The Other Shoe Drops on American Express Centurion: New $5000 Annual Fee

Earlier today I wrote about new benefits for the American Express Centurion Card, also known as the Black Card. They need to offer strong benefits for a product with a $7500 initiation fee and that has had a $2500 annual fee.

Most of what’s new strikes me as fluff. Membership with the Private Suite terminal at LAX isn’t even the cheapest way to use that service. Equinox and CLEAR memberships have non-zero value but don’t seem game changers.

I found it especially valuable, though, that Black Card cardmembers would receive a $1000 annual credit with Saks. That’s real money for real goods.

However it doesn’t come close to making up for the other changes happening to the card, especially a new $5000 annual fee.

The Centurion Card will have a new annual fee of $5,000. The fee will not change until your renewal date, on or after April 1, 2020, but you can start enjoying new benefits now. Your newly designed titanium Centurion Card will be delivered in the next few weeks.

As with other American Express cards, the Black Card is losing Boingo Preferred internet access January 1st. That’s not surprising.

However the Centurion Card also will no longer receive an airline fee credit. So a $2500 higher fee, no more $200 airline credit, but $1000 giveback via Saks. That takes an already questionable value proposition for the high price of the product and makes it worse.

My advice: drop the Black card and get most of the benefits with Platinum. The major losses would be Hertz Platinum, Delta Platinum, and Hilton Diamond (versus Gold). Though in practice, at least until Hilton starts a suite upgrade benefit for Diamonds, Gold to me is the sweet spot in that program anyway.

Thanks to several readers who forwarded notice of these changes from 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. As a card holder, I hold it and keep it for 1 benefit, and 1 benefit only.

    50% Amext Travel Redemption!

  2. With a corporate discount Equinox destination membership is $290/month or $3480/year (plus tax). If you otherwise would sign up for one that’s a lot of value from this new benefit. Plus $1,000 at Saks. With those two benefits you’re not so far from making up the annual fee. Obviously depends on whether you would otherwise spend that much at Equinox and Saks or how much you value those perks. But the face value is a lot for people who use those things.

  3. That takes an already questionable value proposition

    You thought there was a potential value proposition here?

  4. It really stinks because I have a Centurion card and had moved a lot of our corporate spending onto it. Our main reason was the 50% points back when booking airline tickets using points. We don’t live in LA, we don’t shop at Saks and we don’t use Equinox nor do we want to. So for us, this is going to cost us an extra $2500 per year plus the loss of $200 airline credits and Gogo. We want to cancel the card badly but are worried about the reduction in points back when we do.

    Seems like they will likely lose a large portion of their members as this fee and reduction in benefits kicks in.

  5. @Utahshane – you’d have to redeem a truly enormous number of points for the incremental value towards paid tickets to cover the annual fee

  6. @garyleff – breakeven between a “capped” 1.54cpp vs. “unlimited” 2cpp isn’t that insane with $5K renewal each year (yes, better for $2,500). But as someone that redeems 8 digits of MR each year on Amex travel, it’s an absolute no brainer.

  7. Do you have a referral link to apply? #ThisIsSupposedToBeFunny #ILoveYourBlog #YouDon’tPushCardReferrals

  8. I’m hearing that many users are getting grandfathered in at their old/current annual rate. 🙂

  9. Thanks, Gary,

    I have till June before my renewal, I called and complained yesterday. They tried to tell me about all of the additional benefits they are going to add to the card. My response was an increase of double was not acceptable. None of the new features have value to me; many of the benefits are on other cards as well.

    The response was again; we are adding more benefits, such as one number to call with all services — no need to call a different department for travel or concierge benefits. Again, I only call the travel group if the web site is not working, and I am more resourceful than the concierge using the Internet. I know I am not unique in this, and they push you to use the web site for travel anyway. Unless they add something like Star Alliance Gold and American Platinum, if they go forward with this, I am out at the end of my renewal. I spend at least 275K a year with Amex. They won’t lose all of it with this increase; some will remain with my platinum card unless they mess that one up, they will lose a significant amount. American Express, are you listening?

  10. If one could do a psychological profile of Black Card holders you would likely find a bunch of insecure, status-seeking, social climbing failures craving acceptance in society.

    That list would be marketable for a lot of money to psychiatrists!

  11. Gary,

    Notice you conveniently left off the included Equinox benefit which is valued (by OMAAT) at $3600 a year. Also, there are many perks, special promotions and individual support you don’t get with the Platinum card. One other benefit is being able to gift someone a Platinum card with no annual fee so that is worth $550 right there.

    I don’t have a black card but know people that do. Most of them frankly aren’t chasing points or worrying that they aren’t maximizing their spend. They have the black card for both prestige and also the benefits outside of points or other reimbursement. Also, frankly THEY CAN AFFORD IT. Most of the people I know with the card rarely use points for anything but just pay for premium cabins (or usually flying private) along with top hotels and restaurants.

    I really don’t think you are in a position to question the “value” of the card as it really isn’t comparable to anything else you cover. As for the annual fee and if it is “worth it”, like many luxuries if you have to ask you likely can’t afford it anyway to move along.

  12. Hello I would like to address the change in ceturian lounge policy. NOT allowing platinum. Members to use the lounge upon arrival unless the have confirmed travel same day we pay 550 per year and this new rule should be dropped back to allow ing arrival use without having to produce a confirmed same day. Boarding pass

  13. @l3. Nice comments and you don’t know what you are talking about. I have the card because of the benefits. The Hertz Platinum status alone has been worth it. Using the first-class lounge in Munich and Frankfurt has been wonderful, I have used this benefit at least ten times. I review the card every year for its value and decide if I should keep it. doubling to 5K per year is not worth it unless there are significant benefits added that mean something. to me. Also when I acquired the card there was no admission fee. I am hoping they grandfather the price for legacy members.

  14. @Leonard: So it is worth $7,500 initiation and $2,500 per year for Hertz Platinum status? Hertz Platinum only cost $1500/year as a retail part when they sold it.

    But maybe you are right that there is a second category of people who pay for the card (in addition to the insecure) – those who can’t do math.

  15. @ L3. In my opinion the answer is not worth it. When i i was invited there was no preliminary fee. The annual cost was $1,500. I had star alliance Gold with US Airways (used frequently) Deltas highest status, (rarely used due to poor points value) . I had Avis president status, now use Hertz platinum. Hilton Diamond status among a few others. I have seen the cost go up and the benefits go down. One other benefit i recently took advantage age of with Centurian you can have three personal platinum cards for $ I had these on my business platinum at $300 each. Saving $625 now. . Still an increase to $5,000 is the tipping point. Maybe that is what they want, thin the members and the teams supporting us. I think it is short sighted, i have significant spend on other Amex cards which will be reduced. They also claim they are going to make a change so the same person you speak with will be able to handle travel, concierge and account maintenance None of these changes gave any interest to me. I will be sad to ket the card go, I can not justify the new cost. I have till June

  16. The black card is meant for people who spend a lot on travel, and for that, it’s great. We save more than the annual fee on the “confirmed upgrade at the time of booking” on hotels; we would book a higher-than-basic room class anyway and the upgrade cost can be material, particularly at an Aman resort. This alone more than pays for the annual fee for us.

    Given that we live in a city with several Equinox clubs and were just about to join, that is icing on the cake.

  17. Its worth 10,000 a year with their Black customer service 😉
    You can wait on hold for 20 minutes and hear annoying beeps in the background as they say you may be recorded make that will!!!
    Tore up my Platinum card after earning way to many miles, and experiencing crowded lounges and horrible customer service
    I am tired of the Amex scams cons etc.
    Have more miles now then I know what to do with many millions which by today’s greedy airlines will let me redeem for 2 round trip tickets on delta 😉
    American Express was great for decades they are criminals to me now and predatory
    They went from being the best to a screw the customer model at all costs
    .I do all my business with Chase & Citibank
    IMO the new CEO has ruined American Express and made it a hostile business culture
    The downward spiral started when they closed down phone lines to their escalated liaisons/consumer affairs phone lines
    Did I mention their clueless overseas call centers suck?
    I’m also moving towards cash back cards

  18. @dwondermeant: Had the same experience with their lounges, and with their offshore call centres that don’t speak clear English. They charge you a large fee and then fail to deliver the product.

    One point: The decline set in under Chenault (the previous CEO). The current clown is just the continuation candidate.

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