American Express Black vs. Platinum: An Overview

Life is full of choices that should not be taken lightly: “Where should I go to college?” “Is this the person I should marry?” “The American Express Platinum or Centurion card?” Fortunately, we are here to help—with the Amex question, at least.

American Express Centurion

For most people, this is not much of a decision, because only the biggest of spenders will receive an invitation from American Express (AXP) to apply for the Centurion (aka, the Amex Black Card). You will not find an official Amex webpage devoted to the Card, so the qualifications are mostly a guess. In order to receive an invite, you probably have to spend at least $250,000 each year. Some reports say you also need at least $1.3 million in annual income, although other reports speak of Black Cardholders who merely make mid-six-figure salaries.

The only official word from Amex about the Centurion is the required cardmember agreement disclosure page that lists a $7,500 initiation fee and $2,500 annual fee. Most of the high-end benefits are travel-related. You get Platinum Medallion status on Delta Air Lines, 24/7 concierge service, President’s Club status at Avis (entitling you to upgrades), a $200 airline fee rebate, and access to various airport lounges (including Amex's own Centurion Lounges), to name a few. If you use Membership Rewards points for travel, you get 20 percent back, according to one cardholder.

American Express Platinum

You do not have to be nearly as much of a big spender to apply for the Platinum card. In fact, Gold cardholders who spend a reasonable amount and pay on time will likely receive applications regularly.

American Express is not as secretive about this card. You can go to the Platinum card webpage, which lists the 40+ perks you receive in exchange for the $450 annual fee, including access to Centurion, Delta, and Airspace lounges; benefits at fine hotels; free Boingo Wi-Fi; car rental privileges; and concierge services. Currently, Amex is offering 40,000 points if you spend $3,000 within the first three months.

Key Differences

First, congratulations on having the choice. Second, bear in mind that both are travel cards. There is little reason (other than a status symbol) to hold either of these cards if you are a homebody. The high annual fee on the Platinum and the obscenely high fee on the Black Card will not pay for themselves unless you are a frequent traveler.

If you do spend a lot of time at 36,000 feet and spend a lot of your nights in hotels, the Platinum card offers most of the perks of the Centurion.

The benefits that set the Black Card apart, at least according to cardholders, are diminishing. Since it merged with American Airlines, US Airways is no longer part of the perk packages, for example. Services and reservations arranged by the concierges are reportedly sub-par and overpriced, and the customer service is slow, some complain.

Of course, the status symbol of holding the Card has its advantages. Some people say that simply using the Card has secured them upgrades to which they were not necessarily otherwise entitled. If you received an invitation for the Black Card, you have the opportunity to speak to an Amex representative before signing up. Ask him or her about the benefits and then ask yourself: Will you actually use the added benefits? Are they—and the prestige of having this Card—worth the high cost?

Key Takeaways

  • The fees that come with the Black Card are considerable.
  • Unless the perks will pay for themselves (and then some), you might prefer to politely decline Amex's invitation to join its Centurion ranks.
  • You may not need the Platinum card if you do not travel frequently.
  • For many, the Gold card—or, for small-business owners, the Plum card—may be more than enough.