Why The American Express Centurion Black Card Is Such An Exclusive Credit Card

In 1988, The Wall Street Journal reported on an American Express offer for high-net-worth individuals. The article described the card as a "complement" to "garden-variety" Amex cards, but which offered a suite of bespoke services, including 24-hour travel assistance and the ability to perform unusual tasks, like helping you pick out a vintage car from anywhere in the world. 

By the time the piece had been written, the card, which was offered to less than 1,000 cardholders around the world and with a personal relationship with the bank, had been discontinued. Instead, the Platinum card, which offered up most of the legendary Amex Black's services was offered to the general public.

But it appears that talk about the Amex Black persisted over the years, and in 1999, the Centurion card was reborn. Snopes cites Doug Smith, director of American Express Europe as saying: "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."

What the American Express Centurion (Black) Card offers

Today, the American Express Centurion Card, more commonly known as the "American Express Black" sits a tier above the company's Platinum offer. It offers access to over 1,400 VIP lounges at airports and shopping areas in 140 countries around the world, plus room upgrades at top-tier hotels including the St. Regis Hotels & Resorts and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. The card also has a special concierge service, which offers unique travel experiences. Centurion cardholders get $1,000 a year in shopping credits for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as outside-hours access to stores.

Picking up an Amex Black is no easy task. In order to get access to these perks, Forbes says you need to be ready to pay a $10,000 initiation fee, as well as a $5,000 annual fee, and an 18.99% APR variable on pay-over-time purchases. You also need to have an excellent credit score. Most importantly, you need to be invited to get a Centurion card. It's that exclusive, and there's no preapproval application.

But, if American Express doesn't think you're worthy of the Black, you can pick up the company's Platinum card, which carries almost the same privileges for an annual fee that's nearly 14% of the Amex Black, per Forbes. You also don't have to be invited to pick up a Platinum card, although you'll need an excellent, or very good, credit score to get one.

There are other ultra-exclusive credit cards on offer

If you're determined to get hold of the exclusive Centurion, there's a way to get on the service's radar and score yourself an invite. You can either call the company and ask to be considered for the exclusive card, or you can go on the American Express website and submit a request online.

And if you feel that asking might cheapen the experience somewhat, there are other exclusive card services that may scratch your itch: J.P. Morgan offers a "Reserve" card, which has been billed "the credit card for the 1 percent of the 1 percent." This exclusive card, which is also offered by invitation, is only given to those who have an account with Chase Private Bank and who must have a cool $10 million minimum balance.

Then, there's the Bank of Dubai First Royale MasterCard, and this plastic isn't just plastic: It's trimmed with gold and embellished with a diamond in the middle. The card is said to have no credit limit, and no restrictions — though the wish list comes with a caveat: "Whatever he or she wants to swipe it on, the transaction must go through. If the client likes a yacht on holiday, he or she should be able to buy it," says the bank's former senior vice president, Amit Marawah — which means non-high-net-worth individuals need not apply.