Aiming squarely at the premium credit card market, the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and ANZ have all added black credit cards to their roster of plastic.
No doubt inspired by the exclusive, titanium-made American Express Centurion charge card, these bank-issued cards are at the top of the pile.
Boasting the highest frequent flyer earning rates of each respective bank, the Commonwealth Bank Diamond Awards, ANZ Rewards Black/Frequent Flyer and Westpac Altitude/Earth Black all pack similar features – but how do they compare?
We give the crème de la crème of credit cards a real grilling and see which emerges as the real victor.
NOTE: The Westpac Earth Black card is no longer available to new customers, however the same features and Qantas Frequent Flyer earning rates are now available on the Westpac Altitude Black card by choosing the 'Altitude Qantas' option.
Earning frequent flyer points
Frequent spenders focus on how many frequent flyer points they’ll pick up when dropping some serious coin.
These black cards all come with an American Express for reeling in the most points and a backup Visa or MasterCard for the odd times when AMEX isn’t accepted.
Here’s what each card dishes up per dollar spent:
ANZ Rewards Black was the only card not to offer a full 1.5 airline points per dollar on the American Express card, but it does come with an elevated earning rate on the attached Visa.
That looks good on paper, but when a national supermarket can reach points parity on its MasterCard, it shows just how poor the Visa/MasterCard earning rates are from the Big Four.
Westpac was a standout with both the Earth and Altitude MasterCards treated the same as their American Express cousin when spending abroad, where AMEX acceptance can vary.
Points capping limits your frequent flyer earning potential, while bonus points on airline spend can strongly improve it – so consider these too:
Again, Westpac takes the crown with Earth Black, while ANZ regains some ground, tying for first place with its Frequent Flyer Black cards. Commonwealth Bank came in dead last – both with a points cap and no airline bonuses.
Airport lounge access and sign-on benefits
To entice new customers, premium credit cards often come with generous sign-on bonuses and the promise of airport lounge access.
Here’s what you’ll get with three of the Big Four:
Leading the pack again are the ANZ Frequent Flyer Black cards which serve up a free Veloce membership, two single-use Qantas lounge passes and a respectable discount if taking out an annual Qantas Club membership – not to mention 50,000 Qantas Points.
Once more dwindling in last place are the CBA Diamond cards, the only above-Platinum cards from a Big Four bank without any lounge access benefits.
Fees and charges
When you’re shelling out for a black-level card, you’ll want to make sure it pays for itself – and then some. Here’s how they all stack up on fees and charges.
Assuming you’re chasing points and also give a card to your partner, the ANZ Frequent Flyer Black maxes out at a ridiculous $490/year, with CBA Diamond Awards in second last at $450 for new customers, and the ANZ Rewards Black following closely at $440.
To ANZ’s credit, those fees are waived in the first year if applying before August 26 2014, but return to normal after 12 months or if applying after that date.
Comparing the standard ANZ rates to Westpac’s flat $395/year makes Westpac the best ongoing deal, short of ANZ extending its fee waiver.
Taking into account airline earning rates, bonus points on Qantas spend, the overall annual cost and the lack of points capping, the Westpac Earth Black cards emerge as the victor.
Although the ANZ Frequent Flyer Black card comes with unlimited lounge access, there aren’t any locations in Australia or even in the Americas, which is a considerable drawback.
If you’re travelling often enough to the far-flung airports on the list to make the benefit worth its while, chances are you’ll already have free lounge access available to you through your built-up frequent flyer status, so the benefit is moot.
The CBA Diamond’s high overall annual fee, points capping and lack of lounge access only furthers Westpac’s victory.
For earning points with the likes of Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines or Air New Zealand, the Westpac Altitude Black card is also a strong contender – beaten only by the Earth Black’s bonus points on flight bookings.
While Earth Black doesn’t come free of charge, it’s arguably the best card to keep in your wallet and use as a true Black card – whereas ANZ’s semi-competitive Frequent Flyer Black cards scream “earn and churn” when it’s time to cough up for the full annual fee.
NOTE: The Westpac Earth Black card is no longer available to new customers, however the identical features and Qantas Frequent Flyer earning rates are now available on the Westpac Altitude Black card for the same annual fee by choosing the 'Altitude Qantas' option, which makes the Westpac Altitude Black card our new top pick.
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT