Want to feel really exclusive? How about when a credit card company actually invites you to apply for one of its cards!? We are talking about a private invitation instead of those endless promotions hawking cards in airports, on board airplanes, and in countless magazines and television commercials.
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That’s exactly the way it works for the American Express Centurion card. Known by many just as the “black” card, this is one of those heavy wallet fillers that comes with loads of cache (although its owners often have lots of cash-ay, if you know what we mean!). There are some great travel-related benefits, but one of the gems of the card is the concierge service available at any hour.
Can I sign up?
Not exactly. It is not open for anyone to apply on a whim. Members are invited based upon high spending patterns, although the details are kept quite secretive by American Express. There are both personal and business versions of this card, but lest you think you qualify as a high spender, we are talking about spending the likes of half a million dollars on one card, for example.
While it has a hefty membership fee of $2,500, it comes with loads of juicy benefits. Those benefits are only accessible once someone pays the initiation fee of $5,000 the first year.
Why could it be worth it?
With such expensive membership fees and exclusivity in who can have the card, there must be some benefits that make it worth it. And there are.
Like other American Express cards, there are no foreign transaction fees, and each dollar spent earns one Membership Rewards point. Access to the Fine Hotels and Resorts program comes with great benefits like free breakfast, room upgrades, and late checkout for those that book through an American Express travel agent. Centurion Club membership to airport lounges is another nice goodie although the location list is quite skimpy with only a handful of clubs.
Priority Pass Select membership to nearly 600 airport lounges worldwide, an annual $200 airline spending credit, Global Entry fee waivers, and “buy one get one free” premium cabin tickets (at full fare) are all included in the offering. But, that’s not so special on its own, which is why for frequent travelers, the added benefits certainly can be.
All of these extras are nice perks, but a dedicated concierge team is always available to maximize both travel and at-home experiences where one would presumably use this card. There is a dedicated team of travel agents that is accustomed to the types of requests made by big spenders.
Want to rent a villa in Tuscany and plan a cooking class for friends? No problem. Need to request a specific slope view on your next ski vacation? These Amex angels are trained to make it happen. It may not come cheap, but those with this card may not be concerned with price anyway.
Elite status smorgasbord
Automatic upgrades to IHG Platinum, Hilton Diamond (the brand’s top-shelf level), and Starwood Gold are part and parcel of this card. The same goes for airline status with included Delta Platinum Medallion perks, which is typically earned by flying 75,000 miles and spending $9,000 with Delta and its partners.
Given such quick downgrades to Delta’s mileage program and elite status, getting the fast track to Platinum status is surely a nice offering.
To earn Hilton Diamond status, one must stay 60 nights at Hilton family properties or earn at least 120,000 base points in travel spend with the brand.
What’s more, the Centurion card comes with its own special hotel program designed for guests staying at elite brands that do not have their own type of loyalty program. Presumably, someone spending this much money must frequent hotels in the Aman, Belmond, and Peninsula portfolios (among others). They can enjoy benefits like noon check-in, free breakfast, and food and beverage credits as part of their room rate.
Unique benefits are part of the package
It’s not all about traditional status comps and bonuses. Centurion cardholders are extended a unique set of benefits like free Gogo inflight wireless access on any airline with Gogo services and on-the-ground access to any Boingo Wireless hot spot. Members can secure free travelers checks when traveling, and drivers can enjoy premium rental car insurance and roadside assistance if needed.
When it comes to redeeming the Membership Rewards points that come with spending on the card, American Express will return 30 percent of the points spent as a rebate to the account. Sideline goodies like car rental and baggage insurance, cruise upgrades and bonuses, and VIP access to events are nice additions for those that can use them.
American Express has secured a unique partnership with a wine purveyor giving members special access to purchase unique wines or even the opportunity to partake in special wine tours and tastings in Napa Valley and Tuscany, for example. Foodies will really benefit with this card because American Express has worked with nearly 1,000 restaurants to secure tables for its members at hard-to-reserve hot spots.
Big-time shoppers stand to gain
While travelers rake in strong benefits with the card, members are surely tagged as big spenders. So it comes as no surprise that some of the benefits are actually related to shopping.
The By Invitation Only program is designed to reward cardholders with access to unique opportunities like tickets to the Olympics or other major sporting events, musical concerts, and theater functions. Private shopping services are also on hand to assist busy members with recommendations for gifts or other purchases.
Customized shopping experiences, premium purchase protection and return benefits, and extended warranty levels are available to Black cardholders.
Should I feel left out?
Don’t feel bad if you don’t receive an offer to sign up for this nifty card. Its purpose is to give American Express a targeted path to its most important customers, and it does so by offering excellent bonuses. But, RewardExpert readers can access many of the same benefits by being savvy students of their travel spend. Read and learn from the expert advice shared here, and you can receive many of the same elite benefits by forking over only a tiny fraction of the spend that Centurion card members typically do.
Who’s the super smart traveler now?