & Assist’ service at Asia-Pacific airports, twice a year, which includes fast track immigration and a VIP limousine service.
Car Rental Privileges
Of course, black cardholders can’t be expected to slum it when they get to the car hire desk. Instead, American Express Black Card holders are said to enjoy access to a luxury car rental service through the Centurion Auto program, which provides preferred pricing on exotic high-end vehicles like Lamborghinis, Bentleys and even Formula One racing cars. For everyday car rentals, there are of course handy extras such as car rental insurance and roadside assistance, including free towing and jumpstarting, as well as elite status with car rental companies like Hertz and Avis.
Another feature often found on platinum cards, ‘complimentary’ insurance covering both travel and retail purchases is also typically found on black cards as well. This can include overseas travel insurance, interstate flight inconvenience cover and transit accident insurance, as well as purchase cover insurance, extended warranty and a guaranteed pricing scheme.
While not particularly exciting, these covers can provide value for money for black cardholders – as long as they understand how to activate their cover, and what exclusions and limitations may apply.
Personal Concierge Service
Offering a step up from the platinum concierge service, a black card concierge can apparently make more things happen. While ‘everyday’ black cards such as Westpac’s Black range provides cardholders with a 24/7 Altitude Black Card Priority Service line, American Express Black Card holders are apparently treated to something a bit more special.
No request is unreasonable for this deluxe concierge service, which can be used to reserve tables at the most exclusive restaurants, to request extended opening hours at designer boutiques, and book front row tickets at sold-out gigs. Seemingly, this concierge even managed to track down Kevin Costner’s horse in Dances with Wolves to have it delivered to a buyer in Europe.
Golf and Big Money often go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise some black cards offer cardholders exclusive golf privileges. The Citi Prestige Card provides three complimentary green fees each year at 20 participating golf clubs across Asia Pacific. Time to tee off? Perhaps a trip to the nineteenth hole for a swift G&T is in order first.
Mastercard offers a number of Priceless extras to holders of the Mastercard Black Card. With Priceless Cities, they can explore the world’s greatest cities to enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities. Priceless Surprises, on the other hand, offers exclusive surprises to cardholders. According to Mastercard, “You never know where, when or who we will surprise next!”
Meanwhile, Priceless Golf provides access to exclusive golf offers and experiences with the PGA Tour, with the opportunity to meet the Mastercard Golf Ambassadors, get tips and instructions from golf professionals, access the Tournament Players Club (TPC) network of private club courses, walk inside the ropes with the pros or join an official Pro-Am event.
Other black card features to look out for may include the American Express Invites program, which provides cardholders with access to specially curated experiences that are not open to the general public, and a complimentary AFR digital subscription – both of which are available on the American Express Platinum Card.
Meanwhile, on the Mastercard Black Card, cardholders can benefit from Cruise Privileges, offering access to exclusive amenities while travelling on more than 20 of the world’s most popular cruise lines. The card also offers Global Luggage Delivery, which allows cardholders to send their luggage around the world, avoiding the hassle of carrying, checking and claiming bags when travelling.
Also on offer on this card is the opportunity to charter travel services, to fly by private jet or luxury yacht, or to arrange chauffeured transportation, with chauffeurs waiting to assist cardholders 24/7. And just in case you’re in need of a little pick-me-up, the card’s Luxury Gift Program will send you gifts now and then from some of the world’s most iconic and recognised brand names.
Black Card Costs
Now to the most important part: the cost of keeping a black card. As with anything high-end, if you need to look at the price tag, you probably can’t afford it. While ‘everyday’ black cards are not much more expensive than your average platinum card, some definitely reach into ‘high-end price tag’ territory.
Say you meet the spend requirement to receive an invite for the American Express Black Card, you will then be expected to pay a one-off initiation fee and an annual fee each year. While these figures are not advertised, it has been reported that the initiation fee may range between US$5,000 and US$7,500 (approximately AUD$7,250 and $10,800), while the annual fee sits around US$2,500 (approximately AUD$3,600).
Annual fees for higher end black cards – that don’t require an invitation to apply – range from $1,450 for the American Express Platinum Card, $1,200 for the Qantas Premier Titanium card, and $700 for the Citi Prestige Card. Somewhat more affordable are the banks’ ‘everyday’ black cards, which include the ANZ Rewards Black Credit Card, with an annual fee of $375, and the Westpac Altitude Black Qantas Card, with an annual fee of $300.
As you may have guessed, given their higher credit limits, black cards also tend to have higher minimum income requirements. For the American Express Black Card, it is reported you would have to have an annual income higher than US$1.3 million (approximately AUD$1.8 million) to be entitled to apply. However, if you want to apply for the American Express Platinum Card, you’ll need to pull in at least $100,000 per year; for the Qantas Premier Titanium card, at least $200,000 per year; and for the Citi Prestige Card, at least $150,000 per year.
So, is the higher price tag really worth it? If you choose the right card with the right features – and you actually make use of those features – the higher price tag could certainly be worth paying. It’s just a case of working out the value of the features on offer – including any rewards you may earn – and comparing that to the card’s annual fee.
If you’re lucky, you may find a black card you like with a reduced annual fee, giving you the opportunity to try the card at a lower cost for the first year, to then weigh up whether it’s the right option for you.
Comparing the Options
At CreditCard.com.au, we’re all for comparison. There is little more important than comparing the options if you want to make sure you get the card that best suits your needs. To give you an idea of what to look for, we’re going to compare three options currently offered by ANZ. Each offers cardholders the opportunity to earn points on the ANZ Rewards program, but are tweaked to suit different cardholder spending habits.
As the classic card option, the ANZ Rewards Credit Card offers an earn rate of 1 ANZ Rewards Point per $1 up to $1,000 per month, then 0.5 Points per $1. New cardholders can also get their hands on 25,000 bonus ANZ Rewards Points after a $1,000 spend in the first three months. The card has an annual fee of $80 and a minimum annual income of $15,000.
The next step up the ladder, the ANZ Rewards Platinum Credit Card provides an earn rate of 1.5 ANZ Rewards Points per $1 up to $2,000 per month, then 0.5 Points per $1. New cardholders get $50 cashback and 50,000 bonus ANZ Rewards Points after a $2,000 minimum spend within the first three months. The card offers a range of insurances, for a $95 annual fee, with a minimum annual income requirement of $35,000.
Top of the heap is the ANZ Rewards Black Credit Card, which earns 2 ANZ Rewards Points per $1 up to $7,500 per month, then 1 Point per $1. New cardholders get 100,000 bonus ANZ Rewards Points and $100 cashback after a $4,000 spend in three months. Extras include airport lounge access and insurance covers for a $375 annual fee, with a minimum annual income of $75,000.
Time To Get Carried Away
So, now we’ve talked about cards we could maybe, just about afford, let’s look at some cards you are unlikely ever to set eyes on. These are the rarest of the rare, the most exclusive of the bunch. These are the gold filled, diamond-encrusted beauties that would make even a Kardashian blush.
Dubai First Royale MasterCard
Embedded with a white .235-carat solitaire diamond and trimmed with gold, this card is the Dubai Group’s exclusive offering to UAE royalty and the region’s top millionaires. Available by invitation only, the card is only offered to the elite few, with qualification and fee details almost as elusive as the card itself. Cardholders are said to be able to ask for almost anything, while taking advantage of no-limit spending, a dedicated relationship manager and an exclusive offering of ‘Royale Lifestyle Management’, whatever that is.
Eurasian Diamond Card Visa Infinite
Another card featuring diamond and gold ornament, the Eurasian Diamond Card Visa Infinite card requires more than just a big bank balance to be eligible. As a card that “cannot be bought”, it requires applicants to have either a personal recommendation from the Eurasian Bank’s Management Board or from two current Eurasian Diamond cardholders. Also offering no-limit spending, the card requires cardholders to have a minimum annual income of more than US$300,000 (approximately AUD$435,000) to qualify. Perks include a personalised concierge service, VIP airport lounge access, and Visa exclusives such as hotel discounts, ticket pre-sales, luxury dining and spa offers.
JPMorgan Chase Palladium
As the name suggests, this card is made of palladium, sprinkled with some 24K gold for good measure. Offered by invitation only to clients of JPMorgan’s private banking wealth management or investment banking arms, cardholders have to have at least US$250,000 (approximately AUD$360,000) privately managed by this US financial giant. For an annual fee of US$595 (AUD$865), the card offers an array of perks including a full United Club membership, unlimited lounge access and Priority Pass, and access to private jet charters.
Coutts World Silk Card
Offered by the Royal Bank of Scotland, this card is exclusively offered to Coutts clients only, which happens to include the Queen. While it may be tastefully unembellished, the card offers charge card spending starting at £20,000 (approximately AUD$40,000), depending on cardholder finances. With an annual fee of £350 (AUD$645), the card offers access to insurance covers, travel lounge and Priority Pass perks, luxury brand offers, concierge services and exclusive memberships with hotels, airlines, jet and cruise companies.
Sberbank Visa Infinite Gold Card
While Coutts may keep their card simple, Kazakhstani outfit Sberbank certainly doesn’t. The Sberbank Visa Infinite Gold Card is crafted from solid gold, inlaid with mother of pearl and .17 carats worth of diamonds. Only issued to 100 of the bank’s top clients, the card reportedly comes at a cost of US$100,000 (approximately AUD$145,000), which is made up of a US$65,000 account fee, and US$35,000 opening credit. Some of the perks on offer include US$250,000 life insurance coverage, exclusive concierge services, VIP access to some of the world’s finest golf courses, luxury holidays and fast-track immigration at airports around the world.
Stratus Rewards Visa
Another exclusive invitation-only card, the Stratus Rewards Visa requires a referral from an existing cardholder or a Stratus Rewards partner company before potential candidates are even considered. Also known as the White Card, it is often thought of as the definitive card for ultra-elite jetsetters, with redeemable rewards on offer including private jet flight-time and personal consults with a famed lifestyle expert. With an annual fee of US$1,500 (AUD$2,200), the card also offers perks that include personal concierge services, discounted charter flights, complimentary car services and luxury hotel upgrades, and exclusive gift bags.
American Express Centurion Card
The card that started it all, the American Express Centurion Card – or Black Card – requires an invitation to apply, of course. Those special few chosen for the honour are expected to stump up a US$7,500 initiation fee (AUD$10,800) plus an annual membership fee of US$2,500 (AUD$3,600), which gives them no-limit spending, and access to a personal concierge service that would do its best to put the moon on a plate for cardholders should they think to ask. Not much else is known about the perks on offer, as they are not advertised. You’ll just need to wait for that invite then.
Time to apply?
Okay, so it’s unlikely you’re going to be applying for any of the seven super-charged black cards mentioned here, but what about one of the black cards currently available with no invitation needed? That’s really going to come down to three main factors: whether you can afford it, whether you need what’s on offer, and whether you are eligible.
In terms of eligibility, aside from the stiff minimum income requirement, black cards also tend to require excellent credit from applicants. Before applying, it’s a good idea to take a good look at the small print to see what you will need to be eligible. While you’re there, you’ll also want to check out the card’s features in more detail.
Black card features tend to be more complex, and you may need to opt in to take advantage of certain programs. Considering the price tag on some of these cards, you’ll likely want to make the most of the features on offer. Unfortunately that will mean spending some time reading the terms and conditions – or alternatively, you could always get your butler to do that for you.
As for status, it’s hard to say whether there really is any status to be had from flashing a black card these days. With ‘everyday’ black cards, perhaps not. If you happen to have something inlaid with gold and diamonds, then you might get a few envious glances when you tap and go. But chances are, with a card like that in your hand, you’re far too rich to care.
Exchange rates and credit card features are correct as of May 2019.