Don't bother applying for these credit cards. If you qualify, they'll find you.
A small group of elite credit cards are gaining in popularity among affluent consumers. Rather than appeal to a broad customer base, the cards target a small segment of customers who routinely spend more than $100,000 on their cards annually.
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These elite cards are marketed as a status symbol, offering prestige as well as exceptional perks and personalized services. Sky-high annual fees and ultra-selective issuance standards ensure that only a small group of high rollers possess the cards. (From car insurance to concert tickets, be sure to take advantage of whatever your card has to offer. Check out Credit Card Perks You Never Knew You Had.)
American Express's Centurion Card is widely considered the leader in this segment, and is arguably the most prestigious. First issued in 1999, the card itself is reportedly made from titanium to help differentiate it from other cards.
The Centurion card offers a wide array of benefits, including concierge services, luxury travel, dining, shopping and special events. Hotel rewards vary, but may include complimentary butler service, free nights, room upgrades, free meals or special suites. Cardholders receive invitations to special high-end events reserved only for Centurion members.
As part of its marketing, American Express maintains an air of secrecy surrounding the card. The company does not publicly disclose the criteria for being selected for the card, and unsolicited applications are not accepted.
It is widely rumored that one way to be selected for the card is to hold another American express card and spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000 annually on the card. The fees for the Centurion card are not disclosed, but a variety of sources state that the U.S. version of the card comes with a one-time initiation fee of $5,000 and a $2,500 annual fee thereafter. (Managing your debt could mean the difference between spending $45,000 or saving $184,000. Check out Expert Tips For Cutting Credit Card Debt.)
Stratus Rewards Card
Launched in 2004, the Stratus Rewards Visa Card is similar to the Centurion card in many ways. Like the Centurion card, you can't apply for the Stratus Rewards card. Instead, you must be invited by a Stratus Rewards partner company or be nominated by an existing cardholder. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Stratus Rewards card charges a $1,500 annual fee.
Cardholders gain access to concierge services and special events, and receive high-end "award show" gift bags periodically. In addition, members can earn points toward discounted private jet flights, car services and luxury hotel upgrades.
Less Expensive Elite Cards
If you're not excited to pay thousands each year for a credit card, there are several other elite cards available for lower fees with many of the same benefits. They may not carry as much prestige, but they won't put as large of a dent in your wallet.
Cards to consider in this category include the American Express Platinum card, the Citi Chairman American Express Card and the Barclays Visa Black Card. All of these cards come with luxurious concierge services and travel benefits, though perhaps with slightly less luster than the super high-end Centurion and Stratus cards.
The annual fee for each of these cards is about $500. Not cheap, but seemingly a bargain compared with the Centurion or Stratus cards. And these cards have the added benefit that you can actually apply for them, though you'll still need great credit and a high income to be accepted.
The Bottom Line
For the segment of the jet-set crowd that would qualify for super high-end cards like the Centurion or Stratus, the extreme benefits and convenience offered could be worth the money. However, the rewards generally require a lifestyle of frequent luxury travel and high spending on the card.
For more moderate spenders, it may be a better value to go with a less expensive card and simply purchase separately any features or services that you feel are missing. (Charging purchases is not always a no-no. In fact, there are some very sound reasons for choosing this option. See 10 Reasons To Use Your Credit Card.)