Rumors and speculation abound when it comes to the very best credit cards such as the infamous, invitation-only American Express Centurion card, also called the "black card." How do you get invited? Who has one?
We contacted 29-year-old entrepreneur Don Sabatini, founder and chairman of SecretEntourage.com and a Centurion member, to get the truth about the card. He owns homes in Virginia, Los Angeles and New York City, and responded via email from his home base in Boca Raton, Fla.
How long have you had the Centurion card, and what prompted the invitation from Amex? Was it a surprise?
I have held membership a little less than a year. My yearly spending habits prompted the invitation--average $450,000 revolving annually. I knew the invitation was coming and have been very aware of the card's existence, as my background was in finance and many of my friends have one too.
What card were you using before, and do you still use other credit cards?
I still use many other credit cards daily, but also use the Black often as the rewards are unbeatable. But more importantly the concierge service is truly a blessing. The card I used before was the The Platinum Card® from American Express, which was converted to the Centurion.
Is this Centurion card related to business or personal use?
Business only. I was offered a personal one as well but had no need for it.
Tell us a little about your business.
I am the founder of Secret Entourage, a luxury lifestyle community/blog geared to educate and motivate Generation Y. I empower my generation to work hard, think outside the box and change their mind-set in order to attain the things they dream of, like exotic cars, boats, homes etc. I do all that and yet never reveal myself, making people feel self-empowered rather than become followers.
The cost of the card has been speculated about. Can you tell us what it costs to carry the card?
Honestly this is a tricky one as I didn't have to pay, for many reasons, but from what I understand the fees are $4,000 to $5,000 initiation and $2,500 annually. You must continue to meet spending minimums to be allowed to continue your benefits.
Do you feel that it's worth it to have the card, despite the high minimum and the fees?
It is for me, and since I have owned it, I have noticed drastic results in terms of networking opportunities. Should I be presented with the same opportunity again and have to pay (for the card), I would pay the fees as in my business the rewards of the simple ownership of the card make it worthwhile.
What is the most you've charged on the card in one month's time, and was it for a single purchase?
I bought my Aston Martin on it for $120,000. You can see the car itself here.
Does having the card make you feel special or different? Do you feel part of an elite club?
Yes, this was the only reason I accepted the card and part of why AmEx invited me. I am very important in the world of luxury lifestyle and the card does validate your financial status to a degree when presented in front of others of similar status. Not a club perhaps but rather a silent way to say, "I have money too" when sitting at the round table.
Are people generally impressed that you have the card?
People get very impressed unfortunately by something so small, but ultimately the impressive part isn't so much based upon the wealth or perception of wealth it creates but rather the curiosity that it brings as many have never seen one. Somehow my family and friends always expect me to pay for things when we go out as a group as they think the card pays itself at the end of each month :)
Do retailers have a reaction when they see the card?
The weight and feel of the card is very different causing a few retailers to look at it weird and not understand what type of card it is. Many ask me how they can get one, but others that know pause sometimes, even become nicer for no reason. :)
What extras do you get from the card, and which of those extras do you appreciate most?
The main extra I receive on the card is the concierge service and the rewards. AmEx sends you awesome gifts like Mont Blanc pens and other cool presents from time to time. There are also benefits like being able to [go to] places in airports or towns that the card gives you access to without an actual membership. The concierge service enables me to get special attention at restaurants or for sport tickets. Imagine making one phone call and still getting tickets courtside even when the game is sold out, or perhaps reservations when the restaurant is booked for three months. Now imagine making those phone calls the day before and still making it happen. :)
Do you consider yourself wealthy?
Wealth from a monetary standpoint can be hard to evaluate as different people consider different amounts as the number that dictates their wealth. I drive a collection of exotic cars, own multiple homes and work on what I want to work on, rather than working for others. I would consider myself well-off but still feel like I haven't reached that finish line. My ultimate goal is not one based on a dollar figure, and therefore may not define wealth, but I will say that I feel like I am better off than most I know and that others consider me wealthy.
Want to hear from another entrepreneur with a Centurion credit card? Read our Q&A with Taysha Valez.
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About the Author
Ellen Cannon is editorial director of CardRatings.com. She has covered personal finance for nearly 20 years at Bloomberg and at Bankrate.com, where she specialized in credit cards.