When 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.
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:
- Use other American Express cards (compare American Express cards here)
- Be an active cardholder for at least one year
- 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.
Can I Get More Than One?
There was a time when a Centurion cardholder could get have up to 99 authorized users sharing the account, but that benefit is now over. As of a few years ago, cardholders are now limited to having only 2 authorized users on their account, in a bid to make the card seem more exclusive.
Cardholders who had more than 2 authorized users when this rule went into effect will have their authorized users grandfathered in, meaning that they will be able to keep the extra cards.
If you check out the “Annual Membership” section of the Cardmember Agreement on American Express’ site, you’ll see that they offer Platinum Card and Gold Card options, sometimes with discounted annual fees, as additional cards for Centurion cardholders.
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.
Visa Black Card – Stainless Steel / Carbon Fiber
This card is Visa’s response to the Centurion card, but it is a credit card instead of a charge card and anyone can apply for it. It has a $450 annual fee, and comes with a set of high-end benefits that are a lesser version of some of the Centurion’s features.
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.
Is There a Grace Period? What’s the APR?
The Centurion card is a charge card, which typically requires any new balances to be paid in full by the due date after the closing date of a statement period. However, American Express appears to offer a Pay Over Time feature to some Centurion cardholders. See the Cardholder Agreement on American Express’ site to read more about these features.
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.
24/7 Dedicated Personal Concierge Program
Need front row tickets to the hottest show of the year? How about extended shopping hours at your favorite luxury retailer? Need to charter a jet for a week away in the Maldives? No request is unreasonable for your personal Centurion concierge.
Automatic Premium Status at the World’s Leading Hotels
It’s speculated that Centurion cardholders are automatically upgraded to premium tier status at several hotel brands, including Ritz Carlton, Mandarin Oriental Four Seasons, and others.
Automatic Premium Status at Leading Auto Rental Outlets
Centurion cardholders presumably enjoy instant premium tier upgrades at several car rental outlets like Hertz, Avis, and others.
Automatic Premium Status at Leading Airline Carriers
One of the biggest reported perks in the companion ticket, global fee credits, and instant frequent flyer program upgrades just for being a Centurion cardholder.
Standing Reservations for Cardholders at Select Restaurants
Centurion cardholders are presumably entitled to standing reservation at fine dining establishments worldwide such as Nobu, Smith & Wollensky, and Per Se, among others.
No Pre-set Spending Limits
Perhaps the most well-known perk of the Centurion card is that it features no pre-set spending limit. Of course, charges must be paid off in full each month because it’s a charge card, though stories of extravagant purchases are common among cardholders.
Did You Know?