The American Express Centurion vs The MasterCard Black Card

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Versus

May 07, 2015 | Updated Apr 27, 2016

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The American Express Centurion Card (sometimes called the Amex Black Card) and the MasterCard® Black Card™ are both luxury credit cards designed for the wealthy in mind. 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 between 4 and 11 times as much as the MasterCard Black card. The MasterCard is a typical credit card that lets you carry a balance from month to month, while the Centurion is a charge card that needs to be paid in full at every billing date.

Insider Tip: The MasterCard Black Card used to be called the Visa Black Card.

Each card provides some rewards for purchases, but earning rewards is not really the purpose of these cards. The high credit limits and extra services are what really set these cards apart from the rest.

American Express® Centurion Card

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $2,500
  • Interest Rate: Not Applicable - Paid in Full Monthly
Quick Card Facts
  • Available by invitation only
  • Initiation Fee of $7,500
  • Annual Fee of $2,500
  • Made of Anodized Titanium
  • Premium status at the world's leading hotels and airlines

MasterCard® Black Card™

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $495
  • Interest Rate: 15.24% (Variable)
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase
  • Double points when redeemed for airfare
  • Spend $1,500 in the first 90 days and earn 25,000 bonus points

How Do I Get One?

Usually, you don’t.

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.

The Amex Centurion, however, requires a personal invitation to apply, and only a select few are chosen. Amex does not publicly release much information about the card, including their full requirements, but the average cardholder makes over $1 million per year. You probably also need to have used other American Express cards for at least 1 year, and to have spent a lot of money with them.

This makes it one of the most exclusive credit cards on the market (because it’s not exactly on the market). There is both a personal and a business version.

After being invited applicants must usually pay an initiation fee of $7,500, though some are offered the card at no cost. There is also an annual fee ranging from $2,000 to $5,450, ($2,500 in the U.S.) with different countries having different fees, and you”ll need to charge at least $250,000 per year to keep the card.

One does not simply apply for a Centurion Card

You’ll have to prove that you are worthy

The Rewards

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.

MasterCard Black Card

You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make with the MasterCard Black Card.

You can also earn 25,000 bonus points by spending $1,500 in the first 90 days.

You can redeem those points as a direct statement credit, or you can redeem them for airfare on any airline where the value will be doubled. So, redeeming for airfare will be the most profitable way to use your rewards.

The Verdict

The MasterCard offers twice the rewards every time you shop, 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 other benefits that come with them.

The Benefits

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.

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.

24-Hour Concierge

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.

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 MasterCad 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.

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 2 authorized users can be added to the account. Cardholders who had more than 2 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.

EMV Technology

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:

  • Purchase protection insurance to replace damaged or lost items
  • Extended warranties on purchases
  • Worldwide travel accident insurance
  • Auto rental insurance
  • Roadside assistance services

The Costs

The Centurion card also has an initiation fee of $7,500.

Card Annual Fee Regular APR Intro Balance Transfer APR Regular Balance Transfer APR Cash Advance APR Foreign Transaction Fee
Centurion Card $2,500 N/A – Paid in Full Monthly Not Available Not Available Not Available $0
MasterCard Black Card $495 15.24% (Variable) 0% for 15 months 15.24% (Variable) 25.49% (Variable) 0%

The Fees

Card Penalty APR Late Fee Returned Payment Fee
Centurion Card See Terms Up to $38 or 2.99%, whichever is greater Up to $38
MasterCard Black Card Up to 27.24% (Variable) Up to $37 Up to $37

The Verdict

As you can see the Centurion card is quite a bit more expensive to carry than the MasterCard Black Card, but you won’t need to worry about paying interest with the Centurion because it’s a charge card that needs to be paid in full every billing cycle.

The MasterCard Black Card’s APR of 15.24% 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. It offers points for purchases, comes with a wide variety of airline and hotel benefits, and has a $450 annual fee.

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!

Was this helpful?
  • While I’m not a cardmember, I’m pretty sure the Centurion card earns American Express Membership Rewards.

    • Brendan Harkness

      Thanks @howierappaport:disqus – while I’ve been unable to confirm this, it seems to be a pretty persistent rumor.
      I’ve updated the review to reflect this.

      • ERogan5877

        I had the Black Amex at a company I worked at. It generates the same points as Plantuim. I have a personal Platinum & Black MC. For Perks Plantuim clearly wins, Black MC wins for points. It’s almost double. Black Anex is a waste of money. $7500 enrollment & $2500 annual.

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