As far as exclusive and prestigious charge cards go, the American Express (NYSE:AXP) Centurion card, better known simply as the "black card," is at the top of the list. The perks of the card, as well as the recognition you get when using it, are simply beyond those of any competitors' products. If you've ever dreamed of putting this titanium charge card in your wallet, here's what you need to know.
What is the Centurion card?
The Centurion was designed by American Express to be the most exclusive and desirable "club" of cardholders in the world, and it has certainly been a success so far. It is estimated that there are about 100,000 Centurion members around the world, and between 20%-40% of those reside in the U.S., many of whom are celebrities and the ultra-rich.
In order to maintain the card's exclusive and mysterious image, American Express doesn't make much information about the card public. In fact, the only thing we know for certain about the Centurion card is the cost of having one: a $7,500 initiation fee plus a $2,500 annual fee for each card on the account (you can have up to two).
Many of the perks of membership have been confirmed by various independent sources, including several cardholders (but not by AmEx itself), and some of those we can be pretty certain about include:
- 24/7 concierge service that is rumored to be able to get cardholders tickets to any event, a table at any restaurant, and handle pretty much any other request.
- Airport lounge access, including the newly created Centurion lounges.
- Automatic elite status at several airlines and hotels, such as Delta SkyMiles Platinum and Starwood SPG Gold.
How do you get one?
One of the things that make the Centurion card so exclusive is that you can't just apply for one -- you have to be invited. It's estimated that less than 0.1% of the U.S. population is even eligible.
The consensus among many sources is that an invitation generally results from spending and paying off at least $250,000 annually in purchases on another American Express card. Usually this means being a Platinum cardholder, since it's the closest AmEx product to the Centurion in terms of benefits and spending ability, but other AmEx cards can be used to qualify as well.
You'll also need a good credit score, but it doesn't necessarily need to be top tier, as the qualifications seem to be more about wealth and spending than about credit. In fact, there are (unconfirmed) reports of Centurion card approval with FICO scores in the upper 600s. Even so, keep in mind that in order to be considered, you need to have been previously able to obtain another American Express card with a pretty high spending capacity.
There are other rumors involving minimum income requirements ($1.3 million per year seems like a popular number) and net worth requirements, but these vary widely among sources.
What if you can't qualify?
Most of us won't be able to qualify for the Centurion card, but there are some alternatives. For starters, Visa has its Black Card, which is significantly easier to obtain. While the benefits aren't great, if your main goal is a prestigious-appearing card made of metal, it can do the trick.
On the other hand, if it's excellent benefits you're after and you don't really care about the status symbol, the majority of the Centurion's benefits can actually be obtained with the American Express Platinum card, and at a fraction of the cost.
The Platinum card has no initiation fee and charges a $450 annual fee -- still pricey, but not even in the same ballpark as the Centurion. While you're not likely to be able to charge a Ferrari on your card, or have the concierge service jump through quite as many hoops to make you happy, the Platinum card is an excellent product that can be well worth the cost.
So, just because you may not be able to join the elite ranks of Centurion cardholders doesn't mean you can't enjoy some of the same perks. You just won't get as many envious looks when you take your card out of your wallet.
Matthew Frankel owns shares of American Express. The Motley Fool recommends American Express and Visa. The Motley Fool owns shares of Visa. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.