AMEX Black Card
Clemson/Flickr
"The very rich ... are different from you and me." So goes the famous quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald. The author was right; for proof, peek inside a wallet.

Most people hold a set of plastic rectangles representing credit and debit cards. But the wealthy aren't most people. These elite spenders often pack spending hardware that's made, quite literally, of stronger stuff.

When in Rome

The most exclusive card on the market derives from an urban legend. Back in the bad old days of the 1980s, rumors started to swirl about a no-limit "black card" issued by American Express (AXP) to only a hand-picked group of its most financially endowed clients.

That card was a figment of someone's imagination. But in the right hands, hot rumor can be turned into free publicity.

So it was with AmEx, which in 1999 created a black-hued charge card, named the Centurion. Ever since, it's been considered by many to be the most desired purchase facilitator available on the market.

Centurion is built of titanium -- all the better to feel the strength of its buying power, apparently. Adding considerably to the snob appeal, obtaining the card is by invitation only. Only an estimated 17,000 people are Centurion holders (compared to 107 million AmEx-branded credit cards in circulation at the end of 2013).

The privileges include 24/7 personalized concierge service, free access to certain airport lounges and a host of other goodies. Holders have to pay an "initiation" fee of $7,500 and an annual fee of $2,500. And that's only the beginning -- in order to keep Centurion, a minimum of $250,000 must be spent on it every year.

Visa's Heavy Metal

Perhaps you prefer your sky's-the-limit card to be made of a more traditional material. In that case Visa's (V) Black Card is built of stainless steel, like an old car or a broadsword.

Like AmEx's faithful Roman soldier, Black Card membership will buy you round-the-clock concierge assistance, travel discounts and rewards and airport lounge access. For globetrotters, one major enticement is that foreign transaction fees are waived when it's used for purchases abroad.
Visa charges an annual fee of $495 for the privilege, and potential holders apply for a Black Card, much like users of the more traditional plastic variety.

Chasing Wealth

Financial-services giant JPMorgan Chase (JPM) forges its exclusive credit card partially with an uncommon metal, palladium. It's so proud of this, it's even named the card after the material.

The company's Palladium Visa has the usual expected high-end perks, including that 24-hour concierge service, and airport lounge access. And according to Time, the annual fee is $595, though a spokesperson wouldn't confirm that figure to the magazine and said it the card was geared toward clients who were already customers of the bank's private wealth management and investment bank.

One element that sets JPMorgan Chase's card apart is its "smart chip." This feature is standard for payment cards in countries all over the world -- except for the U.S. This gives it a competitive edge among the well-to-do; no matter how fancy a card, it's limited if it can't be read by payment systems commonly in use abroad.

Swiping in Style

Most card issuers and many financial institutions have their own versions of high-end cards, which share certain similarities. Black is the color tinting both MasterCard's (MA) upper-crust World Elite and the high-end card issued by Coutts, an old British banking house that counts the royal family among its clientele. But neither has the cachet and wow factor of a sleek piece of unusual metal.

In the rarefied world of high rollers, it's not only what you buy, it's the impression you leave as you pick up the check. For that, it's hard to beat those fancy metal cards.

Motley Fool contributor Eric Volkman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends American Express, MasterCard and Visa, and it owns shares of JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard and Visa.


Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

How to Avoid Financial Scams

Avoid getting duped by financial scams.

View Course »

Intro to different retirement accounts

What does it mean to have a 401(k)? IRA?

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

6 Comments

Filter by:
bakeland

Warren Buffet will NEVER have one of these.

He needs NO STINKING "BLACK CARD."

He knows who he is, where he is at and how NOT to waste his money.

People who have and use these cards are WANNABEs.

April 25 2014 at 12:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
welcome timothy

I'm not rich and I have one of those cards, it was more for practical purposes I bought it. So far I think its worth it.

April 24 2014 at 9:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
notsure69

the centuriun card has a smart chip also

April 24 2014 at 7:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

I can buy the entire American Express company with my signature.
I don't need a Black card. I never called my concierge even once. I have better connections than he does. I wouldn't use the palladium or the stainless cards to scrape snow off your windshield - it leaves scratches. Instead, use a 12 volt blow dryer inside the car while you sip your coffee.

April 24 2014 at 12:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to alfredschrader's comment
Tom Wilson

alfredschrader, the most disinteresting man in the world….

April 24 2014 at 1:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Kevin Henjum

I couldn't wait to get rid of mine. Every time I used it, the clerk or whoever conducted the transaction would steal the number and charge up thousands. It wasn't worth the hassle.

April 24 2014 at 12:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply