The American Express (NYSE: AXP) Black Card, despite its portrayal in the media and pop culture, doesn't actually exist. However, the American Express Centurion Card does. The most exclusive (and most expensive) credit card in the world comes with a long list of benefits -- and a hefty price tag. Here's what we know about the card and how to determine whether it's worth the cost, if you can get one.

What is the Centurion card, and how do you get one?
American Express created the Centurion Card in 1999 in response to an urban legend of a "black" charge card that had no limit and was only given to the wealthiest people.

The card is offered by invitation only to existing American Express customers (mainly Platinum cardholders) who spend and pay off $250,000 per year on their other AmEx cards. The exact criteria for an invitation are unknown, but an annual income of over $1 million and a net worth of $10 million or more seem to be common among members.

If you are invited, you'll have to pay a one-time $7,500 initiation fee, and an annual fee of $2,500 per card. So, if you want one for your spouse as well, it'll cost you. Centurion cardholders pay no interest; the balance is due in full every month. There is no preset spending limit, but the actual ability to charge purchases depends on a few factors, such as the cardholder's income, assets, and past spending history.

There have been well-publicized reports of extremely large purchases with the Centurion card, including cars, yachts, and million-dollar pieces of art. Oh, and the card is made of anodized titanium.

The luxurious Centurion airport lounges are just one of many cardholder benefits. Image source: Flickr user Mighty Travels.

What do you get in exchange for the fee?
The actual Centurion benefit programs and their details are a closely guarded secret, but we have verified some of them. Just some of the benefits we know about include:

  • Access to airport lounges, including Delta Sky Clubs and over 600 lounges in the Priority Pass program
  • Access to the ultra-luxurious Centurion lounges at airports such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas, New York La Guardia, Miami, and San Francisco
  • VIP treatment at luxury hotels
  • Personal shopper services at certain retailers
  • Complementary elite status from certain airlines, hotels, and rental car companies (Virgin Atlantic Gold, US Airways Platinum Preferred, Delta SkyMiles Platinum, Starwood Preferred Guest Gold, Avis President's Club, and more)
  • American Express' membership rewards program

One of the biggest benefits of the card is the Centurion concierge service, and here's where things get murkier. There are conflicting reports about the exact level of service given to cardholders, but the general consensus is that the service can get you just about any restaurant table, theater seat, flight, or hotel room you can imagine.

There are some pretty over-the-top concierge stories, like the one about a concierge who tracked down Kevin Costner's horse from the movie Dances with Wolves for a cardholder who wanted to purchase it, and then personally delivered it.

However, the actual level of service is a mystery and likely varies among cardholders, so it's tough to say with any certainty whether you would find it worth the massive fee. Some seem to praise the concierge service as the Centurion card's top benefit, while others reportedly say it's nowhere near being worth the cost.

The most "valuable" benefit of the card, if it matters to you
Even with all of the perks, I have to say that the biggest reason to get the Centurion card is for the physical card itself. No other form of payment (not even a fresh stack of $100 bills) is as universally recognized as a symbol of wealth, and I have to assume that many cardholders love the reactions they get when they take out theirs to pay for things.

The answer to the question "is it worth it?" depends on whether the prestige of having the Centurion card appeals to you. If not, you'd probably be better off with the American Express Platinum Card, which comes with many of the same benefits (including access to Centurion lounges and other airport clubs) for an annual fee of "only" $450. In fact, the Platinum card has been referred to as the "baby black card," and there have even been reports of numerous Centurion cardholders downgrading their accounts to Platinum, finding that the benefits of the Centurion card didn't justify the price tag.

In a nutshell, if you think the exclusivity and other benefits are worth the $10,000 price of admission, and you're well off enough to receive an invite, then get the Centurion card. If not, there are alternatives with similar benefits at a small fraction of the cost.