Credit cards are a funny business. Most of them are “free” as long as you payyou’re your balance in full each month. Many even refund a small percentage of your purchases as airline miles or rewards points.
Other cards, though, tack on annual fees for the privilege of carrying them. Sometimes, paying such a fee makes sense – like when you fly a lot and the annual fee comes with perks like free checked bags or a companion ticket. The value of those benefits can quickly exceed the fee.
The following cards, however, charge annual fees that clearly exceed most mere mortals sense of “worth it”.
The Platinum Card from American Express
This is the card that has said: “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal” for over 30 years. For an annual fee of $400 you get access to airport lounges worldwide, access to VIP travel concierge line, and even insurance that will evacuate you from a foreign country if you have a medical emergency.
Something to note: The Platinum Card and it’s posh big brother the Black Card are charge cards, not credit cards, meaning you have the full balance is due each month come hell or high water. So these cards aren’t for fakers; you’d better have the cash to back them up.
The American Express Delta Reserve Card
These days, flying sucks. There are long lines, cramped seats, and fees for just about everything. So if you must travel often, you look for ways to make your experience just a little less miserable. For a $450 annual fee, the Delta Reserve card gets you priority boarding, free access to SkyClubs, and accelerated route to Delta’s Medallion elite flyer program whose members often get free upgrades to first class.
The American Express Centurion Card (aka the AMEX Black Card)
This is the card that started it all. Rumor has it that select American Express charge card members who spend at least $150,000 a year are invited to apply for the rare Centurion Card.
The price for admission is steep. There’s a $7,500 initiation fee followed by a $2,500 annual fee. Access gets you the benefits of the Platinum Card plus access to personal shoppers and automatic elite status at many airlines and hotels.
The Citi Chairman Card
Citi’s Chairman card is available only to wealthy clients of Smith Barney or Citi Bank. The fee for admittance is $500 for which you get the standard airport lounge access, travel insurance, a concierge line and a credit line of up to a whopping $300,000.
The JP Morgan Palladium Card
The Palladium card’s annual fee of $595 is reportedly less than the cost of the materials that create it. Not surprisingly, this card may be most exclusive on this page; the rumor is only investment clients of JP Morgan with assets exceeding $25 million are invited to apply.
The Visa Black Card
Most of these high-end credit cards are designed for people for whom $500 is a drop in the bucket. If you can’t afford it anyway, you can’t qualify for the card. The Visa Black Card, however, makes it possible for anyone with good credit and $495 to enjoy conspicuous displays of wealth (or foolishness, depending on your view).
The stainless-steel Black Card comes with airport lounge access, a 24/7 concierge, and a rewards program.
Okay, so when – if ever – are these annual fees even close to a fair shake? If you’re a professional world-traveller, perhaps (and by that we don’t mean you take a once-a-year trip to Mexico).
The real value in these cards come from the travel perks like airport lounge access and concierge service. If your travel takes you to far-flung places, it’s nice to take a load off in the comfort of an airport lounge and even better to have a real person who you can call for everything from dinner recommendations to help renting a car.
For the rest of us, no-annual fee rewards cards or – for those who travel a few times a year – airline credit cards with modest annual fees and perks like free checked bags will do just fine, thank you very much.