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Do metal credit cards cause problems with airport security?

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Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question Dear Cashing In,
Do the titanium and/or totally metal credit cards set off airport security? I understand that some of the metal-infused cards may not have enough metallic content to trip the detectors, but what about cards made entirely of metal? I see there have been times that credit card “knives” have been a problem for TSA. Could this become an issue for getting the cards through security? – Jeff

Answer Dear Jeff,
With the holiday travel season fast approaching, it is probably a good idea to start thinking about how to navigate those security lines at the airport.

As you mention, it does seem as though there are a number of cards on the market now that are made of metal, at least in part. Although they are more expensive to manufacture, these metallic cards project an image of gravitas when you go to use a card, as they are heavier and thicker than plastic cards. Card issuers use metal mostly for their elite, high-end cards, in an attempt to denote exclusivity.

Several major issuers offer metal credit cards, including:

  • Chase. The most widely distributed is the Chase Sapphire Preferred (annual fee: $95), which has a layer of metal encased in plastic. The new Chase Sapphire Reserve (annual fee: $450), launched in August 2016, proved so popular that the company ran out of metal and had to issue some cards as plastic. Chase Ritz-Carlton and Chase United MileagePlus Club cards (annual fee on each: $450) are also metallic. There’s also the J.P. Morgan Chase Palladium card (annual fee: $595, invitation-only), made of palladium and 24-karat gold.
  • Barclaycard offers the MasterCard Black Card (annual fee: $495) and the MasterCard Titanium Card (annual fee: $195), both made of stainless steel and carbon. If that won’t do, there’s also the MasterCard Gold Card (annual fee: $995), with a 24-karat gold-plated front and a carbon back.  
  • American Express’s invitation-only Centurion card is perhaps the most exclusive card out there, with a $7,500 initiation fee and $2,500 annual fee. It is reportedly made of titanium.

If none of those cards appeals to you, there’s always the option of converting any of your plastic cards to metal, as long as you aren’t too worried about running into problems with airport security. There is a company that offers that service, starting at $100 per card. For a little bit extra, you can design the metal card yourself. (The company says carrying a metal card “screams VIP” and is a “real game-changer and confidence booster” that will “make your friends jealous.”)

Your friends, though, might have the last laugh if you try to take your metal card through an airport metal detector.

Mike England, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, told me: “Anything made of metal will set off the metal detectors.”

The best way to avoid that inconvenience, he says, is to place those cards in the plastic tray that goes through the conveyor belt. You know – the one in which you put your cellphone and keys.

TSA officials can take a closer look at those items to figure out if they are really credit cards, or small knives that can fold up into the shape of a credit card and fit in your wallet.

See related: You splurged for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Now what?, Are elite credit cards worth it?

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Published: November 29, 2016


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Updated: 12-03-2016


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