There was a time when a Gold credit cards was considered to be elite. Not long after that, platinum was the new standard. In recent years, however, both gold and platinum cards are both accessible and commonplace and there is therefore little prestige attached to those precious metal plastics anymore. Currently, the most prestigious, elite, and exclusive credit cards available on the market are usually black. But that doesn’t mean every black-colored card is equally prestigious — or even prestigious at all. Their benefits vary, and sometimes, a color is just a color. Regardless, black is the new platinum.
Here’s a quick comparison of some of the best-known black cards in the industry. This list has been updated for 2015. Spoiler alert – the final card listed is probably the only one most of us would ever consider in terms of annual fee or for which we might even be eligible!
Merrill Lynch Octave
This is an American Express-branded product (American Express is a CreditCardForum advertising partner) and was added to Merill Lynch’s line-up in early 2015. It’s invite-only, will cost you $950 a year and offers benefits designed for travelers, including an airline fee credit and airfare discounts. Points earned can be redeemed via Merrill Lynch’s rewards program for travel, gift cards, statement credits and more. By redeeming strategically for travel, you can get an impressive (up to 5 percent) return on your spending.
American Express Centurion Credit Card
You can get a Centurion card if you spend over $250,000 a year and it attracts a very high annual fee – a one-time initiation fee of $5,000, plus $2,500 annually. It has no preset credit limit. You also need to pay your outstanding balance every month. This is by far the most popular and sought-after black credit card out there, and when people say “The Black Card,” they’re probably talking about this one. American Express is a CreditCardForum advertising partner.
Merrill Accolades American Express Card
2016 update: This card is no longer available to new cardholders. Previously branded as the Bank of America Accolades, it was switched over to the Merrill Lynch label a few years back, after BofA acquired them during the recession. The card comes with a spending limit of up to $500,000 and has a relatively reasonable annual fee of $295 (which is waived if you keep at least $250k in your Merrill brokerage account). Even though this is a black card by color, the benefits and perks are more comparable to the American Express Platinum. Even though the Accolades has been out for several years, it has yet to gain much prestige or popularity.
Natwest Black Credit Card
In a nutshell, this black credit card can be thought of as the UK-version of the previous two mentioned. In addition to the concierge, airport lounge access, etc., this one also comes with some additional insurance benefits such as “home emergency cover” which offers help ’round the clock with plumbing, heating/AC, locksmith services, and the like. When I first read that I assume it must just be a lame phone support line, but it says “includes labour, call-out charges and parts and materials up to £750 (including VAT) per call-out.” That’s pretty impressive! Too bad this card is only available in the United Kingdom. The annual fee is £250 (about $420).
Dubai First Royale MasterCard
Out of the bunch, this is definitely the most flashy… it has a diamond embedded in it! The First Dubai Bank website labels it as a “super premium” credit card that is by invitation only. It was launched in 2008, which was bad timing considering the financial meltdown was merely months after its debut. Only a few hundred are said to be in circulation and I know you’re dying to know the annual fee, right? Well there have been rumors of a modest fees (ranging from the hundreds to a couple thousand) but my sources have confirmed the fee is waived for qualified applicants. Benefits include a “personal relationship manager,” the “Royale” rewards program, and various VIP privileges.
Black card from Luxury Card
This card used to be the Visa Black card, which Barclaycard rebranded as “Luxury card” in early 2016. The Black card ($495 annual fee) is actually part of a three-card suite, which also includes the Titanium ($195 annual fee) and Gold ($995 annual fee). The black card is made of stainless steel and features benefits geared at travelers. Anyone can apply for the Luxury Card products, so they’re not exclusive — and the actual value of its rather aspirational benefits is debatable.
Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Chances are, you probably won’t qualify for most of the above cards – or even if you do qualify – their high annual fees just aren’t worth it for most lifestyles.
The solution? Try this one out! This card looks prestigious because it’s black in color. Yet unlike the cards above, this one is geared towards anyone with excellent credit. So, while you have to be qualified to get it, it’s not exclusive in an “invite-only” kind of way.
This card is made out of real metal. However unlike the Centurion, which costs $7,500 for the first year, this one has an Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $85.
With that price tag, obviously it doesn’t have the same scope of benefits as the others on this list. However, from my experience, other people are still impressed by it. They see the black color and hear the cling of the metal on the countertop when you use it to pay and seem to assume you must be some VIP multimillionaire.
Qualifications? If you have excellent credit, my recommendation would be to try for this one.
And right now they’re running an enticing offer: 80,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in first 3 months from account opening.
Many cardholders expect to get star treatment – and with some black cards – they get just that. There’s personal assistance from the concierge to help you with your business, personal, travel, gifting, and entertainment needs. Some of them offer VIP access at airport lounges across the globe. Cardmembers are wooed by luxury brands as they shop at “invite only” private events at stores like Saks, Neiman Marcus, and Tiffanys. Last but not least, there’s once-in-a lifetime opportunities to experience the unthinkable (like a zero gravity flight which was offered to AmEx Centurion cardmembers).
While some black credit cards are only available by invitation, others are only available through nomination by an existing card holder. But generally speaking, you will probably have to be a big spender to qualify. Most are set up as charge cards (which require the balance to be paid in full every cycle) but sometimes they offer financing capabilities, in case you want to stretch out payments on your new yacht or Gulfstream jet!
Last updated February 15, 2016