The Exchange

5 Credit Cards You Can’t Afford

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Does your credit card come with an on-call concierge who can snag you those coveted tickets to a sold-out Justin Bieber concert? Does your plastic get you into exclusive airport lounges with gourmet buffets, free drinks, personal electronics-charging stations and private bathrooms? How about a free round of golf at a posh club?

If your answer to all of the above is "no," you’re probably not an elite credit card holder.

As the rich get richer, the credit card industry has increasingly been pursuing this slice of the marketplace, appealing to their taste for luxury hotel upgrades, shopping services and always available “lifestyle managers.” And some of these elite cards aren’t even available in the U.S. – banks have been ramping up their offerings to the affluent in Asia and the Middle East. Indeed, a May report by The Boston Consulting Group found the highest density of millionaires was in Qatar, where 143 out of every 1,000 households have private wealth of at least $1 million. This was followed by Switzerland, Kuwait, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Here are some of the priciest credit cards around. Most come with sky-high annual fees, spending requirements and investable assets minimums.

1. American Express Centurion
Annual fee: $2,500

When it launched in 1999, American Express’s Centurion card, made from titanium, essentially defined the premium card category, and it’s still the most exclusive card out there. Cardholders pay a one-time $5,000 joining fee and $2,500 annually. They also must spend at least $250,000 annually on an Amex Platinum or Gold card.

Michael Dolen, founder and CEO of CreditCardForum.com, says the Centurion isn’t that much better than the Amex Platinum Card, which gives you many of the same benefits for only a $450 annual fee. What you can’t get with the Platinum card, however, is elite status on Delta and US Airways. That means Centurion holders are eligible for free first-class upgrades on those airlines when flying domestically – and when space is available, says Brian Kelly, of ThePointsGuy.com.

One of the plushest perks for Centurion holders is access to the Centurion Lounge, which opened in Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport in February. All Amex cardmembers can purchase one-day access to the lounge for $50; Centurion cardholders get in free. The lounge’s amenities include a shower suite, family room, gourmet buffet and computer bar.

2. JP Morgan Chase Palladium Card
Annual fee: $595

Launched in 2009, this card is made out of laser-etched palladium and gold, and also features an embedded encrypted chip (which is supposed to make for safer processing and storing of data). Who qualifies? The card doesn’t have a specific annual spending threshold like the Centurion has. But the card “is reserved for customers who already have a relationship with our private bank, wealth management or investment bank,” a JP Morgan spokesman says.

Some of the Palladium’s benefits, detailed in its 57-page brochure, include concierges, airport lounge privileges and access to luxury hotels. Cardholders earn two points for every $1 spent on travel, and a bonus of 35,000 additional points after they spend $100,000 annually. You can spend rewards points earned on travel and “once-in-a-lifetime experiences” such as a tandem skydiving lesson (27,000 points) or a scenic biplane ride (23,000 points).

3. Coutts World Silk Card
Annual fee: £350 ($530)

Coutts, a 300-year-old UK private bank and wealth manager owned by Royal Bank of Scotland, relaunched its suite of credit cards in April. The Silk and Black cards are only available to bank clients, and each card is initially opened with a £20,000 ($30,000) per month spending limit.

The annual fee for the Silk card (which Coutts calls its “most prestigious and sought-after card”) only applies to those who don’t meet the £50,000 (about $77,000) annual spending threshold, a bank spokeswoman says. (Note that Silk is a charge card, not a credit card, the main difference being that the balance of a charge card must be paid off in full each month and as such has a 0% interest rate.)

Some of the perks include a personalized concierge who will do pretty much everything for you – make a restaurant reservation, charter a yacht, book tickets for a sporting event and hire a tutor for your kid. You also get Priority Pass membership, which gives you free access to more than 600 executive airport lounges worldwide.

4. Visa Infinite Card
Annual fee: varies

Sorry, Americans, the Visa Infinite isn’t offered in the U.S. It’s available in Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Singapore, Russia, Canada, China, United Arab Emirates, France and other countries.

Your Visa Infinite concierge will arrange dinner reservations, make suggestions for music and cultural events, give you travel and health advice, book your flight and hotel and, naturally, charter a yacht if you so desire. Some of the other perks include complimentary rounds of golf at clubs in Dubai, Singapore, and Phuket, Thailand, and a weekend at a resort and winery in British Columbia.

Fees and requirements depend on the issuing bank. For instance, the card is only available to customers at Kuwait’s Gulf Bank with a balance of 50,000 Kuwaiti dinars, or about $175,000, in an account. And the annual fee for the Visa Infinite issued through Alliance Bank in Malaysia is 800 ringgit, or $250.

5. Citibank Ultima Card
Annual fee: varies

“What do you give a person who has everything?... A little bit more,” reads the tagline on Citibank India’s website promoting the Ultima. Offered only in Asia and India, this card is invitation-only.

Citibank Singapore re-introduced the card in 2010, pitching it exclusively to individuals with a minimum of 5 million Singapore dollars in assets (nearly $4 million) under management at the company’s private bank. One of the major perks for cardmembers: they’re “partnered with their own Lifestyle Manager, giving them instant access to customised, dedicated service and unprecedented convenience,” according to the press release. Of course that kind hyper-personalized service doesn’t come cheap: according to a 2010 Wall Street Journal post, the Ultima carries an eye-popping annual fee of $3,000 (3,888 Singapore dollars).

Cardholders also get five times the number of air miles on transfer of their reward points. Some of the other amenities: access to more than 600 airport lounges across the globe, including VIP lounges in 300 cities, and complimentary rounds of golf in several cities in India, as well as a free 30-minute golf training session.

(Images courtesy of CreditCardForum.com and Citibank India.)

Readers: Are there any other high-end credit cards out there that we missed? Tell us in the comments below.

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