Diners Club: The Ultimate Guide

Diners Club is a world-renowned credit card company that caters to well-traveled individuals around the globe. Over the many years of its existence, the Diners Club brand name has maintained a reputation of quality and prestige, becoming synonymous with travel, leisure, and entertainment. Today, members hail from over 60 different countries and are able to use their card in over 185. Because of their association with travel, it's certainly not much of a surprise that Diners Club members receive many exclusive benefits related to travel and leisure activities, including complimentary lounge access and full primary coverage for rental car collision and damage insurance.

The Early Years

Diners Club made their mark on history in 1950 when they issued their first charge card, becoming the world's first independent credit card company. (A charge card is a type of credit card. While most credit cards allow you to carry over balances each month, charge cards require paying off your full balance at a set due date, usually once a month.)

In 1950, Frank McNamara started Diners Club in New York with his trusty attorney, Ralph Schneider, by his side. Initially, these two men issued a total of 200 cards that were accepted at 14 restaurant locations in New York City. Over the course of this first year, it would be an understatement to refer to the business as a success, as Diner's Club grew so quickly that that their office within the Empire State Building had to be moved thrice over that span. By the end of the year, Diners Club had over 20,000 customers and 1,000 participating restaurants. Diners Club continued their amazing growth trajectory over the next several years, expanding first to other major US cities before moving on to the rest of the world. Other types of businesses, including rental car agencies, hotels, and even florists, began to participate in the program.

In 1952, McNamara decided to sell his share of the company to Schneider and Alfred Bloomingdale for a grand total of $200,000. The following year, Diners Club became the first internationally accepted charge card, and by the time of its initial public offering in 1955, Diners Club had expanded their reach to over 200,000 members in 20 countries. In 1963, Diners Club received some free mainstream publicity with the release of the classic film, The Man From The Diners' Club. Focusing on travel and leisure, Diners Club consolidated a loyal diehard customer base of frequent travelers, which they maintain into the present day. While growth and profit remained the norm, Diners Club did not do quite as well among other demographics, allowing MasterCard and Visa to expand and take control of the American credit card industry.

The Franchise Model

In the 1960s, Diners Club began to lay the foundations of their franchise structure, which remains their business model to this very day. Under this system, Diners Club International, the franchisor, continues to own the trademarks and payment network, while the franchisees, local operators (one in each country in the Diners Club network), are responsible for day-to-day operations within their own country. This is similar to the model that many fast food chain restaurants employ today. At the same time, Diners Club continued their growth in the United States, creating new partnerships with hotels, airlines, and other travel companies. By the end of the 1980s, membership had surpassed the impressive 4 million mark.

Acquisition By Citi

In 1981, Citi bought out Diners Club International, the entity that owns the trademarks and payment network. To consolidate their control further, Citi decided to take over Diners Club's operations in a number of critical regions, most notably North America (United States and Canada). As the owner and operator of Diners Club in North America, Citi decided to dismantle Diners Club's payment acceptance network within the region. As a result, the Diners Club payment network ceased to exist in North America, even as the card was still widely accepted outside the region. This opened up a new can of worms, as merchants in North America would not be able to accept Diners Club cards. To provide a remedy for this massive conundrum, Citi made a deal with MasterCard in 2004 to bring Diners Club onto the MasterCard network in the United States and Canada. From this point, Diners Club became a MasterCard in terms of payment acceptance and merchant recognition, while maintaining its traditional benefits and rewards.

Meanwhile, cards issued by independent franchisees in foreign markets remained on the Diners Club network, which continued to thrive in many areas outside of North America, including Latin America, Japan, and Europe. Theoretically, with no Diners Club acceptance network in North America, cardholders who travel to this continent from outside the region would no longer have the ability to utilize their Diners Club cards. Taking note of this potential headache, franchisees from overseas began to issue dual-network cards, which were essentially Diners Club cards with a MasterCard logo and information on the back. This would allow cardholders to use their Diners Club cards on the Diners Club network outside of North America and on the MasterCard network within North America.

Recent History: The Discover Era

In 2008, Citi sold Diners Club International to Discover Financial Services for $165 million. At the time, the Discover acceptance network was relatively strong within the United States, but weak overseas. In contrast, the Diners Club network was still going strong in certain regions overseas and nonexistent in the US. By purchasing Diners Club International, Discover could now take advantage of Diners Club's wide acceptance network overseas, which they utilized to expand their own clout. Now, Diners Club cards, except those issued in North America, are accepted within the Discover payment network, and reciprocally, Discover cards are accepted within the Diners Club payment network. Recently issued Diners Club cards outside of North America, while still dual network cards, are now embedded with the Discover logo on the back instead of the MasterCard logo.

The following year, Citi sold Diners Club's North American arm of operations to the Bank of Montreal. Despite this, Citi did not hand over management of member accounts until 2011. During the transition, many changes were also made regarding the rewards and benefits that customers had previously received. For instance, American Airlines was dropped from the rewards program for US cardholders, and a set spending limit was put into place when none had existed before.

Recently, the US Diners Club card became the first mainstream US credit card to incorporate a chip and pin, which will make it easier for American travelers in Europe, where this type of card is the norm.

How much does a Diners Club Card cost?

Independent operators issue their own Diners Club cards in each country. This gives them a great deal of autonomy in setting terms and conditions to adapt to local circumstances. Therefore, there is no universal set of rules or guidelines governing Diners Club membership, and prices vary depending on the card and the issuer.

Here is what the different professional cards will cost you in the US:

The Diners Club Charge Card

The Diners Club Charge Card has an annual fee of $95. Additional cards cost $35 each, and a 3% foreign transaction fee will be applied for each foreign purchase.

The Diners Club Credit Card

The Diners Club Credit Card has no annual membership fee, and a 3% foreign transaction fee.

The Carte Blanche Card comes with an annual $300 fee. Additional cards cost $150 each, and a 3% foreign transaction fee applies.

How do I become a member?

There are corporations and other businesses that issue corporate Diners Club cards for business travel. For instance, several American universities have existing agreements that provide employees with a Diners Club Corporate Card for university business travel, including the University of Texas-Austin, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Boston University. Furthermore, consumers can now apply for the Diners Club Premier and Elite cards here. Similar to the professional cards, these personal cards have an annual fee of $95 and $300, respectively.

Because different operators administer each regional Diners Club program, the application process is far from uniform. In certain countries, it can be very straightforward. In Singapore and Finland, for example, you can simply fill in and submit the application form online. In the UK and Ireland, Switzerland, and Saudi Arabia, application forms are also available online. However, the local Diners Club in each of these regions accepts only mailed paper applications. As you can see, the membership process varies on a country-to-country basis, so it would be best to check your local Diners Club website for further information.

What types of memberships are available?

In addition to the consumer cards, the Diners Club Premier and Elite cards, there are two distinct types of professional cards in circulation. The first is the standard US Diners Club Card, which can subsequently be broken down into a charge card and a credit card. While the credit card allows balances to be carried forward, the charge card requires prompt payments each month for the full balance. The second is the Carte Blanche card, which provides additional benefits for seasoned travelers on top of those offered by the standard card.

Corporate memberships are also available for businesses, and Diners Club is flexible in terms of their their willing to work with each individual business to provide a customized product. As for other countries, each local Diners Club operator offers their own selection of cards. Some only offer a handful of options, while others, like Diners Club Singapore, provide a large breadbasket.

Diners Club Rewards Program

Diners Club invented the first card-based rewards program, which still thrives today, though many changes have been made over the years. Under the US program, you will typically receive one club reward point for each dollar charged to your card, with no ceiling on the amount of points that you can earn. These accumulated points can then be redeemed for a variety of rewards, including merchandise, gift certificates, hotels, flights, rental cars, cruises, frequent flyer miles, and frequent guest hotel points. Once you earn over 50,000 points, you will be eligible for personalized rewards, meaning that you will be able to present your own ideas about potential rewards. This can be anything from a skydiving trip to a personal wine cellar, so let your imagination run wild. Simply call Club Rewards at 1-800-234-4034, and a consultant with Diners Club will let you know whether your idea is feasible and how many points it will cost.

Furthermore, these club rewards are transferable, so you can trade them for rewards points with other organizations, namely hotels and airlines companies. In the US, Diners Club members can convert club rewards points to frequent flyer miles at a 1:1 ratio with a number of different airlines programs, where each dollar charged on the Diners Club charged would increase your frequent flyer mileage by one mile. Currently, you can redeem your Diners Club club rewards points at a 1:1 ratio with the following programs:

  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • EL AL Israel Airlines “Matmid” Club
  • EVA Airlines Infinite MileageLands
  • Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles
  • Icelandair Saga Club
  • SAS EuroBonus
  • South African Airways Voyager
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways Flying Club

What Are Some Other Benefits To Becoming A Member?

One benefit for US members is the Promotions program, which allows cardholders to take advantage of special perks and amenities. These benefits include free room upgrades, spa credits, free breakfast, private cooking lessons, catered meals, discounts on golf merchandise, and golf lessons. Specific details about current promotions can be found here. You can book these special offers through your personal assistant by calling 1-888-442-2872 or logging in here.

The Professional US Diners Club Card and the Diners Club Carte Blanche Card provide many of the same benefits to their members, including:

  • Free Lounge Access
  • Primary Collision/Damage Waiver Coverage
  • 24/7 Assistant
  • Cash Access at Cirrus ATMs
  • ID Theft Assistance
  • Lost/Damaged Luggage Coverage
  • Baggage Delay Insurance
  • World Automatic Travel Accident Insurance
  • Purchase Assurance Coverage
  • Extended Warranty Coverage
  • Roadassist Roadside Service
  • Car Rental Discounts
  • Masterassist - 24/7 Emergency Referrals

However, Carte Blanche Card members do receive a few additional benefits and perks, including:

  • Free International Cell Phone Rental
  • Private Jet Access

From this list, arguably the most significant benefit is free access to a network of over 800 airport lounges around the world, which we will come back to in a bit. Another signature benefit is insurance coverage for rental car collisions and damage, which covers you from the first dollar without a deductible. This perk can be a great asset for travelers who frequently drive rental cars.

As you can see, there are 2 benefits on the list that are exclusive to Carte Blanche members. The first is Free International Cell Phone Rental, which can be utilized as many times as you want free of charge. In order to take advantage of opportunity, you can call your personal service representative at 1-877-604-6723 in North America. For other locations, you can reach your representative at 1-514-877-1577. The other perk is Private Jet Access, which you can find out more about here. After accumulating a certain number of club rewards points, you will be able to redeem these points for a free private jet ride courtesy of Bombardier Skyjet, which we've heard is a rather pleasant experience.

Corporate Card members receive many of the same benefits listed above. However, many of the specifics can differ slightly, as Diners Club works to tailor the card to meet the specific needs of each organization. Some exclusive perks that could potentially be available include VAT Reclaim assistance in the European Union and the ability to make payments at the end of two billing periods rather than one.

Corporate Program Managers can find out more about the unique programs and services that Diners Club offers for businesses here.

Which lounges may I access with Diners Club?

A well-known benefit of Diners Club membership is complimentary access* to an exclusive network of airport lounges. While services and amenities vary depending on the individual lounge, guests can usually expect complimentary snacks and beverages, a variety of newspapers and magazines, bright color televisions, and business centers. Given the variety of amenities you can find in each of these lounges, this benefit is ideal for frequent travelers who want to find a place to relax or get some important work done.

At this time, there are over 450 lounges in this network. Many of these lounges are run by airport authorities and independent airport lounge operators such as Servisair and No1 Traveller rather than airline companies.

Traditionally, Diners Club has provided their members with free access to all of the lounges on their network. While North American cardholders still retain this privilege, some European Diners Club operations have added entry fees or minimum annual spending requirements. For now, supplementary cardholders are eligible to receive all the same benefits that primary cardholders receive, even though they are paying a reduced annual fee.

*This policy varies depending on the country the card is issued in.

Contact Info:

To contact Diners Club, please refer to the following directory. By choosing the region in which your card was issued, you should be directed to the relevant contact info for your region. For the US, the relevant customer contact information is displayed here.

Additional Information

The Diners Club Mobile App is available for download on Android, iPhone, and Blackberry.

For more detailed information on Diners Club's individual lounge offerings, be sure to check out the free LoungeBuddy App, currently available for iOS and Android. LoungeBuddy is the most complete up-to-date directory on airport lounges worldwide, with information on over 900 airports and 2500 lounges. With its unique access wizard, you can simply input your trip information and any elite statuses, credit cards (like Diners Club), or lounge memberships that you may have, and LoungeBuddy will generate a customized list of lounges that are available to you, with reviews, photos, descriptions, directions, amenities, and much more!

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