Q: What are the American Express Black card requirements?
A: The qualifications for the “black card” (officially called the Centurion card) from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) have changed slightly since the card first came out in 1999, but they’ve always been strict. Let’s take a look at what’s currently required for 2014 if you want to get this credit card:
The Annual Fee
When the card first came out, the annual fee was “only” $1,000. Since then, AmEx raised the annual fee all the way up to $2,500. In addition, they’ve now tacked on a $7,500 so-called “initiation fee” just to get the card. The early Centurion cardmembers are lucky – some are rumored to still be paying a $1,000 annual fee. Why? Well, it’s a common practice in the credit card industry to lock in your original terms (future annual fee increases won’t apply to you). Now, I bet those early cardmembers are happy they got the card for “only” a thousand bucks, right?
The Centurion has gone back and forth from being invite only to open application. Currently, it is back to being invite only, but I’m sure if you qualified and were willing to pay the fee, you could get them to give you one.
When the card first hit the scene, it was issued to a few thousand people (celebrities, business moguls, etc). Although the American Express black card requirements have grown tighter recently, that hasn’t stopped the cardmember base from ballooning.
According to to this creative detective work a couple years back about how many people have the Amex Black card, it’s now estimated that possibly up to 100,000 people worldwide have the card. It’s estimated that anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of those cardmembers are based in the United States.
The American Express black card qualifications include spending $250,000 in a given year on another AmEx card. That means you must have an existing AmEx card for one year or more, and spend (and pay off) at least $250,000 over the course of a year. Once you do that, you meet the spending requirement. There has been talk of keeping the card exclusive by increasing that requirement to $500,000 or even a $1 million, plus requiring that amount to be spent every year.
You would think with such a drastic fee increase, that the benefits must have improved, right? Well, think again. Many feel the concierge has greatly deteriorated the past few years. In fact, I have read a number of forum posts by cardmembers who have canceled or downgraded to the American Express Platinum (with a $450 fee) because they said the Centurion was no longer worth anywhere close to the annual fee.
Personally, I feel there was only one benefit which really made it worth the price; they used to offer free first-class upgrades on domestic flights. So you could buy a coach ticket and automatically get bumped to first class for free if there was availability. However they got rid of that benefit years ago.
With the reported dwindling benefits, it makes one wonder why people bother with the black card at all. Other than the prestige and status that comes with it, there’s no point in paying more for less benefits.
The Platinum Card
If you agree the American Express black card requirements are too much, you may want to look into the Platinum version.
It’s comes with a wide array of benefits, many of which are comparable to the AmEx Black. It gets you airport lounge access. And it also has some benefits that might save you money, including a $200 credit for airline fees and reimbursement for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. In fact, a friend of mine who was a Centurion charter cardmember (and had it since ’99 when it launched) recently downgraded his account to Platinum because he found it had comparable benefits, yet costs thousands less per year. Check out my Platinum Card review and compare. But be aware that its annual fee is $450 and that is NOT waived the first year.
If you simply want a cool-looking card…
Consider the Marriott Rewards Premier card, which is both black and made out of metal:
If you frequently stay at Marriott Hotels, consider this card. In addition to giving you extra points back on Marriott stays, it has a great sign-up bonus right off the bat. You can apply here for the current offer of 70,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months.
The next best thing to black … is blue, as in the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. This is made out of real metal, if that’s important to you.
Here’s mine. Now it looks even better because it comes with Chip & Signature technology.
Vanity aside, the Sapphire Preferred is is a great credit card offer because you can earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. You can redeem that for $500 in travel rewards! Go here for the application to get this offer.
Obviously the Marriott Rewards Premier card and the Sapphire Preferred aren’t exclusive, like the Centurion is. But that doesn’t change the fact that they leave quite the impression when you use them. When someone hears one of these cards cling the counter and feel how heavy they are, don’t be surprised if you get asked questions. With an annual fee of $95 (and that’s waived the first year) on the Sapphire and $85 on the Marriott Rewards Premier, you can have a card that makes a statement, without spending a fortune.
This post was written or last updated July 18, 2014