NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Credit card companies have been offering concierge services on their more high-end credit cards for years now, but it takes a savvy cardholder to make that service pay off.
Credit card concierge service was, at one point, considered the foremost of luxury perks. It didn't necessarily mean that you were dropping $5,000 for the titanium-forged American Express Centurion or paying its $2,500 annual fee while meeting its $250,000 annual spending limit, but it did imply that you were sniffing similarly rarified air. Through management company Circles, the American Express centurion allows cardholders to reserve restaurant tables, theater seats, flights, hotel rooms, services like dry cleaning and livery rental and far more.
This is all what you'd expect if you're dropping a quarter-million dollars a year just to qualify for this card, but it's also a perk that other banks and credit card issuers have been offering to cardholders with sterling credit since the recession. The Visa Black Card emulates the Centurion, but its $495 fee is slightly more affordable and doesn't require an invitation. PenFed's Premium Travel Rewards American Express has no annual fee and offers a similar concierge service to those with good enough credit to apply. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard ($89 a year), CapitalOne Venture ($59 a year) British Airways Visa Signature ($95) are other strong options in plastic options provide some extra personal attention.
“The credit card market is so super-crazy competitive right now that banks are adding on extra services and perks and enhancing existing ones,” says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. “Many issuers are trying to separate themselves with their concierge services. These can be especially appealing to higher-end customers, who banks are always trying to attract.”
There's no questioning the appeal of having your own foot servant a phone call away, especially if you're a company that dabbles in hospitality. Protect Your Bubble, a nationwide provider of travel and rental car insurance, recently added personal concierge service with the promise that it can help travelers “steer clear of unfriendly places,” book restaurant reservations, get directions, assist with medical emergencies, help with translation and make accommodations if travelers lose their passport, credit cards or other forms of identification.
“As travelers look to explore new destinations or even regions, it’s important to have a trusted voice with you that can help coordinate a safe, fun and successful trip,” said Stacey Vogler, U.S. managing director for Protect Your Bubble. “Concierge services are important because you know you’re getting the advice you need on the local region, and you can rely on them during your trip for help with reservations, questions or medical emergency situations.”
To a degree, credit card concierge services can perform most of those tasks. They can help you book a hotel room if you have trouble with the local language, score have trouble with the local languagereservations at crowded restaurants, find lost items and they can come up with activities for your kids. A few years back, they helped one guy fill a bathtub with nacho cheese.
But they aren't always consistent. Schulz's team had a major airline dispute his branded card's concierge service wouldn't touch when addressing this issue was clearly listed among that card's perks. They also found that most of the concierge perks on another card consisted largely of finding items and event tickets that they could have tracked down for less. They save time, but they aren't always cost-effective.
“The thought of having a personal assistant is appealing to most people,” says Curtis Arnold, founder of credit card industry rating and monitoring sites CardRatings.com and BestPrepaidDebitCards.com. “The beauty of card concierge services is that in the last few years, credit cards have brought concierge services to the masses a concierge services are included on many no fee cards these days. But while having a personal concierge might make Joe Schmo feel like Donald Trump, the reality is that it might cost him in the long run, despite being a free service.”
While experience varies by card and customer alike, the near consensus is that concierge service comes in handy in a pinch. Much like a hotel or corporate concierge -- or even the Centurion card's concierge service -- the average credit card concierge service isn't there to save you money. It exists to keep you from being hassled. In its ideal form, it makes the phone calls you won't, does the shopping that you can't and tracks down the tickets and reservations you don't have time in your schedule for.
Yes, you might be able to score seats to a sold-out show on your own or book an otherwise sold-out hotel room through the right site, but a credit card concierge service is there to help you cut the line and get between points more quickly. Your annual fee isn't paying your concierge for perks or discounts: It's doing so to free up your time and make it as easy as possible to charge big purchases to your card. If time and energy are all that's preventing you from taking a flight or eating at the high-end restaurant of your choosing, credit card companies and banks are more than willing to clear those obstacles to your spending.
“I guess the bottom-line is to try the service for yourself,” Arnold says. “Such things as sold-out concerts and sold-out hotels seem to be good opportunities for trying a concierge. I also think a good candidate for this type of benefit that is someone that is pressed for time and doesn't mind paying more on occasion for the sake of convenience.”