Among credit cards, there is one card that stands apart from all others. The Centurion Card from American Express is by far the most expensive, and exclusive card offered in the United States. Yet it’s also perhaps the least understood as many of its features and benefits are kept secret. In fact, this card is not even offered to the general public, you have to be invited to apply. Let’s take a look at the history of this card, how to get it, and what it costs, as well as its numerous features and benefits. Then, you can determine if this card makes sense for your needs.
Here is what you are going to read about:
- The history of the American Express Centurion Card
- Applying for the American Express Centurion Card
- The costs
- Cardmember benefits
- Hotel benefits
- Air travel benefits
- Other travel benefits
- Elite rental car status
- Lifestyle benefits
- Bottom Line: Should you get this card?
The history of the American Express Centurion Card
American Express has been issuing charge cards since 1958, and it has been progressively offering premium products to its highest spending customers. In 1966, Amex introduced its Premier Rewards Gold card that was marketed above its iconic Green card. In 1984, it again introduced the Platinum card that was marketed above its existing products. The Platinum card was initially offered to by invitation to existing cardholders who had been American Express customers for at least two years who were high spenders with an excellent payment history. At the time, it had an annual fee of $250, yet today anyone can apply for the Platinum card, it offers an increasing variety of rewards and benefits, and its annual fee has grown to $450.
In 1999, American Express made its most dramatic move up-market by introducing the Centurion Card, named after the officers in the Roman army whose picture is a symbol of the American Express brand and often printed on the face of its cards. Some even claim that the creation of the card was inspired by persistent rumors and urban legends of an ultra secret black credit card that the super wealthy could use to purchase anything. Currently, the card is made of titanium with a black surface, consistent with its “black card” nickname.
Applying for the American Express Centurion Card
Unlike all other American Express cards, there is no publicly available application for the Centurion Card, and American Express doesn’t even offer a page on its web site to advertise the card and explain its features and benefits. What is known is that existing American Express customers with very high annual spending habits, high credit scores and immaculate repayment histories are invited to apply for the Centurion card.
There are also three types of American Express Centurion cards. There is a personal card, a business card, and a corporate card. And while no exact figures have been released, many observers estimate the threshold for receiving an invitation for the personal Centurion card is currently between $250,000 and $500,000 of annual spending, with business users needing to spend over $500,000 per year. Furthermore, the Centurion card is offered to residents in several dozen countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America.
As with any other credit card application, there are some techniques you could use to maximize the possibility of being approved for your Centurion Card application. First, make sure to pay off all outstanding balances with existing accounts, especially those from American Express. This includes not just the balance from your last statement, but all charges since your last statement closed, bringing your current balance to zero. And if you have balances on other credit cards, it can help to pay off the entire balance and then wait until after their statement periods ends, so that the zero balance is reported to the major consumer credit bureaus.
With its $450 annual fee, many credit card users would find the American Express Platinum card to be an expensive card, but the Centurion card’s costs are much higher. One of the few facts about this card that American Express makes public is its annual fee, since card issuers are required to disclose the basic terms and conditions of all of its products. Currently, new cardmembers must pay a $7,500 initiation fee as well as a $2,500 annual fee. Therefore, there is an initial cost of $10,000 to open a Centurion Card account as well as a $2,500 annual payment each year to continue to be a Centurion cardmember. And while many credit cards offer additional cards for authorized users at no cost, each additional Centurion Card added to an account will incur another $2,500 annual fee.
Other fees include a late payment fee and returned payment fee of $37. It’s also important to note that like many American Express cards, the Centurion Card is a charge card, not a credit card. This means that cardmembers are expected to pay each month’s statement balance in full and on-time. But like other American Express cards, it does offer Centurion cardmembers the option of enrolling in its Pay Over Time program, which can make the card work much like a credit card.
If you fail to pay over two billing periods in a row, and you are not enrolled in Pay Over Time, then the late fee will be $37 or 2.99% of the past due amount, whichever is greater. Thankfully, there are no foreign transaction fees imposed on charges that are processed outside of the United States.
The benefits offered to Centurion cardmembers are vast, but they appear to be based on the benefits offered to American Express Platinum cardholders, but with many enhancements.
The most basic benefit offered to Centurion cardmembers is rewards for spending, just as is offered by most other American Express credit and charge cards. For each dollar spent, cardholders receive one point in the Membership Rewards program.
American Express Membership Rewards points can be redeemed for approximately one cent each towards gift cards, merchandise, and as travel reservations booked directly through American Express Travel. Points can also be redeemed to pay for purchases. When booking airline travel trough American Express Travel, points are worth 1.3 cents each.
In addition, points can also be transferred to airline miles with 17 different frequent flyer programs, mostly on a 1:1 basis. Here are the current airline transfer partners including the transfer ratios:
|Airline Rewards||Membership Rewards Points|
|AeroMexico||1,000 Club Premier® Miles||1,000|
|Air Canada||1,000 Aeroplan® Miles||1,000|
|Air France & KLM||1,000 Flying Blue® Award Miles||1,000|
|Alitalia Airlines||1,000 MilleMiglia Miles||1,000|
|All Nippon Airways||1,000 ANA Mileage Club Miles||1,000|
|British Airways||1,000 Avios||1,000|
|Cathay Pacific Airways||1,000 Asia Miles||1,000|
|Delta Airlines||1,000 SkyMiles®||1,000|
|EL AL Israel Airlines||20 Matmid Points||1,000|
|Emirates||1,000 Skywards Miles||1,000|
|Etihad Guest||1,000 Etihad Guest Miles||1,000|
|Hawaiian Airlines||1,000 HawaiianMiles®||1,000|
|Iberia Plus Airlines||1,000 Avios Points||1,000|
|JetBlue Airways||200 TrueBlue® Points||250|
|Singapore Airlines||1,000 KrisFlyer® Miles||1,000|
|Virgin Atlantic||1,000 Flying Club Miles||1,000|
|Virgin America||100 Elevate points||200|
Also note that American Express frequently offers transfer bonuses that can offer a more favorable transfer ratio for a limited time. For instance, as of this writing American Express is offering 30% more Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles and 30% more Etihad Guest Miles for a limited time.
In addition, you can transfer your Membership Rewards points to three different hotel programs
|Hotel Rewards Points||Membership Rewards Points|
|Choice Privileges Rewards||1,000 Choice Privileges Points||1,000|
|Hilton HHonors||1,500 Hilton HHonors Points||1,000|
|Starwood Preferred Guest||333 Starpoints||1,000|
Finding the most value from Membership Rewards points.
Travel rewards enthusiasts generally find that American Express Membership Rewards points are most valuable when transferred to airline miles, which are then redeemed for premium class international travel. For example, miles can be transferred to ANA Airlines of Japan, and 104,000 ANA miles can be redeemed for a round-trip award flight in business class between the United States and Africa on any of ANA’s Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa, Turkish, Ethiopian, or South African Airlines. Such a flight would normally cost between $5,000 and $10,000, making your points far more valuable than they would be when redeemed for gift cards, merchandise, and travel reservations booked directly through American Express Travel, which are generally worth about one cent each, with occasional promotions that can increase their value.
Redeeming points directly with American Express Travel offers 1.3 cents per point towards airfare. While this is not an exceptional value, cardholders enjoy the convenience and simplicity of booking revenue tickets for their preferred flight, rather than searching for often scarce award availability.
One of the least valuable ways to redeem American Express Membership Rewards points is to pay for charges, which only offers 0.6 cents per point in value. Points can also be redeemed for American Express gift cards at just 0.5 cents per point in value.
While you can earn American Express Membership Rewards points from dozens of cards, starting with the Amex Everyday card that has no annual fee, it’s the tremendous number of cardmember benefits that distinguish the Centurion card from other cards from American Express and its competing card issuers. For example, Centurion cardmembers are able to request elite status in four major hotel loyalty programs:
• Starwood Preferred Guest Gold.
Starwood hotels includes Westin, Sheraton, and several other boutique brands. It’s mid-level Gold status offers guests room upgrades at check-in to ones with a corner room, a higher floor or a better view. Gold members also receive benefits such as a welcome gift on arrival, complimentary in-room premium Internet access, and a 4pm late checkout. However, Starwood Gold status is also a benefit of the American Express Platinum card.
• Hilton HHonors Diamond.
This is the top level status offered by Hilton Hotels, which includes Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites and several other brands. Diamond members receive benefits such room upgrades, late checkouts, and even complimentary breakfasts at some brands. This status is also a benefit of the American Express Platinum card.
• IHG Priority Club Rewards Platinum Elite.
IHG stands for Intercontinental Hotels Group, and its Priority Club is the loyalty program for Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and several other brands. Platinum status used to be the highest status offered until it introduce a new level called Spire Elite. Nevertheless, it offers Platinum members several benefits including priority check-in, free Internet and room upgrades.
• Relais & Chateaux Club 5C.
This status offers VIP service, welcome gifts, complimentary upgrades, and other exclusive amenities at Relais & Chateau hotels that vary by property.
Centurion Hotel Program
Another hotel benefit offered to cardmembers is the Centurion Hotel Program which offers a package of benefits when staying at five of the most exclusive luxury brands Aman, Belmond, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Oetker Collection, The Peninsula Hotels, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis, and Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts.
Many of these properties, such as Aman hotels, typically offer standard rooms at price points beyond $1,000 per night. Benefits at these properties include early check-ins, room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, 4pm late checkouts and $100-$200 of food, beverage and spa credit on paid stays of two nights or more. A complimentary third or fourth night is offered at select Belmond properties.
Fine Hotels and Resorts
Like the Centurion Hotels Program, the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts program offers both Platinum and Centurion cardholders additional amenities when booking rooms through Amex travel and paying with their card. These amenities can vary by property, but typically include a noon check-in, room upgrade, free breakfast, 4pm late checkout and a special amenity such as a resort charge credit.
Air travel benefits
When it comes to air travel, the American Express Centurion card is probably at its best. It offers a range of perks, benefits and elite status.
Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion.
American Express Centurion cardmembers receive Platinum Medallion status in Delta’s SkyMiles frequent flyer program, which normally requires flying 75,000 miles or 100 segments in a calendar year, plus spending $9,000 on Delta tickets. Benefits of this status include complimentary upgrades to first class, when available, from most fares including award tickets but excluding ultra discounted E fares and Pay With Miles tickets. It also includes unlimited complimentary upgrades to Delta’s new Comfort+, which is now being marketed as a separate class of service. Other benefits include waived fees for checked baggage, same day standby travel, and award redeposits. Platinum members also receive priority service at check-in, boarding, and security as well as preferential pricing for the CLEAR program of expedited identity verification at select TSA security checkpoints.
Centurion International Airline Program
Centurion cardholders receive access to American Express’s International Airline Program that offers a companion ticket with the purchase of a full fare international ticket from select carriers in business or first class. While this may seem like a particularly valuable benefits, many cardholders find that a full fare ticket costs at least twice as much as a discounted one, negating much of the value of this program. In addition, cardholders will be responsible for paying both government imposed taxes and fees as well as carrier imposed fees and fuel surcharges that can add up to as much as $2,500.
However, there are times that a full fare ticket with a complimentary companion costs less than two discounted tickets, and since a full fare ticket includes unlimited free changes, this can represent value to cardmembers. This benefit is offered once per year to American Express Platinum cardmembers, with an additional fee of $39 per ticket. But for Centurion cardmembers, the fee is waived and there is no limit on the number of companion tickets that Centurion cardmembers can receive each year.
In addition, Centurion cardmembers can receive a complimentary upgrade to international first class when they book a qualifying business class ticket through Amex travel services. International first class, which is only offered on some carriers, often features even more spacious seats, higher quality dining, and sometimes even an enclosed suite.
Centurion International Arrival Services
When cardmembers use American Express Travel to purchase business and first class international tickets to select airports, their entire party will receive this service which will meet you on arrival, expedite you through customs and immigration, and co-ordinate ground transportation. This service is available at over 30 different major international gateways.
Centurion Airport Lounge Program
Like Platinum cardholders, Centurion cardholders receive access to multiple business lounge programs including those of the Delta SkyClub, the Priority Pass Select network, Airspace and Amex’s own Centurion lounge network. Currently, there are Centurion airport lounges at Dallas-Ft. Worth, Las Vegas, New York-LaGuardia, Miami, Seattle and San Francisco, with a lounge in Houston-George Bush Intercontinental opening up in 2016. In addition, there are Centurion lounges in Buenos Aires, Sydney, São Paulo, Delhi, and Mexico City.
The Priority Pass Select network features over 900 airport lounges around the world, including the only lounge facilities in many smaller airports at remote destinations. And while Platinum cardholders receive lounge access for only themselves, Centurion cardholders can access these lounges with their entire party at no extra charge.
Airspace is a smaller network of lounges that is currently in just Cleveland, San Diego, and New York-JFK terminal five (T5). Here, Centurion cardmembers also receive access for their guests.
On the other hand, Delta limits SkyClub members, including Centurion Cardholders, to a single traveler with a same-day ticket on Delta (with discounted, paid admission for guests).
$200 annual airline fee credit
Like the Platinum card, Centurion cardmembers receive an annual $200 airline credit towards most incidental fees including change fees, luggage fees, seat selection fees, and charges for in-flight food and beverages. Excluded are charges for tickets and fees to upgrade to a different class of service. It’s a fairly trivial amount compared to this card’s massive initiation and annual fees, but it’s something. Cardmembers must select an individual airline to be eligible for fee credits each year in January.
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit
Each authorized cardholder receives a credit towards an application fee for either the $85 TSA PreCheck program or the $100 Global Entry program run by the US Customs and Border Patrol, which includes membership in TSA PreCheck. The credit is automatic and can be applied once every five years, enabling you to continuously renew your membership. Again, it’s not a huge monetary benefit, but you can use it to pay for someone else’s application fee if you are already a member of Global Entry or PreCheck.
Centurion cardholders receive unlimited complimentary in-flight Internet passes on over 2,000 GoGo aircraft flown by eight airlines, Air Canada Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Japan Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, and Virgin America. This normally costs $59.95 per month for an unlimited monthly pass across all airlines, or $658.95 for an annual pass.
Other travel benefits
The Boingo American Express Preferred Plan.
This offers unlimited complimentary WiFi access to over one million Boingo hotspots around the globe. A monthly pass normally costs $39, for a total of $468 for the year.
Cruise Privileges Program
When you use your Centurion card to book a cruise for five or more nights from American Express Travel, you’ll receive $100 – $500 in shipboard credit per room, additional amenities, and double Membership Rewards points. This benefit is available for the following cruise lines:
• Ama Waterways
• Cunard Line
• Holland America Line
• Norwegian Cruise Lines
• Princess Cruises
• Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
Elite rental car status
This status offers you guaranteed reservations and upgrades as well as special rates on all car classes including Hertz Prestige Collection and Hertz Adrenaline Collection vehicles. Other benefits include complimentary ski racks and child car seats as well as a drive back service that will allow you to drop the car at the terminal at most major airports. This benefit normally costs $1,500 per year.
Avis President’s Club.
This invitation-only top tier status offers complimentary double upgrades and additional reward points.
Car rental insurance and premium roadside assistance.
Cardmembers receive rental car insurance when they decline the optional coverage, but this policy is not valid in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, and New Zealand. In addition, cardmembers receive complimentary premium roadside assistance that can offer jump-starts, towing, help changing a tire and other services. These benefits are also offered to Platinum card holders.
Beyond the Centurion card’s numerous travel benefits, it also offers a range of features related to shopping and special events that it places under the category of Lifestyle benefits.
One of the biggest benefits offered to Centurion cardmembers is their concierge service, which is available by telephone to meet just about any conceivable need. While Platinum cardholders also have access to this service, Centurion cardholders can request an individual be assigned as a personal concierge. In addition, Centurion concierges have exclusive access to a wider variety of tickets, events and services.
Common requests can include anything from making travel arrangements, purchasing gifts, and securing tickets and reservations. In other instances, your personal concierge can coordinate all of your cardholder benefits and help you to manage your account. Furthermore, cardmembers report Centurion concierges eagerly responding to virtually any request, no matter how eccentric. This can include answering trivia questions, having a change of clothes delivered or planning a party.
Centurion dining reservations and wine.
Cardholders can use the Centurion Concierge to reserve a table at over 1,000 of the world’s most exclusive restaurants. In addition, the Centurion Wine program is partnered with Crush® Wine & Spirits, Cellar Advisors, and Porthos to offer preferred buying and collecting opportunities, individualized tastings and specially arranged wine tours in Napa Valley and Tuscany.
By Invitation Only.
This program offers cardholders access to sports, fashion, and entertainment events that are organized by American Express just for the benefit of its cardmembers and not available to the general public. Examples include a private suite at the Kentucky Derby, a VIP package at Wimbledon, or a yacht at the Grand Prix de Monaco.
Centurion Shopping Program.
This program features exclusive offers from luxury brands such as gift certificates, access to premier events, opportunities to meet designers and customized shopping experiences. For example, it works with NET-A-PORTER’s and MR PORTER’s personal shoppers to offer individualized styling and gifting advice.
This rewards program offers additional points when cardmembers shop at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Horchow, Last Call, or Cusp stores.
This program covers purchases for 90 days in the event of theft or damage, with a limit of $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account each calendar year.
Cardholders receive an additional year’s worth of warranty protection added to their manufacturer’s warranty of up to five years. Eligible items are covered up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per calendar year.
If you are unable to make a return within 90 days of purchase, American Express will refund the entire purchase price of up to $300 per item and $1,000 per calendar year.
Bottom Line: Should you get this card?
The vast majority of people will not be invited to apply for this card, and with a $7,500 initiation fee and a $2,500 annual fee, the average credit card user wouldn’t even consider it. But as it should be clear, the Centurion Card is not for the average credit card user. Yet it helps to put these costs in perspective. Among those who are earning over a million dollars a year, the $2,500 annual fee to this card is the equivalent of a $250 annual fee for a person earning $100,000 per year. And for those earning much more than a million dollars a year, the price tag for the Centurion card might be considered reasonable for what it undoubtedly the most exclusive and feature filled credit card offered in the United States.
Nevertheless, there will be a significant number of people invited to apply for this card that might not find its costs to be so reasonable, perhaps those earning between $500,000 and a million dollars a year. For these users, the key consideration will likely be the travel benefits offered by this card. Potential cardmembers in this price range may be unable to afford private jet travel and limousines for most of their travel, and be relegated to using many of the same airlines, hotels and car rental services used by those of far more modest means.
In this case, the Centurion Card can be well worth the expense, by offering them instant access to elite status with Delta Airlines as well as several hotel and rental car programs, which can make all the difference between having an enjoyable trip and a beleaguering one. Furthermore, those who are able to utilize the international airline benefit more than once per year could easily justify the Centurion Card’s annual fee. Just the upgrade from business to first class on a single international flight can often be worth more than $2,500.
Furthermore, those who can expense the annual fee of the small business Centurion card may find it to be a valuable business tool that’s even more affordable than the personal version. In fact, there are many companies that might consider offering the Corporate Centurion Card to its executives to be a valuable benefit to attract and retain key staff while ensuring their comfort and productivity when traveling.
On the other hand, those who find the initiation and annual fees to be just too far out of reach should strongly consider American Express’s Platinum card, which is just $450 a year, with additional authorized users for only another $175 per year for three additional cards. Platinum cardholders enjoy many of the same benefits as Centurion cardholders including the concierge service, $200 annual airline fee credit, $100 Global Entry application fee credit, elite status with Hilton and Starwood, and a slightly lower but still valuable form of elite status with Avis and Hertz car rentals. It’s also important to note that there are many other American Express cards that offer bonus points for certain purchases, while the Centurion Card only offers one point per dollar spent, and double points for purchases from American Express travel.
Prospective Centurion cardholders have to ask themselves if the incremental benefits of the Centurion card over the Platinum card justify the $7,500 initiation fee and the $2,050 additional annual fee. Ultimately, it gets down to how much your value the exclusive features of this card. When you consider how the extensive benefits of the Centurion card might fit into your personal travel plans and lifestyle, the right decision will become clear.