Travel Secrets of the World’s Most Exclusive Credit Card
In On Points, Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy, shares his strategies for getting the most out of your points and miles.
Can a $10,000 credit card possibly be worth it?
I’m referring to the American Express Centurion Card, a.k.a. the Black Card. The invitation-only status symbol has a $7,500 initiation fee, $2,500 annual fee, and zero signup bonus—and I just became a cardholder.
For years I’ve heard about the card, though not directly from American Express. The company is extremely secretive about the Centurion. It publishes almost zero information about the card, and company reps decline to talk about it. You do occasionally see stories in the media, like the one about the Chinese art collector who last year earned 170 million Amex points buying a painting on his Black Card.
But let’s put aside the mystery and crazy stories: is the American Express Centurion Card actually a good value? Though you can’t apply for the card, you can request to be considered for an invitation, so I did—and to my shock, a black box recently showed up on my doorstep. Here’s what happened next.
The Activation Process
If you receive a Centurion invitation, you’ve already been approved. American Express has reviewed your account and decided you’re worthy, so when you call there is no discussion of income levels or credit check. I asked about the benefits of the card, accepted the shocking $10,000 in fees, then spent about 20 minutes going through my travel loyalty programs to activate the elite status perks associated with the card. With other credit cards, you need to figure out the perks on your own and maximize them, but with this program American Express does the work for you—and rightfully so!
The Centurion Concierge
One of the hallmarks of the Centurion card is service. You will never get transferred to a call center in India: American Express has a staff based in the U.S. to tend to your every need, much like a personal assistant. Each cardholder is assigned to a dedicated Centurion Concierge and can call or email them directly. I’ve only been a cardholder for a handful of months, but I’ve already successfully tasked my concierge with getting me reservations at hot restaurants (like the Drunken Dragon in Miami Beach at the last minute on a Friday night) and researching African safaris for an upcoming summer trip. My concierge is extremely attentive and eager to please. It’s hard to put a value on this service, but if utilized correctly, the Centurion Concierge can save you time and money by finding the best deals.
Elite Status Perks
Perhaps the easiest way to determine whether cost of the card is worth it is by sizing up the travel perks that come with it. Such as:
- Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion status, which gets you complimentary domestic upgrades on non-Delta One routes, priority waitlisting, a bonus of four miles per dollar spent on Delta, waived award reissue fees (my favorite perk since I change my award tickets constantly to get the best routing), and priority check-in and boarding. You also get to choose an extra bonus, like 20,000 miles, upgrade certificates, or gifting Silver status to a friend. I value Platinum Medallion status at $3,650.
- Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status, which provides room upgrades at check-in (when available), complimentary late checkout, and the ability to earn three Starpoints per dollar on your stays. I value SPG Gold status at $319, but since I already have Starwood Platinum, it’s pretty worthless to me.
- Hilton HHonors Diamond status, which comes with space-available room upgrades, 48-hour room guarantees, free premium internet (on reservations booked directly with Hilton), a 50 percent bonus on all Hilton HHonors base points you earn, and the fifth night free. I value Hilton HHonors Diamond status at $2,320 if you know how to maximize it, though since I’m Starwood loyal, this benefit has less value to me.
- IHG Priority Club Rewards Platinum Elite status. This gives you priority check-in, complimentary room upgrades, late checkout, guaranteed room availability, complimentary weekday newspapers, and a 50 percent bonus on base points earned during your stay. You also earn 10 Priority Club points or 2.5 airline miles per dollar spent on your stay. This isn’t hugely valuable—I say it’s worth around $250 depending on how much you stay at IHG properties.
The ironic thing about this very expensive American Express card is that it is among the worst cards for earning points. You only earn 1 point per dollar, so I hardly ever use it for purchases. For earning American Express Membership Rewards points I mostly use my $95-a-year Everyday Preferred, which gives 3 points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year) and 2 points per dollar at U.S. gas stations, plus a 50 percent bonus on all points as long as I have 30 transactions a month. I also use the Premier Rewards Gold card ($195 annual fee) to earn 3 points per dollar on airfare and 2 points per dollar on dining, groceries, and gas. American Express allows you to link all of your Membership Rewards accounts, so they all go into one pot.
Only time will tell whether the Centurion Card is worth it. So far the service is better than I expected and the Delta Platinum status has been nice for flexibility in changing awards and earning more miles on Delta flights. For the average traveler or one who already has Delta Platinum or higher, I would find it hard to justify the hefty fees. Paying $10,000 for a credit card with no sign-up bonus was a hard pill to swallow. Stay tuned!