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Visa Black Card: As Good as Hyped?

Sept. 17, 2011
Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards
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The Visa® Black Card is built on prestige and exclusivity. In fact, this esteemed “ultimate buying tool” has its own website, the homepage of which describes it as “the world’s most prestigious and versatile credit card.” To “ensure the highest caliber of personal service,” Visa limits cardholders to 1% of the U.S. population. But for all its status and cachet, its most unique feature is the fact that it’s made of carbon, not plastic.

We’ve seen this all before

If you’re looking for a symbol to broadcast your prominence and distinction, at least get one with better rewards. For a point of reference, we’ll use The Platinum Card® from American Express, the card perhaps most comparable to the Visa® Black Card. Both are travel rewards cards with formidable reputations. Their annual fees alone limit who is worthy and who should kneel before their might. The Platinum Card® from American Express will cost you $550 a year. The Visa® Black Card is bit steeper — the $495.

It is important to note that while the Visa® Black Card is indeed a credit card, The Platinum Card® from American Express is actually a charge card, which means you have to pay off the entirety of your balance each month. Aside from that, these cards function much the same way.

Similar travel services

Both cards offer 24-hour concierge services, so a personal assistant should be available at any given moment to assist you with your travels. Basically, you have a walking, talking Google to consult. Through your concierge, you can get information or make reservations on flights, hotels, restaurants, car rentals, sports events and more. It’s a nice feature, especially since people with The Platinum Card® from American Express get their own separate concierge service — different from the one offered to holders of lesser American Express cards.

Either card will grant you a variety of travel assistance services, including travel accident insurance, baggage insurance, and roadside emergency services. They pretty much protect you from all common travel headaches. There are some minor differences you’ll want to take a closer look at — for example, the Visa® Black Card offers accident insurance up to $250,000, whereas The Platinum Card® from American Express will cover up to $500,000. But in general, they share a common goal: to make your trips as convenient and secure as possible.

The platinum edge

Where the two cards really diverge is in the extra benefits they offer. They both grant you access to private airport clubs and lounges, and they both offer purchase protection and warranties. But scroll through the benefit details of The Platinum Card® from American Express, and you’ll see an extensive list of travel services — benefits for limousine rentals, private jet bookings, rented rooms at private residences worldwide, cruise privileges, hotel upgrades and preferred seating at events. The Visa® Black Card advertises none of these perks.

If you look both rewards systems, The Platinum Card® from American Express comes out on top again. The Visa® Black Card’s program is fairly simple. You earn 1% rewards and can redeem them for cash back or airfare at any airline. The Platinum Card® from American Express’s program is a little more involved, but a lot more beneficial. It, too, has a base rate of 1 point per dollar spent. But it goes beyond the base rate and offers double points for booking trips on the American Express website, and 10x points on purchases made on the rewards site. But here’s the real kicker, and the reason the Visa® Black Card can’t compete with it on travel rewards: When you redeem your points for travel, you’ll instantly get 20% of those points back.

In addition, the Visa® Black Card has a foreign transaction fee of 3%, so international travel is automatically more expensive. The Platinum Card® from American Express has no foreign transaction fee. You won’t have to worry about paying an extra percentage for everything you buy outside the States.

Better than black

When it comes down to it, there is little reason to choose the Visa® Black Card over The Platinum Card® from American Express. Well, the Visa® Black Card is made of carbon, but if you’re okay with plastic, going with the American Express offering will get you more benefits and better rewards for a lower annual fee.

If both of these cards are a bit out of your league, don’t feel bad. They’re beyond most regular folks. Check out some of the other Visa Signature cards instead. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card card, for example, is much more affordable — $95 — and it comes with the same benefits and an even higher rewards rate than the Black Card. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is an even better travel card, giving out 2 miles per $1 spent, with a modest annual fee — $0 for the first year, then $95 — and no foreign transaction fee.

In summation, the Visa® Black Card needs to get over itself. It can’t contend with The Platinum Card® from American Express, and it will never be the legendary Centurion® Card.