How The Welcome Gift Turned Off A New American Express Black Card Customer

The American Express Black Card (Centurion Card) has a certain mystique but in my view the benefits aren’t worth the high cost. The personal card has a $5000 annual fee and you pay a $7500 initiation fee as well in your first year as a cardmember.

In addition to standard Platinum card benefits (although it lost the $200 annual airline fee credit last year), the Black card comes with Delta Platinum, Hilton Diamond, and IHG Rewards Platinum status. There’s dedicated seating in airport Centurion lounges and the Hong Kong lounge has a dedicated sit-down dining service (currently closed).

New in the last year is complimentary CLEAR membership, an Equinox Destination Access Membership, and a $1,000 annual Saks.

A new Centurion business cardmember was excited for her new card, despite the high upfront cost. Amex even sent her a welcome gift. But it’s that gift that turned the whole experience sour.

I don’t want to sound whiny or ungrateful but I’m a new Biz Centurion member [paid $15K USD for first year] and as a welcome present I get a guy’s wallet?

I mentioned it to my rep and they said that’s what the marketing department sends. What about us girls? Sigh.

BTW has nothing to do with the gift sent, but it seemed sexist a bit.

Here’s a look at the Tom Ford wallet that American Express sends to Centurion customers. They’re frequently for sale online, going for about $150 at auction.

Not all Black Card customers are men. American Express knows this, though they know that historically their customer base for travel-focused cards is male and older. They launched their Everyday lineup of cards aimed more at women.

Small business owners, travelers, and those flying first class aren’t all older white men. And people who aren’t those things may be sensitive about it, because the world can make them feel out of place or like they’re challenging convention to begin with.

Some might argue that the Tom Ford wallet is unisex and with designer this-or-that who is even to say? But it seems like sending out a wallet to a new female Black Card cardmember is a marketing fail. After all with the Black Card you’re really paying for prestige and exclusivity. It was cool when Kanye West dropped references to it in 2004. But that was… 2004.

I went to the malls and I balled too hard/ ‘Oh my god is that a black card?’/ I turned around and replied, ‘Why, yes/ But I prefer the term African-American Express’

In other words, the marketing narrative matters most of all, which is why it’s so important to get this right.

Marketing is all about knowing who your customers are, and figuring out how to find more people like that. It’s why it matters that marketing staff understand your customer base, and not just have models predicting the characteristics describing who the median customer is. Especially at the high-end, high-touch, send something… a little more personalized. Indeed, maybe a personalized welcome note to someone forking over $10,000 or more up front for a credit card?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I would call that a card holder, not a wallet, and I agree that it is unisex. She can send it to me if she doesn’t want it.

  2. I was with you up until “ Small business owners, travelers, and those flying first class aren’t all older white men…” Black male business owners don’t use wallets? This is needlessly race-baiting as being White doesn’t have anything to do with it. AMEX is sending a man’s gift to women and AMEX should do better. That’s it.

  3. Cancel culture is getting to be too much. This is unisex look at their website. This person should get a job or a hobby.

  4. If she doesn’t want the wallet, she can give it to her husband that pays the bills.

  5. It’s a unisex wallet that’s pretty meh overall. Amazing that some people can make a huge deal over absolutely nothing. Obviously, this woman can make even little things into a pain in the a**.

    We have too many whiners in today’s world and they get far too much attention.

    As a PS, WTF is with the “white men” comment regarding this wallet? Totally unnecessary. Who’s writing this, Patrice Khan-Cullors (from her $1.4MM bunker)?

  6. Tom Ford’s site describes it as a “Grained Leather Classic Cardholder” and it’s listed as a men’s accessory for a mere $340. The ladies cardholder has a zipped pouch and will set you back $490.

  7. Person who can spend $7,500 on initiation fee got her feelings hurt? Would she like some cheese with her whine?

  8. Is she spends enough money to qualify/get a black card, she probably already has a designer branded leather wallet.
    Most people regift these welcome gifts or sell them on eBay.

  9. Oh come on. I know there are a lot of complaints about the hyper-sensitive “snowflakes” these days, but could anybody be _this_ petty and thin-skinned because a gift will go unused? Nah.

    What probably happened is this lady signed for a Centurion Card, and for $7500 she was determined to find some way to name-drop Centurion. Here is her opening: “Look at this allegedly masculine accessory that American Express sent me when I {wink, wink} signed up for their $7500 charge card.” It’s a great conversation starter.

  10. We apologize for our insensitivity. In the future, cardholders who identify as female will receive a deluxe leather-bound edition of the Departures Magazine Guide to Sandwich Preparation.

  11. OMG – when is there finally going to be backlash against all these oversensitive people instead of treating their ‘stories’ like they actually carry any weight? My only hope is we quickly reach a point where the ‘oh no! the world is so sorry for you and feels you pain’ turn to ‘get over yourself looser, nobody cares about your life or your pathetic quest for 15 minutes’. #overshare #nobodycares

  12. It’s a unisex card holder – why legitimize these kinds of complaints by publishing them

  13. Wow. Thanks to all you men for explaining how a woman should feel and that she should “stop whining”. Lord have mercy y’all need to take some basic sensitivity training and stop trying to say there isn’t a problem because you haven’t seen it or don’t think it’s important because it doesn’t effect you. First, women don’t get in business don’t get treated the same and haven’t ever been treated the same. Full stop. So yeah, there is an overall sexism problem in the world re this issue and so we women notice when things aren’t right, and yes maybe this isn’t a HUGE deal in the life or death sort of realm, but it is one more thing on the sh*tpile of sexism we deal with.

    That aside, this also isn’t cancel culture (which btw seems like it gets whined about the most, if you want to talk whining, by white men who like the status quo) it’s mostly about spending a crap ton of money on a card and not getting something unique as a welcome gift. It’s a lame card holder that while supposedly unisex is not something most women would use. How hard is it to find out a tiny bit about your customer and try to gift accordingly? I’ve seen amenity kits designed with more thought in business class.

  14. Thanks @ Lara S thanks for participating. Wow, are now all more sensitive as a result.

    My wife uses a cardholder. Hers is a Coach version since she didn’t get this Tom Ford version as a welcome gift but it’s the same thing basically. All that being said I think it’s a nice welcome gift.

  15. That isn’t a man’s wallet, it’s a card holder. My wife uses one like it. The lady recipient is either incredibly dumb or simply eager to be offended at every turn.

  16. Wife and I both Centurion card holders who received exact same card holder – both love it.

  17. It’s generous of all the old, dat white men to tell the women how to feel. Jesus, gfy.

  18. The critics on this page miss the point, just like the Amex marketing team missed the mark. It should not be too difficult to find a welcome gift that would be useful and appreciated. It seems to me that in order to get a Black Card, one must provide enough personal information from which the marketers can figure out something to send that would wow their individual customer who just spent so much money. At this level, a one size fits all gift does not impress and if they can’t impress, they’ve missed the mark.

  19. +1 Gene! Perhaps a gold-plated Pet Rock would be an appropriate Welcome Gift for such persons of any sex/ gender who have more money than brains!

  20. First off, we’re talking about a premium product. It should be EXPECTED that the customer nitpick about minutiae rather than brush it off, BECAUSE it’s a premium product. It’s precisely why blogs like this one dissect airlines’ premium cabin amenities rather than dismissing the issues that come up as first world problems.

    The argument of “my wife uses something similar so it must be unisex” is false logic. Perhaps it’s less evident or less important regarding a basic leather card holder, but there’s a deeper story that’s being ignored here.

    This isn’t about what the gift is. It’s about institutionalized and systemic bias. Large swaths of society are engineered for men. It’s the template on how we define “average adult.” This ranges from one-size-fits-all dosing in over the counter pharmaceuticals to the fact that unisex t-shirts default toward men’s styles. There’s never a situation where a company handing out promotional t-shirts would expect to distribute a Women’s XL to a man versus a Men’s S to a woman. Instead, the Men’s sizes would be branded “unisex.” This doesn’t actually make them unisex.

    The fact is, we as a society largely segregate many consumer product segments into “unisex versus feminine” rather than “unisex versus masculine.” As a result, for many things, in the absence of a feminine equivalent, the default is the masculine version. We’ve built up social constructs where women driving “hypermasculine” cars are acceptable while men driving “hyperfeminine” cars are shameful. Hypermasculine cars have instead become “unisex.”

    This isn’t about cancelling something. This isn’t about complaining. It’s about recognizing that the above described paradigm is what’s in place. It’s about recognizing that it’s okay to challenge whether that paradigm is the best way of doing something and whether it’s the best for our society.

    That being said, fashion and fashion accessories (such as card holders) are one of the few market segments where there are ample opportunities to find equivalent products that originated for women, rather than them being added on as an afterthought. If Amex is going to choose to supply a welcome amenity in this category, maybe put a little more thought into it.

    Let’s ignore all that, however.

    At its very core here, we have a situation where a premium product that’s meant to deliver a personalized experience has failed to live up to its marketing. The fact that so many of these welcome gifts end up on eBay only reinforces the failure. The gift is basic. That’s the theme of the story.

  21. ‘It’s her life, her card. Many American Express Centurion cardholders fill their “Tom Ford” combo wallet/small business card holder with cash to pay for their purchases at merchants that refuse to welcome the American Express Card. AMEX cardholders have discovered they can “do more” with cash. Sometimes, AMEX membership has no privileges. Are you a card member? What’s in your wallet?

  22. @Matt Gaetz her “Wife ” pays the bill maybe?

    @dblbla what school of marketing did you go to that you learn that? Sure was not the one Amex Blackcard workers went to.

    These so called “men” would love to receive a Leather Tampon Carrying Case and they would NEVER be offended by it, because they if they can not use it they can give it to their wife, mom or daughter .

  23. @Danielle your racially tinged remarks have no place on here. Otherwise I’d suggest you go have a slice of watermelon, a piece of fried chicken, a bottle of malt liquor and just calm down.

  24. So, I’m paying $12.5K for this card. Amex then sends this little, LITTLE piece of leather with a name on it. AND, that is supposed to be impressive? I would be screaming more about the insult of sending something so CHEAP! Was that Tom Ford card case, some kind of clearance item at the Tom Ford outlet?

    For that $7500 initiation fee, I want a real wallet!!! It should be Louis Vuitton, Mont Blanc, or at the very least Tumi.

  25. @Danielle

    White men are responsible for nearly every technological innovation in history from electricity to medicine to the telephone to trains/planes/automobiles to landing on the moon. Be thankful white men invented modern construction and you don’t live in a mud hut or teepee.

    Gary is right. Not all people with these cards are old white men. A disproportionate amount are probably Jewish men (3% of the population with 70% of the wealth).

    I don’t have a problem with her issue. It is a unisex design but I see how some women don’t need this if they have pocketbooks with card slots already. No need for the accusatory connotations, however. She’s the idiot who paid $ 15,000 in fees for the card.

  26. Paging AMEX RAT Team – what about gifts for the nonbinary folk who want the Black Card but are now dutifully offended. And did you finally approve the application from Patrisse Cullors? Black Cards Matter!

  27. As usual, Jackson Waterston proves he lacks any form of knowledge about the contribution of those other than white males to the world.
    Just fyi. Trajectories for NASA flights were calculated by a woman.

  28. Creative thinking to me would have been for her to keep the wallet and give it away to a male as a either a birthday present, or for Christmas. Since her issue was not the 15k per year fee. Improvising is one of our greatest weapons, if one is selfless and creative enough to do so. Personally American Express you may have to help guide you’re customers a bit in the future as to what they may do with products, even services that one may grumble about. Contact me sometime, I grew up poor and can make a whole lot of something out of nothing. Oh yeah, I am also an artist and I have fantastic designs that will go great with you’re credit cards. Designs not available online, only through personal email request.

  29. Yikes. Yeah, I think a lot of the comments are missing the point. How difficult would it be for Amex to do a little research into what different members want? She’s the freakin customer! If she’s unhappy after shelling out $12,500 for a product, this is a problem. Period. A woman who has clawed her way up the ranks doesn’t need a wallet. Or a cardholder. Or a pocketbook. So the marketing department needs to figure out what token will generate warm fuzzies. Obviously I must be from a different generation, because all the women in my life use cellphone holder/ wallet combos, same as the men.

  30. To help maximize the benefit of her AMEX Centurion card, I suggest she consider using the $1,000 Centurion card Saks Fifth Avenue yearly rebate to buy a new pocketbook worth $100 but sold through Saks for $995.

  31. Typical feminist attains the Big Boys Club and is insulted to be treated the same as the other Big Boys.

  32. @BigTee, typical fragile male scared that the status quo white male standard isn’t going to cut it any more now that women have power too.

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