There's a premium travel card hiding in plain sight -- but it's no longer as valuable as it used to be
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Over the years, some credit cards lose their "must-have" status thanks to devaluations and stripped benefits. The changes to the Citi Prestige® Card come to mind. While that card -- and the others on the list -- are still worth taking a look at, they're no longer the top-of-wallet plastic they once were.
The Crystal Visa Infinite Card from City National Bank falls right into that bucket. In its heyday, it never got the publicity it deserved. That was mainly because of how difficult the application process could be and the relative obscurity of City National Bank compared to many of the banks that had a nationwide presence across the US.
However, even with several benefits removed, could it make sense to give this card a shot? Let's look at the Crystal Visa Infinite, what it once was, what it has become, and if there's any value remaining for you.
For more TPG credit card tips and travel news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
The information for the Crystal Visa Infinite Card from City National Bank has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Solid card benefits, but no longer amazing
The first thing that you should know is that this is a premium travel rewards card with an annual fee of $400.
To offset that high annual fee, you get $350 in annual airline incidental fee statement credit, 12 complimentary Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi passes per year, 2 Priority Pass Select memberships (guests are not included), a $100 Global Entry application fee statement credit, and other travel and concierge perks that come with the Visa Infinite moniker. On the surface, that seems like a stellar deal. In fact, it's quite easy to break even -- and come out ahead -- on the card's annual fee if you maximize most of the benefits.
The card also carries plenty of other ancillary benefits like lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay/cancellation protection, travel accident insurance, emergency evacuation coverage, price protection and extended warranty coverage.
It used to be even better
However, before the start of 2020, this card had several more benefits that made it a no-brainer. That included a $100 Visa Infinite airfare discount, two guests per Priority Pass visit, and three free authorized user cards. Authorized users also qualified for an airline incidental fee credit. While the credit was only $250, with authorized users included, that meant up to $1,000 in airline fee reimbursements per year. And this was all with the same annual fee of $400.
Nevertheless, the current offering is nothing to sneeze at either. It's still a valuable offering with travel perks that can easily outweigh the cost of the annual fee.
The card currently offers 3 points per $1 spent on airline, hotel, taxi (including Uber and Lyft), limousine, rental car, train, bus, restaurant, fast food, and takeout food dining purchases, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
The points accrued are City National Rewards Points which can be used toward travel (about 1.2 cents per point) or other third-party items like gift cards (about 1 cent per point).
Another significant devaluation on the card in early 2020 was that gas and grocery purchases were removed from the 3x bonus categories. Still, 3x on the wide travel and transportation categories -- along with dining -- provide a decent earning structure.
Related: Best travel rewards cards
You can redeem points for hotel or airfare through the City National Bank Rewards website or by calling the "Awards Headquarters" at (800)-411-0596. You can also redeem points for what City National calls "Exclusive Excursions," which are tours and experiences similar to what's offered by the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Points are worth a minimum of 1 cent each and sometimes a bit more when redeemed for travel or excursions.
Back in mid-2019, travel redemptions netted about 1.3 cents per point value. For instance, this round-trip JetBlue flight from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) yielded a redemption value of 1.34 cents per point:
Hotel redemptions offered a similar value. The Williamsburg Hotel in New York was $486 per night in December or 36,027 points, yielding the same 1.34 cents-per-point redemption value:
However, later in 2019, the value of a redemption dropped slightly to about 1.2 cents per point. Regardless, if you don't have enough points to cover the entire cost of a hotel or flight, you can use all your points and pay the remaining amount with cash.
Related: Guide to credit card travel portals
How to get the Crystal Visa Infinite Card
Here's the tricky part about the card: there's no clear avenue to becoming a cardholder. No online application exists, and you'd have to visit a branch to apply in person. City National Bank's website only says to contact your local City National Banker or call (800) 773-7100. The bank only has a handful of branches across the country.
In the past, there have been reader reports that a referral to a CNB employee or finding an email address for a banker and applying over email or the phone worked. According to these reports, CNB has asked for proof of income to corroborate what you put in your application via tax returns or banking statements if you are retired. Recent card applications and openings from other banks do not seem to be a factor in card approval.
Alternative premium travel cards
While a solid card overall, there are a few things still going against the Crystal Visa Infinite. For starters, it's hard to apply. Coupled with the elimination of some benefits and the lack of a sign-up bonus, it makes sense to examine what your alternatives are.
Another Visa Infinite card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve also earns 3 points per dollar on travel and dining. However, Ultimate Rewards points are much more flexible and valuable, with the ability to transfer to hotel and airline partners or be redeemed directly for travel at a rate of 1.5 cents per point. You'll also receive a $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass access (with guest privileges), and a solid 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Related: Best premium travel rewards cards
There are plenty of benefits with the Crystal Visa Infinite card -- if you can gain access to it. An annual airline credit, Gogo Wi-Fi passes and other perks are arguably better than what other cards with higher annual fees offer. However, just keep in mind that it's a far cry from what this card used to be. If you don't mind that, then this may still be a card worth a spot in your wallet.
Additional reporting by Richard Kerr.