Isn't ego a wonderful thing? I may, on a few occasions have been accused of having one! AMEX captured the ego centric upper income level consumer by introducing the "Centurian" card. It truly is what it makes itself out to be. You cannot apply, you must be invited and American Express will not release the criteria for being invited. There is a hefty annual fee to maintain membership of this exclusive club. The card isn't plastic, it's metal, and whenever you shop with it, it reminds me of the scene in "Pretty Woman" when Richard Gere takes Julia Roberts clothes shopping on Rodeo Drive, there's a lot of sucking up!!!
Recently Visa have dipped their toe into the "exclusive" card market. The "Visa Black Card", is supposedly an exclusive card limited to 1% of the population. It's annual fee is $495 a year and you can apply for the card and do not need to be "invited". The thing is, the card may be Black, (and made of snazzy carbon), but the deal is really rather grey.
When the card arrived in its small, smart, matt black box, it had the credit details…my "exclusive" Black Card had a $5,000 monthly credit limit. The 1% of the population they were targeting, apparently would not need to spend over $5,000 a month on their card. When I stopped laughing, I called them to find out if I could have the limit raised, which they did, to a mere $25,000, and even then the number seemed to freak out the person in the credit department.
One of the "exclusive" benefits to the "Black Card" is: Travel Priority Pass
"Priority Pass is the world's largest independent airport VIP lounge program, allowing you access to more than 600 airport lounges in over 100 countries worldwide." Certainly sounds good, you get a membership to the worlds largest VIP lounge program…so I get to use all these lounges for free.
Visa have struck a deal with Priority Pass that you get the $99 membership fee waived, you also get two free entries to any lounge in their program, then after that, you pay $27 per visit to any of their lounges. Doesn't sound like too much of a free "exclusive" reward to me.
So what about the other rewards program. Well you earn one point for every dollar you spend, and can redeem those points against travel and items to purchase. It works well but isn't "exclusive", in fact it's the same as my rewards system on my American Express card.
What about the claim that the card is exclusive because it's limited to 1% of the population…"The Black Card is not for everyone. In fact, it is limited to only 1% of U.S. residents to ensure the highest caliber of personal service is provided to every Cardmember." Hold on, there are over 300,000,000 people in the US, so their limited "exclusive" audience is 3,000,000 people? If they got three million people how many concierge people would they have to hire to ensure, "the highest caliber of personal service is provided to every Cardmember." If $3,000,000 people all paid $495 membership fee, that's $1,485,000,000 in membership fees. Wow, that's a business I want to get into, before taking a percentage of any sales, this "Exclusive, limited" card grosses over a billion dollars!!!
The other perks are similar to other credit cards; travel injury insurance; baggage delay insurance; car hire collision damage insurance, purchase security. Things I do like are $1,500 Trip/Cancellation Insurance, but it has to be with a, "Qualifying event", which is not described and very vague.
There is the 24 hour concierge service…so let's give it a go. I called and asked for make a reservation at Boa restaurant in Santa Monica for four people at 8pm. That is about as basic as it gets. After giving my name, zip code for billing, then my address because my billing is in California at my business managers and I live in NY, (notice they didn't ask for my credit card number which would have given them all the information they needed), I was asked to stay on the line until she called the restaurant to see if she could get the reservation. The whole idea of having a concierge is that they do the work, not keep you hanging on the phone. I explained that it would be quicker myself if I were to do that and she should call me back with the reservation. This took 5 minutes to achieve. It would have taken me 3 minutes to do the reservation myself. Now to give them credit, they did call me back 10 minutes later with the reservation. Then came a slightly harder challenge, book dinner for two, on Friday night, at a New York restaurant. Again asked to hold on the line…again explained why it would be stupid to do so. Then the most bizarre thing ever, the concierge representative called me back, saying she couldn't get a hold of the restaurant, and was surfing the web to try and secure a table. An "exclusive" concierge…in fact the whole concierge business is about getting me things I cannot get myself, doing all the work for me. This is a totally lame service.
So, let's recap this "Visa Black Card". It an exclusive card, limited to 3,000,000 people in the US. It charges you $495 for membership, but you end up paying cash for some of their "exclusive" rewards. They claim "Luxury Gifts", but it's very vague and not sure from who and how often. There seems to be no other "exclusive" rewards that are not included in other cards. The only real exclusive thing is the card itself; "Patent Pending Carbon Card", "The Black Card is made with carbon, creating a more unique card, guaranteed to get you noticed." So it really boils down to what started this whole thing. Do you want to pay $495 for a cool Black Card to stroke your over inflated ego? I contacted the company asking for someone to go on record to answer my questions and no one returned my call. The only thing I think is fair, is that I return their card, which I am doing, long live AMEX!