Over the past few months I have been getting numerous emails about a picture of me holding up a black credit card. Usually the emails I have been getting ask one of the following questions:
- What is the black card you are holding up?
- How did you obtain that black credit card?
- How can I obtain one of those cards?
- What is the benefit of having a black card?
- Is it worth having that card?
What is the black card you are holding up?
To answer your questions, the black card is an American Express Centurion card. I first found out about the card in 2007 from two other Centurion cardholders: Brian Price and Greg Hartnett. After that day, I knew I wanted one but was not sure how to obtain one without having any credit (I don’t own a house or car, and all of my credit cards are company credit cards).
How did I obtain a Centurion card?
To make a long story short of how I obtained the Centurion card, I am currently on the Board of Advisors of a handful of companies. One of them being Affiliate Programs (who is mainly known for owning a lot of the media properties in the online gambling and affiliate space). Because I am on the board of advisors for that company, one of the perks that they provided me was a Centurion card. The best part about getting the card through them, is that they paid for the upfront fees to obtain the card and they pay the monthly card bill.
How can you obtain a Centurion card?
Before you can apply to obtain a Centurion card, you first need an American Express credit card. It does not matter which card you have (blue, blue cash, blue sky, gold, platinum), you just need a decent limit.
Once you have a credit card, you need to spend a minimum of $250,000 within 1 year, which sounds hard, but if you have a business it is not too difficult because you put all your expenses on a credit card. Basically, if you spend a lot on entertainment or marketing, just charge it to your Amex card. If you have employees to pay each month, pay a payroll company through your credit card, which would in return pay your employees through checks.
The main problem that most individuals or companies run into with the $250,000 yearly spend is that they spend at least that amount but their credit limit with American Express is not $20,833.33 a month ($250,000 divided by 12 months). In this case what you do is write American Express a check at the beginning of month to cover all your credit card expenditures for the month. For example, if your credit card limit is $10,000 a month and you figure that you will spend $25,000 this month, write American Express a check for $15,000 ($25,000 – $10,000 = $15,000) before the month begins.
After you have spent $250,000 in a year, call up American Express and request a Centurion card. Most people claim that it is invite only, but the reality is they are not too hard to get if you spend $250,000 a year.
Once you are approved for the Centurion card, you then have to pay them fees.
- Upfront fee – $5000
- Yearly fee for the first card – $2500
- Yearly fee for each additional card – $1500
A few years ago you were able to get these cards with lower fees all of these fees. The upfront fee may have not been there or the yearly fee for the first card was much lower. Nowadays if you are trying to get this card you will end up paying at least $7500 in fees during your first year of use.
What benefits do the Centurion card provide?
The benefits you receive for having a Centurion card vary based on the type of card you have. The two types of cards are personal and business and because I only have a business card, I am not 100% certain on the benefits of the personal card. As for the business version, here are the benefits:
- Personalized services – American Express provides you with 2 concierges (personal and travel). The travel concierge deals with all travel related booking such as hotels, airfare and rental cars. The personal concierge deals with everything else such as shopping and fine dining. This is probably the most used because not only can you use the concierge service, but also you are allowed to give others access to use it as well (family and assistants).
- Air travel – on certain airlines (Delta, US Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Northwest) you are upgraded to elite status. This means when you buy an economy ticket you are automatically upgraded to business or first class upon availability. Plus, up to 4 times a year you can take your companion (family member or friend) on a trip with you for free. So if you buy a round trip ticket from Los Angeles to New York, you can take someone with you and back for free. If you want to take someone with you on an international flight for free you have to buy a business or first class ticket.
- Lodging – just like with air travel, you obtain elite status with certain hotels and resorts. With hotels like the Starwood Group (W, Sheraton, Westin, Four Points, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, Meridien, Element, and Aloft), Ritz-Carlton, Hilton, Amanresorts, Peninsula Hotels, Orient Express Hotels, Mandarin Oriental, and Centurion Villas, you are able to get free suite upgrades as well as a free breakfast. Depending on the location of the hotel you may also get a free spa treatment, free lunch, a gift upon arrival, and a free gift voucher to the shop inside the hotel. If that doesn’t meet all of your traveling needs, you also become an elite member at 550 worldwide hotels and resorts.
- Cruises and Land Vacations – whether you are looking for a private yacht, you are in the mood for cruise, or trying to go on an exotic vacation, American Express has specials for you. If you want your own yacht, you will get a $500 credit towards your meals. If you want to go on a 6-day or longer cruise you will also get a $500 credit towards your fees. Furthermore, if you want to take a trip to an exotic location your travel concierge will set it up for you and provide you the best deals out there.
- Additional travel benefits – if you travel on a regular basis there are a lot of little things you may need. For example if you want a limo to take you around, American Express can do that for you. Or, if you prefer renting cars you will have an elite status at Hertz and Avis so you can enjoy complimentary upgrades. If that wasn’t enough to take care of your needs, you can also have someone to assist you with communications in countries that do not speak English, get baggage insurance, car rental insurance, and up to 1.5 million dollars in travel insurance in case your plane, bus, or boat crashes.
- Retail benefits – if you love shopping at certain stores like Saks or Gucci, you can have a personal shopper with you to help you find everything you need. If you hate shopping, American Express can close down certain shops so you can be the only shopper in the store and you will not have to deal with lines.
- Entertainment benefits – from fancy dinning to enjoy special events, your concierge is there to get you into whatever you want. Instead of waiting to be seated at restaurants, American Express has deals with over 1000 restaurants where they have tables dedicated for cardholders. If you are trying to get tickets to the Super Bowl, all you have to do is call your concierge.
- Financial solutions – many Centurion members are financially well off, which means they pay a lot of taxes, usually have a few businesses, and may run into legal issues every once in a while. American Express provides financial solutions to help you personally as well as with your business. For example if you are about to sell a company, they will help you through the process and make sure everything goes smoothly. And once you have all that excessive cash, they can help you setup things like Burial Insurance.
- Branding- this benefit is the only one out of this list that is not in the Benefits Booklet, but I think it is one of the most valuable benefits of having the card. It helps create buzz around your name and makes more people to want to know you. If you are talented and smart you probably do not need this but the extra branding never hurts.
Is it really worth it?
I probably do 40 to 60 trips a year, which means I end up sleeping in hotels a good amount of the year. The room and flight upgrades make my traveling experience pleasant, especially when traveling international. If you don’t travel often, the only way you will be able to get your money’s worth is if you keep on using the concierge service, which is only useful for specific circumstances.
For example, the other day I requested my concierge to find me the cheapest price on a Sony digital camera and here is the response I got:
Dear Mr. Patel,
I hope all is well since my last email!
I am writing again in regards to your request for the Sony Cybershot T200 digital. I have tried to locate the cheapest possible options and it appears that the online options tend to be cheaper than the local stores near La Palma, CA. While the camera is available at local retailers like Ritz Camera, Best Buy, and so on, they are all selling it at the $399.99 retail price.
Please see below for further details:
Digital Camera Information:
Phone: Not available
Payment Methods Accepted: All major credit cards including American Express
Item: Sony Cybershot DSC-T200
Details: This camera comes in Silver, Black, or Red. Please note the red option is sold through Amazon via Vans and there is only one left in stock. The website below is for the silver version and has further details about the product.
Price: $339.99 for silver, $366.36 for black, and $389.98 for red (Shipping is not included in the price.)
Vendor: B&H Photo Video
Location: Online and 420 9th Avenue, New York, NY 10001
Phone: 800-952-1815 or 212-444-6708
Payment Methods Accepted: All major credit cards including American Express
Item: Sony Cybershot DSC-T200
Details: This camera comes in Black, Silver, or Red and includes the following: NP-BD1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery, BC-CSD battery charger, A/V and USB multi-connector cable, wrist strap, software CD-ROM (Picture Motion Browser 2.0 and USB driver), user guide, and 1-year USA limited warranty.
Price: $359.95 plus shipping (UPS ground shipping is free.)
I hope this information is helpful. If you require directions or transportation to the Best Buy store in Signal Hill, CA, please let me know. Should you have any further questions, comments, or concerns, or if there is anything else I can do to assist you, please do not hesitate to contact me here at the American Express Centurion Concierge.
Thank you very much and have a pleasant evening!
The problem with asking your concierge for common items such as this Sony digital camera is that you can probably find what they found out in a few hours by just surfing the web. Plus, you will have that information instantaneously instead of waiting a day or two for your concierge to get back to you.
I’m not trying to make my concierge to sound useless because she really is helpful but if you want to maximize your experience you need to figure out what they are useful for. For example I have an important meeting in early January and was looking for a nice custom suit. The problem is, I live in middle class suburbia, I have no idea where I can find a nice suit in my size, and most the places I called were not able to deliver a custom suit within that time frame. So I emailed my concierge and this is what she came back to me with:
Dear Mr. Patel,
I hope your day is going well. As a follow up to your conversation with XXXXXX, it was my pleasure to assist you with your request. I am pleased to inform you that as an American Express Centurion member you are entitled to excellent shopping benefits. Ermenegildo Zegna and Gucci not only provide a great selection of fine suits but also offer made-to-measure services to Centurion members. Either vendor is sure to provide you with an excellent suit for your meeting. Please refer to the information below.
Name: Ermenegildo Zegna
Address: 301 North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Telephone: (310) 247-8827
Details: Ermenegildo Zegna offers a “Su Misura” service to arrange a convenient made-to-measure fitting at your home or office. Also at the end of the season, Centurion members are offered a complimentary “check-up,” including professional dry cleaning, ironing of your Ermenegildo Zegna suits, a careful check of details, and all necessary adjustments.
Address: 347 North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Telephone: (310) 278-3451
Details: Gucci offers outstanding amenities and shopping privileges to Centurion members. As a Centurion member, when you visit Gucci boutiques in New York City or Beverly Hills, you’ll enjoy exceptional benefits like the convenience of shopping from the comfort of your home, office, or hotel, invitations to private sales and trunk shows, priority alteration services, access to a personal shopper, and complimentary shipping. Gucci has a large selection of suits and also offers made-to-measure suits.
If you have any questions or if you would like me to schedule an appointment on your behalf, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you would like a complete list of shopping benefits for Centurion members, I would be more than happy to send you more information. I can be reached via email or by calling (XXX) XXX-XXXX, extension XXXX.
Thank you and have a wonderful day!
For this particular situation my concierge was very helpful because when I contacted anyone of those stores they were not have able to deliver my suit in the timeframe I needed, but American Express was able to pull it off.
Hopefully my insights help you determine if the Centurion card is right for you. For me it is well worth it because I don’t have to pay any of the fees or the monthly bill and I am definitely maximizing its’ use because I travel frequently. The real question is, do you think the Centurion card is worth the $7500 year 1 fee?