June 21, 2021

Model Desac

It’s Time to Fly

The Most Exclusive Credit Cards on the Market Right Now

7 min read

Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.

Thanks to the mythology surrounding the Centurion® Card from American Express — aka the original “black card” — an increasing number of consumers today want their credit cards to offer VIP perks and rewards.

Premium luxury credit cards, or black cards, are the most exclusive credit cards on the market. They typically come with high annual fees, high spending requirements and strict rules regarding who can qualify for card membership.

While there may always be cards reserved exclusively for the elite, some of the best credit cards aren’t impossible for everyday consumers to apply for and use.

Ahead, Select rounds up the most exclusive credit cards on the market. They aren’t all invitation-only, but most require that applicants have good to excellent credit scores and pay expensive annual fees that, in theory, pay off in terms of luxury benefits.

From travel cards to high-limit rewards cards, here are some of the best choices on the market for those looking for the star treatment.

The most exclusive credit cards

The Platinum Card from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

On the American Express secure site

  • Rewards

    10x Membership Rewards® points on eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of card membership), 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (starting January 1, 2021, this applies on up to $500,000 per calendar year), 5X points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    75,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $5,000 within 6 months of account opening

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

  • Regular APR

  • Balance transfer fee

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit Needed

Pros

  • Up to $200 in annual airline fee credits
  • Up to $200 in annual Uber savings
  • Complimentary Global Lounge Collection access with more than 1,200 airport lounges across 130+ countries
  • Special benefits with Fine Hotels & Resorts, such as up to a $100 hotel credit and complimentary room upgrades
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $550 annual fee
  • No special financing offers on new purchases
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $968
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,440

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card

U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

On U.S. Bank’s secure site

  • Rewards

    5X points on prepaid hotels and car rentals booked directly in the Altitude Rewards Center, 3X points on every $1 on eligible travel and mobile wallet spending

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $750 on travel) after spending $4,000 in your first 90 days of account opening

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

Pros

  • Complimentary 12-month Priority Pass™ Select membership that gives access to more than 1,300 VIP lounges worldwide
  • 12 complimentary Gogo® in-flight Wi-Fi passes per year
  • 24/7 fraud monitoring, ID Theft Protection, Emergency Evacuation and Transportation Coverage and more
  • Drive a luxurious Audi and save up to 30% when you rent with Silvercar with no location, date, or class restrictions
  • Elevated service levels 24/7 with dedicated service advisors and Visa Infinite Concierge

Cons

  • $400 annual fee
  • Only available to U.S. Bank customers

Citi Prestige Card

Citi Prestige® Card

Information about the Citi Prestige® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

  • Rewards

    5X points at airlines, travel agencies and restaurants, 3X points at hotels and cruise lines, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within 3 months of account opening

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

  • Regular APR

    16.99% to 23.99% variable on purchases

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

Pros

  • Up to $250 annual travel credit
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, up to $100 every 5 years
  • Priority Pass™ Select membership
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $495 annual fee
  • No special financing offers on new purchases
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $836
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,782

Rewards total incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • Rewards

    10X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 3X points on travel worldwide (immediately after earning your $300 annual travel credit), 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out, 1X point per $1 on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

  • Regular APR

    16.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit for travel purchases
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit up to $100 every four years
  • Priority Pass™ Select lounge access at 1,000+ VIP lounges in over 500 cities worldwide
  • Points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Special benefits at The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
  • Free DashPass subscription for a minimum of a year when you activate by December 31, 2021
  • $60 DoorDash credit in 2021
  • Complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership

Cons

  • High $550 annual fee, but it can be offset by taking advantage of all the card’s perks
  • No introductory APR
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,469
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $3,346

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Mastercard Black Card

Mastercard® Black Card™

Information about the Mastercard Black Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

  • Rewards

    Earn 1X point for every dollar, 1.5% value on cash-back redemptions and 2% value on airfare redemptions

  • Welcome bonus

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to your account within 45 days of account opening; N/A for purchases

  • Regular APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

Pros

  • 1.5% value on cash-back redemptions
  • 2% value on airfare redemptions
  • 24/7 Luxury Card Concierge and travel perks
  • No fee on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $495 annual fee
  • Low rewards rate on everyday purchases

American Express Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

On the American Express secure site

  • Rewards

    4X Membership Rewards® points on restaurants worldwide (including takeout and delivery, plus, Uber Eats purchases) and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 6 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

  • Regular APR

  • Balance transfer fee

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

Pros

  • Up to $120 dining credit annually ($10 a month) for purchases made with Grubhub, Seamless and eligible restaurants (after a one-time enrollment)
  • Up to $120 Uber Cash annually ($10 a month) for U.S. Uber Eats orders and U.S. Uber rides (card must be added to Uber app to receive the Uber Cash benefit)
  • Strong rewards program with 4X points earned on dining worldwide and 3X points earned on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com
  • Baggage insurance plan covers up to $1,250 for carry-on baggage and up to $500 for checked baggage that is damaged, lost or stolen
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • No introductory APR period
  • $250 annual fee
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,074
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,969

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Our methodology

To determine which credit cards offer the best value, Select analyzed popular credit cards available in the U.S. We compared each card on a range of features, including rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company’s data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri’s data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

While the five-year estimates we’ve included are derived from a budget similar to the average American’s spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.

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