Diners Club — the original credit card, and once upon a time one of the real leading rewards cards for road warriors — has been closed to new applications for years. It’s back!
There are still some strategic uses for the card. It’s a chip and pin MasterCard whose points transfer to a variety of airline and hotel programs, some of them unique. But the card isn’t what it once was, and I don’t think worth the price. Still, it’s intriguing and a welcome development that it is once again available for new cardmembers.
There are two versions of the card.
The ‘Premier’ card has a $95 annual fee and earns one point per dollar on spend.
The ‘Elite’ card has a $300 annual fee and offers 3x earning at gas, grocery, and drug stores. Those are interesting category bonuses, but they come at a big annual fee cost
Both cards come with the Diners Club lounge access program and primary collision damage protection on rental cars and no foreign transaction fees.
The illustrious history of Diners Club
Diners Club was the first charge card as we think of them today, founded nearly 65 years ago.
When I first became active as a business traveler, and engaged in miles and points, it was a unique tool. Acceptance was much more limited than Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. But I always wanted to use Diners Club wherever it was accepted because of the value of the points and the features of the card.
I found the old ’60 days to pay’ benefit of really unique value — run up your expenses, you’re going to submit them to your company’s accounting department for reimbursement, and you have plenty of time to get that expense check back and cashed before you have to pay of the card. The float was unparalleled.
In 2004 the US card gained widespread acceptance by striking a deal with MasterCard to use their payments network. But the lower interchange fees provided by MasterCard meant that the rich benefits were going to get dialed back to offset the reduced revenue from each transaction. Net net the tradeoff wasn’t worth it for the consumer, despite being able to use the card anywhere.
Up until 2005, Diners Club was a great card. It gave you an outstanding rewards program on top of the two full billing cycles to pay, free iDine Prime (20% back or more at most participating restaurants) membership, concierge services, and primary collision coverage for rental cars.
Diners Club was cool. It was the choice for CIA covert ops.
Value started getting pulled from the card. The end of two billing cycles to pay and increased foreign currency transaction fees (as was standard for MasterCard).
Club Rewards points transfers got squeezed by exclusive deals airlines and hotels did with other credit card companies.
I stopped recommending this card at the end of 2005, so explained that I would be keeping mine.
Back in 2006 the Diners Club card eliminated restaurant benefits, which struck me as absurd.
And then the card became more or less moribund. With Citibank selling the franchise they stopped taking new cardmembers.
Five years ago I commented on an outstanding global Diners Club ad campaign that I hoped Bank of Montreal’s acquisition of the card from Citibank would bring it back to life.
But nothing happened!
Value of Diners Club Points Today
Diners Club has a bunch of airline transfer partners. A few of them are obscure or unique: British Airways, Delta, Korean (Chase isn’t the only one that can get you Korean Air first class awards!), Air Canada, EVA Airways, SAS, South African, Thai, Alaska, El Al, Frontier, Hawaiian, Icelandair, Southwest, and Virgin Atlantic.
Points also transfer at odd ratios to Best Western, Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Starwood. These are generally less of a value than transfers to airline miles.
And they also transfer to Amtrak.
My favorite things here are that they transfer points to British Airways (like everyone else’s points do!), Korean (like Chase, for Korean’s own first class awards), Air Canada Aeroplan (best Star Alliance partner, shared with American Express Membership Rewards), and Alaska Airlines (great for Emirates and Cathay Pacific awards).
Alaska is a unique partner here — Chase, American Express, and Citibank points don’t transfer to Alaska. The only strong transferrable points program that transfers to Alaska is Starwood Preferred Guest.
I love having oddball partners like Thai, SAS, and South African. Not many people will find a lot of value in those, but the few who do will think them lifesavers.
On the whole I consider Diners Club’s transferrable points partners to be better than Citibank’s easily.
Compared to Chase, I like Chase transfer partners better for Star Alliance, the same for oneworld, and Diners better for Skyteam (because of Delta) and non-aligned (Alaska).
Compared to American Express, I like American Express transfer partners better for Star Alliance and oneworld and Diners better for Skyteam (because of Korean) and non-aligned (Alaska).
Where Diners really falls down is that Diners Club points do not transfer as quickly as American Express or Chase points, and that’s a real drawback when you want to book an award.
Should You Consider This Card?
I kept the card for a long time because of the primary collision damage waiver benefit on rental cars. It was also an early card issued as chip and pin (though no foreign transaction fees was new — so despite being chip and pin I did not want to use it abroad).
I would rather earn Chase points — and for that matter American Express and Starwood points. Chase and Amex points generally transfer more quickly than Diners Club points do. And Starwood has more transfer partners than Diners Club does.
And there are plenty of other cards now that earn faster — with signup bonuses (Diners Club doesn’t currently have any) and spend category bonuses (you have to spend $300 in fees to get category bonuses).
Furthermore, Chase Sapphire Preferred now has primary collision coverage.
I dropped Diners Club from my wallet about 18 months ago and don’t see myself bringing it back given the current value proposition. But some will find this useful, and more competition is certainly good. There’s also a real emotional connection to the card for road warriors and frequent flyer enthusiasts of a certain age.