Who needs Hudson if they have a black card?

Jasmine Birtles reports on Britain's most exclusive plastic

Even in these times of economic uncertainty, conspicuous consumption is alive and kicking. Black credit cards - pieces of plastic that put gold and platinum rivals firmly in the shade - have established themselves as the only cards worth carrying among those willing and able to afford them.

Even in these times of economic uncertainty, conspicuous consumption is alive and kicking. Black credit cards - pieces of plastic that put gold and platinum rivals firmly in the shade - have established themselves as the only cards worth carrying among those willing and able to afford them.

The appeal of such products is not as limited as it might appear. Some 326,000 people in Britain now earn more than £100,000 a year - a figure that has doubled during the past four years.

American Express was the first provider to enter the market, launching its Centurion charge card in May 1999. To qualify, cardholders must earn a minimum of £100,000 per annum, and be willing to cough up £650 a year in charges.

In June last year, NatWest became the first high- street bank to offer a black card, and Halifax followed suit in the autumn. Nat-West's card is aimed at people with an annual income of at least £70,000 and costs £250 a year, while the Halifax insists on at least £75,000 and charges £175.

So what on earth would possess someone to pay that kind of money for a credit card? Well, the attraction for users is a package of exclusive extras, including the chance to earn additional Air Miles; worldwide access to executive airport lounges; and a 24-hour, multilingual "personal assistance" service, to help busy rich people organise their lives.

American Express says more than 90 per cent of Centurion cardholders make use of its concierge service. "This service can get you anything so long as it's legal," says Jacquie Goozee of American Express. Concierge benefits break down into three categories: travel, financial and lifestyle. The travel services could include anything from booking flights to ordering a luxury yacht, while each cardholder has a concierge manager appointed to them to offer financial advice and services such as stockbroking. Members have no spending limit - they can simply spend as much as they have proved they can afford.

But it is in the lifestyle category that the black card service starts to enter the realms of the ridiculous. For example, three years ago Amex staff were dispatched to queue up for signed Harry Potter books. Amex also arranged for a brass band to play outside a London flat on Valentine's Day.

NatWest black card holders have access to a 24-hour 365-days-a-year, multilingual personal assistance service, which means that a phone call can get them help in arranging anything from dinner in Prague to a round of golf in the Cayman Islands. The card also has a 56-day interest-free period, and charges an annual percentage rate (APR) of 12.9, which is pretty standard when compared to typical high- street credit cards. However, the minimum credit limit is £15,000, which is certainly not standard.

The Halifax card - called the Carbon Card - also has a 24-hour assistance centre that can book flights, give you access to airport VIP lounges, make reservations at hotels and restaurants, and organise car hire and tickets for theatres and sporting events worldwide. It has the lowest APR at 10.3, up to 59 days' interest-free credit and a minimum credit limit of £15,000.

It may seem unlikely, but many of those who have a black card do so because it represents value for money. "The fact that you get a 24-hour service, seven days a week is outstanding," says retired company director Geoffrey Warde of NatWest's £250-a-year black card service. "I wanted two tickets to see Dawn French in My Brilliant Divorce recently but it was totally sold out. Finally, I called the black card service and they managed to get a cancellation. We had two really good seats on the night we wanted. The charge was a measly £1.50."

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    SThree: HR Benefits Manager

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

    £30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

    Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

    £250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

    Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

    £230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower