The Centurion Card from American Express is an attempt to take the finance firm back to its roots. When American Express started out, it was supposed to be the high-end card company; having an Amex card was supposed to mean you had made it. At the time, no American Express card had a predefined limit.
The first ones came out in the 1950s, but widespread acceptance began in the 1960s with a wider range of cards. And, with a wider range of cards, the ‘elite’ characteristic of having an Amex card took a hit. Amex came out with Gold and Platinum cards, each with a somewhat wider range of services, to try to compensate, but the need for marketshare kept overcoming the desire to remain an elite offering. In 2008, for example image came into direct conflict with the bottom line, and Amex imposed a spending limit on its high-end Platinum cards. Nonetheless, its solid customer service and broad line of cards has kept Amex in the black for many years.
About the Centurion Card from American Express
The Black Card, or Centurion Card from American Express, is a move all the way up the high end – about as high as you can go. The card is only available by invitation, and when offered, costs $5,000 at the start, $2,500 per year, and requires a minimum annual spend of $250,000. There is clearly no danger of having a spending limit imposed on the Black card, which is itself made out of expensive titanium (this ‘plastic’ is no cheap plastic).
The Centurion Card from American Express is part of the Membership Rewards First Program. Rewards are large, for reasons which will become obvious. The people who have them use them to make very large purchases sometimes exceeding $1 million — Bentley automobiles, yachts, even, it is rumored, a private jet for $52 million.
The cards are linked to a significant number of services, and it is here that Amex really excels in comparison with the competition. Access is provided to three-star restaurants, hotels, a 24-hour concierge service, special viewings at art galleries, cultural events, wine-tastings, personal shoppers at major retailers, and, reportedly, much, much more. Amex won’t provide details to the profane that have no access to the card, and the special magazine that cardholders receive isn’t available to the rest of us, on- or off-line.
The challenge in deciding whether cards like these are worth the great expense is in evaluating whether the very real offer of services attached to the card are valuable enough to make it worthwhile. In comparison with the competition, the Centurion Card from American Express clearly offers much more value. Whether a person who already is at this level of income has need of such services remains difficult to evaluate. Then, there is the paradox we described at the beginning of our review: At this writing, it is estimated – the estimate is quite speculative — that about 100,000 people carry the Centurion Card from American Express. Will it become banalized like the previous high-end American Express cards?
In terms of services, some are just easily available to the wealthy anyway. Access to luxury airport lounges comes with the purchase of a first-class ticket regardless of what card you buy it on. Dallas Fort Worth and Las Vegas airports both boast special super-luxury Centurion Lounges, so if you use those airports frequently, it might make a difference. On the other hand, London’s Heathrow Terminal 5, where one is nearly certain to wind up if flying commercial through that city, has only British Airways lounges, so the card won’t help you there. American Airlines recently pulled out of offering its lounges to cardholders as well.
On the other hand, Amex recently revealed that Centurion Card from American Express holders can get special luxury car rentals that will give members preferred pricing on super-cars like a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, or just high-end models that normal people drive like Mercedes, BMW and Lexus. You can even try out an electronic Tesla. Even wealthy people might not get deal like that just right into their email box, and it is services like that which make the Centurion Card from American Express special – and which have made Amex cards special for many years.
Probably the most used perks are its elite frequent flyer status that is bestowed on the cardholder – including Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion, US Airways Platinum Preferred, Gold on Virgin Atlantic – plus a free night each year at Mandarin Oriental, and other privileges at Ritz Carlton, Amanresorts and more.
You may always fly first-class, but your companion gets a free ticket at least four times a year if you pay with the Centurion Card from American Express card. Now, this is not good on all flights to all destinations, and under all conditions – Amex won’t give out any specifics unless you have the sacred titanium yourself.
You probably get quite a lot of perks, but, surely, if you qualify for the card, you don’t really need much free airfare? Do you even fly commercial most of the time?
The extra offers at hotels and health spas are more interesting, as they are not available to the ordinary well-heeled customer. Chefs will cook to your specification; sessions of massage will be schedules at special times, etc. Worthy of consideration?
All of this goes well beyond what you could expect with the Visa Black Card, for example, or with the Coutts World Silk Card, two of the major competitors. These cards simply don’t go nearly as high up the high end. The Coutts card is particularly limited: First of all, you have to bank with Coutts Bank in London, and you have to keep $1 million on deposit there. The bank is one of the world’s great private banks, but that’s a lot to ask just for a credit card. The Coutts card does offer a superb 24-hour concierge service – service as only the British can offer. But the airport lounge privileges associated with it are only those of a Priority Pass – this does not offer access to many lounges, again notably not to those in Heathrow Terminal 5.
Similarly, Visa Black only offers Priority Pass membership. And it doesn’t have the wealth of special invitations to offer that Amex does. But it does have one special perk: You get 1 percent back on all your purchases. That’s not an elite reward, but one people one notch down from the elite might appreciate just the same.