If one were to look at the credit cards in my wallet, it would reveal a lot about me. The RedCard would be a dead giveaway that I am a Target junkie, the airline card would give a clue that I love to travel and the store credit card would say, “Yep, she also likes to shop.”
Turns out carriers of high-end, luxury cards often have lower self-esteem. These spenders use the flash of their plastic (or metal) as a way to boost their social status.
The economists responsible for the study, worked with an Indonesian bank that markets platinum credit cards to high-income customers. The study found that “demand for the platinum card greatly exceeds demand for a nondescript control product with identical benefits, suggesting demand for the pure status aspect of the card.”
The findings published by the National Bureau of Economic Research also revealed that platinum cards are more likely to be used in social contexts, thus implying social image motivations.
Not a huge surprise. We’ve all been at a restaurant with a large group, the bill comes and it’s time to throw in the cards. “Just split it up equally,” someone says. As the check is passed you catch a glimpse of one or two flashy metal cards, and feel a bit sheepish about your basic card.
Chances are the owners of those cards are paying a hefty price for the glitzy cards. But in many cases these high-end cardholders are, in fact, receiving more than just a boost in image. A lot of cards offer travel perks and some pretty sweet incentives to get new customers.
But let’s say you don’t trot around the globe. Are the fancy cards really worth the roughly $500 annual fee?
Maybe not. The study also found many cardholders could be leaving money on the table.
“While the card used in our study does not offer cash back rewards, at least 48 [percent] of platinum customers report owning other credit cards which do offer cash back at restaurants and similar transactions.”
So, when given the opportunity to appear wealthier, these folks chose image over actual cash money. Interesting, isn’t it?
Whether it’s for the self-esteem boost or the travel points, these luxe cards are clearly in demand. In fact, MarketWatch called the past 12 months an “arms race” between issuers of flashy travel credit cards. Case in point: People were so excited about the perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card that the bank approved tens of thousands of applicants in the first two days the cards were available, and actually ended up running out of the coveted metal cards. American Express had a similar issue when they bumped up point incentives for their luxury platinum card.
This all begs the question, if banks are out of metal cards, do customers get the same self-esteem boost from a plain old plastic card?
Sounds like the makings for a new study. In the meantime, Chase did promise those customers issued the temporary plastic cards that they can always upgrade to the metal once available. Phew!
Because as one happy customer, Frank Leppar, told Bloomberg that having a flashier credit card “does make a difference to people. The whole purpose of it is to show it’s a premier card.”