Should Banks Quit It With The Metal Credit Cards Already?

Nick Ewen over at The Points Guy argues that banks should stop issuing metal credit cards. He argues,

  • They can be difficult to use since they don’t fit as expected into some card readers

  • They set off airport security metal detectors and here he cites his Ritz-Carlton card

  • They’re tough to dispose of since they can’t be cut up or shredded

  • They’re no longer unique and they don’t make a statement, since they’re everywhere (and what kind of statement were they making anyway?)

There are at least two dozen cards heavier than standard plastic, probably many more. Even the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card clocks in at the weight of a Sapphire Reserve card.

First, let’s sort through a bit of an overgeneralization. Heavier cards don’t necessarily set off airport security metal detectors. I do not know of any cards heavier than the Ritz-Carlton card that’s no longer available to new applications. It clocks in similarly to the JP Morgan Reserve. These cards have enough metal to create an issue at airport security. Put them in you carry on bag and run them through the x-ray.

Those two cards are about 50% heavier than nearly every other metal card in the market, like the Platinum Amex which does not trigger an alarm in my experience.

The less dense cards also don’t create nearly the same issue with some card reader devices, either. I suspect Nick’s frustration with metal is as much attributable to his experience with the Ritz-Carlton product as to metal cards more broadly.

Where the criticisms start to ring true is that these cards are more difficult to dispose of. One reader used a blow torch rather than returning his card to Chase. But how often do you dispose of a credit card? I’m not sure it’s often enough to matter.

However it’s certainly true that metal cards are no longer special, since they’re so common. When they were first available they felt nice in the wallet and in the hand, and they said “this is a unique card.” It was a conversation piece, which is exactly what issuers wanted:

  • to make customers feel good about their card
  • so they’d want to pay with the card
  • and even talk about it (the best salespeople are customer evangelists)

Sure, some people delighted in marveling store clerks, which is awkward at best. But mostly it was about a person’s personal narrative that the card said something about them (a non-metal card, Barclays’ old Arrival+, promoted “I’ve Arrived”).

However I don’t remember the last time a metal card caused a reaction of a raised eyebrow. If you’re looking to feel better about yourself impressing a store clerk it’s just not going to do that very often anymore, probably because store clerks have seen so many of them now and possibly because trying to hard to impress them just makes you look like a jerk.

So the question is, how should credit cards be designed? There’s still a need for physical cards, even as much of commerce moves online and even as many in-person payments get made via app. So you want a card that looks and feels nice, in addition to offering nice rewards. It’s difficult to distinguish a card in the marketplace, which is why some issuers have removed raised numbers at least (when was the last time you needed that for creating carbon copies of an imprint?).

Heft is one of the easy things an issuer can do – just don’t make it so heavy as to be an inconvenience (Ritz-Carlton, J.P. Morgan Reserve) and try to spruce up the design. One way to do that is colors, like the yellow and red American Express cards.

And of course there’s Rose Gold:

Another approach is to customize the design of the card but that can lead to controversy. I’ve long wanted issuers to think of the card in a consumer’s wallet as a mobile advertisement. Why not message the key benefits of the card.. on the card itself? Airlines miss out of an opportunity for advertising on aircraft lavatory walls. It’s a generally missed opportunity in marketing:

So should issuers ditch metal? Not necessarily, but for the period of time where we still need physical cards they should get more creative about design if the goal is to stand out or help consumers tell a story about who they are.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Metal cards are more durable, easier to clean, and more eco friendly. I would even pay a fee just to get a metal version of a card, even one that I swipe only at self checkouts. I also experienced a decline in cashiers commenting on the weight of my card, but that could also be because I was balding and overweight. I’m back to a healthy weight now, and Gary, might I recommend shifting more of your spend to Peloton and Equinox, use the dining category less. Just some helpful advice from a fellow ex-fattie.

  2. I’m a fan of the sea waste Amex cards. Skinniest in my wallet makes it easiest to grab!

  3. 1) I’ve never had a problem with a metal card not fitting into a card reader.
    2) When going through a metal detector I only have cash and my drivers license in my pocket. Why doesn’t Nick Ewen smarten up and place all metal in his carry-on like the TSA requests?
    3) Every time I’ve had a renewed metal card the card issuer has provided a postage paid envelope to return the metal card for disposal.

  4. Ditch them, they don’t always work in the CC machines. Also – don’ work at Gas Stations.

  5. Metal cards at least from AMEX are great.

    The metal ones from Chase Marriott were terrible

  6. I hate the metal cards. They’re heavy and bulky and I can’t be the only person who would rather the casual observer (or “payment taker”) not think I’m “important” or have a lot of money.

    I’m sure there are other reasons besides ego that people like metal cards, but for me that’s the only rationale I can see for carrying a metal card and for me not a positive one. I’d rather my Platinum Card be entirely inconspicuous as long as it still provides all the same rewards and gets me into a lounge here or there when traveling.

  7. Gong the metal cards. I don’t need any extra weight in my wallet and you can’t cut them up when you churn them. Who wants a heavier wallet? Are people clamoring for a heavier cell phone to carry around? I see no pros, only cons.

  8. The only “flex” left with metal cards is during trips abroad to countries that don’t have any domestic metal cards in circulation.

    I still get comments, jokes, and the microscope card inspection treatment by cashiers in those places.

    Of course, contactless is also slowly chipping away at that.

  9. With laptop computers and other electronics, the ones that impress are thinner and lighter. Card issuers should go the same way, and for the same reasons.

  10. Sapphire Reserve replaced my (partially) metal card with all plastic when I called and asked. I think they’re the only ones that will do that

  11. Never had a problem with my metal cards anywhere in the US or overseas including gas stations. And they don’t break along the magnetic strip after much uses\ as plastic ones do.
    Also never had an issue with them at TSA.

  12. They aren’t going away, because I’m sure there is some serious consumer psychology going on here. They are a signaling device to retailers that this person is “important” or part of a certain class – just like Apple vs. Android phones and small vs. large designer logos on luxury brands. Retailers and restaurateurs spot all these things – and often keep a file on you. If you are a pain to a restauranteur, you can be sure you’re on their “No Table Available” list. Use a certain card, they note it. Abuse an Uber driver – it’s on their file and you might have trouble getting a ride. But be a nice customer, or someone who indicates, subtly, that they might be worth developing, and they’ll greet you by name next time and know the last time you were there, right down to the drink you ordered.

    I remember being in Mikimoto in New York several years ago and my wife asking to see a certain necklace – nothing particularly expensive, but nice and elegant single pearl for an office environment. She owned nothing Mikimoto, so they had no idea who we were, and we weren’t dressed particularly “fashionable”. We were invited into a semiprivate area, while no one else in the store asking to see things was. I couldn’t figure out why until the saleswoman complimented my wife on her Elsa Peretti necklace. It’s Tiffany, but not obviously so, you’d need to know the brand and designer to know that. But that seemingly insignifigant necklace signaled we were serious customers, not looki-lous that constantly traffic the store.

    We’re all constantly sending out signals who we are, metal cards are just one such signal, like it or not.

  13. I’d rather just use my card with Apple Pay. Strange how few people I see doing this given nobody wanting to touch anything these days.

    I wonder what the value of the metal is? Maybe I could replace it repeatedly and sell it for scrap.

    In fact, that’s what I’m doing with my Sperbank Visa Infinite made of 24kt gold . I manage to lose it daily.

  14. If you have to use your credit card to define yourself or to impress others, you took a wrong turn somewhere in life.

  15. I would like them to imprint the bonus categories on the card, and send a new card when the categories change. So for Freedom, I would like a new card every three months 🙂

  16. @ Jon, @C_M_,
    I totally agree with the fact that material possessions do not define me, nor what I stand for.

  17. Plastic cards don’t split like the metal ones do. I called Chase and got a plastic card. Wish Amex would offer members the choice to switch back to plastic.

  18. I use a money clip instead of a wallet & I hate my one metal card. I actually don’t use it because it’s metal. I called CapitolOne to see if they would replace it with plastic. Besides, I mostly use ApplePay now.

  19. In my opinion, metal cards are cool, but I would prefer a thin plastic card. Thinner, lighter. Maybe because I have too many cards, If you are doing for the reason you want to show your card off, the merchants rarely even see your card anymore. They tell you just insert or tap, no one bothers to look. The only comments I get, o you must be using American Express, we don’t accept that. With all that, Amex is introducing artist-designer black cards (you design your card from a template) or wearable cards.

  20. What a weird subject. While I find the metal card kind of silly, I don’t carry CCs to be unique or make statements. The front desk agent’s opinion of me is of no interest whatsoever. I doubt if anyone else knows what a big shot I am because I have the ‘top’ Chase card. I’ve had the Sapphire Reserve since they invented it. It always fits in card readers. Gas stations sometimes have problems reading it, but nowhere else. No problems at all in Europe … although it’s been so long I may have forgotten. It goes through airport security inside my purse, no detectors. You cut it up with a tin snips – everyone has some tin snips, right? Metal cards are no longer unique and they don’t make a statement, since they’re everywhere (and what kind of statement were they making anyway?)

  21. @Musketeer

    Leslie Benedict: Money isn’t everything, Jett.
    Jett Rink: Not when you’ve got it.

  22. David – not sure what you mean. Metal cards don’t split – plastics ones do. I have had to replace my plastic ones a number of times.

  23. I prefer the metal cards because they don’t crack. Every year, I have at least one plastic card crack at either mag strip or the embossed CC number. Just a pain, because it always happens before a trip. I have never had a metal card delaminate as others have mentioned. I don’t use ApplePay or any other payment app. They are a pain when one has to return something. Or make a warranty claim, as you have to print a paper receipt.

    When I was a child, all of my mother’s department store charge cards were metal plates. They were carried in a little leatherette case. Nicer stores the case was real leather. When you canceled the account, you take the plate back to the store, or took a hammer to it. Once the plate was mutilated, the store would not accept it.

    I like the metal cards. Far more durable. Easier to clean. The issuers like them because they last longer. I think no matter what people here say(including Gary), metal cards are here to stay.

  24. I’ve had repeated security check issues in Europe (including just this week) triggering a secondary bag check when I have them in a bag. Really annoying when it happens.

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