The American Express Centurion vs The Mastercard® Black Card™
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Often called the “Black Card,” the Centurion Card from American Express is a legendary, invite-only credit card with a nearly unparalleled plethora of luxury perks that easily overshadows the decent rewards and benefits of the premium Mastercard Black Card.
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The Centurion® Card from American Express (Review) (sometimes called the Amex Black Card) and the Mastercard® Black Card™ (Review) are both luxury credit cards designed for the wealthy in mind, but you’ll quickly see that these two cards are not on the same level.
- The Centurion Card is arguably one of highest-end credit cards, and you can only get it by invitation from American Express (although you can now request an invitation).
- The Mastercard Black Card is a high-end travel credit card, and applications are open to anyone. It’s in the same tier as cards like the The Platinum Card® from American Express, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and Citi Prestige® Card. See our full review of the Mastercard Black Card.
Each comes with a variety of high class perks like a personal concierge, travel benefits, and exclusive access to fascinating events.
You’ll end up paying a hefty price each year for these cards, though the Centurion card will cost you about 10 times as much as the Mastercard Black Card, which is one indication that these are not really comparable cards.
Each one provides some rewards for purchases, but earning rewards is not really the purpose of these cards. The benefits are what really set these cards apart from the rest.
How Do I Get a Black Card?
To get the Mastercard Black Card you can simply apply for it online like most credit cards. You’ll need excellent credit to get it, and there’s a $495 annual fee. See our full review of the Mastercard Black Card.
The Amex Centurion, however, requires a personal invitation to apply, and only a select few are chosen. In a recent development, you can now request an invitation to apply. You’ll need to be an Amex cardholder.
Amex does not publicly release much information about the card, including their full requirements, but the average cardholder makes over $1 million per year. Based on our research, you also need to have used other American Express cards for at least one year, and to have spent a lot of money (estimates are $250,000) on them. This makes the Centurion one of the most exclusive credit cards on the market.
After being invited applicants must usually pay an initiation fee of $10,000, though some are offered the card at no cost. There’s also an annual fee of $5,000 in the U.S. (potentially more in other countries), and it’s rumored you need to charge at least $250,000 per year to keep the card.
American Express Centurion Card
Centurion cardholders are rumored to earn American Express Membership Rewards Points for purchases, at the rate of 1 per dollar. We haven’t been able to verify this yet.
If true, the points could be used just like with other American Express cards, as statement credits or transferred to Membership Rewards partner programs.
Transfers to partner airlines and hotels could yield as much as 2 cents per point, or more, which would give you a cash back equivalent of 2% or more on every purchase.
Mastercard Black Card
You’ll earn points equivalent to 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make with the Mastercard Black Card.
You can redeem those points as a direct statement credit at the 1.5% rate, or they can be redeemed for travel at a 2% rate. So, redeeming for airfare will be the most profitable way to use your rewards.
The Amex card could provide a better return on purchases, if you get a good point transfer, but this isn’t a very important factor for cards like these. The real value of these cards is in their high credit limits and the luxurious benefits that come with them.
Instead of going through each card individually, we’ll take a look at how each card compares on some of the benefits and services that they offer. Keep in mind that the practical in’s and out’s of exactly how these benefits work are mostly unknown to the public, especially with the Centurion card, so the reality could be a bit different than that described below. There are most likely additional benefits not listed here that only cardholders are privy to.
As you’ll see and as you’d probably expect, the Centurion card generally takes the cake (at an annual fee of $5,000).
The Look and Feel
Both of these cards are a cut above the typical plastic.
The Centurion card is advertised as being made of “anodized titanium,” though in some areas of the world a more ordinary plastic version might be issued. There has been a bit of controversy over exactly what the card is made of; check out the comments section of this page for an interesting discussion on the topic.
The Mastercard Black Card is made of stainless steel/carbon fiber. It also says “Black Card” in large letters on the front, and some complain that this makes the card look gaudy, like a cheap rip-off of the Centurion card (which has been colloquially referred to as the “Black Card”).
High Credit Limit
The Mastercard Black Card comes with a high credit limit to be sure, with people reporting limits of at least $25,000, but this is nothing compared to the practically limitless credit limit of the Centurion card.
This disparity has caused some disappointment among card users and aficionados, because the Mastercard Black Card is supposed to be an elite-level card, but it doesn’t really allow for the same kind of elite-level spending.
Case in point, the most expensive purchase known to be made with the Centurion card was an astounding $36.3 million dollars for a rare porcelain “chicken cup.” The buyer, Liu Yiqian, reportedly had to swipe his card 24 times.
Both of these cards come with a 24-hour concierge service.
The Centurion’s concierge service is rumored to be incredible compared to other credit card concierges, with personal assistants ready and waiting to fulfill any legal request, no matter how outrageous. There is supposedly one concierge for travel-related requests, and another for other types of assistance.
For example, Snopes reports that the Centurion concierge has performed the following tasks:
- Traveling to the Dead Sea by motorcycle for a handful of sand for a cardholder’s child’s school project.
- Finding the horse that Kevin Costner rides in Dances with Wolves. It was in Mexico, where it was purchased by the cardholder and then delivered to Europe.
- Arranging an audition for a soap opera for a cardholder who wanted to be an actress.
- Organizing a wedding, including the design of the invitation, the hotel preparations, tuxedo rentals, and providing maps for guests.
Before you get too jealous (too late?), keep in mind that some Centurion cardholders are disappointed in the level of service they’ve received from their concierge (at an annual fee of $5,000).
The Mastercard Black Card, however, is less impressive, and some cardholders have said that the service is comparable to lesser cards.
On their website they list the types of services the concierge can offer, which includes:
- Entertainment planning, including reservations to restaurants, sporting events, health clubs, etc.
- Business services like conference arrangements, computer and equipment rentals, and emergency translation services by phone.
- Travel information including airline, car, and hotel reservations, customs information, ATM locations, and tourist attractions.
- Gift arrangements and recommendations.
- Specialty services like finding unusual items or rare books, referrals to unique or hard-to-find services like doll-makers and tailors, and research into unusual topics.
When this card was still the Visa Black Card, I decided to test the exclusivity of the Visa benefits. So I called up the concierge service on one of my credit cards, the Citi Double Cash Card, which has no annual fee and is serviced by Mastercard.
I went through the list of Visa benefits with my concierge, asking if my free service could match every item provided by Visa.
It turns out that there was only one thing that the Visa concierge can do that my Citi concierge cannot: emergency translation services via phone.
My concierge did say, however, that if I didn’t speak English they could help me out in some way. If I wanted to find a company that offers translation services, my concierge would definitely help me find them as well.
So it looks like my Citi concierge service, which I get completely for free, is just about equivalent to the Visa concierge service, which comes with the $495 annual fee.
Airport Lounge Access
The Centurion card provides access to hundreds of airport lounges around the world, of many different brands including Delta, Airspace, Priority Pass Select, and, obviously, Centurion Lounges. Some cardholders were doubtless disappointed when American Express ended their relationship with American Airlines, which meant that they could no longer access the American Airlines Admirals Club or US Air Lounges.
The remaining lounge benefits, which no doubt come with complimentary food, drinks, and other services, are probably still very enticing.
The Mastercard Black Card offers cardholders access to the Lounge Club, which features several hundred lounges around the world.
Other airline benefits, for one of both cards, could include flight discounts, companion tickets, and complimentary in-flight services like WiFi or food and drinks.
Luxury Magazine and Gifts
Centurion and Mastercard Black cardholders will each receive a luxury magazine, the former provided by Amex, as well as periodic gifts from top brands.
VIP Treatment At Hotels
Both cards offer complimentary VIP treatment at many hotels and resorts around the world. These can include status and room upgrades, priority booking and check-in, free stays, free services like WiFi, extra amenities, and, in some cases, more exclusive experiences like candlelit dinners or spa treatments.
Premier and Luxury Car Rentals
Both the Centurion and the Mastercard Black Card appears to offer this benefit, providing access to upgrades for car rentals around the world. Cardholders can also get preferred pricing for high-end vehicles like Lexus, Mercedes, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis.
Standing Reservations at Select Restaurants
It’s rumored that Centurion cardholders have standing reservations at several top restaurants, like Nobu, Per Say, Smith & Wollensky, and more (at an annual fee of $5,000).
It’s unknown if the Mastercard Black Card offers a similar service, but it seems unlikely.
Adding Authorized Users to the Card
The Centurion card used to allow you to have up to 99 authorized users on your account, but no longer. Now, only two authorized users can be added to the account, and they’ll have the same annual fee as the primary cardholder. Cardholders who had more than two authorized users before the rule went into effect will be able to keep their extra users.
The Mastercard Black Card requires an additional $195 annual fee for every authorized user added to the account.
Both cards come equipped with EMV Chip technology, which provides better account security and accessibility at more checkout terminals.
Shopping and Traveling Protections
Each card comes with the same types of standard shopping and traveling protections that you’ll find on most credit cards.
These are features like:
- Worldwide travel accident insurance
- Auto rental insurance
- Roadside assistance services
The Terms & Fees
The Centurion card also has an initiation fee of $7,500.
|Card||Annual Fee||Regular APR||Balance Transfer APR||Cash Advance APR||Foreign Transaction Fee|
|Centurion Card||$5,000||Prime Rate + 12.74%||None||Prime Rate + 21.99% Variable||None|
|Mastercard Black Card||$495||14.99% Variable||0% for 15 months, then 14.99% Variable||25.24% Variable||0%|
|Card||Penalty APR||Late Fee||Returned Payment Fee|
|Centurion Card||Prime Rate + 25.99%||Up to $39||Up to $39|
|Mastercard Black Card||None||Up to $39||Up to $39|
As you can see the Centurion card is quite a bit more expensive to carry than the Mastercard Black Card.
The Mastercard Black Card’s APR of 14.99% Variable is pretty average for people with excellent credit.
The Bottom Line
These are both cards that most people will never carry and will probably never see. For those of us who are eligible to get them, however, they’ll make quite a statement when you pull them out of your wallet.
In general, cardholders seem much more satisfied with the Centurion card than the Mastercard Black Card. While some complain that the Centurion card’s benefits don’t match the cost, there are undoubtedly a huge variety of luxury services to take advantage of.
The Mastercard Black Card, however, seems to be not much more than a basic high-end credit card. As noted above, the concierge service doesn’t seem like anything incredibly special (especially compared to my free service) and the interest rate, while low, doesn’t really distinguish it from many other cards.
If you’re looking for a similar card with different benefits that may suit you better, check out The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review). It offers points for purchases, comes with a wide variety of airline and hotel benefits, and has a $695 annual fee (Rates & Fees).
Frequently Asked Questions
What does it mean to have a “Black Card”?
For decades, the “Black Card” has remained a symbol of all things wealth. It’s praised in pop hits, flaunted in movies, and mentioned by default in any conversation concerning the most premium credit cards available.
But despite its name, it’s not usually the Mastercard® Black Card™ (Review) that’s being discussed. It’s the Centurion® Card from American Express (Review). And it’s no wonder why — the card charges a $10,000 initiation fee on top of its $5,000 annual fee, and delivers perks that are essentially unrivaled. Plus, the card has been invitation-only for years, though you can now request an invitation if you’re an Amex cardholder.
The Mastercard, on the other hand, is available to anyone, and its rewards and benefits aren’t all that compared to its premium competitors.
So, when it comes to pop culture, a “Black Card” is more than just a prestigious American Express credit card — it’s a representation of the elite privileges that tend to come with a high net worth.
Is a Black Card worth it?
The Centurion® Card from American Express (Review) might be worth it if you make and spend an obscenely large amount of money. The card delivers a massive selection of benefits, and its one-of-a-kind concierge service is renowned for helping cardholders secure rare and valuable items. But if you don’t think you’ll find value in its concierge, and you’re not desperate to flaunt a legendary credit card, you may be better off with a less-pricey travel card.
The Mastercard® Black Card™ (Review), on the other hand, offers the most value if you’re an airline lounge fanatic who travels very frequently with a large family or several buddies, since it lets you enter Priority Pass lounges with unlimited guests (and delivers a host of additional travel perks). However, as with the Centurion, you’ll likely get more value for your money from other premium credit cards.
What credit scores do you need to get a Black Card?
Both the Centurion® Card from American Express (Review) and the Mastercard® Black Card™ (Review) are meant for applicants with excellent credit. FICO classifies scores from 740–799 as “very good” and scores from 800–850 as “exceptional,” so you’ll probably be safe if you land somewhere in that range.
Just bear in mind that you may be able to get either card with slightly less-than-excellent credit, too, depending on a number of other factors, like your income. And you’ll likely need more than just excellent credit to get the Centurion card — it’s typically agreed that approval is reserved for longtime Amex users who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) annually.
Do you use either the American Express Centurion card or the Mastercard Black Card? We’d love to hear from you, leave your own review of the Centurion card or the Mastercard Black Card below!
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
Brendan has been writing about personal finance for over eight years, and is now taking on the challenge of bringing high-quality credit education to the masses. He makes sure that Credit Card Insider is covering the most important credit topics transparently and precisely, and that we have up-to-date reviews of credit cards so you can find cards that are right for you.
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