American Express’ elite Centurion “Black” credit card

An eight-pound black box comes delivered discreetly to your front door. In it lies a rectangular sliver of pure titanium, a card that holds more luxury power than even big spenders can dare to imagine.

Need a $30 million private jet? One cardholder got it with a single swipe. Seeking the best Bentley money can buy? It’s just a card stroke away. Want front-row tickets to a sold-out Los Angeles Lakers basketball game? The card will get you courtside in a heartbeat. No table at the new Nobu restaurant? No problem – bypass the reservation line with a single flash of the card.

Welcome to the world of the American Express Centurion.

What started as a rumor in the 1980s of a black credit card with no spending limits has become an extraordinary real-life deal with the Centurion. Launched in 1999, the Centurion – also known as the “Black Card” – has become the pinnacle of purchasing power, raising the luxe bar far higher than even American Express’ Platinum Card with its members-only privileges and unparalleled benefits.

“The Centurion Card is by invitation only, designed for our most wealthy cardmembers,” says Monica Beaupre, the public affairs manager at American Express’ New York headquarters.

Centurion cardholders are a part of a carefully guarded, ultra-exclusive list of socialites, celebrities and dignitaries hand-selected by American Express for their lavish purchasing patterns and stellar credit histories. Invitation to the elite Centurion circle entails a reported minimum cash flow and yearly spending of $250,000 on any of American Express’ other cards, a one-time initiation fee of $5,000 and a $3,000 annual fee.

“(Centurion members) travel frequently and want or need a high level of personalized service, single points of contact and want someone who can make their impossible dreams come true,” Beaupre says.

Dreams do come true as the perk of a 24-hour personal concierge service caters to every whim of a Centurion member. Beyond the aforementioned indulgences of planes, fancy cars and drop-of-a-hat reservations, the Centurion card entitles its owner to other benefits unavailable to the average person. Travel becomes a pleasure as Centurion members sip the rewards of luxury from the VIP lounges of the finest airlines; Centurion members also bask in the best hotels as preferred guests, with service at their beck and call. High-end retailers such as Tiffany’s and Neiman Marcus close their doors to the general public as Centurion members take part in private shopping sprees, with personal shoppers assigned at their side.

Any wish will be honored by the Centurion concierge service, even an outlandish request for a courier to retrieve sand from the Dead Sea, as some sources have reported.

“Centurion cardmembers have access to all the benefits and services that are offered on the American Express Platinum Card, plus a number of other very special, unique benefits,” Beaupre says.

It’s a status symbol often alluded to in pop culture – rapper Kanye West name-drops the Black Card in his song Better Than Yours; the Black Card scores James Bond an instant room reservation after he slides it to a stunning hotel concierge in Casino Royale. For all its myths, perks and exclusive clientele, American Express has surely achieved a modern-day icon of mystery, luxury and envy in the Centurion card.