The American Express Centurion Black Card

Kimberly Rotter

Kimberly Rotter | Travel

Oct 13, 2014

centurion-card-artWhen we think of the once-mythical American Express black card, we tend to conjure images of the most fabulously wealthy people in the world plunking one down on the counter to pay for items that cost more than most Americans earn in a year – or possibly even in a decade.

The American Express “black” card is actually called the American Express Centurion card (not to be confused with the more recent Visa Black Card) and that image is not a terribly far cry from reality. The Centurion card is “once-mythical” because prior to 1999 it really was just a myth. Doug Smith, director of American Express Europe, told Snopes.com that “there had been rumors going around that we had this ultra-exclusive black card for elite customers. It wasn’t true, but we decided to capitalize on the idea anyway.” And thus the Centurion card was born.

centurion-heading

How To Get a “Black Card”

You will not find an application for this card online, although the terms and conditions may be viewed here. Rather, American Express will extend an invitation to customers who meet certain criteria. American Express will not confirm, but it is generally believed the requirements are to:

  1. Use other American Express cards (compare American Express cards here)
  2. Be an active cardholder for at least one year
  3. Charge at least $250,000 per year

What It Costs

  • Initiation Fee: $7,500
  • Annual Fee: $2,500

If you are one of the chosen few who receive an invitation to apply, you’ll have to pay these hefty fees. There is no interest rate because it’s not a credit card. Rather, it’s a charge card, so the balance must be paid in full each month.

What You Get — Is It Worth It?

Although you won’t know the exact benefits you’ll get with this card unless you receive an invite, you can consider the basic benefits that come with other American Express cards. American Express is secretive about most of the details, except to say they include “rare” travel, food and entertainment experiences. That may mean a coveted ticket to New York’s fashion week or a private box at the Superbowl.

Benefits are also rumored to include a luxury car rental service, with preferred pricing on exotic high-end vehicles like Lamborghinis, Bentleys and even Formula One racing cars. Hotel and airline travel upgrades are likely, as is access to private airport lounges worldwide. But many cardholders are likely to be the kind of people who typically travel by private jet, so these “perks” may not be seen as such.

The real value of membership may be in the form of personal services offered by the concierge, such as reminder calls prior to anniversaries and birthdays, personal shoppers, or tickets to sold-out events. Wild tales of the power of this card and the service it offers are common. Snopes relates several, including one of an American Express employee who traveled by motorcycle to retrieve a handful of sand from the shores of the Dead Sea for the school project of a cardholder’s child in London. Presumably, most cardholders should not expect that level of service. Indeed, cardholders in China are already complaining that the service is lacking and does not warrant the hefty annual fee.

Other Metal, Black, or Similar Cards

American Express Platinum Card – Similar Benefits, Lower Cost

If you want similar benefits, but for a lower annual fee, you might want to consider the American Express Platinum card. It includes many travel benefits, like airport lounge access. Even though the annual fee is $450, that’s thousands of dollars less than the Centurion. And, if you start using this a lot maybe you’ll meet the spend requirements and be able to upgrade down the road.

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card – Black and Metal

It’s not ultra-exclusive, but it’s black and made of metal like the Centurion. If you just want the Centurion look and feel, along with some nice travel rewards for Marriott hotels and Visa Signature benefits, check out this card.

Chase Sapphire Preferred – Metal

It’s not invite-only, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred card comes with a dedicated customer service line, good travel rewards, and Visa Signature benefits. If you live in a cold climate, it can also be useful for scraping ice off your car windows in the winter months. Not sure whether to get the Sapphire Preferred or the Marriott Rewards Premier? Check out this comparison.

Annual Fees

With the popularity of the card combined with the explosion of wealth in new emerging markets around the world, the Centurion card has been made available to a host of countries worldwide. The reported annual fees vary from $2,000 to as high as $5,450 per year.

centurion-annual-fees

Centurion Card Benefits

For a card that is incredibly hard to obtain, the benefits ought to match its world class reputation. Let’s explore just a few of the elite benefits afforded to Centurion cardholders.

centurion-card-benefits

 

Did You Know?

centurion-did-you-know-they-did-what

More About Getting a Centurion Card

centurion-how-to-get-it

centurion-sources

  • Fred Pilon

    Titanium does not anodize black.

    • ryan8236

      Fred – This comment piqued my interest so I did some investigating. I’m a Mechanical Engineer working on corrosion resistance for military systems and I deal with plating companies quite often. Although some low voltage runs will produce a dark bronze/purple color, I agree that it’s definitely not the shade of black on the Centurion card.

      I called a friend at American Express and confirmed that their official claim is that the card is made from anodized titanium. I think that the card is actually hard coated with Titanium Aluminum Nitride, a common coating for tools requiring a thicker and harder surface than traditional Anodizing, which can offer the rich black coating that’s seen on the card. Although similar in appearance, the coating is actually applied with a physical vapor deposition process rather than electrolyte solution like anodizing.

      If Amex’s target clientele were the engineering community, they could advertise that the card is made from PVD hard coated titanium for superior wear resistance.

      • Abhi

        ryan8236 – you know this knowledge shower is not going to get you an invite, right?

    • Jeremy Whitt

      Amex cardholder since 2000… Centurion card member since 2004… Changed to titanium in or around 2004 because I never got a plastic version… Original titanium was the most stiff and toughest sliver of metal I’ve ever seen or felt, bordering on the edge of being dangerous as it weaponized your wallet… It originally was definitely anodized somehow because they had to use a carbide grinder to file off the black from the top surface of the numbers so they were visible, exposing micro-evidence of the coating.

      However, they changed everything amid the financial crisis… Still titanium, but I can now actually bend the bloody thing with iPhone 6 bend-gate pressures, whereas the original titanium could likely have cantilever suspended a small car. And the anodizing is completely different although looks and feels similar. They no longer grind off the tops of the numbers and it looks like a completely different manufacturing process. Also, the new cards come with chips embedded, standard across the pond. I’m guessing all of these changes were directly cost-savings related.

      I do miss the gregarious boldness of the original titanium, which turned heads and demanded double-takes virtually 100% of the time, but in the spirit of functionality, the extreme rigidity of the card meant that it didn’t work on many card readers, which apparently assume some level of flexibility in the card with their spring-loaded magnetic read-head. Of course, that posed a problem when kiosk flight checkins became the norm with about a 50% failed-swipe rate and about a 95% failed-swipe rate for any NYC MTA kiosk (yes, some Centurion cardholders have been known to take the subway).

  • Richard Sandridge

    IT’S LIKE JERRY SEINFELD, NEVER GOES AWAY! Til he’s a bad memory, in your pocket. He should sell out, TO DISCOVER/NOVVUS! :D

  • Dr. Septimus Pretorius

    I prefer my Costco American Express Platinum Cash Rebate Card. No fee.

  • ishy

    amex concierge is the same as the regular credit cards.. i know a person who work in a concierge company that runs both amex, visa black card and citi bank.

    • imageWIS

      Not exactly, you might get the same person on the phone, but the Centurion Card member will get priority over everyone else, every time.

      • Brian

        I work for AMEX, Centurion gets a dedication travel agent, and a dedicated concierge. AMEX out sources many services for Green, Blue, Open cards etc, but not for Platinum and Centurion. Think about it, would you really want some 3rd party agent handling your clients who bring you in the bulk of your money??

        • deank

          just curious seeing that you work for amex, but iv noticed that some of the centurion cards have gold writing and graphics and some have silver, is the a reason or meaning to that?
          thank you

          • Sterling Archer

            Might be non-US and US cards. I’m not sure these days, but a few years ago the non-US cards were plastic, and not coated with titanium, so i guess there could’ve been other diffrences aswell.

          • Timothy Melzer

            The cards are all black with silver writing depending on the light and angle of the pictures your looking at, it can look goldish on the black. (The writing in earlier years looked more bronze) In 2000 til 03 or so my black card was plastic then it switch to my favorite heavy titanium and as the years progressed the card has become much lighter in weight. I’m assuming because they mix with other metals now due to the cost factor. I’ve had about 40 or so replacements since 2000 due to loss, magnetic strip, and a couple of times charges appeared in statement that weren’t mine so they changed my card etc. There is a dedicated customer service Centurian # that’s different than all other AMEX cards.

          • Lm Rappeport

            It must have been hell carrying around the excessive weight of those older, heavier centurion card!!!

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  • deank

    Iv noticed that some centurion cards have gold writing and graphics and some have silver, just curious what the difference or meaning to that is if any one knows.

    • mbeauch

      In the card agreement section you will see two different banks that service the card, maybe that is the reason for the different colors? Just speculating, I do not know for sure. I have only see two of these cards used in my life. Once was in Vegas, go figure, right. LOL

    • Jeremy Whitt

      Centurion cardholder since they first went to Titanium around 2004… Yes, I’ve noticed under certain lighting conditions, the “colors” seem to shift from silver to gold-ish or appear as two colors. It’s never what I would consider true “gold”… I think people perceive two colors on the pre-financial crisis cards because the stuff on your card that changed (number, name, exp date) was all raised meta lettering and then ground off the anodized black to expose a shiny silver color and the rest of the branding and design of the card was somehow part of the printing / anodizing process done to every card. So under “studio” lighting, it looked exactly the same color, but under varying angles and varying lighting conditions out in the real world, these two different techniques render different perceived colors and could be the root cause of the notion that there are two separate colors. (Nerdy Mechanical Engineer that aced my Materials courses)

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  • Elvis Johnson

    5 months ago I got accepted for 300K credit limited for a gold American Express, I spend around 200K each month, and I been an American express card holder for 5 months and a few days ago I received a Black Amex invitation and I responded back and I recieved my credit card 5 days after and I have no credit limited, I paid the fees I needed to pay.

    • Financialtiming

      Elvis Johnson , may I ask – are you in the US? Many have said there amex hasn’t sent out invites…did you express interest or did they come to you? Congratulations – I think it’s a card worthy of the fees!

      • Elvis Johnson

        Yes Financialtiming I live in US. And no I didn’t express interest, it came to me.

        • Hmequity

          I just got an invitation yesterday via UPS in this nice box. Inside was a business card instructing to call them to apply that said centurion and a code. I’ve spent $120-$300k a month consistently for 2 years and finally got it on my 2 year aniversary like clock work. I’ve called many times in the past to express interest, but stopped about 6 months ago. I just qualified and I should recieve in about 3 days. I think they’ve made their qualfications more stringent because i was expecting it on my first years anniversary. I live in CA. Fees are as they post, $7500 initiation + $2500 yearly. Good luck.

          • Kimberly Rotter

            Wow, congrats! And are you accepting the invitation? I’m curious to know what perks you value most. Which benefits make the card worth the cost?

          • Jeremy Whitt

            Centurion card member since 2004-ish… So saw the huge growth and plateau of Centurion memberships… Well, I’m now kind of in the big-M “Marketing” world so I may have a different perspective than most folks both aspiring for a Centurion card and the aloof 1% of 1%’ers… But here’s a quick answer ranking Centrion Card Perks from a statistical sample size of One:

            1) IMHO, the most valuable perk is Airline / Lounge / Rental / Hotel premiere status. I figure I’d have to fly around 200,000 actual flight miles on over 200 trips covering maybe 150 hotel nights to equal the qualification statuses… Per Year. Now, unfortunately, I come close to about half that, but having the flexibility to optimize hub-hops is huge for my line of work (and pleasure). Sure I’m loyal… To Centurion! LOL … P.S. I’ve also done some simple analytics and financially, this is hands-down the greatest direct ROI from your significant initial and annual investment in the Centurion card, presuming you make virtually all your meaningful personal and business purchases with Centurion.

            2) Centurion Lounges – Absolutely the best lounges in any US airport, bordering on the BA and Sing lounges that top the charts globally. Consistenly have gourmet REAL food and always have multiple HEALTHY options. I feel like I’m at movie-night when I hit the food bar at all the other CROWDED domestic lounges. Only drawback is there are only a few of them, for now…

            3) MARKETING – I think deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, any Centurion card holder will sheepishly admit that one of the top perks, if not THE TOP perk is the marketing (self-promotion) aspect of being a black card member. Probably don’t need to say much more about this…

            4) And perhaps my favorite part of their customer service is that they recognize my damn phone when I call and I don’t have to go through a crazy menu and enter anything!!! … It’s the little things that matter, really.

            5) Stellar customer service… Not really talking about the concierge service, as I don’t need that type of thing with my staff.

            6) Website… Not really a Centurion thing, but the Amex moethership mobile app and website are head and shoulders better than all of the other majors in virtually every UX/UI aspect. Am I the only one that cringes each time I open the franken-app monstrosity that Citi launched last year, LOL… Yikes.

          • Kimberly Rotter

            Wow, thanks for the detailed feedback. Very helpful description of the perks. I would agree that they sound well worth the fees for those who can fully take advantage.

          • Hmequity

            Thank you. It’s not worth the cost. When I set up the account they walked me through signing up for elite memberships with Delta, Hertz, Hilton, Starwood, etc. I have better perks with my chase paladium card. For instance 50,000 points is worth about $800 in purchasing power. With Centurion 50,000 is about $400 or less, so the points have the same value as the Platinum AMEX. More of just a status thing or high end item. Definitely worth it from that standpoint. Hope that helps.

          • Perez

            Does that mean $7500.00 the first year and $2500.00 for each following year? Or does it mean $10000.00 for the first year and 2500.00 for each following year? just curious!!

          • Hmequity

            It’s $7500 set up fee + $2500 annual membership = $10,000. It will show up on your first bill. Unfortunately, they don’t get points for it. I now have both a platinum and centurion. Cool thing is that the points go to a single membership rewards account. I still use the platinum to buy gas or at the convenience stores and the centurion everywhere else.

  • Financialtiming

    Has anyone received a Amex Centurion invitation this year in the US? I am hoping for one too!

    • Kimberly Rotter

      Keep us posted if you get one!

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  • Patrick Perotti

    Platinum Amex sadly no longer even gets you entry to airport lounges.
    That is not the fault of Amex, but of monopolists like UA which use a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to their business.
    But then again, monopoly has its privileges.

    • Kimberly Rotter

      I think it depends on travel habits. Lounge access diminished but didn’t disappear completely. If I’m not mistaken, platinum holders still get entry into Centurion lounges, Delta lounges, Airspace lounges and Priority Pass Select lounges. I’ve heard that for Delta flyers, the card’s benefits are still worth the cost. For flyers on airlines that dropped it, not so much.

  • Elvis Johnson

    When I turned 15 my gift from my mom was a AMEX Black Card, at first I started spending around $20K monthly. But when I turned 18 I didn’t wanted to use my moms black Amex anymore, I wanted to have my own black Amex so my parents helped me to get one. Which it wasn’t that hard because basically I being having my own bank account since I was 10 years old and basically when I turned 18 I inherited my grandpas money so at the age of 18 I had around $29M. So when I called Amex to ask for the card they basically asked me how much I had in my bank account and where I work and how much I made yearly, I told them that I didn’t work but I had $29M in the bank and that I inherited a company which I would be making around 5-10M yearly. So next thing you know they did not asked me more questions and they basically congratulated me because I basically qualified for the black Amex

    • http://rotterwrites.com/ Kimberly Rotter

      Interesting! So you were able to bypass previous experience with other AmEx products because of your assets. Do you use their concierge service? Is there anything they’ve done for you as a Centurion cardholder that stands out as excellence?

  • Eric Tyson

    I am a AMEX black card holder living in Japan and I must say this card totally does not worth for what it is charging for. I find several experience with AMEX Centurion Concierge not being helpful at all, they definitely do NOT go the extra mile.

    I have asked for my replacement card due to mistake they made on my display name on the card since two weeks ago, and it took them 4 days to check, 3 days to reprint, 2 days to call for DHL, and 5 days to send the card by DHL Express, from UK to Tokyo. I have called AMEX several times to follow up the status, and all they do is apologize politely saying it is in process and will be handle in urgent manner, or say it is DHL’s fault.

    AMEX Centurion charges 3% on foreign currency settlement, and while I call to ask they said all of their competitors were charging the same, but according to my research the market rate in Japan is 1.6%, almost half of AMEX Centurion charge. I understand those who holds a Centurion card are most likely ultra rich and this minor charges probably make very little to no difference, but I don’t like how they answer without responsibility.

    AMEX Centurion’s travel desk picks up the call 24/7 but doesn’t really provide service at the same basis, if the quotation comes back 48 hours, there really isn’t a difference from local travel agent, not to mention they had forgotten sending me quotation before.

    • http://rotterwrites.com/ Kimberly Rotter

      Hi Eric
      When I originally researched this card, I found that cardholders in Asia were much more likely to be dissatisfied. This is an unscientific conclusion that is only based on my review of online comments, but the point is that I found that customers in China and Japan were much more likely to find the card to be NOT worth the cost. Please update us if the Centurion customer service team comes through and impresses you!

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