You may have heard of the recent antics of a high-rolling businessman and his recent night out with friends in an exclusive London nightclub. In one evening, the businessman and 15 friends (plus many other people who crashed the party) quenched their huge thirst with 102 bottles of champagne, 11 bottles of vodka and a huge Methuselah bottle of champagne (the equivalent of 8 regular-size bottles). You would probably have had to reach the age of Methuselah to pay the bill: a massive £105,805. But the Dubai-based businessman had no problem paying for it; he simply whipped out his American Express Centurion (commonly known as American Express Black) card, and the bill was settled.
American Express has taken the first and second slots in a ranking of credit card preferences among high-net worth (minimum $5 million) and high-income (at least $200,000 annually) consumers with its American Express Centurion (or Amex Black) and American Express Platinum. The American Express Black must also be one of the most exclusive cards on the block: membership is by invitation only and there’s an annual fee of $2,500.
These two American Express credit cards are typical of the new credit cards for the elite – expensive card products that offer equally expensive perks, like access to private islands and private jets, to those willing to spend amounts ordinary mortals can only dream about. The American Express Black cardholder should spend a minimum of $250,000 annually to be a member. The American Express Platinum card may come at a lower fee than some other exclusive cards ($450 a year annual fee), but they will look after you with assurances such as their offer to evacuate injured American Express members and their families from wherever vacation location they are to where they can be given quality medical attention.
Credit cards for the mega rich are becoming attractive options and big earners for credit card issuers. They may not make much from finance charges but 4% merchant servicing fees can mean quite a bundle, if the purchase volume is high enough. That businessman’s champagne-laden transaction could yield American Express at least $4,000 in processing fees.
Coutts World Mastercard Signia reportedly gives cardholders the opportunity to live like royalty, after all Queen Elizabeth II is a Coutts card holder. You pay $700 annual membership fee, but that is waived if you spend enough using your Coutts plastic – enough being $100,000 a year. You cannot apply for the Coutts Purple; membership for this too is by invitation only.
The market is rich, but there is increasing competition. Smith Barney has its Chairman’s Card ($400 annual membership) also offers special perks, including a facility that will set up your quiet dinner meetings at New York’s most exclusive restaurants (and in Los Angeles). Stratus Rewards Visa is a by-invitation only card that allows you to fly on private jets when you redeem rewards points.
Bank of America recently launched its Accolades card, which uses the American Express network and offers the common (for this elite class of cards) perks like premium tickets to concerts. The Accolades card has a match-your-donation offer (up to $2,500 a year) for its philanthropic cardholders who wish to make charitable contributions. Membership is reserved for those with at least $100,000 of assets in Bank of America’s private banking division.
Why do ultra-rich customers bite? They get the status symbol, but they also get big benefits. They’re in the stratosphere. But those at ground level also have similar opportunities to enjoy big perks for a little exclusivity in their cards. American Express Gold and special Diners Club credit cards also give you the chance to enjoy exclusive privileges when you want some.
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