The American Express Centurion Card -- commonly referred to as the "black card" -- is out of reach for the vast majority of consumers. Fortunately, there are premium cards that are easier to obtain, such as the Visa Black Card and the American Express Platinum card. Let's take a look at what these two cards have to offer, and which one could be the right premium credit card for you.
The Visa Black Card: Some good benefits, but at what cost?
Issued by Barclays, the Visa Black Card offers rewards and benefits that sound pretty good at first glance. There is currently an introductory offer of 25,000 bonus points after spending $1,500 in the first 90 days of membership, and points can be redeemed for air travel at a two-to-one rate (so 25,000 points can get you $500 worth of airplane tickets).
The card has a 24-hour concierge service, VIP privileges at more than 3,000 hotels, and access to about 350 airport lounges in 200 cities. Customers also get elite Emerald Club status with National car rentals, and pay a relatively low 14.99% interest rate on purchases.
Furthermore, one of the card's most unique benefits is the array of insurance programs it provides. There is up to $300 in "trip delay" coverage, $1,500 in trip interruption and cancellation insurance, as well as a baggage delay reimbursement that will refund up to $100 in daily purchases for three days if your bags are misplaced in transit.
These benefits all sound pretty good until you hear the cost. The Visa Black Card comes with an annual fee of $495 plus $195 for each authorized user you decide to add to your account. An annual fee, even one this high, is justifiable, but only if the benefits outweigh the costs. And with the Visa Black Card, that's just not the case.
Amex's "junior black card" offers much better benefits for less
The American Express Platinum card is often referred to as the black card's younger sibling (or some variation of that), and for good reason. The card offers a lot of the same benefits at a fraction of the Centurion card's $2,500 annual fee.
In short, the Amex offers many of the same benefits (such as the concierge service), but one-ups the Visa Black Card in several different ways. For example, cardholders have a similar hotel VIP program, and get automatic SPG Gold status at Starwood Hotels. They also get National's elite status plus elite status with Avis and Hertz.
The airport lounge perk is also better. Cardholders get access to Priority Pass lounges (which includes virtually all of Visa's lounges), as well as access to every Delta Sky Club and the ultraluxurious Centurion lounges.
Finally, Platinum cardholders earn American Express Membership Rewards points, which have more flexible redemption options than those of the Black Card. And points can be transferred to many other traveler reward programs, such as Delta SkyMiles, Hilton HHonors, and Starwood Preferred Guest. The current welcome bonus offer is 40,000 points after spending $3,000 within three months, and although there isn't a "double redemption" option for air travel, by transferring those points to a partner program, you could easily pay for a round-trip domestic ticket or get several free nights at a hotel.
The American Express Platinum charges a $450 annual fee ($175 for authorized users), but the fee is more justified. In fact, cardholders get up to $200 per year in statement credits to reimburse incidental charges while traveling, and get a $100 Global Entry credit every five years. The Visa Black Card has no such reimbursement programs.
Also, it's worth noting that the American Express Platinum is a charge card, not a credit card. In other words, cardholders pay no interest because the balance must be paid in full each month.
Not even close
To sum it up, when you compare these two cards side-by-side, it's tough to justify paying the Visa Black Card's high price of admission. Don't get me wrong -- the benefits aren't bad, but are more along the lines of what consumers expect when paying a $100 annual fee, not $495. In fact, CardHub called the Visa Black Card the worst general consumer credit card out of more than 1,000 it reviewed, mainly because of its outrageous annual fee.
However, if you're in the market for a premium card, the American Express Platinum card actually offers many of the same benefits as the coveted Centurion card at a fraction of the price. And for those who actually use its benefits, the $450 annual fee could be well worth it.
Matthew Frankel owns shares of American Express. The Motley Fool recommends American Express and Visa. The Motley Fool owns shares of Hertz Global Holdings and Visa. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.