We use credit cards on a daily basis, but how much do we truly know about them? That’s probably not a question you’ve ever given much thought, and even so, you might find it hard to believe that such a small piece of plastic could carry many secrets or surprises. The truth, however, is that while we take the ubiquity of credit cards for granted, they have a rich and complicated history, and many facets of their usage and evolution do offer the kind of interesting tidbits that one could pull out at a cocktail party or game night (‘cause that’d really impress your friends, huh?).
So, without further ado, here are 6 of my favorite credit card nuggets:
- You can redeem rewards miles for cosmetic surgery: Thai Airways intermittently offers a promotion that allows members of its Royal Orchid rewards program to redeem miles for medical tourism. Given the transferability of miles between related rewards programs, that means your Star Alliance-member credit card (e.g. the United Airlines Credit Card) could score you procedures the likes of breast augmentation, liposuction, and hair transplants
- The first credit card accepted at multiple locations was created because a guy forgot his wallet: A man by the name of Frank X. McNamara founded the Diner’s Club after forgetting his wallet when dining at a New York City restaurant in 1950 and subsequently deciding that a small card would be easier to carry around than a wad of cash.
- Credit cards weren’t always made of plastic: Bank of America’s first credit cards, dubbed BankAmericards, were initially made of paper, had $300 credit lines, and held consumers liable for fraudulent charges.
- If you stack up all of the credit cards currently in circulation, you’d have a pile over 606 miles high: Credit cards are a uniform size of 85.60 mm x 53.98 mm x 0.76 mm, according to ISO/IEC 7810 standards, and there are roughly 1.28 billion credit cards in circulation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- American Express offers an ultra-exclusive credit card with a $2,500 annual fee: The American Express Centurion Card, known simply as the Black Card, has long been a part of popular lore due to the secrecy surrounding it. Despite widespread rumors about a magic credit card that could be used to make extravagant, rare purchases, Amex did not even acknowledge that such a card existed until 1999. While it’s now known that the card is available by invitation only, the exact criteria for approval remains a mystery, as do its perks. According to the myth-busting site Snopes.com, it’s been said that cardholders have used the Black Card’s VIP concierge service to do things like track down and purchase the horse from the movie Dances with Wolves or plan an entire wedding.
- Your credit card might be your insurance policy: All of the major card networks (i.e. Visa, MasterCard, Amex, and Discover) offer rental car collision protection standard, which means if you rent a car with your card, you won’t be liable for any damage incurred as a result of an accident or theft. Most cards also offer some form of travel insurance, covering you in the event of lost baggage or a medical emergency.
Ultimately, people take credit cards for granted, thinking little about them until it’s time to make a purchase or submit a payment. A closer look, as you’ve seen, can reveal a great deal of information that might not only be interesting, but useful as well. And this list doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the interesting facts related to this subject, which you almost certainly assumed to be mundane before. So enjoy the newfound wonderful world of credit cards, and be sure to let me know if you come across any particularly interesting facts along the way.
[Disclosure: Some of the links within this article point to CardHub.com, which is owned by the same parent company as Wallet Blog.]