Q: What are the requirements for the American Express Centurion (Black) card?
A: The qualifications for the American Express Centurion card (a.k.a the “Black Card”) haven’t really been altered significantly since the card was first issued (in stealth mode) in 1999, but American Express has always been very strict about who gets to enter their posh club (as in the card is “by invitation only” and that’s just the beginning). Let’s take a look at what’s currently required for 2016 if you have serious interest in this most exclusive credit card:
The annual fee
When the card first came out, the annual fee was “only” $1,000. Since then, American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) 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 single grand, right?
The Centurion has gone back and forth from being invitation only to open application. Currently, it is back to being offered by invitation only, but I’m sure if you met the spending qualifications on an existing AmEx charge card and were willing to pay the fee, you could make inquiries and be given the opportunity to apply.
When the card was initially released it was only offered to a few thousand people (celebrities, wealthy business moguls, etc). Although the American Express black card requirements have grown even tighter over time, that hasn’t stopped the exclusive member base from ballooning. The rich just keep getting richer, it would seem.
According to some investigative work a few years ago regarding the number of lucky individuals who have the American Express Centurion card, it is estimated that possibly up to 100,000 people worldwide have the card, with roughly 20-40% of those cardmembers being 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 American Express card (most likely a Platinum 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, unfortunately this isn’t the case. Many feel the concierge service quality has diminished 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 of any significant monetary value = 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, American Express sadly dropped that benefit several years ago.
With the reported nerfing of benefits, it makes one wonder why people bother with the black card at all. Other than the prestige and status that is conferred upon its owner, it makes little sense to pay more for diminished value.
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 80,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
The next best thing to black … is blue, as in the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. In this case you might even say blue is the new black. Like the Centurion card, this is made out of real metal (aluminum, perhaps?) and is quite hefty.
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 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening. You can redeem that for $625 in travel rewards when you book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal, or $500 in travel rewards not booked through the portal. Go here for the application to get this offer.
There’s one final option out there if you’re looking for a black metal card, and that’s the Visa Black card. However, we don’t feel that the benefits justify the $495 annual fee.
The Marriott Rewards Premier card and the Sapphire Preferred certainly aren’t as exclusive as the American Express Centurion Card. But that doesn’t lessen the impact when you use them out in the day to day world. When someone hears one of these cards sound one of these cards make when slapping it down on 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 for the privilege.
This post was written or last updated April 5, 2016