Secrets of the black AMEX: how the elite 0.01% live

Have you ever wondered how the top 0.01% of the population live?

According to The Wall Street Journal, the average black AMEX card holder has US $16.3 million (£10.3 million) in assets and an annual household income of US $1.3 million (£820,000). A number of world famous celebrities that are known to be card holders include power couple David and Victoria Beckham, media mogul Simon Cowell, pop queen Beyonce, and American politician John McCain to name a few. Lindsay Lohan use to be one of the lucky elite card holders however her membership was revoked when she dropped her wallet somewhere in New York City that contained the card, along with her driver’s license and a bag of cocaine, and the person who retrieved her wallet sold the story to the tabloids.

American Express offers a range of credit cards to suit a variety of consumer lifestyles, however for the super rich this black AMEX (formally known as a Centurion card) is only available by invitation. The individuals must meet the high assets and high net worth requirements, and once accepted are offered incentives and opportunities like no other card offers in the world.

The individuals receive a financial advisor upon joining, as well as a dedicated concierge service and travel agent. Some of the more leisurely benefits include personal shoppers at designer stores, access to exclusive lounges and restaurants, immediate first class flight upgrades and many more. In some stores around the world if individuals present a black AMEX upon entry then the store can be temporarily closed at the individual’s discretion for them to browse the store in privacy.

Black AMEX card holders have to be a platinum card holder initially, and must pay a one-off joining fee as well as the first year’s membership up front. Here in the UK the one-time joining fee is £3968 and the annual membership fee is £1800. In order to carry on using the card year after year the card holder must meet a minimum annual spend threshold of £250,000, although the spending limit is unlimited.

USA Today recently published an article on how the world’s richest 85 individuals now have as much money as the poorest 3.5 billion. With this gap growing wider these wealthy individuals clearly have enough cash in the bank to play as hard as they work. The largest ever single spend on a black AMEX was US $36 million (£22.7 million) on a piece of rare artwork however the individual who made this purchase is unknown. In popular culture we are bombarded with visuals of the lavish lifestyles that these A-List celebrities and business elite individuals live, and behind the scenes the ‘black AMEX’ is the exclusive and elusive club they all belong to.

With the black AMEX having high requirements to its potential new members it would be apparent that no leeway would be given to individuals that didn’t strictly meet their criteria and have a perfect credit history, however this ethos has been shot down by a former UK employee of American Express that worked exclusively for the Centurion department. In an online public forum discussion the former employee stated: ‘Willingness to pay the annual membership fee and having good credit history is a main reason they want to give out the black card; I learnt an easy method of generating a great credit rating when I was a kid and got my platinum at the minimum legal age thanks to my father. But it’s entirely possible for any minor academic, lawyer, doctor, etc. to be able to eventually draw an invitation to black. Another key element is befriending concierge at the platinum level and keeping a great relationship up on a personal level with as many people within AMEX as you can for several years’.

Do you think that black AMEX card’s are worth the costs for elite individuals, or are they just a status statement? Have you ever seen or handled one? Tell us your opinions and thoughts on this exclusive world below.

Images: Clemson, L.C. Nøttaasen, Automotive Rhythms, Mark Ramsay

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