With airline miles and cash back all but universal as credit card perks, card issuers continually seek to offer more distinctive and exclusive rewards, especially for their top-of-the-line credit cards. Such credit card perks are often overlooked in card comparisons, since it's hard to put an exact value on what they provide. Their exclusivity may be appealing if you yearn to add a little luxury to your life or experience a unique event. Check if your premium credit cards offer any of the following opportunities.
Some high-end credit cards offer access to airport lounges, the special spots away from the grind of the gate that are usually reserved for frequent flyers. In some cases, the card themselves offer their own lounges. More often, though, this card perk enables you to skip the mileage and other requirements of the airline programs and enjoy an airline lounge, regardless of your status, merely by carrying a card that's branded to the carrier.
Lounges are typically rich in complimentary amenities, including Wi-Fi access, cocktails, ample food and quiet working areas. Some of the more luxurious lounges even include the likes of showers and conference rooms. Amenities vary, of course. For example, United Clubs and American Express Centurion lounges have gained a reputation as being among the best. On the other hand, the more common Priority Pass lounges tend to be more spotty, with some being nicer than others, according to online user comments.
If you're traveling with company, be sure to familiarize yourself with the lounge's guest policy before you invite a group of companions to join you there. Most cards will allow your spouse and immediate family member to gain access for free. However, friends or colleagues often need to pay a fee, and not a nominal one; with United Clubs, for example, extra guests may be charged $59 each.
These lounges are sometimes accessible without the requisite credit card, but that, too, can be costly--as much or more, potentially, as the annual fee for a premium card. For instance, access to American Airlines' Admirals Club is $550 a year for an individual.
Inside Access & Special Events
Credit cards also compete to offer access to concerts or special events and experiences that might otherwise be impossible to obtain. If you've bought tickets to concerts or other events at major venues or on Broadway, you've probably noticed the presale access that's often offered to those who hold Citi, American Express or other cards. But those issuers also sometimes arrange reserved seating that's available only to buyers who use cards from that issuer, and typically only for the more exclusive cards they offer.
Every once in awhile, Citi will also offer special dining events that are open to cardholders only, who must typically pay for the experience. Recently, one such event was held on New York's Ellis Island. Cardmembers, and press, were invited to tour the museum at night, and afterwards were treated to a 4-course dinner prepared by Celebrity Chef Capon. The evening also included a boat ride with views of the New York skyline and complimentary gifts.
Citi isn't the only issuer with such perks. Chase operates a program called Inside Access and Chase Experiences which offer similar outings.
One caveat to these benefits is that you must be on a lookout for them. Your bank will rarely target you with an invitation. Instead, you'll need to monitor your e-mail or log into your account and search for Special Events or the like. These types of experiences tend to be limited-time events so you'll have to check back frequently if you want to find something that will align with your interests, and budget.
Elite Membership With Airlines & Hotels
Certain credit cards can also serve to shortcut your way towards elite membership with airline and hotel loyalty programs. As with lounge access, these cards allow you to forego the tickets you'd have to buy or the nights you'd have to stay by acquiring a premium card that's co-branded with the airline or the hotel chain. Even if elite membership isn't automatically conferred with the card, there is sometimes a way to acquire by meeting some sort of spending threshold that may be less onerous than that required by those who don't hold the card.
The benefit of elite status is that you'll get preferential treatment whenever booking travel with that brand. For example, elite members at hotel chains may get to check out late, get free breakfast and Wi-Fi, or get access to special lounges. You can get all the benefits of being a frequent customer without necessarily being one.
Photo Credit: Margarita Corporan