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Wealthy carry weight around with highly prestigious, metal credit cards

| Saturday, June 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Reserved for the affluent, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is made of metal instead of plastic. It is designed to get noticed when its holder plunks it on a counter to make a payment.

They call it the “plunk” factor.

These credit cards made of metal instead of plastic are designed to get noticed when their holders plunk them on a counter to make payment. But they are no ordinary credit cards, heavier with sleek designs, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the American Express Centurion Card are reserved for the affluent. The Centurion comes by invitation — only to “very high spenders who are loyal cardholders,” says Desiree Fish of American Express. It's made of titanium, except for the magnetic strip on the back. Its unofficial name is the “Black Card.” And it's expensive to carry — a $5,000 initiation fee and annual fee of $2,500.

“It's for the uber-affluent set. It's rare and only a few people have it. Titanium kind of gave it the plunk factor,” she says.

All American Express cards were plastic until the Centurion Card was issued in titanium in 2006, to differentiate it from other cards, Fish says. But the titanium card still has raised letters and numbers.

That differs from the Chase Sapphire Preferred and its sister card, the Ritz Carleton Rewards Card.

The Chase Sapphire's design is striking, with a brushed blue-steel-like finish and only the card name and cardholder's name printed flush on the front. It uses a metal inlay to give it added weigh. Account information is laser-engraved flush on the back.

Fees are more affordable: — zero for the first year. After that, $95 a year. Rewards points are among the best.

“The reaction from cardholders to the unique design has been very positive because it's unlike other cards,” says Rob Tacey of Chase. The metal inlay is solely “to make the card stand out.” Only those who qualify get the metal version.

Experts and users give the Chase Sapphire Preferred their top rating.

Cardhub.com shows it at the top of its list for those with excellent credit: “While you might be able to find an initial bonus that offers more points/miles than the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, it's hard to argue against this card being the best, given the ultimate value and versatility of its rewards.”

John Kiernan, senior analyst a CardHub.com said cardholders get 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 during the first three months, which can be redeemed for a $400 statement credit.

“I would 100 percent agree, because of the double points for travel,” said blogger Zak Santo of Toronto. “I'm literally obsessed with it. It has turned into my everyday card. I use it for groceries, for dining and for bills.

“It's metal. Yes metal. It has some heft to it. I constantly get compliments on it. People are always saying how nice it is and ask me what kind of card it is (basically it makes you a rock star). If a credit card could be considered sexy, it would be sexy.”

Even so, American Express' Centurion “black card” has gained cult status with entertainers, such as rapper Kanye West and other celebrities talking about it, and competitors issuing copycat products.

“Barclays Visa Black Card uses the black-card name to make people think it's the one people are talking about,” says CardHub's Kiernan. “It has an outrageous $495 annual fee.”

American Express is the nation's largest credit-card issuer by purchase volume, followed by Chase, according to figures by The Nilson Report, a card-industry newsletter based in Carpinteria, Calif. Barclays ranked in 11th place.

“There are so many cards out there, issuers have to look for ways to different themselves,” says Kiernan. “But people should really look at the terms.”

“When are you really going to be worried about impressing people? Not many see it; most won't be able to tell. It's cooler to have more money than to have a credit card that looks like you have more money.”

Bill Hardekopf at LowCards.com said the most outrageous example of a metal card is a gold card — made of solid gold — from a bank in central Asia.

Sherbank in Kazakhstan is issuing a Visa Infinity card to its top 100 customers. The card also contains 26 diamonds with a total weight of 0.17 karats.

The card is offered for $100,000, with $65,000 covering the cost of the card. The remaining $35,000 is a credit in the customer's account. The card has a $2,000 annual fee, but holders also get perks — an iPhone, $250,000 worth of life and health insurance, and special access to airport lounges.

A catch is the gold card does not have a magnetic strip, so it cannot be used in a machine. Holders have to use a regular plastic card for those transactions, Hardekopf said.

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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