The Black Credit Card – More Illusion Than Reality?
The American Express Centurion Card. Who’s got it? Is it possible to simply order it? How much is the card? What are the requirements? What are the additional services? Are the stories and myths about the famous black credit card true? Who could better answer these questions than someone who has been using this card for 20 years?
I am, therefore, very happy about the following post by my guest author Audemar:
What’s the One Thing that No One Should Forget When Travelling?
What’s the thing that is more important but weighs less than a toothbrush and more versatile but smaller than a Swiss Army knife, which is no longer allowed in hand luggage and therefore runs the risk of getting lost on every flight? You got it! It’s a credit card. Whether you are a backpacker and photo-hunter in the high mountains of Nepal or a fashion aficionado and wardrobe-gatherer in downtown Milan, you have more options with a credit card on your person. For this reason, the consumer god has created credit cards in all imaginable colors and from many different credit institutions and companies.
For a long time now, credit cards have no longer been exclusively worldly means of payment, but are the gateway to an almost unbelievable amount of services and guarantees. Nevertheless, it happens time and again that even the golden or platinum shimmering plastic promise of unrestricted creditworthiness reaches its limits and is more or less rudely and definitively rejected by the one who stands between the cardholder and the enjoyment of a successful transaction.
From the Amazon to Venice
When a guy – or, no less frequently, a gal – stands at the marina in Monaco and spontaneously wants to rent the Sea Force Onefor a sunset cruise with nine friends (42,000 euro) and the platinum card, no matter from which institute, is rejected with a smile… Wrong color! Or some beautiful 15th-century Mariegola, known as a statue of Murano glass, for an unbeatable 119,000 euros in a cute little shop in Venice, from a seller who apparently blew this work of art himself over 500 years ago… Or, after days of hiking in the Amazon basin, you stand in front of the only shop with a refrigerator and a fax but they don’t accept credit cards. You want…no, you need to buy an ice-cold Coca Cola but, of course, you don’t have the local currency which is the only accepted payment.
Now, in the end, you want the queen of credit cards in your wallet, which reduces green, blue, gold and platinum cards to the level of an ancient beer coaster which has been lying under a chair leg, folded several times and filthy in some bar in Chad since the civil war in 1966. In the Year of the Lord 1991, American Express issued a credit card with which the really rich and famous could set themselves apart from the inflationarily roaming gold and platinum cardholders. The only color for consideration was black, and Amex chose the Roman Centurion as the title. Thus, the “American Express Centurion Card,” also known as the “Black Card” or “Black Credit Card,” was born.
American Express Centurion – a Myth
The Roman Centurion was a self-made man, commanding at least 100 soldiers and was the backbone of the Roman army. Unlike the wealthy and noble-born, a centurion had to do something outstanding to be granted this title. He was often elected by his soldiers and was always personally confirmed by the emperor. In addition to their contemporary hardness and cruelty, the Centurions were also remembered for their bravery.
Since the creation of this consumer-oriented and lifestyle-maximizing financial product, the Centurion Card has been the epitome of the owner’s obviously discernable wealth. More than a Patek Philippe (inherited or bought in Thailand anyway), a Bentley Continental GT (leased) or a Sunseeker yacht (chartered or leased but certainly not bought). If, for example, the protagonist in a movie is supposed to show his wealth, he often takes out the Centurion Card. For example, James Bond in “Quantum of Solace.” But Lindsay Lohan also has one, although she has long passed the peak of her career and, probably too, the peak of her account. I guess it’s enough to be famous instead of wealthy. Other confirmed members of the Centurion family are Kanye West, Beyonce, Tiger Woods, John Mayer, Denzel Washington, Jeremy Clarkson, Jerry Seinfeld, etc. Usually, however, it is business people who pay with the Black Card.
There are many legends about the most mysterious and “best of all credit cards.” After almost two decades with a Centurion Card, I would like to clear up one or two myths and make it clear that, even in the world of so-called “rich,” we all “put our pants on” the same way as you and the myths are always more exciting than reality.
Myth: Only the Richest of the Rich Receive an American Express Centurion Card
According to American Express’ own statement, the card is only issued to “the wealthiest of our customers,” and only by invitation. This means that no matter how much money you have, you cannot apply for the card yourself. However, the invitation is a tough one. In my case, I first received a nice letter, elaborately produced and signed by hand. Afterwards, I got a wooden box with the black credit card. At the time it was still made of profane plastic, but for some years now it’s been made of a precious metal, supposedly titanium. A metallurgical analysis would have to show whether this is really the case, but I am not in a position to do so for obvious reasons. In any case, the card is noticeably heavier than a plastic credit card and also slightly thicker. That is why it often disappears stubbornly in a card reader and can only be removed with great effort.
In my opinion, if you have a card fetish, you could provoke an invitation by spending at least 200,000 euros (give or take 50,000) for a year or two with a green, gold or platinum American Express credit card. And probably the minimum amount is slightly higher or lower in other countries than in Germany. Once you get the card, it doesn’t matter how much you spend per year.
Costs of the American Express Centurion Card
Oh, and if you think – like me – that an invitation means that you’re invited (meaning: it’s free of charge), you will be quickly disappointed. The annual fee for the credit card in Germany is now 5,000 euros. Two years ago it was 2,000 euros, and before that it was 1,000 euros. The “admission fee” was just as high or even higher, I don’t remember. With the last price increase of 150%, I got an iPad Mini. However, it’s only loaned until the end of the membership! I would like to mention that the annual fee can also be paid with Membership Rewards points. All it takes is spending half a million annually on the card! Alternatively, the points can be used for Business Class tickets for a nice holiday. What you get for the equivalent of 5,000 euros.
How Many American Express Centurion Cards Are There?
The total number of Black Cards around is a well-kept secret of American Express. Cardholders want to be among their own kind, which is why the card is not even mentioned on Amex’s website. However, the regularly-published Centurion magazine for cardholders, with a circulation in the five-digit range, suggests that the customer base is not quite as exclusive as Amex would have you believe. I know at least two other Centurion Card holders in Germany, and I know fewer people than you might think…and yet more than I sometimes wish I did.
In the past, when many things were different and much better, the staff at the gas stations could provide a statistically significant overview of the Centurion owners in Germany. Statements like “Oh, you don’t see them often” or “I already had two of them this month” were more informative than exclamations like “Wow, what a heavy card!” Nowadays, the card rarely leaves your hand when paying. Instead, you’re forced anonymously, invisibly and without any glamour, to put the card into the card reader and remove it. Imagine having an American Express Centurion Card and nobody knows about it! That used to be better, except in hotels, restaurants, luxury shops, fine boutiques and flagship stores. As a rule, the staff is professional and well trained, so it’s forbidden to comment on the means of payment by any guest or customer. Damn it!
Based on the circulation of Centurion magazine, the occasional concierge staff, my personal experiences at gas stations, my circle of acquaintances and that a previously convicted and discarded Lindsay Lohan has a Black Card, I can assume that at least 10,000, but possibly closer to 100,000, are in circulation worldwide as “signs of prosperity” everywhere
Alternatives to the American Express Centurion Card
The Centurion Card is also not without alternatives. The Visa Infinite, the Mastercard WorldSignia and, of course, the Dubai First Royal Card are just a few of them. J.P. Morgan’s Visa Infinite is said to be twice as heavy as the Centurion Card and is only issued to clients of J.P. Morgan’s asset management department. The Dubai First Royal Card is said to be gold-plated and to bear a .235-carat diamond in its center. This probably gets stuck in the credit card device when paying for the first time…but who cares! According to Dubai First Bank, there are only “a few hundred” customers with this card, i.e. significantly fewer than the amount of Centurion Card holders.
Usually, the target group of exclusive credit cards does not only own one card. This is especially true for Amex customers. Of all credit card types, i.e. Visa, Mastercard and Amex, the American Express is usually the credit card that is least accepted, even if faded stickers on shop windows claim otherwise. This is due to the credit card fee, which is higher for Amex than for Visa and Mastercard. And if some small Venetian shop owner has to hand over more than 4,000 of the 119,000 euro purchase price for that glass sculpture to American Express, then that’s very sad. It creates room for negotiation under the phrase “What can we do about the price if we use the Visa Card, Maestro or even cash?” In this way, I saved several thousand euros. The money is just made while purchasing.
It is precisely because of these fees that many (high) payments are not even possible by credit card, regardless of which card it is. Or the credit card fee is added, which one, no matter how rich, absolutely avoids. Express credit transfers, instant transfers, wire transfers and the new SEPA Instant Payments are common alternatives to credit cards and cash. The justification for credit cards as the primary means of payment is becoming less and less recognized. That is why the publishers try to distinguish themselves from the competition by offering services tailored to the exclusive target group and justify the high annual fees.
Myth: The Black Luxury Card Has No Limit
According to urban legend, the American Express Centurion Card has no limit. The purchase of a watch at a six-digit price is just as possible as the purchase of a yacht for several million euros, dollars or any other currency.
If we leave out the aforementioned restrictions on credit card fees, the card is still limited. Although it does not have a fixed limit like most other cards, it is based on the cardholder’s usual turnover.
For example, if I spend 10,000 euros a month with my credit card, the card will not allow an unannounced turnover of 50,000 euros. I can work around this in two ways. Firstly, I can pay the planned turnover into the card account. This is also possible with almost any other credit card. In addition, I can issue a binding bank guarantee from my house bank to the credit card company. This costs money every month, but is usually accepted by all credit card companies. I can also try to register a higher turnover with Amex in advance. Depending on how they assess my creditworthiness, they can then waive an advance bank transfer or a bank guarantee.
If one day I unexpectedly feel the need to spend a multiple of the usual turnover with my credit card, it is better to do so during the business hours of my bank, so that they can fax a certificate of guarantee to American Express.
Continue with Part 2: Centurion Card – Real Life Experiences. This part is about concierge services and other services and benefits, as well as my personal summary of the American Express Centurion.
About the author:
Audemar ended his modeling career far too early to take over as Chief Coordinator Writers Stuff. Or something like that… He is married to me but wants to remain anonymous and therefore writes under a pseudonym, which we won’t reveal…