What can credit card concierge services do for you? From exclusive experiences to hard-to-get restaurant and travel reservations, here’s how to make the most of this little-used perk.
It’s the cardholder’s dream: a credit card with the magic touch to open doors closed to everyone else.
But, depending on your card, “concierge service” can mean something very different. With some cards, the service could be an app with exclusive offerings that you navigate yourself. With others, it could be a staffed concierge helpline that can lend some expertise when you have a special request or problem.
“Typically, I think one of the most common uses is travel support,” says John Cabell, director of banking and payments intelligence for J.D. Power, which conducts an ongoing study on consumer credit card satisfaction. “It can be helpful to have an ally if you’re in a difficult situation or an unfamiliar place.”
Cardholders also use them for personal shopping or dinner reservations, he adds. “But by and large travel services are most common.”
What do concierge services do?
Like anything else, a concierge service is only as good as what it can do for you. “And not all concierge services are alike,” says Peter Greenberg, travel editor for CBS News.
Many focus on getting you access to things you might not be able to get on your own: tickets to sold-out shows, rooms at a hotel that’s booked solid or last-minute restaurant reservations at a place where the wait list is measured in months or years.
And that’s exactly how most cardholders are using them, says Chris Dong, credit cards reporter for The Points Guy.
Cardholders typically look to the services to book restaurant reservations on the fly, go that extra mile with events for a special occasion or find a lost item left behind at a hotel, he adds.
But the most valuable commodity when it comes to a concierge is an actual human on the other end of the line, says Greenberg, who’s used the services in the past to book last-minute flights out of war zones. “If you can’t have a conversation with a human being, what’s the point of calling it a concierge service?”
While ranking the quality of card concierge services is definitely subjective, “we can look at which concierge services cardholders use most,” Cabell says. “And American Express seems to have more engagement with their cardholders in this service. It’s hard to know if it’s because it’s a better service, or if they have more products that offer this service.”
In addition, “they hire their own agents,” Cabell adds. “Many [card concierge programs] are outsourced, and that probably makes some difference, too, in the level of service.”
The biggest problem with card concierge services is that you don’t know how effective they are until you actually use them, says Dong. “There’s no way to the test out the concierge to see if it’s a good option for you unless you have the card.”
What do concierge services cost?
Most cards “will offer a standard service level for all the users, regardless of of monthly spend,” says Cabell. So even if you’re on a budget, you’ll get the same treatment as the high rollers. Although, if you’re a big spender, you could be encouraged (or invited), to apply for more exclusive cards – like American Express’ Centurion – that have a reputation for catering to customers.
Another benefit of concierge services is that they’re free. You pay for what they procure for you – but using the service itself costs you nothing, says Dong.
In general, if you have a Visa card with the Infinite designation or one of Mastercard’s World Elite cards, you have a concierge service, he says.
Several of the American Express cards, like The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Centurion, also have concierge programs.
What you pay for a card that has a concierge program varies. Some cards that offer a concierge, like the Amex Platinum card, Chase Sapphire Reserve card and Capital One Venture X Credit Card have higher annual fees, says Dong. ($695 for Platinum, $550 for Sapphire and $395 for Venture X.) But others, like the Citi® Double Cash Card, don’t have any annual fees, he adds.
Sometimes, a good concierge service might be able to save you a buck. If your favorite band is coming to town and the only available tickets put the experience out of reach, look to your concierge service, says Greenberg. They may have tickets set aside for their customers at a more reasonable price.
With travel, though, it’s often more about access than price shopping. “There’s no guarantee someone booking you a ticket will get the lowest fare,” says Greenberg. “But if you’re in a war zone and there’s only one flight out, you call the concierge service.”
Shopping for a concierge service
Face it, most people shop credit cards for APRs, fees, points or rewards – not concierge services. And most cardholders who actually have the services don’t use them, according to a recent J.D. Power credit card survey.
So how do you know what you’re getting before you receive the card?
The truth is, it’s not easy. “There isn’t a lot of information out there,” says Dong. Plus, card offerings and programs can quickly change, he adds.
Greenberg agrees. Credit card companies “have not marketed concierge services so that you know who has them,” he adds.
But there are a few things you can do. When you’re card shopping, see if the card site mentions a concierge service. If it does, scan the concierge section under “terms and conditions.” Does it reference “live” or “phone?” Or are you seeing terms like “electronic,” “app” or “automated?” If it’s the latter, the card’s concierge might be more of a DIY proposition, says Cabell.
Regarding concierge programs, and card services in general, “one challenge is that issuers are moving consumers toward those self-service options,” he says. “In some cases, you’re not clear if you’re chatting online with a real person or a robot.”
But the best way to find out exactly what type of concierge service a card provides is to call the card issuer, says Greenberg. “We’ve evolved into a system in this country where people don’t have conversations. Call up and say, ‘please walk me through this.’”
Some points to cover:
- Is the service available 24/7? If you’re halfway across the globe and need help, you don’t want to have to wait for the office to open.
- Is the service staffed by people, or will you be dealing with apps and bots? If you have a complicated problem, you need a human to understand and help, says Cabell. “Usually, when you’re needing a service like that, it’s not a straightforward question and it’s not in the frequently asked questions list.”
- Is the concierge service run by the card issuer or a third-party? “If you’re offering a concierge service and, in the process of doing that, you’re subcontracting to a third-party, there’s a problem there,” says Greenberg.
- Is the service staffed by experienced pros? You may not use concierge services often, but when you do, you need someone knowledgeable on the other end of the phone. If you need a quick ticket home, you want someone who can make that happen.
“Do your research and poke around and see what you can find when you shop concierge programs,” says Dong. And while you might not select a card for its concierge program alone, he adds, “it’s definitely a side benefit.”