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Originally published Saturday, August 9, 2014 at 8:01 PM

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VIP credit cards tout luxury, but experts say plastic is fine for most people

Credit card issuers are making pitches in time for summer vacations, back-to-school sales and holiday spending.


Detroit Free Press

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A stark black envelope for this credit card pitch has the words “By Limited Invitation” printed in silver on the back flap.

The trappings of swanky lifestyle dot the flier that talks of VIP treatment at hotels and villas, free luxury gifts, access to VIP airport lounges and 25,000 bonus points when you spend $1,500 on eligible purchases within 90 days of opening the account.

The Visa Black Card, issued by Barclays, is made of stainless steel and has a $495 annual fee to match that luxury look. Plus you could pay $195 each year for each authorized user.

Just seeing a high-end credit card promotion hit area mailboxes should be a clue that we’re no longer talking about the Great Recession. Credit-card issuers are making pitches in time for summer vacations, back-to-school sales and holiday spending.

During the first three months of 2014, about 992 million credit card offers were mailed to consumers, up about 7 percent from the same time last year, according to Mintel Group in Chicago.

We’re seeing more than twice the number of card offers hitting mailboxes than we did five years ago during the meltdown. In the first three months of 2009, Mintel reported that 456 million credit card offers were mailed to consumers.

Lately, mailings are pitching credit cards that offer travel-related rewards, and yes, some high-end annual fees that many consumers would have deemed absolutely nuts when times were crazy-tight.

“A $495 annual fee a couple of years ago would have screamed ‘Don’t take me,’ ” said John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for CreditSesame.com in Atlanta.

For consumers who watch every penny, such a high annual fee still shouts: “Don’t take me.”

But the Visa Black Card isn’t the only premium card with a stratospheric annual fee.

The American Airlines Admirals Club card’s annual fee varies with one’s frequent flier status and can range from $400 to $500 a year for the first year of membership. The American Express Platinum Card has a $450 annual fee, too. The United Club Card from Chase has a $395 annual fee.

Ulzheimer said he has a Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express that has a $450 annual fee. Perks include double miles on Delta purchases, the ability to earn 15,000 in bonus miles and 15,000 in Delta Medallion Qualification Miles if $30,000 is spent on the card during a calendar year. An additional 15,000 in bonus and 15,000 in medallion miles are available if you spend another $30,000 in the same calendar year.

Medallion miles enable travelers to move up on the SkyMiles level, which can lead to seating upgrades and priority boarding.

The list has “rewards that are meaningful to me,” Ulzheimer said. He travels two to three times a month and always flies on Delta, given that he lives in Atlanta. He benefits when he renews his card and receives a free companion certificate each year for his wife.

For most people, a high-cost card isn’t worth it just for miles or rewards. One way to look at it: You’d need to spend $45,000 on a card — if that card had 1 percent cash back and a $450 annual fee — to make back the fee.

Business travelers value other perks, too, such as bonus points for buying airline tickets, a free checked bag and airport lounge access. But vanity aside, many of us don’t need all these extras.

“How frequently does one really need to access a VIP lounge?” said Jelena Ewart, general manager of credit and banking for NerdWallet.com.

Premium credit cards with very expensive annual fees of $400 or more can work for only a “very, very select group of people,” said Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com.

As for the Visa Black Card, the $495 annual fee is a “big negative,” according to Odysseas Papadimitriou, founder and CEO of the personal finance websites CardHub and WalletHub.

He’d prefer the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard or the Sovereign Bank Sphere Credit Card.

Credit.com said some good travel-rewards cards are Barclaycard Arrival Plus, Capital One Venture Rewards Visa Signature Card and BankAmericard Travel Rewards. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard has an $89 annual fee that’s waived the first year; the Capital One Venture Rewards card has a $59 annual fee that’s waived the first year. The BankAmericard Travel Rewards card has no annual fee.

American Express has its new Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which allows holders to transfer points to 17 airline and hotel partners.

Ewart said the Amex EveryDay card could be a good card for a young couple or a family wanting to build travel rewards. She sees it as an “intro to miles” card with no annual fee.

Sure, a sleek black card might be as flattering as a little black dress. But if you really want to travel in style, study all of your options.



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