The Truth About the American Express Centurion Card (“Black Card”): Almost Useless

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The Points Guy paid $10,000 to become an American Express Centurion card cardmember.

  • $7500 one-time initiation fee
  • $2500 annual fee

There is no signup bonus.

It takes around $250,000 – $350,000 in spend in a year across American Express products to be able to request an invitation to the Centurion card ($500,000+ to request a Business Centurion card).

And the card is basically just an American Express Platinum card with a few add-on benefits.

Here are demographics of Platinum and centurion cardholders.

Like the Platinum card, Centurion cardmembers receive:

  • Lounge access. Both Platinum and Centurion members get access to Delta lounges (when flying Delta same day, but no free guests); Centurion lounge access (Centurion members get better champagne than Platinum members and reserved tables); Priority Pass Select.
  • Starwood status. Both Platinum and Centurion members receive Gold status.
  • Hilton status. Platinum members receive Gold status, Centurion members Diamond, but there’s not much of a material difference in published benefits between the two status levels.
  • Fine Hotels & Resorts bookings. Luxury hotel reservations with throw-ins like breakfast, upgrades, and late checkout. Centurion members generally get an extra throw-in benefit.

Unique Centurion elite status benefits are:

Both card products get an airline fee credit, Global Entry application fee reimbursement, and concierge services. The Centurion concierge can be a designated person, rather than luck of the draw with Platinum, but it’s the same company and not a true high end concierge service (and is often considered to lag mid-tier services like Bluefish).

With the personal (but not business) Black Card you may receive luxury gifts — such as gift cards for luxury retailers who want to introduce themselves to you.

Ultimately you’re paying $7500 upfront plus an incremental $2000 a year over the Platinum Card for Delta Platinum elite status. That won’t be close to worth it for most people — save the money, use some of it for paid domestic first class (your upgrade percentage is higher that way anyway), if you must.

With the Centurion card you used to get:

  • Starwood Platinum
  • Hyatt Diamond
  • US Airways Platinum

Now 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’

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’m sure the Black card is great for the diva crowd, but $10K for “LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME” is beyond stupid.

  2. That is extremely poor value. At least it confirms my thoughts that these are held by self-important narcissists who are trying to over-compensate for other deficiencies.

  3. Gary, what’s up with you and TPG getting the Black Card when both of your sites have basically called it a terrible value? Appears your website is getting to your ego.

  4. Gary – great summary of the differences of the card. It seems to me, If someone drops $10k for a slightly jumped up AMEX Plat, maybe they should reconsider their priorities… Of course, to the same point, I would imagine, the AMEX Black card would’ve held more sway back when AMEX was doing better as a company, when for all intents and purposes, the target AMEX demographic was high income individuals and businesses, vs. the diversification into pre-paids.

  5. Breaking news: water is wet and people have sex in hotels.

    Still waiting to see some “though leadership”

  6. Of course the Centurion is poor value. The readers of this blog who chase miles and points are NOT the target audience. People who can qualify for the Centurion don’t give a shit about $2k a year. People who can drop that kind of money and not give a damn are the target demographic.

  7. You forgot the benefit that they get slightly above average (debatable) booze and reserved tables in the Centurion lounges! Surely that’s where the value is.

  8. ask my buddy the “chicken cup” buyer if his centurion card is too expensive.

    those who hold the card dont really complain about the price of membership.

    it is like cars… is a ferrari or lambo really worth it? you can say it is a blingy GTR… goes just as fast, does the same thing…. so why pay more for a lambo? simple: coz i can afford it. and i aint complaining!

    if you have to wonder/complain/hate then the card ISNT FOR YOU


  9. You left out that it used to have Continental Gold status, Virgin Atlantic Gold, Hilton HHonors Diamond, Relais & Chateau 5C, Sony Cierge, and free nights at Mandarin Oriental.

    I do not regret downgrading 2 years ago, despite them promising “new benefits are coming soon” (which they have not).

    Some things you left out that they do still have over Platinum: Some confirmed upgrades at reservation time vs check-in time, up to 3 years extended warranty instead of a cap at 2, top shelf liquor and special reserved seating at Centurion Lounges, Avis Presidents Club, Hertz Platinum

  10. TPG does not fit the design target, as Centurion isn’t designed for the “massive douche bag” demographic. UHNW people could care less about the benefits and the fees, if they want the card, they’ll have the card. Most just want to impress their friends and co-workers. The vain, the narcissistic, and the insecure. Then you have the bottom feeders of the cards in force, the ones who extract every single dollar out of that annual fee (calling the concierge multiple times/day, frequent lounge access…which is remitted back to the lounge provider as revenue, etc) but don’t spend enough to sustain profitability for Amex.

  11. @Gary, my apologies. I thought you had a black card. Keep up the good work. Glad to know you aren’t pretentious like some other sites.

  12. “TPG paid 10K to become an American Express Centurion card member.”

    Gee, is that a surprise to anyone?

  13. > there are other better value cards whose design makes an impression when thrown down.

    Yeah the Palladium mades a better impression when throw down, but people have heard of the “black card”. It doesn’t have the same recognition level as a Centurion. Same are there are plenty of exotic cars that are out there, but pretty much everyone knows what a Ferrari is.

    But yes, you are right, there are other better value cards whose design makes an impression when thrown down, if you are in the know.

    > Glad to know you aren’t pretentious like some other sites.

    It is really pretentious to want/have a Centurion if you have the means? There is such a high requirement to get one, I don’t think there people are taking out a 2nd mortgage to get one. TPG long ago sold his blog and is obviously making a ton of money and living the life. If he can afford to drop full price on Etihad Residence, I would hardly call him pretentious.

  14. couldnt agree more. got mine (for free) as a local on thethe NY Merc Exch about 15 years ago. go through a kabuki every year about them trying to charge me, my telling them to close the card, and amex extending free for one year. their Fine Hotels is also pretty useless. “maybe jurmiha rome will upgrade you from 600 euro junior suite to 750 suite under amex free program, or travelocity will book the suite guaranteed for 625.

  15. German Centurion customers currently get Emirates Gold status which replaced the Cathay Diamond status. Additionally PriorityPass status which I believe is not part of the US package.
    Annual fee is EUR 2000. No idea what the initiation fee is now.

    On top of that AMEX sends out free hotel vouchers twice a year from various hotel chains. Peninsula and Shangri-La were included last year.

    Emirates Gold, Hilton Diamond and the hotel vouchers is a pretty good deal for the EUR2000 fee.
    Of course the USD7500 initiation is nuts. Thats just wallet jewelery in this case.

  16. @Rambuster in fact Priority Pass Select does come with the US Centurion (and Platinum). And Priority Pass Select is now the same as priority pass, since United Clubs pulled out of Priority Pass a year ago.

  17. I will say this (and it’s true about any of the “prestige” cards, actually)…having a card like this can make you stand out in ways that you might not want to.

    When you whip out a Centurion card, you’re telling the person you’re handing it to that you have money. Even if you’re not really able to afford the fees and spend, you’re in a better place financially than most of the service workers you’ll be handing the card to.

    Thanks to the role of the card in popular culture, even if these workers have no realistic chance of ever having one of these cards, many will know what they are and have an idea (if not actually based in fact) of what it takes to get one.

    What does that mean? It means that you’re now outed as a “rich person”. That means you’re a mark. It could result in being charged a higher price, having additional fees tacked on, etc, etc. Even if you’ve already conducted the transaction and are just paying a bill, you’ll be known for future visits.

    This may not be a deal killer for some people, but I know it is for others. Just my 2¢…

  18. Here is why the black card is still worth keeping…for me.

    Hertz Platinum. Normally a $1500 yearly fee if you can get it.

    What is gives you?

    Have you ever tried going to Hertz or any other rental company in a major metropolitan city, especially during a holiday? You will stand in line for at least an hour. If you tell them you have gold status they will tell you all the others in that line are gold also. As a Platinum you go right up to the front desk and announce yourself. Everything comes to a standstill and they immediately take care of you. Done in two minutes with a nicely upgraded rental that is better then gold.

    Or how about returning to the airport on a busy day with your family. Leave everything in the vehicle and someone will drop you off curbside terminal.

    Arriving – They meet you with the car in a special lot….you don’t ever go to the rental area.

    Plus the 4 hour return window (ok you can get this with gold) means I don’t need an extra day rental.

    For me, who has no car and rents often for pleasure with my family this is worth every penny. So $2500 minus $1500 means the black card is only a $1000 a year plus the few extra benefits left. I do miss the extra perks I had when I received this card many years ago during the introductory phase when it first came out. If they get rid of Hertz Platinum I’m done with this card.

    I rarely hand my black card to any merchant. I am not looking for any status recognition. And, for the record, I spend less then $22,000 a year on Amex charges.

  19. I appreciate the review Gary, thank you. I have the United Club card, which gives you Quasi-Gold UA status. I simply love that card I think it is extremely underrated, but I am also in a very unique demographic, home airport is JAC (very expensive), fly free most times on miles so no status, big spender so that 1.5x per $1 is very meaningful to me.

    I’ve considered trying to get the Centurian several times. The Delta status would be a big deal. Too bad Delta’s SkyPesos are worthless. To someone like me that could be worth $1,000/year. If they had 2-3 other decent statuses with it I would go for it. But as you stated the hotel statuses it comes with are worthless, or can be procured for a much small annual fee with their CC. Absorb the upfront fee as a loss then $2,500 after that makes sense.

  20. Not sure why consumers want to pay a credit card company $450 per annum just to hold their card. The credit card company should be paying us for carrying and using their card because they charge the merchant between 1.%% to 4.5% overtime we use it. So what if it’s a black card, at the end of the day, you still have to pay for whatever you charge on it. Nothing is free….

  21. I will take my JPM Palladium card any day over an AMEX product. No up front fee, more comprehensive travel & evacuation insurance, no limit on the # of guests I can bring to United Club or Priority Pass lounges, and the annual fee is partially comp’d by my JPM banker. And just as much bling factor as the black card, if not more. [To that end, as Gary likes to point out, it’s the card used by the President]

  22. I had the Centurion card for 4 or 5 years back before there was an initiation fee. I only kept it as long as I determined it was a value.

    Back then there were more perks (including for awhile SPG Platinum status) In addition to the Elite status upgrades they were constantly sending gifts- $500-$2000 gift certificates at upscale stores, cameras, free nights at resorts etc. I kept a spreadsheet and kept the card as long as my benefits exceeded $2500/year. In 2012 I concluded that the value just wasn’t there for me and I downgraded to platinum. I’ve never missed it.

  23. Just more proof that TPG has more money than sense. $30k for The Residence. $10k for a friggin credit card. Because that’s who his audience is… Idiot.

  24. @Gary

    We all need to visit the toilet some time during the day. And what can I say, Gary? Your titles bait me really good. No one baits me better than you.

    I don’t read though, I skim. There’s a touch of condescension in your writing that makes me cringe so much. You’re a blogger, my man. Stop trying to write like a Supreme Court justice. If you were as smart as you try to make yourself out to be, you’d have chosen a different profession.

    Anyway keep pumping out articles for me to dump on while I take dumps!


  25. Wow – just so such much misinformation, ignorance and presumption and status envy here!

    I held the Australian version of the card for about 18 months…so here is one data point to help the prejudiced swing towards some fact.

    Membership was by invitation. I am not rich. I hadn’t spent anywhere near the supposed spending requirements quoted – but I had put through maybe $25,000 in one month on my Platinum charge card to pay up front for 6 months in a serviced apartment in Sydney for work when you used to get 10 points per dollar on through Amex.

    The joining fee was waivered and the annual fee at that time was around AUD2,000 more than the Platinum Charge Card.

    The card provided a suite of top tier hotel memberships, which at that time would have been impracticable for me to obtain without spending additional $10,000s on hotel rooms over and above my existing travel pattern (staying mainly in cheaper serviced apartments for around 165 years per year for my business) and was well worth the additional money for my travel situation.

    However….the wheels did come off and I downgraded back to Platinum after about 18 months….why was that:

    1. The local Australian customer service team dedicated to Centurion were close to useless, in fact worse than the folk employed to cater for regular Platinum cardholders (for example they supposedly provided a dedicated contact person, but in practice that person didn’t seem to realise that role or be competent)
    2. There was several bad errors in the management of the account, including being charged the annual fee twice and it taking weeks to refund
    3. Amex counted the time they sent out the card as the start of the annual fee, not from when you activated or first used the card meaning I was paying $100s for a month of annual fee before I had even activated the card (obviously I challenged that one and eventually won the day and got a refund)
    4. The travel services were operating at a level of knowledge and value far below that of a reasonably informed frequent flyer = useless
    5. The benefit set was worse than that for cards issued in other counties such as the USA and yet was more expensive

    The upside as that I had so many issues that I creamed a substantial compensation in MR points – the value of these points (in terms of a purchase from Amex) exceeded the additional annual fees paid over the Platinum card so the card didn’t end up costing me a net loss – I broke even.

    The final straw was a >40% rise in the annual fee – that’s when I told them to revert the card to Platinum and that their Centurion card was a heap of SH-T!

    I could argue the case against those fools herein who are determined to equate holding a Centurion card with stupid rich folk – but I have better things to do (like walk the dog before the next tropical rain shower).

  26. Sounds like you’re butter you didn’t get into the cool kids club, Gary…

    Although the incremental benefits have diminished over the years Centurion still gets great gifts and concierge services. And you leave out that many people who carry the card got invited years ago, and pay a substantially lower annual fee.

  27. @David this isn’t my profession. Not even sure what it would mean to write like a Supreme Court justice. I’m just glad you’re not constipated.

  28. @Gary Leff

    Yep – I agree with your synopsis, the card is useless! My aslant was aimed at some respondents not the article!

  29. Gary —

    I think you’re looking at the published card benefits, and not the additional benefits (above and beyond what the Platinum concierge provides)

    I’ve never had one of these cards, but I’ve worked closely (and traveled with) senior corporate execs or very senior management consultants who have. A few things to note:
    1) Nobody I know who has had the card has ever paid the annual or initiation fees. Granted, these are people putting close to $400,000-$1M a year on their American Express accounts.
    2) The “question” limit is significantly higher on the Centurion than on the Platinum, and certain limits are waived. Someone I worked with buys his new (annual) BMW M3 on his Centurion card every year. With the Platinum card there were all sorts of hassles (like calling Amex, verifying, dealership having to do things, etc.) but with the Centurion he just goes in, swipes, walks out.
    3) The Centurion concierge (and I hope this hasn’t changed, but maybe it has?) is amazing for solving problems. I was traveling with someone very senior to me who had a Centurion card when we had some travel delays due to a mechanical issue that could have resulted in a missed international connection, after his assistant had left for the day. After a 30 second phone call, Centurion concierge got us on a flight into an airport across town (SJC instead of SFO), booked a car service, fixed our first reservation (made through Amex travel), and then proactively booked us on a different flight the next morning on a different airline in case traffic caused us to miss the new connection. These are all things we could have done ourselves, but it was like a combination of SPG Ambassador and the top-tier status desk at every airline. Admittedly, it only makes a ton of sense as a benefit if you’re in the “get this done, I don’t care what it costs” customer segment — which is Amex’s target market with the Black card anyway.

    The target market for the Centurion card, independent of the fees, is the business owner, executive, lawyer, consulting firm partner, etc. earning $5-10M+ dollars annually and with literally millions of dollars in disposable income.

  30. @Gary

    Greek yogurt is my secret! Probiotics are super underrated IMO. I usually get the plain ones and add a spoonful of honey. Daily exercise is really important too. Trouble is, you end up going several times a day.

    Blogging isn’t your profession? That’s a relief, though I hope it’s an occupation that calls upon your rare talent for writing headlines. I’m dead serious, Gary. I respect your ability to hustle clicks from people. You don’t owe these people anything. Money is king!

    When are you advertising the Chase Sapphire Preferred again? I haven’t seen it this week. It’s about time, no?

  31. @Gary

    You are missing some key benefits, one of which is Hertz Platinum (which retails for $2k+) and is an amazing status if you rent cars frequently.

    The other one is the extended warranty up to 3 years instead of the standard 1. If you buy expensive equipment that comes with 2-3 year standard warranties this can be a very valuable add on.

    Finally, the unpublished events can in fact be once in a lifetime that are made available to Centurion.

    I agree the card has been devalued, but it is still worth it for some (including me).

  32. Missing the point here Gary; as several people have mentioned, the benefits of the card lie beyond those that are published. I had been a Platinum card holder for many years and was recently invited to upgrade. My experience since then has been universally positive. My assigned concierge is fantastic, great for advice and extracts maximum value when making travel bookings. For example, complimentary return limo transfers from the airport (NRT) to the MO in Tokyo on a recent trip. Similar complimentary RR transfers from the airport to the Peninsula in Shanghai, a few months ago. Daily, free bottles of champagne delivered to my room (NV Mumm, but who’s complaining!) at the Crown Towers in Melbourne. Easy restaurant bookings for places that have waiting lists running to many months, often with freebies thrown in. That’s not to mention all the smaller things I’ve had arranged for me, like delivery of presents, flowers, etc.

    It’s not really a card for people trying to extract maximum value from the fee; it just gives you access to a level of service that you may not otherwise get, without being in the league that have their own entourage and staff to do this sort of thing for them! Think of it as a stepping stone to billionaire level!


  34. Amex in general is in decline … Poor management ….. Ken Chenault is the Ceo he has managed to tank the companies stock . There rewards program suks … They claim they have travel services which wind up being twice cost of what you get on Expedia 450000 points won’t get me 1 first class ticket to Hawaii

  35. I’ve had the card for about a year . The assigned representative cannot do anything above and beyond what a basic google search can give. “The List” on the Centurion website is way outdated and inaccurate : case in point; it has both restaurant Bartolotta and Tapas by Stratta in Vegas on there and both closed well over a year ago. I have tried to use the card’s concierge to book hotel and restaurant reservations at “sold out” locations to no avail. Only to have better luck calling the hotel or restaurant directly and getting a spot. I’ve tried to use the travel assistant to book airline tickets only to find that by doing a little search myself, I can find better, cheaper routes. This is all true and not an exaggeration. I do stay in a lot of hotels and the Ritz Carlton Rewards card by Chase, now that they combined reward level( I’m platinum), with SPG gets more at the hotels I tend to frequent than the AMEX FHR and Centurion card get . I honestly wish I didn’t upgrade the platinum card. Also, the Hertz platinum upgrade is not automatic I’m still trying to figure out how to get it. Apparently, I need to apply through Hertz directly . You are paying for a status symbol not access. Finally, I haven’t received any free gifts, certificates or for that matter anything from other companies either through having the card.

  36. George –

    I have had this card since introduction and at this point I would agree with everything you have said. Perks have dried up, travel assistants useless, airline participants dwindled down to almost nothing, getting seats in sold out locations, forgetaboutit.

    In the beginning it was great but now the card is useless. If it wasn’t for the Hertz Platinum level I would have downgraded by now to Platinum. This is the only thing worth having to me. Signing up is straightforward. Click the enrollment button on Amex site, link provided, and fill out form then send to Hertz.

    Hopefully, this card will see improvements within the next year. Otherwise, I may just pay for Platinum and be done with Centurion.

  37. I see that many of the commentators do not have to card as information is false. I have had it for ten years. I have been in the demographic where this card is beneficial. I was invited propably because of high spending and then 8 digit net worth.. It has helped me in many situations and i am satisfied. If you pay for groceries with your credit card, this card has no value at all, if you move around with other wealthy and travel it is well worth the annual fee.

  38. As a 10 year Centurion card holder: Not sure if it has been mentioned above, but the main perk of the Centurion card over Platinum is that you get unlimited BOGO on business and first class international tickets. Even one use per year covers the annual cost multiple times over.

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