What is the black card and is it worth the hype?

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In 2003 my friend told me that he had accepted a job as a web developer at a small company with a funny name. The company, which no one had ever heard of at the time, turned out to be Google. 

Two years later, he showed up at my apartment driving a brand new Range Rover, carrying the sandwiches that I’d asked him to pick up on his way into town. “I’ve got these, my treat,” he said. As we were eating, he asked if I wanted to see something cool and pulled a sleek black credit card out of his wallet. I had never seen a card like it before, but still thought to myself, “so you’ve got a credit card, what’s the big deal?”

What is a black card?

What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was showing me his new Centurion Card from American Express, most often referred to as the highly exclusive “black card.” This notorious card has the highest fees on the market, with a $10,000 first-year initiation fee and an annual membership fee of $5,000 (a total of $15,000 of fees in the first year). It also doesn’t have a spending limit, meaning you can spend as much as you like on this card; you will just need to be able to pay off your balance every month, which shouldn’t be a problem if you qualify for the card in the first place.

Today, several other black cards are on the market, many of which come with big fees and are invite-only.

How do you get a black card?

One of the reasons black cards are shrouded in secrecy is that they are by invitation only. That makes it tough to determine who actually qualifies for a black card unless you know someone who is carrying one.

Here is what we do know about the qualifications: 

  • Invite only – This is not a card that you can simply apply for; you must receive an invitation. The invitation is based on several factors like your credit score and the annual spending across all of your American Express accounts. If you are interested in being considered for the Amex Centurion black card, you can request an invitation
  • Credit score – You must have an exceptional credit score ranging somewhere between 800 and 850 to qualify. That said, even those who have a bit lower credit scores might still be appealing clients for American Express to reach out to if their annual spending is high enough. 
  • Annual spending – Although American Express hasn’t published an official eligibility requirement, it has been reported that your annual spending must be in the range of $350,000 or higher.

Best black cards 

Here are the best black cards currently on the market: 

Centurion Card from American Express

For many, this is the holy grail of credit cards — the card that rules all cards. One of the reasons that this particular black card is so desirable is its exclusivity and some of the card’s perks, like:

Mastercard® Black Card™

With a much lower annual fee, this card offers similar benefits, like the card’s Luxury 24/7 Concierge service. Plus, you don’t need an invite; you can apply for this card and see if you qualify.

A few of the benefits of the Mastercard Black Card include:

  • Annual airline travel credit of $100
  • An up to $100 application credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry 
  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • The ability to redeem your points for 2 cents each towards airfare airline redemptions with no blackout dates 
  • and more

J.P. Morgan Reserve Card 

While this card is also invitation-only, the annual fee comes in much lower than the Amex Centurion, at $595 a year. Benefits include: 

  • An annual $300 travel credit 
  • Invitations to exclusive events 
  • Priority Pass lounge access
  • Up to a $100 statement credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry 
  • and more

The information for the Centurion card, Mastercard Black Card, and J.P. Morgan Reserve card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Pros and cons of a black card

The most obvious con of having a black card is the hefty annual fees that are associated with these cards. Granted, if you qualify for a black card, maybe fees aren’t an issue. That said, no one likes spending money unnecessarily, and there are other cards (listed below) that offer similar perks to the black card without such steep annual fees.

As for the pros of a black card, those include the various perks the cards offer, most notably the 24/7 concierge service that cardholders have access to. Some may also like the prestige that comes along with being a black card cardholder. You’re sure to impress a crowd when you pull out your black card to pay the bar tab.

Other similar options to the black card

If you don’t quite qualify for a black card, don’t worry! There are plenty of other great cards on the market. These cards are more accessible and still have great perks with lower annual fees. Some of the comparable cards that we love include:

The Platinum Card® from American Express

When my husband told me that he wanted to apply for the American Express Platinum card, I was apprehensive about the high annual fee ($695 annual fee; see rates & fees). Especially because we had never paid that much for a card before. But after looking closely at the benefits, I realized that this card is one of the best values on the market.

The intro offer is a whopping 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership.

We also enjoy earning:

  • 5 Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar on airfare (booked either directly with the airline or through Amex Travel); earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year)
  • 5 Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel
  • 1 Amex Membership Rewards point per dollar on everything else

Along with taking advantage of these perks:

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The annual fee and the benefits with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® are closely on par with The J.P. Morgan Reserve Card.

With this card, you can earn Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.

You’ll also earn:

  • 3 Chase points per dollar on travel
  • 3 Chase points per dollar on dining
  • 1 Chase point for everything else

And get perks like:

Bottom line

Here’s the deal, most people won’t qualify for a black card, but it’s actually not the end of the world. Are you really prepared to throw down $15,000 for a credit card before you even make your first purchase?

For the majority of us out there, the answer is “no.” And luckily, there are many other travel cards that offer benefits suited for your travel style and annual spending.

Was it exciting to briefly see the Amex black card sitting on my kitchen table years ago? Yes. But am I disappointed that I don’t have one in my wallet? Not at all. Especially since the cards I do carry are a perfect fit. 

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.

Featured image by AlexandrBognat/Shutterstock.

Erin Lizzo is a contributor for Million Mile Secrets where she covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has also appeared in the Matador Network.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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