Major new changes to the Amex Centurion card’s benefits and fees
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I’ve had the business version of the American Express Centurion Card — commonly known as the “Amex Black Card” — since February 2016, and while it comes with a hefty price tag, the list of benefits is impressive. It includes tangible perks like complimentary Hilton Diamond and Delta Platinum Medallion status, but the intangibles are what really sets the card apart. I get incredible value from Ray, my personal Centurion concierge, who can seemingly move mountains (or at least help get me out of Bali when they erupt) to snag exclusive tours, concert tickets and hard-to-get restaurant reservations.
Bottom line: the Centurion cards are not about points (though there are some benefits which help me maximize my Amex points), but its all about service and experiences and knowing Amex has your back if anything goes wrong. If you are interested in the card, it’s invitation only, though you could try spending a lot on The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Business Platinum Card® from American Express — and then reaching out to Amex to express your interest.
Today, American Express is announcing a host of new benefits on the card while removing a few, and while this will result in an increased annual membership fee starting April 1, 2020, the new perks offer some terrific additional value — and most of them take effect as of today. Let me take you through the enhancements.
Saks Fifth Avenue credits
Details: Centurion cardmembers will get up to $250 in quarterly statement credits and enjoy exclusive access
Value: $1,000 per year starting Jan. 1, 2020
My take: This new perk is a magnified version of the one offered on The Platinum Card® from American Express, but rather than $50 every six months, cardmembers will get $250 in automatic statement credits every quarter for swiping their Centurion Card at Saks locations. This is up to $1,000 in credits per year, though you must use them each quarter to get the full value. Since all you need to do is shop to enjoy this perk, I’ll peg this at face value. Note that unlike most of the other new benefits, this one doesn’t start until the beginning of 2020, though cardmembers can enroll for it now.
In addition to the statement credits, Saks stores will open for Centurion cardmembers outside of normal business hours, allowing access to services like early-morning makeovers or late-night private shopping. Not sure I’ll ever take advantage of this, but it’s a pretty awesome perk.
Details: Cardmembers will get a complimentary Equinox Destination Access Membership
Value: $2,000 per year
My take: A Destination Access membership includes access to all of Equinox’s 105 fitness clubs around the U.S., Canada and the U.K., including locations in the following cities/areas:
- South Florida
- New Jersey
- New York (including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island and Westchester County)
- Northern California (including San Francisco, Berkeley and Palo Alto)
- Southern California (including Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County and the Valley)
- Texas (including Austin, Houston and the Dallas area)
- Washington, D.C.
This is a pricey perk, as it’ll normally set you back a $500 initiation fee plus $300 per month — a recurring, annual cost of $3,600. For those of you who live in an area like New York City with multiple clubs (or who frequently travel to destinations with clubs), you could easily get the full face value of this membership. However, the geographic spread is limited, so some cardholders may not be able to utilize the full range of clubs. As a result, I’ll value this perk at an additional $2,000 worth of benefits per year.
Airport Meet & Greet
Details: Cardmembers will now enjoy expanded airport meet and greet services
My take: From a travel perspective, there are few things worse than a terrible airport experience, whether it’s security, customs, baggage claim or anything else. Centurion cardmembers have long had access to VIP arrival services at select international airports on first- and business-class tickets purchased via Amex and with award tickets when you use your Centurion card for the taxes and fees. In most cases, you’ll be met planeside by a rep to escort you through customs and help with baggage — at no cost to you. To reserve the service, you’ll need to contact Centurion support 76 or more hours before your flight with contact information for your arrival pickup.
The service had now expanded to include 32 airports around the world (AUH, ATH, BKK, BCN, CPT, DEL, DPS, DXB, FRA, GVA, IST, CGK, JNB, KUL, LCY, LGW, LHR, STN, MAD, MAN, MEL, MXP, BOM, MUC, NCE, CDG, FCO, ICN, SYD, TLV, VIE, ZRH), though it’s exceedingly hard to peg a true value from this enhancement, as it could save just a minute or two or could make the difference between making instead of missing a flight. It’s also available at just a few dozen airports. As a result, I’ll use a conservative value of $100 per ticket and assume one applicable itinerary every other month — though this could be much more valuable to some cardholders.
Details: Cardmembers will receive an annual statement credit for CLEAR membership, including up to three family members
My take: CLEAR offers a terrific way to speed through security, using biometric authentication to verify your identify before depositing you at the front of the screening line. It’s currently in operation at 30 airports and 21 other venues in the U.S., and the normal price for membership is $179. However, any Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion member can purchase a membership for $109 — and that status is automatically included for cardholders. It would then cost an additional $50 (per person) to add three family members, so the actual value of this benefit is $259.
You can now get up to $100 off a CLEAR membership every year (as a statement credit) with the newly revamped American Express® Green Card, so this is a supercharged version of that benefit. I love CLEAR and I’ll definitely use this benefit to save money on my renewals every year.
Details: Cardmembers will get a complimentary annual membership to The Private Suite
My take: The Private Suite gives any traveler the opportunity to feel like a true celebrity upon departure (or arrival) at Los Angeles International Airport. The normal price tag for a membership? A cool $4,500. So getting a membership for free sounds great, right? Except that for every one-way flight where you use the service, you’ll need to fork over another $2,700 — $3,000. This is a discount of up to $1,000 off the fees charged to non-members, but given the hefty price tags and the fact that it’s limited to a single airport, I don’t view this perk as carrying any tangible value.
New service and event access
In addition to these new benefits, Amex is also enhancing some of the less-concrete perks on the card. One of these involves the personalized service offered to cardmembers. I get a ton of value from my personal Centurion concierge, but of course he has to sleep sometimes! So since he’s not accessible at all hours of the day and night, American Express is now expanding this dedicated team of experts to offer 24/7, individualized support. That means when Ray isn’t available to help, another highly-trained individual will be able to step in.
In addition, the issuer has also committed to expanding the slate of bespoke, exclusive events available to cardmembers. There are a number of these in the pipeline over the next few months, and while I can’t share specifics, these invite-only events look to be an incredible way to recognize the importance that Centurion cardholders place on culture and experiences. These are (quite literally) priceless.
I got invited to an upcoming event which should be pretty epic, and I’ll be sharing full details on Instagram.
The card is also seeing the addition of new trip protections that are identical to those being added to the Amex Platinum and several other premium cards as of January 1, 2020. I’ll be covered for up to $500 in reasonable expenses for covered delays of six or more hours, and if I need to cancel or interrupt a trip, the card will cover up to $10,000. These two perks apply to tickets booked on or after Jan. 1.
Unfortunately, there are three perks that will no longer be offered on the card as of January 1, 2020:
- $200 airline fee credit
- Boingo Preferred Plan
- GoGo Preferred Plan
This last one is most notable to me, though as more airlines search for other inflight internet providers — and some commit to providing it for free — this will hopefully become less of a loss as time goes on.
Additional membership fee
Unfortunately, these added perks come at a cost — the annual fee on the Centurion card is increasing from $2,500 a year to $5,000 per year, while the initiation fee is jumping from $7,500 to $10,000. However, these higher annual fees don’t take effect until April 1, 2020. If your renewal is before that date (like me), you’ll have another year at the existing rate of $2,500.
Note that the fee for adding additional user cards is also increasing from $2,500 to $5,000. However, American Express has confirmed that additional cardholders will also enjoy these new perks separately from the primary member — including their own set of Saks credits, Equinox membership and CLEAR statement credit.
Despite the increased annual fee, my estimates peg the base value of these added perks at $3,859, so cardholders should come out ahead overall. If you’re a more frequent user of the airport meet and greet services, can truly maximize the Equinox membership, or already planned to book The Private Suite at LAX over the coming year, you may get even more value. And with the additional “soft” benefits — like enhanced personalized service and expanded access to exclusive events — the card is more valuable than ever.
Why I’m keeping my Centurion card
Many recent enhancements to travel rewards cards have resulted in added point bonuses, but the Centurion card is doubling down on perks, service and experiences. I have to say that I’ve been an extremely happy cardmember for years, and even though the Centurion card will now cost $5,000 per year, I can easily justify it for the following reasons:
When I say points, I don’t meet earning points. I also have the Amex Platinum and the American Express® Gold Card, which offer better earning rates on many categories of purchases. But the Centurion card is a terrific option for redeeming points. One little-known fact of the card is that it still has a 50% rebate on all Pay with Points reservations, meaning my Amex points are worth 2 cents apiece when redeemed toward airline tickets.
This is great for me, as I was recently able to book a round-trip, first-class ticket on British Airways to South Africa for roughly $7,000, and it only cost me 350,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. It also earned me a ton of miles, since airline tickets booked through Amex Travel are treated as normal revenue tickets. If, on the other hand, I had transferred those Amex points to Delta to book a normal award ticket on the same route, it would’ve set me back twice as many points for a less-luxurious business-class product, and I wouldn’t have earned any miles or elite credits on the flight.
When award availability isn’t there (or forces you into a less-than-ideal routing) and you need to book flights on a specific date or time, it’s great to be assured of getting 2 cents per point in value. We book tons of our review travel using this perk, so having that flexibility is huge.
My personal Centurion concierge, Ray, is simply amazing — one of the top relationship managers at American Express. He knows everyone and helps me with all kinds of requests, from booking a safari to helping with travel issues. He really feels like a full-time member of my staff, and now, this personalized service is even more valuable.
One issue I used to have is that the weekend and night staff with the concierge desk offered wildly different levels of service. The new structure of this perk now provides a dedicated team of individuals who know the clients and can pick up where Ray leaves off much more seamlessly, so I’m very excited about that.
Even though this card is increasing to $5,000 a year, some weeks we use Ray for hours to help book travel, get us into restaurants or help with anything we really need, so effectively getting an amazingly-talented employee at this price is (alone) worth the price of admission.
The new perks
I’m very impressed with the new benefits that are now a part of my Centurion card. I used to be an Equinox member years ago, and I’ve been meaning to get back into it. As a Centurion cardmember, I now get an all-access pass to every one of these phenomenal clubs — including the amazing new locations like the one in Hudson Yards. I’m particularly excited by the outdoor pool at that club, a rare but much-appreciated luxury in New York City.
In addition, I will definitely utilize the new $1,000 in cumulative, annual credits at Saks Fifth Avenue — and will be sure to maximize my purchase by going through an online shopping portal. Since this perk is provided as quarterly statement credits (as opposed to discounts), I’ll still earn bonus points, miles or cash-back by starting at a portal site. At the time of writing, I could earn 11% cash back by shopping at Saks through Rakuten (formerly Ebates), or I could take home 6 Avios per dollar spent by clicking through the British Airways shopping mall. This is a fantastic way to earn even more on every online purchase I make — and it’s something everyone should do.
I did the Private Suite at LAX once, and while it’s only in Los Angeles right now, I’m really hoping they expand to other airports. The company’s chief commercial officer recently told Yahoo! Finance that they’re in discussions with officials at New York-JFK and have also set their sites on other major airports. Even though it does carry a high cost, it’s still nice to have access to discounted rates — if you plan to use it.
Finally, I’m thrilled with the prospect of expanded access to amazing, one-of-a-kind events that you could never otherwise purchase. I’ve been invited to these in the past — like sitting in the front row at a Stevie Wonder concert in Los Angeles, one of the best concerts of my life. In many cases, you not only get access to some of the most culturally-important singers and events — you also get a chance to meet these icons.
Backing of Amex
We charge a significant amount of company expenses to the Centurion card every year, and all of my Amex points pool into one Membership Rewards account. As a result, I can earn 5x points per dollar spent on airfare booked directly with the airline on my personal Amex Platinum and 4x points on worldwide restaurants on my Amex Gold card, but when I want to redeem them for 2 cents apiece, I simply call Ray and he will help redeem the points that have posted to my one rewards account. That means I can maximize my Amex ecosystem by leveraging my bonus earning rates on other Amex cards with the Centurion’s Pay with Points rebate and get some phenomenal value on my personal daily spending and our business expenses.
We’ve covered the array of benefits on the Centurion card before, but there are many that can offer tremendous value. Some of my favorites include:
- Complimentary Delta Platinum Medallion status (which we value at $3,865)
- Complimentary Hilton Diamond status (which we value at $3,025)
- Complimentary Marriott Gold status (which we value at $845)
- Hertz Platinum — including valet drop-off service to the terminal at participating locations
- Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts plus the Centurion hotel collection, offering perks at luxury hotel brands like Aman, Mandarin Oriental and Rosewood
- Annual, holiday gifts (like my above Bottega Veneta wallet) — which are typically at least $500 in value
These perks — in conjunction with the new ones just announced — provide a terrific suite of benefits that I’ll happily continue to use in 2020 and beyond.
I’ve never been a happier member of the American Express family. Yes, the Centurion card isn’t for everyone, which is why it’s invitation-only. If you’re interested in the card, you can go to Centurion.com and actually submit a request, or you can call American Express directly and inquire about becoming a cardmember. Unfortunately, there’s no set criteria, and Amex doesn’t provide official information on exactly what type of customer they invite to get this card. My understanding — from conversations with individuals who are in the know — is that you need to be a big spender in certain categories like travel and shopping. It also isn’t just an algorithm — Amex will go through an extensive review process for each and every person to make sure they are a fit for the card. The goal is to keep it exclusive, ensuring that members will represent the Centurion card and the brand well.
Overall, I’ve been incredibly happy with the service I get from American Express and the exclusive access the card provides, and this new set of perks only reinforces that decision. Even with the higher annual fee, this card will definitely maintain a spot in my wallet for years to come.
This story has been updated to reflect that the new Saks Fifth Avenue credit does not start until Jan. 1, 2020, and that the Airport Meet & Greet service is now offered at more airports than before. A previous version of this story mistakenly mentioned that the Centurion card is getting airport departure VIP service.
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