The City National Bank Crystal card really is a hot little number, and the “should I stay or should I go” decision I had to make recently was fairly difficult.
In the “keep” column:
- It has a $250 airline credit PER CARD, and authorized user cards are fee-free
- It gets me 12 Gogo Wifi passes per year – a nice perk although obviously not a game-changer
- It gets my wife a free Priority Pass membership
In the “throw that piece of shit in the trash where it belongs” column:
- The annual fee is $400 per year. While it’s possible to make it back through the airline credit, it’s still a lot of cash to fork out at once.
- The benefits I actually use (Priority Pass, mostly) I can get from other cards.
- My favorite benefit, the free CLEAR membership, got nixed.
- I don’t use a lot of the other benefits. This card has TONS of great benefits, but among the ones I went a whole year without using are: status at Relais & Chateaux hotels, the Visa Infinite concierge, $100 discount when buying to roundtrip economy tickets, roadside assistance, and the Visa Infinite luxury hotels program.
In the past, I’ve always said the card is a no-brainer to keep, since it’s essentially fee-negative. In 2015 and 2016, I earned $500 in United Gift Registry funds via the airline credit. However: there’s one big downside to this besides tying up cash in United credit – it’s a fucking pain in the ass. Any transaction over $50 won’t get reimbursed, so I need to do ten separate gift registry transactions, and I need to monitor each one to make sure it’s going to get reimbursed before moving on to the next one. See, CNB isn’t exactly the most sophisticated operation, so there’s no guarantee that the reimbursement is going to come through in the first place.
Also, CNB changed the terms a lot during the first year, which doesn’t inspire confidence that I’ll be able to keep relying on that $500 per year fee offset. For example: the credit originally applied to seat upgrades, but they canceled that benefit. They originally offered 3x points on grocery store purchases, then switched to 1x, then switched back to 3x. The card included a free CLEAR membership but then removed that benefit after only a few months. With all this in mind, I really didn’t want to plunk down $400 only to find out that I wouldn’t be able to recoup any of it.
Overall, this card is really interesting since I don’t think CNB really tries to make money off of it the way Amex and Chase do. Their MO as a bank is to appeal to rich people, and to offer those rich people a vertically integrated suite of financial solutions. I’m certain they had NO IDEA that the 100,000 point bonus they offered last fall would get picked up by churning blogs and lead to people storming branches in the handful of states where they operate trying to open the card.
In fact, the CNB banker I talked to was downright confused how I even found my way in there. I went in talking about opening a checking account and applying for a Crystal card, and he actually asked me if I knew the type of clientele CNB usually caters to. Now, I don’t dress or comport myself in a manner that suggests that I’m affluent in any way, so I certainly don’t blame him for his skepticism. (However, I will say that in the Bay Area, where any random dipshit in a hoodie might be a billionaire, judging affluence based on appearance isn’t a good idea.)
Ironically, I only opened the checking account because I thought it would help me get approved for the credit card, but now I use the checking account all the time and will definitely keep it open even after I close the card. Summing up the past year with the Crystal card, I’m still floored at how good of a value proposition it has been. The fee was waived the first year, so I got two Priority Pass memberships, a CLEAR membership, 12 Gogo passes, $1000 in United credit, Global Entry, and $1000 worth of points for a couple hours of my time. If they had kept everything as it was when I applied, I’d definitely pay the fee and keep the card indefinitely. I just don’t trust them not to cut off more benefits in the future, though, so into the shredder it goes.
Finally, the last thing that would convince me to keep the card is if they pulled an HSBC and added some – any – transfer partners. Since the card earns points like crazy, keeping it would be a no-brainer if I could leverage those points toward high-value redemptions. As it is, the best it’s possible to do it around 1.2 cents per point toward airfare, so the card doesn’t cut it on the earning side either. I mentioned this when I called to cancel, but the concept of transferring points to transfer partners was a totally foreign concept to them, so I didn’t push it.
Did you get a City National card? Did you try and fail? Is trying and failing a pattern for you?
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