April 14, 2015 3:00 PM PT

Visa Black Review: Worth the $495 Annual Fee?

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If you're looking for prestige, you like to be showered with perks, and you like to live large, the Visa Black Card may deserve a prominent spot in your wallet.

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Overall Score

4.2

Rewards

4.5

Fees

3.0

Benefits

5.0
5-point scale (the higher, the better)

Pros and Cons

  • Bonus points offer
  • Concierge service
  • VIP airport lounge access
  • Generous travel rewards
  • $495 annual fee
  • Excellent credit required

Bottom Line

Premium credit card for big spenders or frequent travelers

If you do get your hands on one (the company limits acceptance to 1% of the U.S. population based on 2010 Census figures), you’ll want to be sure people can see it. The Visa Black Card is made out of extra light stainless steel/carbon, not regular plastic.

Along with its use as a status symbol, the Visa Black Card comes with an generous travel rewards program, 24-hour concierge service, and access to select airport lounges. It caters to high flyers who are often waiting at airports for their next move (either for work or pleasure), but it comes with a steep price. The Black Card charges an annual fee of $495, making it one of the most expensive cards on the market. It is also hard to qualify for and requires an excellent credit score.

Why You’d Want It

You’ll live the high life with this rewards card. Not only do you get the opportunity to collect points that can be doubled if you redeem them for airfare, you can get VIP status at thousands of hotels and be rewarded with room upgrades, complimentary breakfasts, early check-ins and late check-outs. And you get access to 350 lounges at airports around the world. Usually stocked with Wi-Fi, comfy seating, and dining options, these lounges make the time waiting for your flights (dare we say) fly by.

How the Rewards Program Works

Every time you make a purchase on your Visa Black Card, you earn 1 reward point for every dollar spent. These points can be exchanged for various kinds of rewards.

To get the most out of the rewards, they should be redeemed for travel purposes. Points can be used for flights on any airline, and there are no blackout dates. You’ll need 25,000 points for a $500 airline ticket. That’s an effective rewards rate of 2%.

You can also swap your points for hotel stays, car rentals, tickets to events, or for cash back on your purchases. But keep in mind that for cash back, gift card, and merchandise redemptions, the rewards rate drops to an effective rate of 1%. To get new cardholders started, the card will give you 25,000 bonus points if you spend $1,500 on the card within the first 90 days of opening your account.

Given the high annual fee, the rewards program on its own is nothing to be excited about — there are many cards that offer similar effective rewards and/or cash back rates with an annual fee of less than $100, and some that have no annual fee at all.

How the Concierge Program Works

The Black Card has a 24/7 concierge service. You can call it to get information on such things as:

  • Where you can find the nearest ATM
  • The latest weather forecast
  • Schedules for nearby trains and buses
  • Where you can get a car rental or car service

The service will also save you time by giving you referrals and making arrangements for you. These include:

  • Hotel, flight, and restaurant reservations
  • Getting tickets for sports events
  • Reserving golf tee times

The concierge service can help you plan trips, organize business events, set up gift arrangements, or get tickets to entertainment events. It’s like having your own personal assistant.

You are paying a premium for the Black Card, so they make sure you get everything you want from this concierge program. This is the major selling point of the Visa Black and its exorbitant annual fee, so it should be something you plan to take advantage of frequently if you’re thinking of applying for this card.

Another Benefit: Introductory APR on Balance Transfers

To welcome new cardholders, the Visa Black Card offers an introductory APR for balance transfers. For the first 15 months of your card, you'll enjoy 0% APR on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening. If you have balances on your other credit cards, this is a way to save on interest for over a year. This introductory rate applies only to balance transfers, though, and not new purchases. After that (and for balance transfers that are not posted within 45 days of account opening), the regular variable APR applies, currently 14.99%.

Interest rates, rewards, benefits and fees from published web sites as of 4/14/2015.

Can You Qualify for the Visa Black Card?

Most of the more exclusive credit cards (which the Visa Black wants to fall under) have stringent requirements for cardholders to obtain and maintain their cardholder status. The Centurion credit card from American Express (a CreditDonkey advertiser), for example, will cost you $7,500 in fees just for the privilege of becoming a cardholder. You need to have consistently spent several hundred thousand dollars on your other American Express cards each year just to be invited to apply for it. With the Visa Black card, however, your spending doesn’t come into play, although your credit score does.

That’s good news and bad news: the good news is that more people can apply for and be approved for the Visa Black than for some of the other “exclusive” cards on the market, but it also means that cardholder status isn’t all that “exclusive.” With advertised luxury perks like a 24/7 concierge and VIP airport lounge access, and the sleek stainless steel/carbon composition (as opposed to regular plastic) and black coloring of the card itself, some of what you’re paying for in the $495 annual fee is membership to an exclusive cardholder club. If it turns out that most people with decent credit are able to join that same club, the Visa Black brand name loses some if its value and the $495 annual fee becomes less worthwhile.

Pros

  • Earns reward points on all purchases; points can be used for free flights, hotel stays, or cash back
  • Gives free access to over 350 VIP airport lounges around the world
  • Offers a 24/7 high-end concierge program
  • 0% introductory APR for the first 15 months on balance transfers
  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • Expensive annual fee of $495
  • 0% introductory APR does not apply to purchases
  • Only accepts applicants with very high credit scores

Bottom Line

© Kheel Center (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

While this card has some great features, its huge annual fee is hard to swallow. Unless you are constantly on the road and are in need of a 24/7 concierge, you’re probably better off with a less expensive card.

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