In 1999, American Express introduced the Centurion Card to cater to the very wealthy. The card was initially available only to selected users of the company's Platinum Card. To become a Centurion cardholder, one must meet American Express eligibility criteria. Cardholders are required to pay an annual fee, and in some countries also an initiation fee. (In the United States, the initiation fee is $7,500 in addition to the $2,500 annual fee from each cardholder). In addition to a variety of exclusive benefits, the card itself is made of anodized titanium with the information and numbers laser etched into the metal. (It should be noted that in some markets the plastic version of the card is still issued, with or without the titanium card.) The plastic card and 2014 and earlier Centurion cards include embossed information on the card. The Centurion 2015 Card introduced laser etching. In some locations, such as Israel, EMV "chip" plastic cards which also include the ExpressPay contactless payment technology are issued. American Express created the card line amid rumors and urban legends in the 1980s that it produced an ultra-exclusive black card for elite users who could purchase anything with it.
The Centurion Card is invitation-only after appropriate net worth, credit, and spending criteria are met. American Express does not publicly disclose the requirements necessary for getting or keeping a card, except that the cardholder needs to have a substantial net worth, as well as having been a Platinum card holder.
While the eligibility criteria are subject to speculation, most reliable sources agree that Centurion Card holders have historically spent US$250,000 or more per year on lower-level American Express cards, and have annual household incomes of around US$1.3 million and net worths of at least US$16 million.
The card, available for personal and business use, offers services such as a dedicated concierge and travel agent; complimentary companion airline tickets on international flights on selected airlines with the purchase of a full-fare ticket; personal shoppers at retailers such as Dot & Vic's, Gucci, Escada, and Saks Fifth Avenue; access to airport clubs; first-class flight upgrades; membership in Sony's Cierge personal shopping program and dozens of other elite club memberships.
Hotel benefits include one free night, when at least one paid night is booked during the same stay, in every Mandarin Oriental hotel worldwide once a year (except for the New York City property), and privileges at hotel chains like Ritz-Carlton, Leading Hotels of the World, and Amanresorts. All of the benefits mentioned above are for United States-issued cards. American Express Centurion Cards issued in other countries may include different benefits. The card has amenities, including Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion status.
The card also features complimentary enrollment in Easirent Car Hire Platinum Service and the Avis Rent a Car President's Club.
Initially it came with an extensive travel insurance all year round no matter how the trip was paid for but since 2012 this insurance is limited to trips which are paid with the card only. (In Australia, the insurance covers all trips, even if paid with another method or frequent flyer miles).
The titanium-crafted "Centurion" card was first issued as an upgrade for all plastic U.S. "Centurion" cards in the first half of 2006, with the titanium version being rolled out to certain other countries as well.
Some Centurion customers have purchased automobiles using the card or made purchases exceeding €1 million (US$1.36 million). The card has no preset limit in theory. In practice the authorization is decided upon past payment and spending patterns; the largest purchase ever made on one was US$170 million for Amedeo Modigliani's "Nu couché" painting purchased at a Christie's auction house by Liu Yiqian. It was suggested that the reason for funding the purchase through the credit card was to circumvent Chinese money laws that restrict the transfer of money by citizens out of the country to just $50,000.
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.
Centurion Card members, like Platinum Card members, get complimentary access to the American Express Centurion Lounges at several US airports. They also get unlimited access to Priority Pass lounges around the world. However, at busy times, Centurion members have access to areas reserved for them. There are also drink options at the bar that are exclusive to Centurion members. As of 2015, they have a Champagne option of Veuve Clicquot and a single malt scotch by Balvenie.
Several original Centurion program benefits have been discontinued, including:Continental Airlines benefits, which ceased in October 2011
Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum elite benefits, downgraded to Gold (from January 2006, same as Platinum card)
Hyatt Diamond Elite benefits
American Airlines Admirals Club benefits, which ceased on March 21, 2014
Since the inception of the card, members have received a copy of Departures, which is also sent to all Platinum Card cardholders. In 2004, American Express Centurion members in the US began receiving an exclusive "no name" magazine, which was not available by any other means. Starting with the Spring 2007 edition, this magazine was officially titled Black Ink. The magazine is available only to individual Centurion cardholders, not to the business-edition customers.
European, Asian, and Australian Centurion members receive quarterly the Centurion magazine published by Journal International GmbH (Munich, Germany). In June 2011, the Centurion magazine website was launched, offering daily updates for Centurion Card members. According to Journal International, the average age of a Centurion reader from Europe or the Middle East is 49 years. Centurion has been published since 2001 and has a circulation in Europe and the Middle East of 44,100, in Asia of 13,900, and in Australia of 6,000.
The Centurion Card is part of an elite credit card segment created for a very small and exclusive range of clients around the world. Other such cards include:Palladium Card
Top 5 Elite cards
Black Card LLC successfully registered "Black Card" as a U.S. trademark in 2009. However, American Express contended its Centurion Card was widely known as "the Black Card" before the launch of the Black Card (then Visa card), despite never seeking to trademark that name itself. American Express filed suit against Black Card LLC in February 2010, claiming that the trademark was obtained improperly and sought injunctive relief. This suit was concluded in November 2011, with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruling that Black Card, LLC's trademark of the name "Black Card" should be canceled on grounds that it was merely descriptive. (See also American Express Marketing and Development Corp, et al. v. Black Card, LLC, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133151 (S.D.N.Y. November 17, 2011.)
Today, Black Card LLC uses the registered trademark under license as a MasterCard issued by Barclays Bank Delaware. It has similar features, such as the members-only Luxury Magazine in print and digital form.
On the November 9, 2014 episode of The Newsroom on HBO, the character Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, hands Neal Sampat, played by Dev Patel, an American Express Centurion Card.
In season 5, episode 13 of Gilmore Girls, Rory makes a coy remark toward Logan Huntzberger, the son of Mitchum Huntzberger, a successful newspaper magnate, about him possessing an American Express black card and uses it as a symbol for his level of wealth.
Mentions of the Centurion Card are common in the rap genre, used by successful artists with large fortunes. Possession of such a card is illustrative of a luxurious life and exclusive social group of success and fame. Kanye West references using a black card in his song "Last Call" on his debut album The College Dropout. Cyhi the Prynce 'can't wait to get his' in Kanye West's "The Morning". In both of these lines, the black card is also used as a metaphor for race in addition to it being a show of wealth.
In season 3, episode 1 of Archer "Heart of Archness, Part 1", Malory issues a black card-like credit card for her agents to charter transportation in order to rescue Archer stuck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
In Lady Gaga's song Donatella from the album Artpop, she sings the lyric 'This purse can hold my black card and tiara' suggesting all she needs is her AmEx card. It also is a status symbol equivalent to being royal (like having a tiara) suggesting how exclusive the card is.
In the 2008 video game Grand Theft Auto IV, a wealthy yet paranoid character named Jeff flashes a black credit card at Niko to convince him to stalk his wife.