Review: Is Diners Club back in the game with its new cards?

As the first independent credit card company, Diners Club has a long history. But many may consider Diners Club to be history: after being dwarfed by the competition over the years and being acquired by Citi and then later by Discover, Diners Club has become a minor player, with just a handful of corporate and professional charge and credit cards to its name (albeit ones that cater to frequent, high-income travelers).

In Sept. 2014, however, it launched two new consumer credit card products on the MasterCard network: The Diners Club Card Premier and the Diners Club Card Elite. Unlike some of the other cards in the Diners Club portfolio, these are credit cards, not charge cards.

Do these cards herald a Diners Club comeback? And do they stack up with similar cards on the market? Read on to find out.

Compare the Diners Club 'Premier' and 'Elite' cards
Diners Club Card PremierDiners Club Card Elite
Annual fee$95$300
Rewards1 point/dollar3 points/dollar on gas, groceries and drugstore purchases


1 point/dollar elsewhere
EMV chip?YESYES
Personal concierge?YESYES
Lounge access?YESYES
Rental car perksComplimentary Avis Preferred status, 25% off Avis rentals, complimentary Fastbreak status with Budget, 25% off Budget rentals


PRIMARY rental car coverage
Lost/damaged luggage coverageYES (up to $3,000)
Baggage delay insuranceYESYES
Travel accident insuranceYESYES
Trip cancellation/interruption insurance?NOYES
Purchase assuranceYES (within 90 days)
Extended warrantyYES (up to 1 additional year on warranties of 1 year or less)
Roadside assistanceYES, but you must pay for the services you receive.

As you can see, despite the discrepancy in annual fees, the cards offer similar benefits. The major differences are:

  • Rewards: With the Elite card, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar on gas, groceries and drugstore purchases.
  • Trip cancellation/interruption coverage: This is a useful benefit to have if your travel plans go awry. The Elite offers it, but the Premier does not.

How much are your points worth?

This is a vital question to ask with all rewards cards. Otherwise, you might find yourself racking up points only to find they’re not worth much.

Both of these cards enroll you in the “Club Rewards” program — the same rewards program tied to Diners Club’s professional cards. You can redeem your points for:

Merchandise: On the Club Rewards website, you’ll find everything from a mug for 3,000 points to a backpack for 12,000 points, to bikes for 32,000 points and more. To find the point value, simply find the item on another website and do the math. With the backpack, for example (a SwissGear computer backpack that’s $65 on Amazon.com), you’ll get a value of one-half cent per point. Expect value to vary with merchandise redemptions.

Cash: Cash out your points to be used against a statement credit or card fees. You get a value of 1 cent per point when redeeming for card fees and 0.66 cents per point when redeeming for a statement credit.
Diners club cash redemption


Gift certificates and eGift certificates:
There’s a selection of retail, dining and travel gift cards and eGift cards. The redemption value is a steady 1 cent per point for all the currently posted options.

Airfare, car rentals, vacation packages and cruise booking discounts: Redeem for a discount off your booking on certain airlines, cruise lines, custom vacations (that you book with the help of a customer service rep) as well as pre-packaged vacations. The various options posted on the website all have a value of 1 cent per point (10,000 points for a $100 vacation package discount, for example), but expect your value to vary when you get to the more customized trips.

vacation package redemption diners club

Real frequent flier miles and loyalty points with various programs: Turn your points into real loyalty points with a variety of hotel and airline programs. Currently, transfer partners and their transfer rates (Diners Club Rewards Points needed : Loyalty points obtained) include:

Aeroplan: 1:1
Alaska Airlines: 1:1
Amtrak: 1:1
Best Western: 1:2.64
British Airways: 1:1
Thai Airways: 1:1
Hawaiian Airlines: 1:1
Choice Privileges: 1:1.92
Delta SkyMiles: 1:1
El Al Airlines: 50:1
EVA Airways: 1:1
Frontier: 1:1
Hilton HHonors: 1:1.6
Hyatt: 1.67:1
Icelandair: 1:1
IHG: 1:1.2
Marriott: 1:1.2
SAS EuroBonus: 1:1
South African Airways: 1:1
Southwest: 1.25:1
Starwood Preferred Guest: 1.67:1
Virgin Atlantic: 1:1

The numbers in the list above are the transfer ratios. Most partners allow you to transfer at a 1-for-1 ratio. Others are better, others are worse. The actual value of your points will vary, depending on how wisely you redeem them after the transfer. Airline frequent flier miles, for example, can be worth well over 1 cent each.

A good value? In some areas (such as the loyalty-point transfers and redemptions toward card fees), you’ll get a competitive value for your points. Yet there are other options (such as statement credits) where your points are worth less than 1 cent each. You’ll have to determine which redemption options are most important to you and decide if you’re willing to take a cut in value in other areas.

Noteworthy benefits

Some of these cards’ benefits are easy to come by, while others are more rare. These are the four benefits that make the new Diners Club cards stand out:

  1. Lounge access: This is usually the domain of airline-specific cards or general-purpose travel cards that cost $400+ per year. Diners Club has a network of more than 500 lounges worldwide (and in 14 U.S. cities). Guest fees, and access rules vary by property.
  2. Primary car rental insurance: Most credit cards offer what’s called secondary coverage. That means you have to file a claim with your primary auto insurance company before the card’s coverage kicks in. Primary insurance kicks in right away, so you can avoid the claim with your primary insurer — and it’s a rare perk. Currently the only other cards offering it are the United MileagePlus card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
  3. Car rental discounts and status: Complimentary status with Avis and Budget means you won’t have to wait at the counter — and a 25 percent discount is a nice perk for travelers who frequently use those companies.
  4. Point transfer: The ability to transfer points into airline and hotel loyalty programs is a powerful and versatile tool. Not only can you top off your balance in other programs as you see fit, but you can get a lot of value out of your transferred points if you redeem for first-class airfares and pricey rooms. Other cards also give you this power. The Chase Sapphire Preferred, cards in the Membership Rewards Program from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) and the Starwood Preferred Guest card all let you transfer points. Diners Club has some transfer partners the others don’t have and vice versa. So make sure the card you choose partners with your favorite travel programs.

Are the Diners Club consumer cards a good choice?

When comparing these cards with each other, the Premier card (with the lower annual fee) likely packs more value. The only tangible extra perks you’re getting for the $300-per-year Elite card are extra rewards on category purchases, as well as trip cancellation coverage. While the Diners Club professional Carte Blanche charge card (also $300 per year) throws in international cellphone rental and private jet access, the Elite credit card does not. Meanwhile, the Premier has all of the four benefits that make these cards unique (listed above) — for just $95 a year.

So, how do the cards compare with others in the market? If lounge access and travel benefits are what you’re after, and you’re willing to pay a rather high annual fee, the American Express Platinum (which gives you access to Priority Pass Select lounges, the Delta Sky Club, Airspace lounges and AmEx’s own Centurion Lounges) might be a good fit. It throws in reimbursement for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, refunds you up to $200 in airline fees per year and gives you four free roadside assistance service calls per year.

If you’re eying the Premier card, it’s a solid choice. Yet if you’re not interest in lounge access and more interested in earning extra rewards, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It offers no lounge access benefits, but does offer primary rental car insurance, the ability to transfer points to travel loyalty programs and double points for dining and travel.

 
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