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Savvy travelers the right credit card can unlock a bevy of useful benefits. Whether a card lets you skip foreign transaction fees or earn triple the miles on airfare, the right piece of plastic can put the world at your fingertips. But these five cards go a step further, granting impressive perks that give users a taste of private, exclusive travel opportunities they might not otherwise get to experience.
For airport lounge access all over the world
Of all the co-branded credit cards issued by the three major U.S. airlines, American’s Citi AAdvantage Executive card has the most generous benefits. In addition to free checked baggage, a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry credit, the card grants you free Admirals Club membership and access to their network of about 50 lounges all over the world, from Tampa to Buenos Aires, as long as you’re flying American or a partner airline on the same day.
You can add up to ten authorized users at no cost, which means you can also give ten family members or friends lounge access—no need to travel together. The card’s $450 annual fee is cheaper than an Admirals membership, and if you split the fee eleven ways with your authorized users, it’ll cost even less than a single day pass into the club.
Learn more about applying for the Citi AAdvantage Executive card here.
For VIP hotel treatment
Let’s start with the best perk of the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: It gives you Hilton Honors Diamond status automatically—no hotel stays necessary. It’s their highest elite tier, and offers myriad benefits when you stay at a Hilton property: free daily breakfast for you and a guest; space-available room upgrades at the chain’s luxury, lifestyle and full-service brands at outposts of its luxury, lifestyle, and full-service brands; and executive lounge access, regardless of whether you’re staying on an executive floor or not.
Executive lounges are a great place to relax after a long day, especially when they bring out the complimentary evening spread, ranging from hors d’oeuvres to full dinners. Better yet, once you achieve a certain number of stays as a Diamond elite, you can even gift someone status during their next Hilton stay. With an annual fee of $450 and credits amounting to over $500, it’s a card that pays for itself.
Learn more about applying for the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card here.
For exclusive event tickets and packages
The Citi Premier card carries a number of benefits, including Citi Entertainment (formerly known as “Citi Private Pass,”) which grants access to pre-sale or preferred tickets, and VIP experiences. In the past, it’s included concert tickets to see performers like Billy Joel, Halsey, and Kelly Clarkson; and sport tickets to the Honda Classic golf tournament or spring training with the New York Mets. It even offered the opportunity for post-show and post-game meet-and-greets with performers and athletes.
Nowadays, most of its offerings are virtual—such as this year’s digital PaleyFest and a virtual wine tasting—but tickets for Lady Gaga’s The Chromatica Ball tour are already on pre-sale for this summer. If you want to get outside, you can also book tee times at private country clubs all over the U.S.
All major credit cards have similar entertainment programs, but each has its own exclusive offerings. And though Citi Entertainment is available to anyone with a Citi credit card, the Citi Preferred is a flexible rewards card that grants you triple the points per dollar spent on dining, travel, and more for an easy annual fee of $95.
Learn more about applying for the Citi Premier Card here.
For private Michelin-starred dining
Through the Sapphire Dining service available with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, top restaurants like Indigo in Houston and The French Laundry in California offer private dinners to cardholders, who can pay either via credit card or Chase rewards points. Currently, offerings are digital, ranging from virtual tours with Kyle and Katina Connaughton of SingleThread Farms to cooking workshops with James Beard Award winner Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue.
On top of the Sapphire Reserve’s fantastic travel benefits (a $300 annual credit for travel expenses like airfare, trip protection, a Lyft Pink membership, and more—all for a $595 annual fee), it’s a great card to have at home: it gets you three points per dollar spent on all dining, takeout and delivery included.
Learn more about applying for the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card here.
For a personal concierge and everything that comes with it
Of course, no list of exclusive credit cards is complete without the American Express Centurion Card, also known as the Black Card. And you can’t just apply for it, either—you need to be invited. (Reports say AmEx targets high rollers, those who spend roughly mid-six figures annually.)
After paying a $10,000 initiation fee and $5,000 annual fee, you’re treated to the best of the best: travel packages curated by your concierge; personal shoppers via high-end e-retailers like Net-a-Porter and Mr. Porter; tables reserved daily for Centurion members at top restaurants like Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, and the Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in Paris; all manner of elite status with major airlines and hotels; and unbeatable lounge access (think a Black Card-only section of the Centurion Lounge at HKG).
Many cards offer similar benefits, though they pale in comparison when you consider the level of luxury and personal attention the Centurion Card offers. For example, though the Platinum Card from American Express also offers a concierge service, Centurion customers are assigned a dedicated concierge available 24/7 who can secure the nigh impossible, from getting Super Bowl tickets to arranging an evacuation during a volcanic eruption.
Condé Nast Traveler has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Condé Nast Traveler and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
This is part of a series on rethinking private travel, which explores how the pandemic has changed our approach to private travel and made it more accessible to all.