Centurion cardmembers often report that their cards are heavy – the titanium design is said to leave an impression on other people."
What is the Centurion Card?
It’s been touted as a card for the elite; a kind of card that represents prestige and luxury. The Centurion Card is by invitation only and a charge card with no set limit.
What started out as an urban myth linked to Jerry Seinfeld in the mid-nineties turned into a new product by October of 1999. Jerry Seinfeld was a spokesperson for American Express in the 1990s. He was asked by a fellow crew member whether he had the Black Card. According to the crew member, there were only three black cards in the world: one for the Sultan of Brunei, one for the president of American Express and one for Jerry Seinfeld.
Except Seinfeld didn’t. He called American Express the very next day who told Seinfeld that the card didn’t exist. (According to Fortune, Seinfeld called up American Express executive at the time, Harvey Golub to ask for the black card, only to be told that the card didn’t exist.)
CNBC reported that when the Centurion Card was finally released that Seinfeld was the first cardmember.
On October 14, 1999, American Express issued a press release that stated, “We created the Centurion Card in response to customer research that identified a small but affluent group of cardmembers for whom individual attention and access to previously unavailable elite travel benefits was of great interest,”
“Many of our prospective cardmembers are already frequent travelers receiving elite benefits on one airline. The Centurion Card is the only product on the market that can grant them elite status on four airlines, and much more.”
Centurion cardmembers had an international cell phone delivered directly to them free of charge. They only paid for the calls. There were bonuses on the already very exclusive Concorde at no extra cost. Not to mention the reduced fees for financial management services exclusive to the very rich and famous.
What can I do with the Centurion Card?
It seems that the sky really is the limit with the Black Card. Billionaire Liu Yiqian purchased Amedeo Modiglian’s Reclining Nude painting from Christie’s in New York for USD $170 million dollars. It was rumoured that he paid for it on his Centurion Card.
Some value the prestige and social status of card membership. Centurion card membership is by invitation. Some cardmembers receive invites to floor seats at sporting events, red carpet events and exclusive gatherings worldwide.
Exclusivity is a hallmark of the Centurion Card. There are dozens of videos and forums offering advice on how to get approved for the Centurion Card. Conde Nast Traveler suggested American Express uses a secret algorithm to select candidates. A team of advisers conduct due diligence on potential members. Being a regular and big spender on luxury goods and services, dining, events, and travel is rumoured to help.
It’s also a card for the famous (or infamous). Kanye West (now known as ‘Ye’) refers to the black card in his song "Last Call". Noel Gallagher of Oasis has a black card. Jessica Simpson talked about her black card in her show “Newlyweds”. Kim Kardashian tweeted that she had paid for Panda Express fast food on her black card. While it can be the ultimate status symbol, other card members have extolled the benefits of membership, from the uncontroversial handling of an inconvenience, to emergencies.
A concierge unlike any other
It’s difficult to get good service these days but Centurion seems to offer an experience that is hard to beat. Claimed former concierges of the Centurion and Platinum cards have offered their stories dealing with cardmembers. One concierge reportedly spent two weeks calling retailers throughout the United States trying to locate a the then newly-released Nintendo Wii.
One Redditor has said that although the ongoing card membership fee is somewhat high, that the service at Amex Centurion is ‘second to none.’ The Redditor also stated that as a cardmember, they also received gift cards, coupons, special products, and leather wallets. Taking a quick look on eBay, it’s not hard to find some of these Centurion products like exclusive glass paperweights, luxury-branded leather wallets and card holders up for sale.
Centurion cardmembers can also request their own personal concierge, whereas with Platinum you can only get in contact with whoever was available. Centurion Lifestyle Executives, as they referred to themselves, seemed to work across both Platinum and Centurion cards. On the one occasion I called American Express to order flowers, the chirpy executive offered to be contacted directly for any of my future service requirements.
It is widely known that the Centurion Card and the Platinum Card offer airport lounge access, elite status at hotels and exclusive magazine and/or newspaper subscriptions.
When travelling, you can also avail of the Centurion Card’s International Arrival Services. When booking business or first class via American Express Travel, you are assigned a personal guide to escort you through immigration and customs.
The experience also flows through to ensure all Centurion cardmembers are taken care of. A Redditor spoke of their horrendous customer service upon check-in at a top hotel. After that card member called the Centurion Travel team, the Redditor then received a personal phone call from the general manager of that hotel. That general manager offered an apology and then offered the guest a complimentary next stay.
The card design
In 2021, American Express shifted to custom-designed cards. American Express offered Centurion cardmembers one of three designs. One of them was the original titanium classic black. The other two? Ones designed by artists Rem Koolhaas (Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, founder of OMA Design Group), and Kehinde Wiley (painter of the official Barack Obama portrait). Centurion cardmembers often report that their cards are heavy – and the titanium design is said to leave an impression on other people.