What is the American Express Centurion card? What does it cost and what are the benefits in the UK?
We realised that we had never done a Head for Points article on the UK American Express Centurion card, or ‘The Black Card’ as many people call it. This isn’t unreasonable, since it is ‘by invitation only’, but we thought you might be interested in a look behind the veil of secrecy.
The Centurion Card is being relaunched in 2021 with “a renewed focus on the art of living”. We have absolutely no idea what this means, unless it is short-hand for ‘we are dropping a lot of the travel benefits’. We will know soon enough as the new package is about to launch in the Nordic region before expanding to the rest of Europe. Here is 3-minute promo video for the new card which manages to say absolutely nothing …..
We have put this article together with the help of some UK Amex Centurion-holding HfP readers. If you have the card and notice any errors, email me at rhys at headforpoints.com and I will update it during the day.
What does Amex Centurion cost?
There is a £3,000 joining fee and a £2,200 annual fee. Unsurprisingly, the annual fee is NOT waived in the first year.
The costs have jumped up sharply since the card was launched. Anecdotally, Amex Centurion also seems to have tightened up on the type, rather than quantum, of spending they are looking for. We know some cardholders offered the card at launch who were only spending relatively modest sums with Amex, almost all of which was B2B purchasing.
What are the invitation criteria for the Amex Centurion card?
The American Express Centurion Card is by invitation only.
Whilst American Express does not publish its criteria (and there may not even be any fixed criteria) there are a range of behaviours that are likely to improve your chances of invitation.
Having a strong Amex history is key. Anecdotal evidence suggests that high spend is particularly effective on cards such as The Platinum Card (review here).
You are likely to be spending at least £25,000 per month, if not considerably higher, before you are on Amex’s radar. Spending on travel, luxury goods and other personal expenses is likely to be viewed more favourably than pushing high figures through to Google Adwords or Facebook advertising.
You may undergo a credit check during the application process. It is not clear if there is an income requirement.
Fundamentally, there is very little you can do to ‘attract’ an invitation. Amex knows the calibre of individuals it wants to invite and offers are likely made on a case-by-case basis. There is very little opportunity to game the system if you don’t lead the sort of lifestyle American Express is looking for.
Do I still earn Membership Rewards with The Centurion Card?
Yes, although only at the same rate as the majority of Amex cards.
You earn 1 Membership Rewards point per £1 spent on your Centurion card, or 2 per £1 spent on Amex Travel services.
Rather like The Platinum Card, it is likely that Centurion cardholders will put the majority of their spending onto other, more lucrative, cards.
Supplementary Centurion cards
The main card holder gets one stainless-steel card.
You also get one free supplementary titanium Centurion card as well four additional supplementary cards as standard. You can choose from Platinum, Gold or Green American Express cards.
You can also pay for additional supplementary titanium Centurion cards for £1,100 each per year, as well as other Amex consumer cards (at £275 each).
Until recently, when the fee for supplementary cards was raised sharply to £1,100, one of the best ways of enjoying the benefits of Centurion for a modest fee was to pay a Centurion-holding friend to issue you with a supplementary card.
What benefits does the American Express Centurion Card come with?
The Centurion Card comes with substantial benefits, as you would expect from Amex’s most premium card.
Top tier status with airlines and hotels
The Centurion Card bestows top tier status in a variety of loyalty programs.
The UK Centurion Card gives you Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold and Emirates Skywards Gold status. It is the only UK credit or charge card to offer free airline status.
You also get status with six major hotel groups:
- Hilton Honors Diamond
- IHG Rewards Platinum Elite
- Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite
- MeliaRewards Platinum
- Radisson Rewards Gold
- Jumeirah One Gold
This is a slightly eclectic list. Hilton Honors Diamond and MeliaRewards Platinum are top tier and so worth having.
However, Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite and IHG Rewards Platinum Elite have virtually no benefits and are not top-tier. Marriott Bonvoy Gold isn’t even ‘second to top tier’ – it is trumped by Ambassador, Titanium and Platinum.
Amex is dropping Shangri-La Golden Circle status on the Centurion card at the same time it is disappearing on the Platinum card. You can still enrol until the 31st March 2021.
These benefits are also available to your Supplementary Centurion cardholders.
Top tier status with car rental companies
Centurion cardholders are also bestowed with top-tier status at Avis and Hertz.
As a Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle member you get:
- Free additional driver
- Guaranteed vehicle availability
- Guaranteed one-car-class upgrades with every rental
- 50% bonus points on all Hertz rentals
Whilst Avis Preferred President’s Club members get:
- Free additional driver
- Guaranteed one-class upgrade
- A free weekend voucher after the third rental
- Double upgrade upon availability at weekends
Airport lounge access
The Centurion card has virtually identical lounge benefits to The Platinum Card.
This includes a free Priority Pass membership that gets you and a guest free entry into any of the 1,300 airport lounges in the Priority Pass network.
You also get access to Amex’s own Centurion airport lounges, including the Heathrow Centurion lounge in Terminal 3 which is expected to open when T3 is back in use. Whilst Platinum cardholders can take up to two guests, if you have Centurion you can take your entire immediate family.
Centurion cardholders also get a complimentary glass of champagne or top-shelf whisky at Centurion lounges. There is also generally a table reserved for Centurion cardholders which can be useful given how busy the lounges can get.
Amex Centurion also gets you into Plaza Premium lounges, as well as the Eurostar Business Premier lounges and Delta Sky Club lounges.
Additional benefits at top-end hotels
Centurion cardmembers get additional benefits at the smaller luxury hotel chains Aman, Belmond, Mandarin Oriental, The Oetker Collection, Peninsula Hotels, St Regis, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and Waldorf Astoria when booking through the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts programme.
- a room upgrade at time of reservation (if available)
- an additional $100 or $200 food, beverage or spa credit with a minimum two night stay.
These bookings must be made by telephone, unlike standard Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits for Platinum cardholders.
International limousine and meet & greet service
When you book your business class or first class trip through the Centurion Travel service you also get a free limousine service from the airport to any destination within 20km of the city centre.
The service is available in the following cities: Bangkok, Chicago, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Madrid, Miami, New York JFK and LGA, Orlando, Paris, Rome, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore,Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto.
Some destinations also offer an International Meet & Greet service, where you and your guests can be met at the aircraft door on arrival and escorted through immigration and luggage collection.
These include: Bangkok, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney.
Heathrow Fast Track
You can use Heathrow’s Fast Track security lanes simply by flashing your Amex Centurion card and a valid boarding pass. Both you and your supplementary card holder can take one guest each, so the benefit covers a family of four.
£20 Addison Lee / Tristar credit
UK Centurion cardholders receive up to £20 in statement credit every month for UK trips booked with Addison Lee and Tristar.
Events, restaurants and concert venues
Having a Centurion card also gets you access to a variety of American Express events and private suites.
For example, Amex is a sponsor of the National Theatre. In addition to the ticket access, Amex Centurion cardholders are invited to exclusive pre-show champagne receptions with cast and crew.
Other regular events include the London Film Festival, Harvey Nichols launches and more.
American Express also holds a suite at the O2 that is available for booking. This is similar to the suites held by other companies such as the Marriott Bonvoy suite.
Centurion cardholders also get improved access to top restaurants. This is supposed to include last-minute reservations but in practice is more likely to be improved tables etc.
Like The Platinum Card, the UK Centurion Card comes with comprehensive insurance cover.
The policy is fundamentally the same as the Platinum travel insurance here (pdf), but it does have slightly higher payouts.
For example, you receive £5,000,000 for necessary medical costs during your trip rather than £2,000,000 on the Platinum card. You can claim up to £12,500 for cancellation and postponement (up from £7,500) and up to £5,000 per trip from lost or stolen belongings (£2,000 on the Platinum card.)
Will I still have to pay foreign transaction fees?
Oddly, yes. You would think Amex would waive FX fees for a card with such a high annual fee and premium proposition, but it doesn’t. You still have to pay the 2.99% fee on all foreign transactions.
Is the UK Amex Centurion card worth it?
For the vast majority of people, spending £2,200 per year on a card fee may seem ludicrous. For some, however, it clearly makes sense.
The headline benefits of the black Amex Centurion card are likely not its biggest appeal.
The cardholders I spoke to valued access to exclusive events and experiences more highly than the published card benefits.
Unlike The Platinum Card, where a high-end traveller can make a case fairly easily for getting £575 of value from the card benefits, it is very difficult to justify £2,200 of value from The Centurion Card. This is especially true if you look at the difference between the Centurion and Platinum packages, which is not huge given the 4x fee differential.
The cardholders I spoke to also suggested that the customer service was a step above, with requests and queries simply sorted out rather than resorting to a scripted response. Things just get done.
If you just want hotel and airline status there are likely easier (and cheaper) ways. Most people don’t need status with six hotel chains – a focus on achieving one via the ‘traditional’ avenue may actually be better. Equally, taking out The Platinum Card can be a cheaper way of achieving mid-tier status at a number of chains.
If the American Express Centurion Card still appeals, however, you should get yourself the Platinum version and start putting substantial sums of money through it …..