|by Mr Credit Card|
In the world of premium credit cards, American Express has staked the high ground with both its widely available Platinum card, and it’s exclusive Centurion card, also known as the black card. Both cards are defined by large annual fees, a broad spectrum of benefits, and dedicated followings of high income customers. Lets take a look at how the two cards compare.
In this post, I will refrain from listing a whole laundry list of their features again. Instead, we will try to highlight some of the better features of these two cards and whether the “extra’ features and benefits of the centurion card justifies its’ additional fees.
Similarities (almost) between the Platinum and Centurion Card:
The way Amex builds its’ portfolio of cards is that each card upgrade will come with additional features. So we won’t be highlighting things like Gold Card Events, purchase protection features etc, that are commonly found in the Gold Card and other cards as well. The Centurion has almost all the features of the Platinum Card. But for most of them, the perks are slightly better. Below are some of the similar features. (in the next section, we will highlight features that the Centurion has the Platinum does not).
Lounge Access: Platinum card members are granted free access to airport lounges around the world operated by American Airlines, US Airways, Delta, and Continental. All you need is a valid ticket for same day travel at most clubs. At US Airways, you don’t even need that, you admission is guaranteed regardless of which airline you are flying.
Beyond the complimentary admission to these clubs, you also receive membership in the Priority Pass program, which allows discount access to virtually all airline clubs for $27.
Fee Credit: Platinum card members get to claim up to $200 a year annually in credits for airline fees. These can include change fees, in flight meals, in-flight Internet access, and luggage fees. For frequent travelers, this fee credit will offset much of the annual fee. Centurion Card members also have this benefit. Remember, you have to register one airline for this program. Hence, you can only use this $200 credits if you have “nominated an airline”.
Global Entry: This is a recent feature that they have just announced and I think this is huge. Amex will credit you for the fee for the US Customs Global Entry program. This will allow you to bypass the long lines at customs and immigration every time you return from and international flight. Those who fly internationally will understand the hazards of standing at airports and waiting for the immigration lines to clear.
No Foreign Transaction Fee – This one is huge for those who travel abroad. This used to be Capital One’s strong point. But now that Amex has got into the no FX fee game, it is great news for both Platinum and Centurion holders.
Membership Programs: Amex Platinum card holders are able to enroll in the elite tier car rental programs at Hertz, Avis, and National as well as the Starwood Hotels Preferred Guest program. This alone is worth at least a hundred dollars. An annual Hertz membership (Gold) cost $60.
The Centurion Card though has slightly better features. For example, Hertz will give an extra four hour grace period to Centurion card members and Avis Preferred members can get upgrades.
International Companion Airline Tickets: When you book an international, full fare business or first class ticket, you are entitled to a complimentary companion ticket. The Platinum Card used to give four free domestic companion ticket a year (minimum fare is $299 – if not, you have to top it up to $299). But this has been discontinued. The international companion ticket is actually great for folks who fly to Asia on the cheaper Asian carriers (who have cheaper business class seats).
Fine Hotels and Resorts – This is one of the most underated feature of the Platinum Card. Most hotels who partner with Amex under this program are all good ones. You get a $100 credit and a complimentary room upgrade when you check in and also late checkouts. If you use this feature just a few times, this will easily cover the cost of your annual fee.
Cruise Privileges – Both the Platinum and Centurion also have the cruise privilege feature where you can get a $300 cruise credit for booking with their preferred cruise. Once again, using this a couple of times will cover your fees in no time (the Platinum Card ie).
Additional Features from Centurion Card
Centurion Cardholders can expect all of the Platinum benefits plus the following:
Lounge Access: In addition to the previously mentioned Platinum card lounge benefits, Centurion cardholders have access to American Airlines Admiral’s club lounge, which is otherwise just for their International First Class passengers. You can also access Virgin Lounges. If you have been to any Virgin CLub Lounge, you will know that it is one of the swankiest and fun lounges.
Personal Service: You will have a dedicated concierge and travel agent. You will also have access to personal shoppers at stores such as Escada, Gucci, Sony, and Neiman Marcus.
Elite Tier Status On Airlines: Several airlines are granting elite tier status to Centurion card holders. These include Delta’s Platinum Medallion, US Airways Platinum Preferred, and Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club Gold. Cardholders had been granted Continental Gold status, but that is set to expire in in October 2011.
Elite Status on Hotel Programs – Aside from the Gold Status with Starwood, Centurion members also get Hilton HHonors Gold and InterContinental Priority Club Platinum Status.
Hotel Benefits: In addition to the Fine Hotel and Resorts program, Centurion cardholders are granted a free night with a paid booking at hotels including the Mandarin Oriental chain and elite tier privileges at the Ritz Carlton, Peninsula and Arman Resorts. For those who stay a lot at these hotels, this can also be a real money saver.
Titanium Card: Centurion cardholders will receive a custom engraved card made of titanium. The card weighs more than a standard plastic card, supposedly giving it’s holder a feeling of it’s power.
Rewards Both the Platinum and the Centurion card earn Membership Rewards Points. Centurion cardholders have access to a wider variety of exclusive redemption opitons.
Should You Consider Upgrading to the Centurion Card?
Before we even get to this discussion, we have to get the annual fee question out of the way. The Platinum card has a $450 annual fee. The difference between the annual fee of this card and other Amex cards is almost entirely offset by the $200 airline fee credit and the $100 Global Entry membership, $60 Hertz Gold Membership Fee and booking a Fine Hotels and Resorts Hotel with your Platinum Travel Agent ($100 credit plus room upgrade). We have not even talked about the Cruise Privileges, National Car Rental membership and their extended product warranty features.
The Centurion Card has an annual fee that is an order of magnitude greater. The annual fee is $2,500, but there is a one time initiation fee of $5,000. This is incredibly high by any standard, and is quite possibly the highest in the world. At the same time, it is very easy to imagine receiving $2,500 worth of benefits from the 4 domestic companion tickets alone, and a single, full fare, international business or first class ticket will easily make up for the cost of the initiation fee. But having said that, the hurdle is certainly higher when it comes to the breakeven analysis for the Centurion Card.
Note from Mr Credit Card – I personally have the Platinum Card from American Express and for me, it is really easy to justify and exceed the annual fee with its’ features. For me personally, a couple of Fine Hotel and Resorts booking, the Hertz Gold Membership and all the other car rental memberships, a room upgrade because of a Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Membership, the $200 airline fee credit and the $100 Global Entry Membership does the trick. I do not fly enough or travel enough to justify the $2,500 Centurion Fee (at the moment).
The Platinum card qualifications are somewhat rudimentary. They are granted to people with excellent credit, but there is no specific income requirement.
As for the Centurion card, you cannot even apply for it, you must be invited (though I have been told by Platinum Reps that you can “ask” for an invitation). Invitations are obtained by meeting a number of qualifications. You must have held another Amex product for at least a year. You must have an impeccable credit history and a perfect payment record with American Express. You must also spend at least $250,000 annually on that card (or so we hear). Only then might you be invited to apply for the Centurion card. It is said that the average cardholder owns more than three properties, a household income of approximately one million dollars, and a net worth of several million.
For years, the American Express Platinum card set the standard for high end payment products. At the same time, there were rumors of an even more exclusive product that catered to the super-rich. Eventually, Amex decided that there was actually a demand for such a card, and they began offering it to a select few. Amex maintains this image of exclusivity by restricting information available to the public about this card. In the age of social media, enough cardholders have shared their cardmember information that we are able to produce this comparison guide.
If you meet the qualifications for this Centurion card, and you value the benefits offered over and above the Platinum card, paying the exorbitant initiation and annual fees may actually be in your best interest. $2,500 is still a lot of money, but it is less than 1% of the annual spending of their target market.
For those outside of the private jet-set, the Platinum card still offers plenty of exclusive benefits that justify it’s smaller, but still substantial annual fee. If it weren’t for the initiation fee, I could easily imagine springing for a Centurion card if I was offered one. Otherwise, I would have to take a serious look at my spending habits to ensure I was receiving all the value that a card of that price should deliver.
For Those On Who Are On The Fence
If you are on the fence about the Centurion Card, I suggest you get the Platinum Card® from American Express first. One of the things that you should know is that Amex considers you business spending as part of the supposedly $250,000 spending criteria. If you have a business (that pays its’ credit card bills in full every month), then you might want to consider applying for the The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN