You probably have heard about the American Express Centurion Card, commonly referred to the “black card,” although there is a VISA-issued card by the same name.
When the card was launched in 1999, the chairman of my company received one gratis as he was on a board with the then chairman of American Express. Later on he was able to renegotiate the annual fee, which is now at $2,500 for U.S. addresses. The initiation fee is now $7,500.
At one point there was an impressive list of airline partners, however that has been whittled. There were also surprise gifts such as free hotel stays, something that seems to have been reduced. Certainly at the beginning, nothing said you were a big dog like whipping out your black card. It was an attention grabber when for the first couple years, servers didn’t know what it was, providing an extra spotlight moment of ooohs and ahhhs.
Last week I read an assessment from Brian Kelly, a blogger who writes about accumulating frequent flier points and recently signed up for the Centurion Card.
His first comment was there is no mileage bonus, something for folks who chase mileage awards and upgrades can be quite lucrative. While you may not feel it’s worth chasing miles, Kelly points out last year a Chinese art collector earned 170 million Amex points buying a painting with it.
The current partner shiny cards include Platinum from Delta Air Lines, which is below the top tier of Diamond and some VVIP levels you can get if your company is a big corporate client. There is also Starwood Gold status, which is below the top tier Platinum, however two additional points. Within Platinum Starwood offers extra perks for Platinums who stay 75 and 100 nights per year, so you will be well down the totem pole if you are depending on an SPG Gold card for recognition. Plus, SPG will be combined into Marriott Rewards at some point after the two companies’ upcoming merger. There is also Hilton HHonors Diamond status, the top level in that program, and IHG Priority Club Platinum Elite, not the top level.
If you are not chasing points, then it comes down to the Centurion Concierge. Kelly reports, ” I’ve only been a cardholder for a handful of months, but I’ve already successfully tasked my concierge with getting me reservations at hot restaurants (like the Drunken Dragon in Miami Beach at the last minute on a Friday night) and researching African safaris for an upcoming summer trip. My concierge is extremely attentive and eager to please. It’s hard to put a value on this service, but if utilized correctly, the Centurion Concierge can save you time and money by finding the best deals.”
Lou Hammond who owns a travel focused PR firm in New York, but doesn’t count American Express as a client says, she has had the Centurion Card for over a decade. She says she uses it frequently to obtain reservations at hot restaurants when clients need help. “It’s amazing. It works 80 percent of the time, and it saves my PA a ton of time,” she says. She believes having the card gets better service.
That said, if you don’t task your PA with helping arrange dinner reservations, or if your PA needs some help in that area, the concierge service could be valuable.
“Only time will tell whether the Centurion Card is worth it. So far the service is better than I expected…Paying $10,000 for a credit card with no sign-up bonus was a hard pill to swallow.”