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My Quest to Get the Coveted American Express Black Centurion Card

Oh, to hear the satisfying clank of status

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American Express Amex Black Centurion Card

Image to emotional scale — photo by author’s daughter at a Miami art shop that we conveniently passed while I was writing this article

I offered to pick up the bill at a posh restaurant, the kind with unlimited breadsticks, but my friend Julie said, “I’ll get it.”

“Thanks!” I responded, smiling as I turned to watch our server approach.

Then — I heard it.

The reverberating boom of titanium hitting wood.

Every head in the restaurant snapped to our table, where Julie had just thrown down an American. Express. Black. Card. Fourteen grams of pure status.

I gazed at the tiny card. Even made of metal, it couldn’t have generated that much noise just being laid down on the table. She must have deliberately added some velocity. I know I would have.

Our server pretended to have difficulty lifting the card. Or maybe she needed some more time in the gym. “Wow, this is heavy,” she remarked as she slid the black metal into a payment terminal. 

I was surprised it failed to explode from the insertion of dark energy.

The American Express Black Card, aka the Centurion Card, is the stuff of legend. Amex doesn’t officially acknowledge its existence. You’re not allowed to ask for it. Don’t call them, they’ll call you, they say without saying.

“Ooh, nice! How’d you get that?” I immediately asked Julie, trying not to appear too interested.

“My company buys a lot of supplies through Amex. I called my Amex rep and told him that I’d move all that to Visa unless they gave me a Black Amex... they gave me a Black Amex.”

Awesome. Nothing like a little extortion between business partners. I’m not above that. I commented to Julie, “Must be nice to be rich.”

“Yes, Sanjay, it’s nice,” she responded. “But trust me, you get over it.”

My company was doing well, my spending power was rising. Buying whatever video games I wanted at Best Buy? Unlimited hot dogs waiting in the checkout line at Costco? I didn’t think I was ever going to get over it, but I smiled and nodded.

Years later, my company flying high, I was with my friend Kevin — who also happened to do a lot of corporate work with American Express. After watching me pay for my share of our dinner using an Amex Frequent Flyer Platinum Card, he asked why I didn’t have a Black Card.

“Aren’t they supposed to call me if I qualify?” I said.

“It helps to know people,” he grinned. “Want me to make a call?”

“Sure!” I replied as I imagined bypassing lines and effortlessly securing same-day reservations at Michelin star restaurants.

A few days later, Kevin called me. “Sanjay, I hate to tell you this. Even though you’re above the spending threshold to get a black card, you’re not using a real Platinum Card. You have to switch to a higher fee Platinum Card.”

The proper, higher fee Platinum Card

Easy peasy. I called Amex and switched over my personal spending as well as the spending of my two restaurants to the proper card. Our fees to Amex skyrocketed, and I would now be spending $1 million per year on my Platinum Card — well over the rumoured $250,000-per-year threshold for the Black Card. Hanging up the phone, I rubbed my hands together and cackled maniacally. 

A few months later, I called Amex again and this time directly asked if I could get a Black Card. The customer service rep referred me to a manager. The manager told me that I had to have at least two full years of spending at this level before they would consider sending an invitation. I sighed and hung up the phone.

I continued to grow my business. I eventually sold Audiobooks.com and my spending rose even higher. I was sitting on a mountain of cash. I met the definition of being an Ultra High Net Worth individual. 

I was now running a venture capital fund. I booked private jets to Miami and Las Vegas. I was flying high — literally and figuratively. But there was still a small, rectangular void in my heart.

I called Amex, asking to speak to my corporate representative this time. It was 2021. “I know my spending levels have been high enough to qualify for a Black Card,” I said. “But I still haven’t gotten an invitation.”

“I’m so sorry, Sanjay,” she replied apologetically. “We appreciate your business. But American Express suspended new invitations to the program during COVID and nobody knows when it will be reinstated.”

I considered threatening to cancel my cards, but I’d grown used to the amazing customer service that Amex offers. I knew never to make a threat I wasn’t willing to carry out. “No problem, thanks for letting me know,” I said as I hung up.

I was waiting in line for security at the airport one day when I realized that having an American Express Platinum Card was one of the criteria that allows access to the priority security line.

I watched the gentleman in front of me present a Black Centurion Card to the guard blocking the priority entrance. I heard the guard say, “Sorry, sir, you have to be a Platinum Card holder.”

The Black-Card-touting gentleman grew understandably agitated, yelling, “Are you an idiot? This is higher than a Platinum Card!”

Sensing the potential for this to morph into an extended argument, I scooched by the pair of them, flashing my run-of-the-mill Platinum Card as I went.

Some time later, my friend Julie told me that she had cancelled her Centurion Card. It had cost a $10,000 initiation fee to get, and an annual fee of $5,000 to maintain. She said that after seven years, the membership just wasn’t worth it —  she didn’t travel enough to take advantage of all the benefits.

I have since learned that outward signs of status attract the wrong sort of attention. When I bought a Rolex Daytona at the urging of my wife, I realized that the people who grabbed my wrist and stared longingly at the watch weren’t the people I wanted to socialize with.

When I bought a McLaren 720s, I didn’t appreciate the yearning looks from 12-year-old boys as I drove slowly by. The initial rush wore off quickly.

I already have the love of my life, who married me back when I was still answering customer service calls at Audiobooks.com. And I already have my friends, the ones who have stood by me for years… friends who treated me no differently when I came into money.

What was a simple black piece of metal going to give me that was more important? The attention of the people Tyler Durden disdains? The attention of people who buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like?

Ultimately, Amex wants to bestow the Black Card on people who will reflect well on them when seen using it to dent restaurant tables. When I consider my public persona, I realize maybe it’s a good thing for American Express that I’ve never gotten the card.

I’ve been bankrupt. I’ve been an abject failure. I talk openly about my bipolar diagnosis. I approve of recreational drug use. I’m never going to be in an American Express commercial. My wealth isn’t the issue. Wealth is only one component of image. And it is one of the less important components of a life well lived.

Naval Ravikant has said that there are things money can’t buy. A fit body. A calm mind. A house full of love. Years of intensive psychedelic therapy and a life focused on more, better relationships have brought me closer to all of these than I have ever been.

The best status comes from what you say and how you make people feel, not from what you wear or what credit card you have. Status comes from doing what you say you’re going to do, and being honest when it’s easy to lie. It comes from saying, “My other car is a piece of shit too.”

The American Express Black Card gives you the respect of the wrong people. People like me from a decade ago, chasing visible status instead of the self esteem that comes from within. 

The self esteem that comes from knowing what you’re capable of, and advancing towards that potential

I’ll take the wealth, of course. But I’ll also take my failures and my heretical opinions. You can keep your Centurion Card, Amex. Please don’t read this and send me that heavy envelope. I’ll appreciate the gesture, but I’ll turn down the card.

You’ve got my business. I love your service. But I don’t need your pity, and I don’t need your status.

I sold my McLaren. My wife wears the Rolex. Private jets are infrequent.

Buh bye — created in Midjourney

As Julie warned me all those years ago, I’ve had wealth. 

But I’ve gotten over it.

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