Centurion Card

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Hong Kong Centurion Invitation Kit

The American Express Centurion Card, known informally as the Amex Black Card, is an invitation-only charge card issued by American Express.[1] An invitation is extended to Platinum Card holders after they meet certain criteria. The Centurion Card comes in personal, business, and corporate variants.[2]

History[edit]

In 1988, an article in The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported that an exclusive black American Express membership card that was never advertised had been discontinued a year earlier. The article claimed that during a trial run that lasted almost four years, the card "was held by an ultra-select group of consumers who numbered fewer than 1,000 around the world."[3] Lee Middleton, a spokesman for American Express, confirmed the card's existence to the Journal and said that it was given to clients who had a "substantial banking relationship" with American Express Bank Ltd., the New York parent of American Express's bank subsidiaries in Switzerland. Services included "dispatching limousines or helicopters for clients, booking their vacations and finding medical care in exotic places." Middleton said American Express abandoned the black card in 1987 because the newly introduced Platinum Card offered "95% of the black card's services."

I was waiting for [the crew] to move some cameras, and the crew guy comes up me, he says, "You got the black card?" And I go "No, what’s the black card?" He says, "There’s only three in the world. The Sultan of Brunei has one, the president of American Express has one, and I thought you would have the third one." Next morning I call the president of American Express. I go, "Is there a black card?" He says, "It's just a rumor. It doesn't exist." He said, "But you know what? It's not a bad idea." And so they developed it, and they gave me the first one.

Jerry Seinfeld, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, A Hooker in the Rain

In 1999, American Express introduced the Centurion Card, a black charge card aimed at the company's wealthiest cardholders. In a 2018 episode of the Netflix show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld, who was paid to appear in American Express commercials in the 1990s, claims to have received the first Centurion card after contacting the company's president about the rumored existence of an exclusive black card.[4]

Doug Smith, the director of American Express in Europe, told the fact-checking website Snopes.com that there "had been rumors going around that we had this ultra-exclusive black card for elite customers. It wasn't true, but we decided to capitalize on the idea anyway. So far we've had a customer buy a Bentley and another charter a jet." The website lists unverified descriptions of cardholder requests, such as dispatching a motorcycle rider to the shores of the Dead Sea to retrieve a handful of sand and couriering it back to London for a child's school project.[5]

Since its introduction, the Centurion card has only been issued to clients invited by American Express to apply for it. The selection criteria the company uses to identify potential cardholders has been subject to speculation. In most countries where the card is issued, it's made of anodized titanium[6] with the information and numbers laser etched into the metal. In some locations, such as Israel, EMV "chip" plastic cards, which also include the ExpressPay contactless payment technology, are issued.

The largest known purchase made with the Centurion card is the Nu couché painting by Amedeo Modigliani, which businessman Liu Yiqian bought for US$170,405,000 at a Christie's auction in New York in 2015.[7][8][9]

In popular culture[edit]

Famous cardholders[edit]

American Express does not disclose a list of Centurion cardholders but a number of celebrities have been associated with the card.[10]

During the filming of a backstage interview at the 2007 BRIT Awards, Noel Gallagher held his Centurion card up to the camera and said "You have to earn a ridiculous amount of money per year to own one of those."[11] In a 2009 interview with talkSPORT, Gallagher said "I do own a black Amex card that has unlimited credit and cannot be denied anywhere. I could walk into a showroom selling Boeing 747s and, regardless of whether I could afford it, they'd have to accept the card."

Former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson wrote in a 2004 article for The Times of London newspaper that he lied about his salary to obtain a Centurion card after reading "an interview with some chap who'd got a fist full of cards in his pocket and claimed that the more shiny examples, specifically the much-coveted black American Express, gave him certain privileges." Clarkson ultimately decides to cancel the card after being unimpressed with its benefits.[12]

Music[edit]

The Centurion card has become a status symbol in the music industry, especially in hip-hop culture.[13] In 2002, Bloomberg News reported that rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs used the card to buy 400 cocktails at a bar in Los Angeles.[14] In the song "Doing It Way Big" (2003), Lil' Kim sings: I smack niggas 'cross the face with a Centurion card / Who don't believe I'm (doing it way big). Lil' Kim later posed with a Centurion card attached to a diamond-studded necklace for a Nylon magazine photoshoot.[15] In the song "Last Call" (2004), Kanye West refers to the card with the lyrics: I went to the malls and I balled too hard / "Oh my god, is that a black card?" / I turned around and replied, "Why yes / But I prefer the term African American Express". In "Welcome Back" (2004), Mase sings: Amex black card / Shopper of the year. In "Get It Poppin'" (2005), Fat Joe sings: I got that black no limit American Express card. Other singers including Ariana Grande, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, Bow Wow, Nelly Furtado and Lil Wayne also mention black cards in their song lyrics but not a specific American Express product.

Film and TV[edit]

The Centurion card has been used as an on-screen prop.

In Quantum of Solace, James Bond hands a Centurion card to a travel agent with a private jet chartering company to pay for a flight to Bolivia. The payment is declined by MI6 as the intelligence service seeks to strip Bond of his duties and revokes his credit cards and passports. The Centurion replica used in the film was part of the Bond in Motion exhibition at the London Film Museum.[16]

In the pilot episode of the USA Network medical comedy-drama show Royal Pains, Tucker Bryant, the young heir to a family fortune earned from inventing the blender, injures himself crashing his father’s Ferrari. He tells a doctor to "go into my wallet and get the little black card that says American Express on it" and flies by helicopter from the Hamptons to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

In an episode of the NBC crime-drama show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, one character is described as "by the look of his black American Express, very rich."

In two episodes of the HBO comedy-drama show Succession, Kendall and Siobhan Roy, heirs to a media fortune, use their Centurion cards at a bar and a coffee shop.

In an episode of the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, internet billionaire Walden Schmidt uses the card to buy groceries.

Literature[edit]

In Lauren Weisberger's novel Everyone Worth Knowing, the protagonist Bette remarks on her coworker paying for dinner with the card: "There it was, the mythical American Express black card. Available by invitation only to those who charged a minimum of $150,000 per year."[17]

In Robert Crais's novel The Watchman, the daughter of a wealthy businessman is described as having a Centurion card.[18]

Features[edit]

Availability and fees[edit]

The Centurion Card is invitation-only after appropriate net worth with American Express, credit, and spending criteria are met.[6] American Express does not publicly disclose the requirements necessary for getting or keeping a card, except that the cardholder needs to have a substantial net worth, as well as having been a Platinum card holder.[6]

While the eligibility criteria are subject to speculation, most reliable sources agree that Centurion Card holders have historically spent US$250,000 or more per year on lower-level American Express cards.[19]

Centurion Card annual fees
Country/Region Annual fee/limit
United States US$5,000 (US$2,500 for each additional card member) plus one-time joining fee of US$10,000[20]
United Kingdom £2,200 (US$2,933) (unlimited) plus one-time joining fee of £2,500
Canada C$2,500 (US$1,923) plus one-time fee of C$5,000 (US$3,846)
India 200,000 (US$3,071) plus one time fees of 250,000 (US$3,839)
France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands 3,000 (US$3,475) plus one time fee €3,000 (Italy, Netherlands)
Germany, Austria 5,000 (US$5,791) plus one-time fee of 4,000 (US$4,633)
Switzerland CHF 4,200 (US$4,286) (unlimited)
Australia A$5,000 (US$3,846) (increased from A$4,300 (US$3,308), effective 11 July 2012) plus one-time fee of A$5,000 (US$3,846), effective 11 July 2012
Japan ¥365,000 (US$3,305) (increased from ¥197,000 (US$1,784), effective 1 January 2008)
Hong Kong HK$38,800 (US$4,999) plus one time fee of 4999 (increase from HK$19,800 (US$2,551), effective 30 May 2013)
South Korea (Republic of Korea) 3,000,000 (US$2,726), unlimited
China (People's Republic of China) CN¥ 18,000 (US$2,719) issued by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and China Merchants Bank (CMB) pursuant to a license from American Express.
CN¥ 36,000 (US$5,438) issued by China Minsheng Bank (CMBC) pursuant to a license from American Express. [21]
Singapore S$7,490 (US$5,428) (unlimited) plus one-time joining fee of S$7,490 (US$5,428)
Kuwait US$4,000 for Titanium-based Centurion. Issued by American Express Middle East (Bahrain) (Same applies for Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar)
Mexico Mex$56,000 (US$2,958)
Brazil R$4,250 (US$1,095)
Argentina AR$20,000 (US$531)
Saudi Arabia ر.س 15,000 (US$4,000) (unlimited)
International Dollar Currency Card (IDC) US$3,000 (US$0 for the first additional card member, US$1,500 for each additional card member thereafter) plus one-time fee of US$5,000[22]
International Euro Currency Card (IEC) 4,000 (US$4,633) plus one-time fee of 4,000 (US$4,633)
Israel US$2,043 (~8,000), where payments can be made either in ILS or in US$.
Russia 150,000  (US$2,571)
Taiwan NT$160,000 (US$5,306) plus one-time fee of NT$160,000 (US$5,306) Note: minimum annual income (NT$3,500,000)[23]
Lebanon ل.ل 3,000 (US$3,000)
United Arab Emirates DH 11,000 (US$3,000)
Sweden kr 30,000 (US$3,509) plus one-time fee of (US$3,509)[24]

Benefits[edit]

The card, available for personal and business use, offers services such as 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 Dot & Vic's Rathon Station, Gucci, Escada, and Saks Fifth Avenue; access to airport clubs; first-class flight upgrades; membership in Sony's Cierge personal shopping program and dozens of other elite club memberships.[6]

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[6] (except for the New York City property),[25] and privileges at hotel chains like Ritz-Carlton, Leading Hotels of the World, and Amanresorts.

The card also features complimentary enrollment in Easirent Car Hire Platinum Service and the Avis Rent a Car President's Club.[26]

Centurion Card members, like Platinum Card members, get complimentary access to the American Express Centurion Lounges at several US airports. They also get unlimited access to Priority Pass lounges around the world,[27] plus additional lounge privileges based on the country their card is registered in. For example, Centurion cardholders in Canada also receive full access to Maple Leaf Lounges, a lounge network provided by Air Canada.[28] At busy times, Centurion members have access to areas reserved for them. There are also drink options at the bar that are exclusive to Centurion members. As of 2015, they have a Champagne option of Veuve Clicquot and a single malt scotch by Balvenie.[29]

Publications[edit]

Since the inception of the card, members have received a copy of Departures, which is also sent to all Platinum Card cardholders. In 2004, American Express Centurion members in the US began receiving an exclusive "no name" magazine, which was not available by any other means. Starting with the Spring 2007 edition, this magazine was officially titled Black Ink. The magazine is available only to individual Centurion cardholders, not to the business-edition customers.

European, Asian, and Australian Centurion members receive quarterly the Centurion magazine published by Journal International GmbH (Munich, Germany).[30] In June 2011, the Centurion magazine website was launched, offering daily updates for Centurion Card members. According to Journal International, the average age of a Centurion reader from Europe or the Middle East is 49 years. Centurion has been published since 2001 and has a circulation in Europe and the Middle East of 44,100, in Asia of 13,900, and in Australia of 6,000.[2]

Elite cards[edit]

The Centurion Card is part of an elite credit card segment created for a very small and exclusive range of clients around the world.[6] Other such cards include:

Amex Black Card vs. Black Card[edit]

Luxury Card successfully registered "Black Card" as a U.S. trademark in 2009. American Express later sued as the name was similar to its Centurion Card, which it contended was widely known as "the Black Card."[31] The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruling that Black Card, LLC's trademark of the name "Black Card" should be canceled on grounds that it was merely descriptive.[32] As of 2019, it uses the registered trademark under license.[33]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sullivan, Paul, "American Express’s New Service for Its Wealthiest Cardholders", The New York Times, January 24, 2011
  2. ^ a b pe.pdf American Express Centurion/Departures - Media Kit, Europe & Middle East 2010
  3. ^ "An American Express Black Card?". luxuryplastic.com.
  4. ^ "The American Express Black Card May Exist Thanks to Jerry Seinfeld". cnbc.com.
  5. ^ "Black American Express Card". snopes.com.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Chevalier, Michel (2012). Luxury Brand Management. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-17176-9.
  7. ^ "With Modigliani Purchase Chinese Billionaire Liu Yiqian Dreams of Bigger Canvas". nytimes.com.
  8. ^ "Billionaire Earns First Class Travel For Life By Putting Modigliani Nude on Amex". theguardian.com.
  9. ^ "Why Is a Chinese Billionaire Charging a $170.4 Million Painting on an Amex Card?". newsweek.com.
  10. ^ "Celebs Who Roll with the Amex Black Card". zimbio.com.
  11. ^ "I bet you haven't got one!!!". youtube.com.
  12. ^ "Jeremy Clarkson: I'm a nobody, my jet set credit card tells me so". The Times. January 11, 2004.
  13. ^ "Hip Hop's Love Of The Black Card Celebrated Online". hiphopdx.com.
  14. ^ "American Express markets elite 'black card'". the.honoluluadvertiser.com.
  15. ^ "Full Article Lil Kim Nylon Magazine 2003". tumblr.com.
  16. ^ "American Express Centurion Card". jamesbondlifestyle.com.
  17. ^ Weisberger, Lauren (2 May 2006). Everyone Worth Knowing. ISBN 9780743262330.
  18. ^ Crais, Robert (29 January 2008). The Watchman: A Joe Pike Novel. ISBN 9781416514978.
  19. ^ Frankel, Matthew (24 August 2014). "Is The American Express Black Card Really Worth It? The Centurion card, or 'black card', is the most exclusive credit card in the world, but is it worth the high cost?". The Motley Fool. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  20. ^ "Cardmember Agreement" (PDF). American Express. 2019-11-16. Retrieved 2014-06-18.
  21. ^ "Minsheng to offer new Amex cards|Business|chinadaily.com.cn". usa.chinadaily.com.cn. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  22. ^ "Cardmember Agreement - The Centurion® Card - International Dollar Card" (PDF). 2019-09-30. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  23. ^ Taiwan TV news 2015-11-24 on department clerk leaking client's card on FaceBook
  24. ^ "Medlemsvillkor för American Express® - Kort" (PDF). 2017-06-26. Retrieved 2017-06-26.
  25. ^ "American Express". Archived from the original on July 24, 2011.
  26. ^ "Official American Express Centurion Card Interactive Tour". Archived from the original on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2008-12-31.
  27. ^ "American Express Centurion Card Benefits". 2016.
  28. ^ "Amex Centurion 'Black' Card - The Complete Guide". Yore Oyster. 2019-09-20. Retrieved 2020-01-08.
  29. ^ "American Express Black Card: What Is This Secret Card?". fhrnews.com.
  30. ^ "About Us". Centurion. Archived from the original on 17 August 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  31. ^ American Express v. Black Card LLC - Complaint and Jury Demand, February 20, 2010; retrieved from Scribd, July 2, 2010
  32. ^ [1] AMEX Wins Cancellation of BLACKCARD Trademark Registration, Ryan Gile, November 22, 2011

External links[edit]