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You can snag elite card perks without the Centurion® Card invitation

By , CardRatings contributor
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    First-class credit card perksWho doesn't want an invite to a secret, high-level credit card that comes with more perks than being born a Kardashian? You can wait for that invite to become a Centurion® Card from American Express member (the legendary charge card known casually as the “Black Card”) or you can get creative and find some of those perks – or at least perks that are strikingly similar – elsewhere without the need for an invitation or the cash on hand to cover the initiation and annual fees of the Centurion® Card from American Express (American Express is a Cardratings.com advertiser).

    With its initiation fee of $7,500 and its annual fee of $2,500 for the first cardholder (you’ll also pay $2,500 for each additional authorized user up to three), the Centurion® Card from American Express is not your father's American Express card. As you would expect with fees that high, if you name it, you get it… if you're chosen.

    If you're not selected to apply for this rectangle slice of anodized titanium, fret not. Plenty of other options exist with high-end perks, but without breaking the bank.

    Since the Centurion® Card from American Express is invitation-only, there isn’t much publicly available information on the card, but the card member agreement is posted online and a couple of Centurion® Card from American Express cardholders have helped us hone in on a few of the details. Based on what they told us and what that cardholder agreement reflects, we tracked down a number of other options that can help you snag some premium luxury perks similar to those offered by the Centurion® Card from American Express.

    How to get Centurion® Card from American Express-like hotel perks

    The Centurion® Card from American Express offers elite status at hotels in the Starwood, Hilton and IHG groups, with free upgrades, earlier check-in, later check-out, guaranteed rooms, service and food credits and so much more. But multiple credit cards out there – some that carry no annual fee – also offer cardholders some of the same benefits either directly in their cardholder agreements or via redemptions of the various rewards they offer.

    Let’s start with Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card members, for instance, can who can earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening – that's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, which is likely enough to cover a decent “free” upgrade should you choose to cash in that way. 

    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders also earn two times points on travel and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. As with the Centurion® Card from American Express, you won't pay foreign transaction fees, but what you do get is a 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs, which means you could be cashing in on “free” travel even more often than Centurion Card members since that card doesn’t feature any kind of rewards or cash-back program.

    By the way, if you really want to step up your rewards earning game (and therefore your options for scoring free hotel upgrades), Chase recently announced a new card: Chase Sapphire Reserve℠. This card, which does carry a $450 annual fee, takes everything you love about the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and gives it a luxurious luster. You'll earn three points per dollar spent on travel and dining and your redemptions are worth 50 percent more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

    At IHG properties, Centurion® Card from American Express cardholders are considered Priority Club Rewards Platinum Elite members, entitling them to late checkout, priority check-in, and the ability to earn 10 Priority Club points or 2.5 airline miles per dollar spent on a stay. But if you don't have that card, there's still hope! The IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card features just a $49 annual fee ($0 intro for the first year) and new cardholders earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Oh, and they qualify for that Platinum Elite status and all the benefits that brings.

    In fact, if hotel perks are at the top of your wish list, check out some of the many branded hotel rewards cards out there. Many of them offer excellent, Centurion® Card from American Express-worthy perks, without the high annual fee.

    How to get Centurion® Card from American Express-like travel perks

    Centurion® Card from American Express cardholders enjoy stellar airline travel rewards, there's no question. But The Platinum Card® from American Express offers some equally lucrative rewards – and it's a bargain with its $550 annual fee as compared to the Centurion® Card’s $2,500 a year.

    The Platinum® Card offers 60,000 points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months, worth up to $600 in travel when redeemed through American Express Travel.

    The card also provides up to a $200 airline fee credit annually, which means you can check bags, purchase meals and more and have up to $200-worth of those purchases with a pre-selected airline refunded via statement credit. Oh, and those Centurion® lounges that serve high-end fare and cocktails at some airports? The Platinum Card® from American Express gets you same-level entry as part of your card member agreement.

    Centurion® Card members get access to the Amex FHR (Fine Hotels and Resorts) program, which gives noon check-in; breakfast for two, daily; room upgrades and more at thousands of properties worldwide. Guess what – if you're a Platinum® cardholder, you, too, have access to that service.

    Still not convinced you can score big perks without the Centurion® Card invitation? Try this: the Citi Prestige® Card (Citi is a CardRatings advertiser) actually goes so far as to offer its cardholders a complimentary fourth night free at any hotel book through Citi Prestige® Concierge when you stay for three consecutive nights (This card is not currently available on CardRatings). Oh, and the annual fee for this one is a mere $450 ($50 more for each additional authorized user). The Citi Prestige® Card also features a robust rewards program that allows cardholders to rack up points toward future travel and other freebies.

    If you do travel often, you’ve likely heard about or are already part of the TSA Precheck and/or Global Entry programs. Both programs are intended to expedite the security process when you travel within the United States or abroad, respectively. If you aren’t already part of one of these programs, go ahead and apply. Whether you have the Centurion® Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express (or one of several other travel-focused cards, by the way) you'll be reimbursed the application fee ($85 for TSA Precheck and $100 for Global Entry).

    In-flight Wi-Fi via Gogo wireless is free to Centurion® Card members, as is Boingo, which provides free Wi-Fi at millions of locations worldwide. Some other high-end cards offer similar perks as well, including the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. In fact, there’s even a no-annual-fee card – Discover it® Miles – that offers cardholders up to $30 in statement credit annually to cover in-flight Wi-Fi fees.

    One perk we were unable to match was Centurion® International Arrival Services. This benefit provides Centurion® Card from American Express cardholders traveling in Business or First Class a personal guide that greets you at the airport and walks you through customs, coordinates ground transportation and helps with your bags. Yes, this is a nice perk, but is it worth $2,500 annually?

    Centurion® Card from American Express-like shopping perks

    Did you buy something before trying it on? Or just decide you didn't want it anymore but the return window with the merchant closed? The Centurion® Card from American Express will credit you up to $300 per item ($1,000 maximum per year). Don't have that $2,500 lying around for your fees? No problem. For $0 the first year and $95 annually after that, you can apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, which refunds up to $500 per item, with the same $1,000 per year cap.

    Buy something with your Centurion® Card from American Express that gets lost, stolen or damaged within 90 days of your purchase and they will pay up to $10,000 per incident, with a $50,000-per-year cap. That benefit, by the way, is also available with the The Platinum Card® from American Express.

    By the way, many credit cards actually offer some form of price protection, which means that you can be refunded the difference should an item you purchased on the card drop in price within a certain time frame. The perk basically extends a retailer’s price adjustment period to 60 or even 90 days. Simplifying things a bit, if you make your purchase with any Citi-issued card or one of several Chase cards, including Chase Freedom®Chase Freedom Unlimited® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (check out the full list here), there’s an app called Paribus that will track your purchases and initiate that price adjustment refund process on your behalf.

    >> Related article: Get money back if a price drops weeks, even months after your purchase

    Think you'll miss out on VIP event invites? Concierge services? Travel services? Think again! You can get all of those benefits when you use The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Mastercard® Black Card™ (this one is officially called the Black Card).

    The Mastercard® Black Card™, in fact, offers everything from elite concierge services to special experience invitations and all the travel perks you’d expect from a luxury card. But this one has just a $495 annual fee and you can apply online. Remember, though, that being approved for this card (or any credit card) will be contingent on your credit and financial history and applying for a card for which you will not qualify can hurt your credit. In other words, this is still an elite credit card so make sure your financial situation supports this kind of card before you apply.

    The bottom line is this: It may feel cool to get a secret invitation to a specially made titanium credit card with amazing benefits, but isn't it just as cool to pocket that astronomical annual fee and find another credit card that works just as well for your lifestyle while offering some sweet, high-end perks at a much lower annual cost?

    Photo: Flickr user atalou

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