The qualifications for the “black card” (officially called the Centurion card) from American Express have changed slightly since the card first came out in 1999, but they’ve always been strict. Let’s take a look at what’s currently required for 2014 if you want to get this credit card.
The Annual Fee
When the card first came out, the annual fee was “only” $1,000. Since then, AmEx raised the annual fee all the way up to $2,500. In addition, they’ve now tacked on a $7,500 so-called “initiation fee” just to get the card. The early Centurion card members are lucky – some are rumored to still be paying a $1,000 annual fee. Why? Well, it’s a common practice in the credit card industry to lock in your original terms (future annual fee increases won’t apply to you). Now, I bet those early card members are happy they got the card for “only” a thousand bucks, right?
The Centurion has gone back and forth from being invite only to open application. Currently, it is back to being invite only, but I’m sure if you qualified and were willing to pay the fee, you could get them to give you one. When the card first hit the scene, it was issued to a few thousand people (celebrities, business moguls, etc). Although the American Express black card requirements have grown tighter recently, that hasn’t stopped the card member base from ballooning. According to to some creative detective work a couple years back, it’s now estimated that possibly up to 100,000 people worldwide have the card. It’s estimated that anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of those card members are based in the United States.
The American Express black card qualifications include spending $250,000 in a given year on another AmEx card. That means you must have an existing AmEx card for one year or more, and spend (and pay off) at least $250,000 over the course of a year. Once you do that, you meet the spending requirement. There has been talk of keeping the card exclusive by increasing that requirement to $500,000 or even a $1 million, plus requiring that amount to be spent every year.
You would think with such a drastic fee increase, that the benefits must have improved, right? Well, think again. Many feel the concierge has greatly deteriorated the past few years. In fact, I have read a number of forum posts by cardmembers who have canceled or downgraded to the American Express Platinum (with a $450 fee) because they said the Centurion was no longer worth anywhere close to the annual fee.
Personally, I feel there was only one benefit which really made it worth the price; they used to offer free first-class upgrades on domestic flights. So you could buy a coach ticket and automatically get bumped to first class for free if there was availability. However they got rid of that benefit years ago. With the reported dwindling benefits, it makes one wonder why people bother with the black card at all. Other than the prestige and status that comes with it, there’s no point in paying more for less benefits.