Centurion® Card from American Express Review: The world’s most elite travel card?

Couple sitting at a table in the surf at a beach, toasting because they have the Centurion® Card from American Express, which could be the world’s most elite travel card Couple sitting at a table in the surf at a beach, toasting because they have the Centurion® Card from American Express, which could be the world’s most elite travel card Image:

In a Nutshell

The Centurion® Card from American Express is an invitation-only travel rewards card reserved solely for Amex's biggest spenders. But is it worth the hefty fees?

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American Express has worked hard to maintain the air of mystique surrounding its invitation-only Centurion® Card, informally known as the American Express black card.

If you make the cut, you’ll enjoy numerous benefits and valuable perks. But is it worth the hefty fees?

It depends on who you ask. Since the card was introduced in 1999, it has been the card to own for celebrities and people who want the reputation associated with carrying an exclusive card.

Although American Express doesn’t publicly disclose the criteria necessary to qualify for a Centurion® Card, it appears that cardholders:

  • Spend in the six figures each year.
  • Are already Amex cardholders — typically with a Platinum® Card.
  • Have an annual household income of around $1.3 million.
  • Have substantial net worth.

Below, we break down everything you need to know.

  1. The rundown: Everything we like about the Centurion® Card from American Express
  2. Heads up: What you should consider before applying
  3. Do the math: How to get the most out of the Centurion® Card from American Express
  4. The competition: How the Centurion® Card from American Express stacks up against similar cards
  5. Bottom line: Is the Centurion® Card from American Express right for you?

The rundown: Everything we like about the Centurion® Card from American Express

You won’t find details about the Centurion® Card on the Amex website. The company keeps card details under wraps, although many have leaked out over the years.

Benji Stawski, an avid traveler and frequent contributor to The Points Guy, a travel advice blog, has done a lot of reading up on the Centurion® Card and says it comes with amazing benefits for frequent travelers, including:

  • Elite status with several hotel chains including Starwood (which can be matched with Marriott hotels due to their merger) and, in some countries, IHG and Hilton.
  • Platinum Medallion status with Delta. “This, in my opinion, is the most valuable benefit,” Stawski says, “as you get unlimited complimentary first-class upgrades (with relatively high priority on the list), complimentary Comfort+ upgrades and more.”
  • Lounge access to the Delta Sky Club (usually $495 per year), American Express Centurion® Lounges and Priority PassTM
  • $200 annual qualifying airline rebate that can be applied toward baggage fees, in-flight food and drinks, and more.
  • Car rental elite status that provides class upgrades and guaranteed availability with leading auto rental companies, such as Avis and Hertz.
  • Access to a concierge service that can not only gets you dinner reservations but also helps you direct your spending to maximize points.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

Heads up: What you should consider before applying

First, you’ll have to figure out how to actually get a card. People can’t apply for this card; they must be invited, and word on the street is invitations are reserved only for those who do some serious spending on their American Express cards and have substantial net worth.

However, in an article for Travel and Leisure, Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy, said existing Amex customers can request to be considered for an invitation. That’s how Kelly received his card.

You should also consider your point-earning potential. Kelly says you only earn one point per dollar on all purchases, although others have reported a slightly different number. Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar and KISSmetrics, says in an Entrepreneur article that he receives 1.5 points on all purchases over $5,000.

Finally, even if you manage to get an invitation, the initiation and annual fees may dissuade you from applying. There’s an initiation fee of $7,500 and an annual membership fee of $2,500 per card. “This is a hefty fee for a credit card,” Stawski says, “and unlike just about every other credit card on the market, there is no sign-up bonus.”

Do the math: How to get the most out of the Centurion® Card from American Express

If that elusive black-card invitation shows up at your door, should you fork over $10,000 in fees? Stawski says he doesn’t recommend it, “unless you can maximize the rewards you get from Platinum Medallion status with Delta and really want bragging rights from having the black card.”

Many elite travel and airline rewards cards come with much lower annual fees and offer several of the same benefits.

“To get the most out of the card,” Stawski says, “you really need to travel often, specifically with Delta, and make sure you activate all of your elite status memberships.”

Stawski also says the business version of the Centurion® Card is better than the personal version as it offers a 50 percent points rebate on all or part of an eligible airfare booked with points.

So if you simply must have the black card in your wallet and you own a business, consider applying for a business version of the card as opposed to a personal one.

The competition: How the Centurion® Card from American Express stacks up against similar cards

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

**This offer is no longer available on our site.

3x points on travel and dining, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Platinum Card® from American Express 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5x points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.

 

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

**This offer is no longer available on our site.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ card is an excellent travel rewards card, and its $450 annual fee is just a fraction of that charged by Amex for the Centurion®.

It also comes with a pretty generous sign-up bonus: New cardholders earn 50,000 bonus points after they spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening – that’s $750 when redeemed for travel using Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

There’s also a $300 annual travel credit cardholders can use as reimbursement for travel purchases, including airfare and hotels.

Cardholders earn three points per dollar spent on travel and dining, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere.

They also have access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide with complimentary Priority PassTM Select membership.

 

Platinum Card® from American Express

From our partner

Platinum Card® from American Express

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

With an annual fee of $550, you’ll play slightly more for the Platinum Card® from American Express than for the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ card, but still significantly less than the Centurion® card.

Still, the Platinum Card® has many of the same benefits of the Centurion® card, including Gold status with Starwood, access to airport lounges, access to the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts program, car rental elite status, and a $200 airline fee credit per calendar year for baggage and other incidental travel fees at a qualifying airline of your choice.

New cardholders earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after they make $5,000 in purchases within the first 90 days — remember, the Centurion® card doesn’t even have a sign-up bonus!

After that, cardholders earn five Membership Rewards® points on every dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, and they earn five Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.


Bottom line: Is the Centurion® Card from American Express right for you?

If attention is what you’re after, whipping out that black Amex card at the club will get it for you.

But that attention comes with a hefty price tag. Heavy-duty card users and frequent travelers may be able to play the points game enough to make the Centurion® fees worthwhile – but if you’re looking for travel perks without the hoopla, you’re probably better off sticking with a high rewards travel card (like the Platinum Card®) and pocketing the difference in fees.


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