Best credit cards for luxury perks

By , Editor-in-chief
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American Express is a CardRatings.com advertiser.

In "The Millionaire Next Door," authors Thomas Stanley and William Danko reveal how America's wealthiest individuals don't always look like millionaires. Nor do they necessarily spend very much of the money in their bank accounts. Banks use luxury credit card perks to add value for customers with big balances, so they won't transfer those funds elsewhere.

On the other hand, if you aspire to a million-dollar lifestyle but your bank balance has zeroes in all the wrong places, a luxury credit card can get you access to five-star resorts and exclusive experiences at a relative discount. Although some cards may require significant annual fees, a savvy shopper can usually make that money back by redeeming special offers, banking promotional rebates, or coordinating purchasing with bonus reward opportunities.

Even with excellent credit, earning your approval for a luxury credit card usually requires at least one of the following prerequisites:

  • You own a business or hold a professional job that allows you to funnel tens of thousands of dollars of reimbursed purchases through a single rewards credit card.
  • You hold a significant sum of money (usually $50,000 or more) in a checking, savings, or retirement account at a partnering bank.
  • You maintain elite status with one or more travel loyalty programs operated by airlines, hotels or cruise lines.

Finding the best credit card offer for your lifestyle often means digging into your mailbox, since many banks make accounts like these available only to existing customers. However, we found a handful of credit cards that offer access to prestigious perks and don't mind fielding applications from qualified consumers.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

If you want a town car to whisk you away to a private jet for an exclusive tour in a far-flung corner of the world, a World Elite personal travel adviser can put all that together for you. That's just one of the perks that MasterCard bundles with World Elite cards from a variety of issuers. Along with concierge access and enhanced travel insurance benefits, World Elite MasterCard will do anything from arranging for a dedicated agent to escort you through a foreign airport to getting you a tee time at a PGA TOUR golf course.

Barclaycard blends MasterCard's perks with a comprehensive travel rewards program. New cardholders can earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first 90 days with the new account -- this is enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit. Cardholders earn two miles per dollar spent on all purchases and get 10 percent miles back to use toward their redemption every time they redeem for travel statement credits. With a modest annual fee ($89, which is waived for the first year) and no foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in a foreign country, Barclaycard's edition of the World Elite MasterCard is a luxury card that even a miser could love.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

A few years ago, we might have called out the JPMorgan Palladium Visa Signature card, a product available only to members of Chase's exclusive private banking services. With a high annual fee and a sharp, metallic card that we're pretty sure could kill a man at 20 paces, this account only made it into the wallets of a few select consumers. Although Chase no longer offers the Palladium card, the bank brought many of that card's most appealing luxury perks to a more familiar and accessible brand under its corporate umbrella: the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card members report getting invited to private dinners hosted by James Beard Award-winning chefs, enjoying unexpected upgrades to first-class airline seats, and booking exotic vacation experiences like balloon rides over African game reserves. Dedicated customer service advisers can even help you maximize your Chase Ultimate Rewards points and book exclusive cardholder experiences.

New cardholders can earn 40,000 bonus points when spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three month of opening an account. Those bonus points are equivalent to $500 in travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You'll pay no foreign transaction fees with this chip-and-signature-enabled card for international travel.

Chase offers an introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, and after that it's $95 -- a moderate charge compared to most cards with high-end benefits.

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

Even though the legendary American Express Centurion Card has become a little more accessible for high-spending consumers, it's still out of reach for most of us. Likewise, recent changes in airline lounge membership policies have left some American Express Platinum Card customers feeling like they're getting a little less value from their high annual fees. However, if you're a frequent flier through Atlanta, Detroit or other Delta hubs, this airline rewards card blends the premium benefits of AmEx's Platinum status with some major benefits for road warriors.

American Express' concierge service has gained legions of fans by securing hard-to-find event tickets and squeezing cardholders into the world's hottest restaurants. This card blends that popular program with a new-cardholder bonus of 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles -- the currency Delta now uses to determine frequent flier status. These miles come after you make one purchase with the new card, and the offer expires one year from the date your card application is approved. You can also earn an additional 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs after you spend $30,000 in qualifying purchases on your card in a calendar year.

The Delta Reserve card also gets you into Delta Sky Club lounges, where you can enjoy complimentary snacks and beverages, Wi-Fi access and more -- some locations even include office facilities and showers. Priority boarding, a bonus that Delta added for many of its branded credit card customers a few years ago, remains one of the most compelling reasons to carry this card.

SaksFirst World Elite MasterCard®

If your luxury tastes lean more toward shopping than travel, the SaksFirst World Elite MasterCard has you covered. This card rewards loyal Saks shoppers with SaksFirst points for in-store purchases and as your spend increases, you'll get invitations to private shopping events, extra reward offers, and special promotions from other luxury retail partners.

On those rare occasions when you're spending money somewhere other than Saks, this card rewards you with one point per dollar on your other purchases as long as you meet the minimum annual net spend at Saks. You can cash in reward points for Saks gift cards at any point throughout the year -- keep in mind that you must acquire at least 2,500 points in a calendar year to receive a gift card. This card also offers World Elite MasterCard benefits including no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation insurance and the MasterCard Global Concierge Service.

If the "luxury perks" above don't all sound like the automatic access to glass-bottomed hotel rooms in Bora Bora that you're used to seeing in glossy travel magazines, that's by design. The travel and entertainment industries have figured out how to monetize their most valuable experiences. However, all of the cards above can connect you to people who can give you the opportunities to make those purchases. Just don't let those balances sit on your accounts for very long -- like other amenity-driven accounts, these cards all carry higher-than-typical APRs for borrowers.

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