The second part of the American Express Centurion Card post series is about the service guarantees and actual benefits for cardholders. What does the concierge service offer? What about the quality of the services? Are the services worth the annual fees for the Black Amex?
Read the first part of the guest post: American Express Centurion – My Experiences.
Centurion Card: Concierge-Service/Relationship Manager
This is the real highlight and the point at which the exclusive credit card issuers want to differentiate themselves and by which the customer measures the quality of his card. This is the make-break point.
The promise of American Express: “Even where no one else hears you, we come to answer your call. Assistance in every situation in life. No matter what, no matter when, no matter where.”
Imagine you are in the Amazon jungle and urgently need cash. Or medical help, spare underwear, a map, an interpreter, spare passport, mobile phone charger, the morning-after pill, the morning-before pill and the during-sex pill, plane tickets, a helicopter, a yellow rubber boat…no matter what! The relationship manager of your American Express Centurion Card is trying to get it. Lovely!
Der Centurion Card Service – Real Luxury?
In the past, there was a phone number and with the help of a computer you could choose whether you wanted to speak to the lifestyle automated service, the business travel automated service or the holiday travel automated service; or if you had questions about your card account or the Membership Rewards points. Eventually, you ended up in a call center, which was obviously very, very closely connected to the call center of the Platinum Service.
The employees probably answered a call either as “Platinum Service” or as “Centurion Service” depending on which dial-in number they had been called from. The services are similar so this makes economical and organizational sense. Only the exclusivity is then, of course, gone. Anyway, the number of agents responsible for Centurion was limited and over the years I learned all the bulbs in the chandelier and knew who was bright and who was rather dark. The concierge service was 24×7, but on the weekend after 10 pm, the bright bulbs were at home and things needed to wait until normal office hours. Sometimes the line was busy or the connection terminated unexpectedly. Call center stuff as you know it (in a more extreme way) from IKEA and the various telecommunication companies, but you wouldn’t expect that from a service for the most exclusive group.
The call center stopped the service around 1 1/2 years ago and, instead, there is a dedicated relationship manager who unfortunately was not taken from the bright bulbs of the former chandelier, but rather was recruited anew. You can be lucky with your Relationship Manager or not. It’s people business, like everywhere else.
I wasn’t lucky. My contact person was a complete flop. He didn’t reply to emails, forgot bookings or did them incorrectly. He ignored special wishes or any wishes at all. This total failure made the Centurion Card Service as useless as possible. Accordingly, I asked for a replacement and thus had a connection to the so-called team leader, who was also from the douchebag brand and shouldn’t have any contact to customers. In the end, I got a more reliable, faster, friendlier and more competent contact person.
Unfortunately, this was still below the previous service level.
The company’s own standards are further specified in the countless books, brochures, booklets and catalogues: “Enjoy extras and advantages at various partner restaurants.”
In the past, both “various” and “partner” were missing in the statement. I can’t remember a case where the suggested VIP effect was a reality. Sometimes you got the worst table in a restaurant, but often none at all when the restaurant was fully booked. The earlier statement “We organize a table in trendy but often fully booked restaurants” is just as often wrong as the claim to get tickets for sold out events. In almost twenty years, I had this pleasure so seldom that I can hardly believe or even remember it.
Difficult Task: A Whiskey to Tenerife.
Also interesting was the attempt to send a bottle of whiskey to Tenerife. It happened a few years ago, but it seems to me to be sufficiently topical to be mentioned here.
I contacted the Lifestyle Service with, in my opinion, a completely manageable task. I didn’t want a table that same evening in a trendy restaurant booked out for months, no meet and greet with the funeral director who prepared Michael Jackson for his final voyage and no fire-breathing, trained unicorns with a beauty mark for my daughter.
I wanted Centurion Service to send a bottle of good Irish whiskey to a friend celebrating his 80th birthday in Tenerife. The lead time of more than two weeks seemed far more than sufficient to me, in view of Amex’s full-bodied advertising and service guarantees.
One or two days after my request, the “whiskey expert” contacted me. Whether the young man really was a whiskey expert, I cannot say for lack of expertise, but he was very friendly and courteous. And fast!
Within 48 hours, I had selected one of the proposed whiskeys. The most expensive one, as it is a Centurion cardholder’s duty to increase card expenses. Unfortunately, it turned out that the proposed online shop with the whiskey didn’t accept credit cards. But no problem, the whiskey expert was so friendly, I offer to pay the bottle immediately by bank transfer. Before I could do this, however, I read in the bank account email that the online shop does not ship abroad.
The whiskey expert reacted in the only sensible way: he apologized immediately and many times, made an alternative suggestion and agreed that the delivery costs would be borne by Amex due to this faux pas. They would now work with a supplier (online shop) which also delivered abroad.
If I hadn’t already had related service experiences, e.g. with the Travel Service, I would have taken this as an exception and human error in the overall good service. Errors happen to everyone, although this type of error in the service of what they say is “the most exclusive credit card in the world” would have been rather inappropriate and probably could have been avoided by the simplest means. Of course, a customer who spends 7-digits with Amex may also have higher expectations.
The main point here is that the whiskey was NOT delivered on the agreed-upon date and had still not reached its destination days later. Although I had underlined in every phone call and in every email that the “delivery date please be exactly on the umpteenth.” Believe it or not, punctual delivery has been promised several times and with advance notice of as little as nine days, were still feasible in every case.
From VIP Services to Lounges und Insurance to Safe Houses.
Other services of the Centurion Card,which are often, but not always, more reliable due to their nature:
– Airport VIP-Service
Those who are rich but not rich enough for a private jet do not sit in the lounge of Lufthansa, Emirates, and company, but in a separate lounge, far away from other passengers, with a private waiting room, buffet, bar and security check. He is taken to the plane by a limousine and can decide whether he wants to board first or last.
– Airport Parking Service
Valet parking. It’s free for about 4 days, and after that you have to pay. This applies to the major German airports. By the way, I got a ticket once because the delivery service parked the car in a restricted parking zone and left the vehicle. If you think the ticket was paid immediately and problem-free by American Express, should reread this article.
– Access to hundreds of airport lounges (Priority Pass membership)
– Flight bookings without ticket fees
– Withdraw cash abroad free of charge
– Additional cards for children as young as 16 (yeah, right!)
– Various bonus/status/VIP programs from hotels and car rental companies, e.g.
- Club Carlson Gold Elite
- Discovery Black Level
- Hilton HHonors Diamond Status
- IHG Rewards Club Platinum Elite Status
- Meliá Rewards Platinum
- Relais & Châteaux Club 5C
- Shangri-La Golden Circle Diamond
- Starwood Preferred Guest Gold
- Steigenberger Award World
- Preferred Golf Mitgliedschaft
- Emirates Skywards Gold
- Avis President´s Club
- Hertz Gold Plus President´s Circle
- Diamond Sixt Card
Those who have never heard of some of these status programs should not worry; it was the same with me. And I wouldn’t overrate them either, often it’s just convenience stuff like early check-in or late checkout, or a few welcome chocolates or fruits in the room. The following applies to all programs: those who frequently use a certain hotel chain or rental-car company can find the programs more or less helpful. Small things like shorter waiting times at the car rental or free upgrade upon availability (see next point) are nice, but don’t turn a bad day into a good one.
– Room upgrade, early check-in and late checkout upon availability
Only available at American Express partner hotels (see above). Room upgrades are only available if all planets in the solar system align, no state is officially on holiday and no fairs, exhibitions or festivals take place within a radius of 200km. Early check-in and/or late checkout are more doable.
– Boingo free WIFI
I’ve never seen that anywhere!
– Health insurance for traveling abroad
If you have a Centurion card, you are usually so well insured that it covers all traveling costs.
–Travel cancellation insurance (up to 15,000 Euro)
You wouldn’t get far with 15,000 euros for reimbursing any trip in the American Express travel catalog. Usual holiday trips of the target group usually cost a multiple of 15,000 euros.
– Insurance in case of flight delay and luggage insurance (up to 5,000 Euro)
Very nice and helpful. At least if only one suitcase, namely my suitcase, disappears permanently. Also, the target group has significantly higher-priced clothing in the suitcase. Or higher-priced suitcases. Usually both. My wife, for example.
– Insurance for rental cars
Excellent! At least you can avoid overpriced insurances from rental car companies.
– Purchase protection against theft and damage within the first 90 days
I have never used it, but I think I remember that the maximum amount was clearly too low to fully cover normal purchases.
– Centurion Houses
“Exclusive city oases” for Centurion owners plus a maximum of two guests in cities like Miami, Paris, Dubai and Singapore. Well, pretty much only in Miami, Paris, Dubai and Singapore. Probably something like the CIA safe houses, but smaller and not that well guarded.
There are other services, some of which are subject to a fee, others mainly for regular travels and events.
From time to time, services such as a high status in other customer loyalty programs are also tacitly abolished. In the past, for example, Centurion Card holders were Starwood Preferred Guest with Platinum status on request. Now you can only get gold status.
The Centurion Magazine.
Quarterly, one receives the Centurion magazine,which is elaborately produced and nicely made. Usually the most beautiful destinations and luxury products money can buy are shown. The magazine is always an inspiration for luxury travel. And sometimes you will also find special offers that are either slightly cheaper (very rare) or particularly exclusive (more frequent).
Conclusion: My Opinion on the Centurion Card from American Express.
The services of the Centurion Card can also be found in a slimmed-down version with “normal” credit cards such as the Barclaycard Platinum. Missing services can also be booked elsewhere with money or a good word. Basically, all services can be measured with a value that each individual must determine for himself. If you are a frequent flyer and spend nights for work in a foreign city every week, you attach a different value to these services than if you travel exclusively by handcrafted luxury First Class with your family and are driven around your destination by a chauffeur.
If you need or want to supply a large family with credit cards, you might consider the countless additional cards as a killer feature. For one who doesn’t know that travel agencies sometimes offer better advice, more breathtaking exclusive trips and cheaper prices than American Express, the Relationship Manager and the pretty travel brochures may be the end-all. Those who need such a card as a status symbol to find their salvation may have deeper problems.
Is there a price-performance ratio for such an exclusive product in this price category? Yes, absolutely. Because particularly people with considerable financial leeway expect a good price-performance ratio. Its evaluation is always in the eye of the beholder and in this case depends on the personal usage profile. So my conclusion on the price-performance ratio of the American Express Centurion Card is an extremely individual one. Others in different circumstances may come to a different conclusion, which is absolutely fine. Since the price increase from 2,000 euros to 5,000 euros per year, the price-performance ratio is no longer right for me.
If the customer is able to outperform the service of the Relationship Manager without training or expertise, simply by spending much or little (often less) time, then the service makes little sense. I can get more attractive rooms at cheaper prices in hotels, can have nicer trips put together at better prices by good travel agencies, can buy special gifts faster and easier on the internet and so on and so forth. I can book the insurance services tailored to my needs and therefore more suitable and/or cheaper, not to mention VIP lounges, valet parking, plane tickets, etc.
The question remains: how much is one’s time worth? Should you make it or buy it? I assume that the majority of Centurion Card holders have at least one assistant or even an entire back office.
Last but not least, the quality question remains. When money doesn’t matter, it’s quality. And then I want the best table at the restaurant, the best whiskey, the greatest hotel with the grandest room. As a Centurion, I want the best, because that’s what I pay for. When prices rise, so must quality.
Do I Now Need an American Express Centurion Card?
Many people do not even ask this question and after twenty years I can say this to those who are invited to the party: It’s a product, not an award, and not a qualification for anything.
Surely the black credit card or what it symbolizes is no reason to freeze in awe. The product has a price and value. You never need it, it can be helpful and is occasionally a status symbol. There are many alternatives and room for improvement. Just like with all luxury products. It is the queen of credit cards, just as a Porsche is the best sports car, a Leica M the most wonderful camera and a Patek Philippe the most stylish wristwatch. Oh, they’re not? Well then…
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…
You are now in the mood for concrete luxury travel inspiration? How about a Porsche Driving Experience in Finland or a luxury stay at One & Only Emirates Wolgan Valley ? Are you a photographer? Read about the Leica M or the Hasselblad (coming soon)