The American Express Centurion Card is Amex’s top charge card and possibly the most prestigious credit card ever made. There was a series of rumors during the 1980s and 1990s about a secret black Amex card with no spending limit. After executives at American Express heard enough rumors, they decided to capitalize on them. The result was the Centurion Card (also known as the Black Card), which was first released in 1999.
The Centurion Card is an invitation-only card, meaning that you cannot simply apply for it. American Express has six-figure annual spending requirements just to be considered for an invitation. Exact amounts are unknown, but you can hit the requirement using any other Amex charge or credit card.
The Centurion Card has a one-time initiation fee of $7,500 and an annual fee of $2,500 (NOT waived the first year). That means you must pay American Express $10,000 just to get the card. For comparison, the personal Platinum Card has a relatively paltry $550 annual fee and the Business Platinum Card has a $595 annual fee.
Unfortunately, the annual fee for the Centurion Card is doubling to $5,000 on April 1, 2020. But those who are invited before that date will be grandfathered in with the $2,500 annual fee.
Despite its crazy annual fee, the Centurion Card earns one Membership Rewards (MR) point per dollar for all purchases. Moreover, the card does not have a sign-up bonus. You would think that being invited to have such a prestigious card would warrant a gigantic sign-up bonus. But that is not the case.
The Centurion Card has the same redemption options as every other MR point-earning card.
American Express has more transfer partners than any of its competitors:
- Choice Privileges
- Hilton (1 MR = 2 Hilton Honors Points)
- Aer Lingus
- Aeromexico (5 MR = 8 Premier Points)
- Air Canada
- Air Italia Millemiglia
- Asia Miles / Cathay Pacific
- Avianca Lifemiles
- British Airways
- Delta Airlines
- El Al Israel Airlines (50 MR = 1 Matmid Point)
- Etihad Guest
- Hawaiian Airlines
- JetBlue (5 MR = 4 TrueBlue Points)
- KLM Flying Blue / Air France
- Nippon Airways
- Singapore Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
Amextravel.com is Amex’s travel website that can be used to book hotels and flights. Amex will give you back 50% of the points paid for future use if you use their website and use points to pay for your flight. Both versions of the Platinum Card have this points rebate feature as well. However, they each give smaller percentages back.
Gift cards, merchandise, and statement credits are not recommended. You will earn less than 1 cent per point (CPP) using these options. If cash back or gift cards are what you want, this card is probably not for you.
This is where the Centurion Card truly shines. If you thought that the Platinum Cards gave you the world in perks, the Centurion Card brings that up another level. However, a lot of the perks listed can be obtained by having other credit cards.
Centurion Auto Program
Car lovers rejoice! This perk gives cardholders luxurious car-related opportunities including test-driving opportunities, premium car purchases, and luxury rentals.
This is a unique perk for Centurion cardholders that I wish was present on more cards. There are a lot of car lovers out there who travel, and this benefit would provide loads of value for them.
Centurion Hotel Program
Centurion cardholders have another hotel program offered to them besides Fine Hotels & Resorts. American Express calls it the Centurion Hotel Program. Cardholders will get the following benefits when staying at a select list of luxury hotels:
- 12 PM check-in (when available)
- Daily breakfast for two people
- Guaranteed 4pm checkout
- In-room Wi-Fi (at most properties)
- Room upgrade at time of booking (when available)
- Special amenity unique to each property, such as a $100 credit to use on site or a complimentary hotel transfer
- Additional Centurion benefit of $100 or $200 in food and beverage or spa credit (on paid stays of two nights or more)
Delta Platinum Medallion Status
Delta has a long-standing partnership with American Express. Centurion cardholders benefit from the partnership with Delta Platinum Medallion Status. This level of status comes with the following:
- Boarding complimentary upgrades
- Bonus of 4 miles per dollar spent
- Priority check-in
- Priority wait listing
- Waived award reissue fees
- Your pick of Choice Benefits
This perk is exclusive to the Centurion Card. However, you can earn it by paying for Delta flights.
Hilton Honors Diamond Elite Status
Hilton Diamond Status is the hotel chain’s top level of status. Diamond Status earns you many perks including free room upgrades (up to a Suite), complimentary Executive Lounge access, and milestone bonuses.
However, you can get Diamond Status by having the Hilton Aspire Card. This is by far the easiest way to acquire this top level of status without breaking the bank. The Aspire Card has a $450 annual fee (NOT waived the first year). But you can get a lot more than that in value if you use it correctly.
IHG Platinum Elite Status
IHG is not the most luxurious hotel chain, but the Centurion Card offers complimentary Platinum Elite Status. Platinum Status earns you complimentary room upgrades (up to a Preferred Room), a 50% points bonus, and 72-hour guaranteed availability.
Applying for the Chase IHG Premier Card is the easiest way to obtain Platinum Status. That’s because the card offers it as a perk. The IHG Card has an $89 annual fee and some nice ways to earn more points.
Relais & Châteaux 5C
You will receive Elite Status in the Relais and Chateaux 5C collection of luxury hotels and resorts. Centurion cardholders will receive room upgrades, concierge services, a VIP welcome, and a unique perk at each property.
You can receive this status with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. All you have to do is stay at a Relais or Chateaux 5C hotel twice and you will be upgraded.
Starting on April 1, 2020, the Centurion Card is receiving the following new perks:
Cardholders will also receive complimentary CLEAR membership for them and their family members. However, the Centurion Card also comes with Global Entry and Pre-TSA membership. That makes this perk redundant for some cardholders. But at least they get more options to pick a program to use.
Equinox Gym Membership
This perk provides membership to Equinox, a high-end gym franchise based in New York City.
Membership to The Private Suite at LAX
This perk provides security and tarmac transfers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). While it sounds prestigious, its not a perk that many Centurion cardholders would use.
Saks Fifth Avenue Credit
Centurion cardholders will receive a $1,000 credit to Saks Fifth Avenue each year. This is 10 times the amount given on the personal Platinum Card.
Check out one of these options if you want the Centurion Card but cannot spend six figures and picked to get an invitation. Most people should look at this section because the cards mentioned can be obtained with a normal application.
American Express Platinum Card
The American Express Platinum Card is the next-best option to the Centurion Card. And for many people, it’s a much better (and cheaper) alternative. This is because it has a $550 annual fee (NOT waived the first year), which is about 80% less than the Centurion Card’s $2,500 annual fee.
The Platinum Card has a sign-up bonus worth 60,000 MR points. It can be earned after spending $5,000 within the first three months. Conversely, the Centurion Card does not have any sign-up bonus.
The Platinum Card also earns 5x MR points on Airfare booked directly with the airline or through amextravel.com. Like the Centurion Card, it also earns just one point for non-bonus spend. Both cards have the same redemption options and (mostly) the same perks.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is another alternative to the Centurion Card. This card is Chase’s top credit card, even though the elusive JP Morgan Palladium Card is nearly identical. The Reserve has a $550 annual fee (NOT waived the first year).
The Reserve has a sign-up bonus worth 50,000 Ultimate Rewards (UR) points. It can be earned after spending $4,000 within the first three months. Moreover, the Reserve also earns 3x UR points on Dining and General Travel.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve does not have the number of perks that the Centurion card has. However, it does have a few useful perks. The Reserve’s $300 annual General Travel credit is the most famous and eminent. Furthermore, the Reserve comes with Lyft Pink membership, Door Dash Dash Pass, and a $60 annual Door Dash credit.
I wish American Express would change their airline credits to be more like Chase’s. The Reserve also comes with various travel insurances and primary car rental insurance. These insurances are some of the best in the industry, especially after Citi dropped so many benefits from their cards.
Overall, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a better card for many people than the Centurion Card! It’s much less expensive and much more versatile.
Most people will never receive an invitation to get the Centurion Card. Fortunately, there are many great alternatives that will save potential cardholders thousands in fees. The Centurion Card is known for its expansive list of perks. However, everything else about the card is pedestrian. This includes the earning structure, lack of sign-up bonus, and redemption methods.
Special Thanks to reader David Smity (H/T) for asking about the Centurion Card and why I have not compared it to the Platinum Card.