platinum card

Centurion Card

The Centurion Card, popularly known as the Black Card, is a charge card issued by American Express. The Centurion Card provides access to a range of exclusive privileges. To become a card holder, an invitation into the program is needed from American Express. In order to achieve this one must meet American Express' strict criteria. Cardholders are required to pay an annual fee. As of 2007, the annual fee in the United States was $2,500, with a one-time $5,000 initiation fee for the first year.

History

Urban legends of a special, black-colored card offering dignitaries and celebrities unlimited spending power and after-hours access to high-end stores circulated since the 1980s. The rumor of an unlimited spending card originated because certain high-spending card members were given a black information card that, while not a charge or credit card, contained important telephone numbers, such as numbers for American Express Travel and Concierge services.

While the rumors were false, American Express decided to capitalize on them in October 1999 by launching the Centurion Card, available to selected holders of its Platinum Card. The card is not made of plastic, but a form of metal. The Amex Centurion Card originally had an annual fee of $1,000, however it has since been increased to $2,500. (American Express' first credit card product, the Optima Card, was originally issued by a subsidiary called the "American Express Centurion Bank. Both the Centurion Card and the AmEx Centurion Bank were named after AmEx's logo, which features the likeness of a Roman centurion.)

Comedian and television star Jerry Seinfeld was the first recipient of the Centurion card. Seinfeld had previously served as a spokesman for American Express in commercial advertising.

Availability and fees

The Centurion card is offered "by invitation only" in countries where the Platinum card existed for many years as High End charge card, and where a market has been identified for a more exclusive product. Where the Centurion card is not available, the Platinum card remains "by invitation only".

As of Aug 1, 2007, in the United States, stated requirements to become a card holder included minimum spending of $250,000 in a 12 month period, and exceptional credit history. However, the requirements could be waived for celebrities and public figures. Requirements for acceptance in other countries can differ slightly. There is a US $5,000 one-time initiation fee for new primary card holders, plus the annual fee of US $2,500, for a total of $7,500 due within the first billing cycle after obtaining the card. Additional cards for an annual fee of $1,500 per each additional Centurion card (one-time US $5,000 initiation fee waived for additional Centurion cards), $175 per each additional Platinum card or $45 per each additional Gold card linked to the primary Centurion account holder are also available.

In the UK, there was no minimum annual spend although it is reported that spending £3,000 a month was standard.

The International Euro (IEC) or Dollar (IDC) Centurion cards issued by Amex UK for customers in Europe, Middle-East and Africa (see www.americanexpress.com/iec ) offer a portfolio of up to 22 cards included in the annual fee :

  • a Centurion card in titanium, for the main cardholder
  • an additional Centurion card in black plastic for the main cardholder (with the mention A.C embossed after the name)
  • a supplementary Centurion card in black plastic for a family member
  • up to 19 supplementary cards in Green, Gold or Platinum for family members

The criteria that must be met in order to be invited to apply for a Centurion card, as well as the benefits and the annual fees vary from country to country. As Centurion was introduced 1999 (as a plastic black card) , the annual fee was about US$1,000 or DM 2,000 (in Germany). The annual fee increased since then to $2,500 in the US (or more in some other countries) and the main card is now made of non magnetic metal (titanium).

Annual fees that remain (2008) at the initial level (like in Germany) should be increased in the near future.

Centurion Card Annual Fees
Country Annual Fee Equivalent to
United States US$ 2,500 + One-time joining
fee of US$ 5,000
US$ 2,500
+US$ 5,000
United Kingdom £650 US$ 1,275
France, Italy, Spain,
The Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden
€ 2,000 US$ 3,000
Germany € 1,000 US$ 1,518
Switzerland CHF 2,000 US$ 1,921
Australia AU$ 4,300 US$ 3,660
Japan ¥ 367,500 US$ 3,400
Hong Kong HK$ 19,800 + One-time joining
fee of HK$ 23,800
US$ 2,547
+US$ 3,061
Singapore SG$ 5,000 US$ 3,260
Mexico About 27,000 pesos US$ 2,500
International Dollar Currency Card
(IDC)
US$ 2,800
International Euro Currency Card
(IEC)
€ 2,800 US$ 4,200
Israel US$ 2,000 US$ 2,000
Russia 85000 Rubles US$ 3,000

Features and benefits

The card, available for both personal and business use, offers numerous exclusive privileges including a dedicated concierge and travel agent, complimentary companion airline tickets on international flights on selected airlines with the purchase of a full fare ticket, personal shoppers at retailers such as Escada, Gucci, and Neiman Marcus, access to airport clubs, first class flight upgrades, membership in Sony's Cierge personal shopping program, and dozens of other elite club memberships. Hotel benefits include one free night when at least one paid night is booked during the same stay in every Mandarin Oriental hotel worldwide once a year (except for the New York City property), one free night at one LXR Luxury Resorts hotel (now defunct) once a year, and privileges at hotel chains like Ritz-Carlton, Leading Hotels of the World, and Amanresorts. All of the benefits mentioned above are for United States-issued cards. American Express Centurion cards issued in other countries may include different benefits. The card has recently added new amenities, including access into the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold, as well as US Airways Platinum Preferred status as of June 1, 2007. As of August 14, 2007, American Airlines Admirals Club access was added to the long list of amenities.

A new Centurion card crafted from anodized titanium was issued as a replacement for all plastic U.S. Centurion cards in the first half of 2006, with the titanium version being rolled out to certain other countries as well. This new card is slightly thicker than a standard credit card, and therefore is sometimes difficult to insert and remove from some card readers, such as the ones found on gas station pumps, as well as automatic readers, such as the ones found at Target. There have also been rumors that some airport metal detectors are set off by the titanium black card (compelling wallets to be scanned through the x-ray machine).

Travel benefits include, but are not limited to, enrollment in:

  • Continental OnePass Gold Elite
  • Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Gold Medallion
  • US Airways Dividend Miles Platinum Preferred
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways Flying Club Gold
  • Priority Pass Membership
  • Hilton HHonors Gold

American Express has changed certain benefits of the card in the years since it was introduced. For example, Hyatt Diamond Elite status was included up until January 2005, and Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum status was included up until January 2006. Status level at Starwood Hotels & Resorts is now Gold. UK members had access to Virgin Upper Class lounges, but this privilege has been removed.

American Express sent an email to about 250,000 customers on September 20, 2006, describing certain benefits of the Centurion card. The email was supposed to be sent to the 10,000 black card holders. Phone calls to their customer service line revealed: 1) the email was sent to the 'wrong list' in error, and 2) qualifications for the Centurion card were one year of card membership with a $250,000 annual cash flow through the card account.

Additionally, as a token of American Express's appreciation (and in light of the recent membership fee increase), some primary cardholders received a Canon PowerShot SD850 digital camera, beginning in late November/early December 2007. A note from Kenneth Chenault, CEO and Chairman of American Express, was included inside the characteristic black box with a liner captioned "what do you want to capture." Other gifts to cardmembers have included a $2000 Judith Ripka gift card, a $1000 Van Cleef & Arpels gift card (and Reflections of Eternity book), tote bags, Gucci gift card, etc. In August 2008, Limited Centurion members received a $1000 Mikimoto gift card.

Concierge

The concierge services allows Centurion (and Platinum) card holders to call or email requests for tickets, dinner reservations, and shopping research. The actual concierge process is outsourced to a company called Circles. Centurion card holders are given access to slightly higher paid concierges who are selected from the top Platinum concierge employees. The concierge services are mostly the same between both types of card holders, however Centurion card holders will receive more prompt service and will have access to a dedicated concierge. Centurion card holders will typically have a higher success rate in more difficult situations due to the prestige of the "black card".

Publications

Since the inception of the card, members have received a copy of Departures magazine, which is also sent to all Platinum cardholders. However, in 2004, American Express Centurion members began to receive an exclusive "no name" magazine which was not available by any other means. Starting with the Spring 2007 edition, this magazine has been officially titled "Black Ink." The reason given by Ed Ventimiglia, the publisher, was that "now the magazine will be easier to identify when discussing it with like-minded readers."

European, Asian and Australian Centurion members receive quarterly the "Centurion magazine", published by Journal International GmbH (Munich, Germany).

Spending limits

The Centurion Card does have limits, but these limits are not pre-set at a certain level. Like any other American Express charge card, the limits are based on the spending history of card holder, as well as their personal credit profile and financial resources. A card holder who had spent $250,000 in the previous year could not, for instance, purchase a jet with a swipe of his or her card unless he or she had the resources to make good on their previous transactions.

In popular culture

Due to the mystique of the Black Card, it has been often referenced in popular culture. For example, in Lauren Weisberger's 2005 novel Everyone Worth Knowing, a co-worker of the main character, Bette, pays for dinner with a black card: "There it was, the mythical American Express black card. Available by invitation only to those who charged a minimum of $250,000 per year. I had only just learned about it myself." Likewise, in Kresley Cole's 2006 novel A Hunger Like No Other, the half vampire/half Valkyrie character Emmaline Troy is noted to have a black Centurion AmEx, which is confiscated by her Lykae mate Lachlain MacReive. On the website for romance novelist Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter novel, Acheron, Acheron states in his journal that he had to order a second "black Amex" because his demon, Simi, snagged his card because it "matches her wardrobe." Also in Stuart Woods's 2008 novel "Santa Fe Dead", Eleanor Keeler is mentioned as having a Black Amex Card. In John RIngo's 2007 Technothriller, "A Deeper Blue", Mike (Ghost) Jenkins purchases a Ford Mustang GT and 10 Black Ford Expeditions in Orlando Florida for himself and his Keldara Spec Ops troops with his American Titanium Card.

Music artists like Jay-Z (in the song 30 Something), Kanye West (in the song Last Call), Bow Wow (in the songs Marco Polo , Oh I Think They Like Me , and Get Money ), Lil Wayne (in the song Get It Shawty Remix), MC Chris (in the song Blastic), and Swizz Beatz (in the song That Oprah) reference the black card in their songs. Noel Gallagher showed off his black AMEX card in an interview to disprove a long time quote by a Brit Awards organizer who told him not attending the 1994 awards show would "ruin his career". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrVqmFY0Lk8

The J. Peterman Company's catalog product " Linen Safari Jacket" recounts John Peterman's encounter with an un-named director and the black card: "The rumors were true, then. There really was a black Amex card so exclusive (less than 10,000 issued worldwide) that most people had never even heard of its existence."

In Breaking Dawn, Edward Cullen gives Bella Swan a Black Card as part of her engagement present.

In the HBO series Entourage Vince and his friends are always using Vince's 'Black Card' to buy any and everything they need, even when money is tight, despite Vince's financial adviser pleading him to "not live off your Black Card."

In the anime Lupin III: Seven Days Rhapsody, Michelle books an $8000/night suite at the Waldorf Astoria using a Black Card.

Imitators

The Centurion card was the first "Black Card", but other card issuers are attempting to enter this lucrative high-end market. Despite new competition, the Centurion Card can be easily distinguished by its weight due to its titanium make-up.

The Coutts Signia Card and Coutts World Card issued by Coutts & Co. is another prestigious card.

In the UK NatWest bank launched a "Black Card" in 2002, and MasterCard's Signia, which is issued in the United Kingdom by Coutts & Co bank. Morgan Stanley offers the i24card and there is also the Carbon card from Halifax, all designed to provide similar benefits to its wealthy clientèle. Wachovia Bank N.A. also has capitalized upon the trend by offering its Wealth Management clients black-colored Visa Signature cards with concierge service and no pre-set spending limits, along with 1.5% back on all transactions.

In September 2004, American Express launched the IN:NYC card which is black in color and reads "IN:NYC" across the front. It is not the same as the "Black Card," as it does not have any of the special privileges mentioned in this article, but does provide special rewards at NYC hotspots and with air travel to and from the city. Additionally, in September 2005, American Express released similar cards for Chicago as "IN:CHICAGO" and for Los Angeles as "IN:LA." As of July 2008, the IN: cards are currently being phased out by American Express, with no further applications being taken since mid-July of 2008.

The Mastercard Moments website mentions the following card types: Diamond, Black, World and Titanium.

In 2007 Santander Group in Brazil launched the Unlimited Mastercard Black which is issued only to Private Bank members and features a limit which is linked to the amount held with the bank. This card is the one of the most exclusive in Latin America with only 2000 users.

References

* Boeing Company (2006). Boeing Business Jet 2 Sales Catalogue. Boeing Company. ISBN 2-13-245564-2

External links

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