American Express (AXP -0.21%) is the undisputed leader at creating exclusive "clubs" of cardholders. However, the exclusivity and cost of these clubs have evolved over the years.
Currently, the most exclusive and coveted credit card in the world is the American Express Centurion card, more commonly known simply as the "black card." While the card does offer some pretty amazing perks, it may not be worth the price of admission. Many of these benefits can be had with another American Express charge card, and for a small fraction of the cost.
The black card and how to get one
The card is "by invitation only", and to even be considered you'll need to have spent $250,000 on another Amex charge card over the past year. Needless to say, this requires a very high level of income. According to one report, Centurion cardholders had an average annual household income of about $1.3 million and had a net worth of about $16 million.
And once you qualify, the card is quite expensive. After paying a $7,500 initiation fee, the card comes with a $2,500 annual fee per card, which is more than five times the cost of any other Amex product. Note that I said "per card", so if you want one for your spouse, the annual fee jumps to $5,000. And, in order to maintain your membership, you are expected to maintain that high level ($250,000 or more) of spending.
The Centurion card definitely has some nice perks. The card allows you access to pretty much any airport lounge you want to go to, including the Centurion lounges at the few airports that have them. You can also bring a companion along on international flights with a paid refundable full-fare ticket.
Cardholders also get automatic platinum status on Delta and US Airways, as well as a $200 statement credit to offset airline expenses. They also get elite status with certain rental car companies and hotel chains, as well as Amex's "Fine Hotels and Resorts" program, which gives special perks at partner hotels like room upgrades and free breakfast.
Finally, the 24/7 concierge service is perhaps the best benefit of the card. Circles, the company that runs the service for Amex is rumored to be able to arrange for any restaurant table, airline seat, hotel room, or accommodate any over-the-top request you may have.
But you can get most of them with the platinum card
Sure, all of these benefits sound nice, but the fact is that most of them come with American Express' Platinum card, which is much easier to qualify for and costs a lot less.
You'll get the same airport lounge access (even to the Centurion lounges) as well as the airline fee credit. You won't get the automatic platinum status with some airlines, and while this can be a very valuable perk, in reality people who travel enough to make it worthwhile already have elite status with an airline.
Platinum cardholders also have their own concierge service, and while it's apparently not quite the same thing as the Centurion's concierge, all reviews I have seen indicate it's very good.
So why get the black card?
Sure, it's not actually made of titanium and won't instantly draw attention as soon as you take it out like the Centurion card does, but the Amex Platinum card seems to be a much better value for the money.
The benefits are comparable, and the fees are much cheaper. And, you won't be expected to spend more than a quarter million dollars every year just to maintain your account.
If you crave the absolute best perks possible and the attention that comes with having the most exclusive charge card on the planet, get the Centurion. If all you want are great perks, you may be surprised at how similar the benefits of the Platinum card are.