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The Centurion: American Express Black Card and The Battle For The Big Spenders

Ever since the 1980s, there’s been a rumor that American Express has a special card for the elite members of society. Supposedly the ultra-rich use it to get into the secret floor at Macy’s or the unadvertised underground restaurants of New York. It was cool to think there’s a whole lifestyle that you could gain access to if only you had a special card. Unfortunately, it didn’t actually exist until 1999. That’s when American Express decided to capitalize on the urban legend and make it a reality.

Since then, the Black Card (real name: The Centurion Card) has worked its way into popular culture. Rappers rap about it, writers incorporate it into books and magazines, it’s mentioned on TV shows. It’s the mark of wealth. But how hard is it to get one?

The Centurion Card has a one time joining fee of 5,000 dollars and an annual fee of $2,500 dollars. But that’s the easy part. If you could just put down 5 grand and pay $2500 a year for it, then it really wouldn’t really be so special.

The kicker is, it’s by invitation only. And to get invited, you have to have a minimum spending of $250,000 dollars a year, an exceptional credit rating, and already be an AmEx Platinum Card or Preferred Rewards Gold Card holder. For major celebrities and public figures, they may waive the credit rating.

If you meet all the criteria, the word on the street is they just send out a centurion card in a fancy box without much notification. Check out the unboxing video:

The card was originally just black plastic, but starting in 2006, American Express starting making the card out of anodized titanium. This gives it a substantial, heavy feel. That’s the feel of quality.

Ok, so you’re a big spender with crystal credit… why get one of these? What’s so great about the American Express Centurion? What could it possibly do for me?

A lot, actually; there are a massive amount of exclusive privileges you get access to as a cardholder. First off, you get a dedicated concierge and travel agent, which is cool enough on it’s own. The concierge services allows card holders to call or email requests for tickets, dinner reservations, and shopping research basically anywhere. Centurion card holders are given access to the higher paid concierges who are the top of the Platinum concierge employees. You need Arabian horses for your daughters wedding, call up your personal AmEx concierge, he’ll take care of it.

Plus, you get complimentary companion airline tickets on international flights, personal shoppers at high-end retailers, access to VIP airport clubs, first class flight upgrades, membership in Sony’s Cierge personal shopping program, and memberships in all the elite shopping clubs. There are special hotel benefits like free extra nights or upgrades, and sometimes, random gifts given throughout the year. Some members have received, out of the blue, Canon PowerShot SD850 digital cameras, $2000 Judith Ripka gift cards, $1000 Van Cleef & Arpels gift cards, tote bags, Gucci gift card, $1000 Mikimoto gift cards, etc. It’s nice to be rich.

The ultra-rich are a high-profit/low-risk group for credit card companies. They buy big ticket items that bring in high level processing fees from retailers. So companies fight hard to get high end members. Other companies started seeing the success American Express has with the Centurion, and the copycards began.

This is a fairly large market. Supposedly there are less than 20,000 black cards out there. There are a lot more people out there who want them, and a good amount who can actually afford them too. We’re a wealthy nation.

Centurion Card Competitors

The Bank of America Accolades Card


- 12.24% APR
- $500,000 Credit Limit
- $295 Annual Fee (Top customers receive the annual back)
- Includes Travel Discounts, Concierge, and Private Outings with Different Celebrities

Citigroup Chairman Card


- Access to private-jet programs
- Worldwide airport lounge access
- Upgrades and discounts at world-class hotels, cruises, spas and car rentals
- Access to a Personal Concierge service
- Open to Smith Barney and Citi Bank Private Clients
- Complimentary Companion Airfare
- 24hrEmergency Service

Stratus Rewards Visa (aka The White Card)


- Invitation Only or Nomination by Current Member
- $1,500 Annual Fee
- Private Jet Discounts
- Concierge service

Coutts & Co World Card


- Actually existed before the AmEx Centurion Card
- Must be a Client of this Private Bank with $1 million in Banked Assets
- UK Based, Queen Elizabeth is a Client
- $700 Annual Fee which is Waived for Spenders over $100,00/year