4 Credit Cards That Let You Live the VIP Lifestyle

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Later this month, Jerry Seinfeld is performing a stand-up set in New York City. But not just anyone can get in to see the comedy legend tell jokes. Rather, admission is limited to an exclusive subset of society -- specifically, those who have a Citi ThankYou credit card.

Rewards cards aren't just for earning cash and travel rewards anymore. Now, they've transformed into VIP passes, granting cardholders access to a wide variety of events, services and exclusive clubs. While some of these cards carry steep annual fees, cardholders who take full advantage of the wide variety of perks will find that the cards pay for themselves. Plus, you can't really put a price on feeling like a VIP, can you?

Here are a few of the cards that let you cut lines, get behind the velvet rope and experience things that non-cardholders can only dream of.

The Platinum Lifestyle: American Express Platinum Card

"When it comes to that type of thing, the one that has the best benefits is the AmEx Platinum Card," says Erik Larson of NextAdvisor.com, which reviews credit cards and other products and services.

The card has annual fee of $450, which the average consumers will likely balk at. But for frequent travelers, it can go a long way toward paying for itself. The card provides you with $200 a year to spend on airline fees ranging from checked bags to in-flight meals and drinks. It also grants you and your traveling companions complimentary access to the airport lounges of American Airlines, US Airways and Delta, which normally costs around $50 a visit.

Beyond the airport, there's also the Platinum Dining program, which can score you a reservation at a number of fine dining establishments that usually have long waiting lists. And you can also get access to a number of "By Invitation Only" events, including an Aston Martin driving experience at the Monticello Auto Club.

Meet the Mets: Citi ThankYou Cards

Citi already provides access to thousands of events through its Private Pass program, which grants cardholders pre-sale opportunities for select events. But the Citi ThankYou cards, which provide double rewards for restaurants and entertainment, take it to the next level. There's that Seinfeld performance later this month, and earlier this summer there was a youth baseball clinic with New York Mets third baseman David Wright. And there are upcoming events in Chicago and California.

The ThankYou and ThankYou Preferred cards have no annual fees. The Prestige Card, which is Citi's answer to the American Express Platinum Card, has a $400 annual fee. But like the AmEx Platinum card, it provides $200 for airline fees and access to airline lounges.

Citi isn't the only card offering these sorts of exclusive events to cardholders. MasterCard has its "Priceless Cities" program, which gets you early or exclusive access to events in select cities around the world (including Miami, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles here in the US).

Cut the Line: United MileagePlus

There are a lot of unpleasant things about air travel. Case in point: standing in the aisle while your fellow passengers try to cram their suitcases into the overhead compartment.

The United MileagePlus card lets you skip that unpleasant experience by providing complimentary priority boarding when you fly United. You'll get to board after the first-class and elite passengers, but before everyone else sitting in coach. In addition, you'll be able to check your first bag for free, and you'll get two complimentary passes to the United Club to use each year when you travel.

The MileagePlus Explorer card has a $0 introductory annual fee, and $95 after that. "It's certainly going to pay for itself if you fly the airline more than a couple times a year," says Larson.

The more high-end MileagePlus Club Card has a $395 annual fee, but carries more benefits -- you get unlimited access to the United Club whenever you travel and you can check first and second bags for free, among other travel benefits.

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$395 in annual fees may seem steep, but as with any of these cards, it can pay for itself if you're going to use it regularly. Brian Kelly, who runs travel rewards site The Points Guy, points out that the United Club access provided by the card normally costs $500 a year, so simply having the card gives you $100 off the membership on top of a range of other benefits.

"The cheapest credit cards don't always make the most sense," he says.

A Signature Experience: Visa Signature Cards

Oh, it's not enough for you to cut the line when you're boarding the plane? Well, if you have a Visa Signature card, you can cut a lot of the people waiting in the security line, too.

The Signature family of cards gives you free access to CLEAR, a new program that lets you bypass the masses waiting in line for the TSA security check. It doesn't let you skip the security check altogether like the TSA PreCheck, but it does mean you can get to the airport later and not have to stand in a long line. CLEAR normally costs $179 a year, but having a Signature card gives you the first six months free; if and when your membership auto-renews to a paid subscription, you can get $60 off the price. Note that it's only available in select cities so far.

Signature has other benefits as well -- you can get access to "Signature Events," like a complimentary wine tasting in Napa Valley, as well as small discounts and free shipping at some retail websites. It also has a "concierge service" that will connect you with someone who can make reservations and recommendations when you travel. But Kelly says that the usefulness of that perk is limited.

"I rarely use them," he says. "It's essentially just someone at a computer with Google."

Why Your Bank Thinks Someone Stole Your Credit Card
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4 Credit Cards That Let You Live the VIP Lifestyle

One reason why Marquis' gas purchases might have triggered a fraud lockdown? Filling their tank is a common first move for credit card thieves.

"Some of the things they look at are small-dollar transactions at gas stations, followed by an attempt to make a larger purchase," explains Adam Levin of Identity Theft 911.

The idea is that thieves want to confirm that the card actually works before going on a buying spree, so they'll make a small purchase that wouldn't catch the attention of the cardholder. Popular methods include buying gas or making a small donation to charity, so banks have started scrutinizing those transactions.

Of course, it's not a simple matter of buying gas or giving to charity -- if those tasks triggered alerts constantly, no one would do either with a credit card. But Levin points to another possible explanation: Purchases made in a high-crime area are going to be held to a higher standard by the bank.

"It's almost a form of redlining," he says. "If there are certain [neighborhoods] where they've experienced an enormous amount of fraud, then anytime they see a transaction in the neighborhood, it sends an alert."

(Indeed, Erin tells me that one of the gas purchases that triggered an alert took place in a rough part of Detroit, which she visited specifically for the cheap gas.)

People who steal credit cards and credit card numbers usually aren't doing it so they can outfit their home with electronics and appliances. They don't want the actual products they're fraudulently buying; they're just in it to make money. So banks are always on the lookout for purchases of items that can easily be re-sold.

"Anytime a product can be turned around quickly for cash value, those are going to be the items that you would probably assume that, if you were a thief, you would want to get to first," says Karisse Hendrick of the Merchant Risk Council, which helps online merchants cut down on fraud. Levin says electronics are common choices for fraudsters, as are precious metals and jewelry.

Many thieves don't want to go through the rigmarole of buying laptops and jewelry, then selling them online or at pawnshops. They'd much prefer to just turn your stolen card directly into cold, hard cash.

There are a few ways that they can do that, and all of them will raise red flags at your bank or credit union. Using a credit card to buy a pricey gift card or load a bunch of money on a prepaid debit card is a fast way to attract the suspicions of your credit card issuer. Levin adds that some identity thieves also use stolen or cloned credit cards to buy chips at a casino, which they can then cash out (or, if they're feeling lucky, gamble away).

When assessing whether a purchase might be fraudulent, banks aren't just looking at what you bought and where you bought it. They're also asking if it's something you usually buy.

"The issuers know the buying patterns of a cardholder," says Hendrick. "They know the typical dollar amount of transaction and the type of purchase they put on a credit card."

Your bank sees a fairly high percentage of your purchases, so it knows if one is out of character for you. A thrifty individual who suddenly drops $500 on designer clothes should expect to get a call -- or have to make one when the bank flags the transaction. If you rarely travel and your card is suddenly used to purchase a flight to Europe, that's going to raise some red flags.

Speaking of Europe, the other big factor in banks' risk equations is whether you're making a purchase in a new area. I bought a computer just days after moving from Boston to New York, and had to confirm to the bank that I was indeed trying to make the purchase. Levin likewise says that making purchases in two different cities over a short period of time raises suspicions.

"I go from New York to California a lot, and invariably someone will call me [from the bank], " he says. Since one person can't go shopping in New York and California at the same time, any time a bank sees multiple purchases in multiple locations in a short period, it's going to be suspicious.


Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
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