Feb. 2016 Update: This product has been re-branded and re-released as a MasterCard product called Luxury Card. Read about the new version here.
The Visa Black Card entered the status card market about seven years ago, so there’s been a lot of time to see if its advertised promises of luxurious perks have come to fruition. Is it just another high-end, high-annual-fee card dressed up in a color often associated with exclusivity? Or do the benefits justify its expense? Read this review to find out whether you should get a Black Card of your own.
First, let’s roll back some of the hype surrounding this card:
This should not be confused with the Centurion “black” card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner). That rare bird requires $7,500 in fees just for the first year ($5,000 initiation fee and $2,500 annual fee) and is by invitation only for AmEx’s biggest spenders (you have to spend a minimum of $250,000 annually on another American Express charge card in order to be considered for membership in this exclusive club.
In a nutshell, Visa Black Card is just the issuer’s trademarked name for the card … there is no such thing as a higher “black card” tier for Visa cards. In other words, black is just a color for the physical card — not an official designation of higher status. The Visa Black Card is issuer, Barclaycard, is clearly going for the halo effect of association. There is one unique as aspect to the card in that it is made from carbon fiber rather than metal or plastic.
If a card that’s black and made out of metal is what you’re really after, then save some money and go for the Marriott Rewards Premier – it has an $85 annual fee currently. Compare that to Visa Black which charges a $495 annual fee.
And with the Marriott you can get an excellent bonus offer:
- 80,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in your first 3 months from account opening.
The Visa Black Card is positioned as being highly exclusive, but what are the Visa Black card requirements? According to numerous sources across online discussion forums, it sounds like they are not much different than the requirements for most credit cards (for example, be a U.S. resident, have a qualifying credit score, etc).
If indeed this card doesn’t have any extraordinary requirements then it appears that a large number of Americans would easily qualify if they truly wanted the card. In fact, there are stories out there of people from many walks of life getting a Visa Black Card application in the mail, including rumors of college students with limited income, etc. (however I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that those were sent by accident). The kicker is the annual fee – that’s probably what keeps the masses away.
First-class airport lounge access?
This credit card comes with membership to Priority Pass. It’s the largest airport VIP lounge program, which gives complimentary access to more than 350 airport lounges across the world.
For the first couple years or so after the card launched, they only gave cardholders four free lounge visits per year (you would have to pay per visit after that). I highly criticized this, because the American Express Platinum gives unlimited visits at no charge. However, sometime in 2011 Black Card changed it for the better and they now also give unlimited visits.
I do commend them for doing that, but it still falls well short of the American Express Platinum Card’s lounge program, because that gives you unlimited Priority Pass PLUS access to the Delta Sky Club, Airspace Lounges and Centurion Lounges.
The card touts various luxury gifts as perks that Visa Black Card members get, but it’s hard to say what exactly these gifts are. When the card first launched, it did sound like members were getting some decent options. However, sometime after that, a first gift that was mentioned frequently in the blogosphere is a Cross pen set … not exactly exciting, given the $495 annual fee.
Superior rewards and benefits?
Nice perks aside, offsetting a huge annual fee through rewards, cash back (or cash back equivalents) and/or benefits is what can make any high-end credit card worthwhile.
With the Visa Black Card, you earn 1 point for every dollar in card purchases. When redeeming, you get 1% on cash back, gift cards and merchandise and 2% back when you book airline tickets through the card’s rewards program.
Considering the $495 annual fee, that is not a unique or compelling rewards proposition, quite honestly. Cards with much, much lower annual fees let you earn double or triple points on everything from dining, gas and groceries.
As for the benefits, the card offers a suite of travel protections and insurance, 24-hour concierge and luxury upgrades (spa treatments, complimentary breakfast and late check-out) at participating hotels via the Black Card VIP Program. It also waives foreign transaction fees. However, such perks aren’t anything that comparable cards don’t offer already. And notably missing are the things that make the lower-priced AmEx Platinum unique (the $200 airline fee credit and reimbursements for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck).
Take my advice, skip the Visa Black Card application and go for…
…the American Express Platinum Card. The annual fee ($450) is slightly lower and the benefits are head and shoulders above those of the Visa Black Card. Check out the American Express Platinum Card benefits to see for yourself. But if you don’t want to pay $450 (which admittedly, is a lot) consider one of these cards instead…
Last updated April 11, 2016