Archive | History

Black Card History

The Black Card started out as an urban legend in the early 1980s circa 1984. It was alleged by that American Express handed out a high end ID with unusual privileges. This rumor is corroborated by a Wall Street Journal article written in 1988, despite the fact that American Express continually declined the rumor as true.

From WSJ: Suppose, for example, on a 3-o’clock-in-the-morning whim, you decided to book a round-the-world trip; American Express would accommodate you with a travel service staffed 24 hours a day. In the market for a red 1965 Ferrari? If you were a black-card holder, American Express would kick tires in the world’s fanciest used-car lots. If you remembered in Singapore that you had left your favorite suit in a Hong Kong penthouse, the company would arrange to fetch it. (full 1988 WSJ Black Card Article Here)

On October 14, 1999, publicly launched the American Express Centurion Card aka The Black Card, see original press release here. Doug Smith, director of American Express Europe said:”There had been rumors going around that we had this ultra-exclusive black card for elite customers… It wasn’t true, but we decided to capitalize on the idea anyway. So far we’ve had a customer buy a Bentley and another charter a jet.”

In 2004 in Europe and 2006 in the US the Centurion Card was switched over to Titanium from Plastic.

In 2006 American Express also raised the eligibility requirement from 150,000 annual spend to 250,000 annual spend.

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AMEX Credit Card Was Originally Purple Paper Not Black Titanium

American Express 1958 Original Card Purple PaperPaper, Plastic, Titanium, and Carbon Graphite?

Credit cards had existed prior to American Express, namely Diners Club (which was actually a paper or cardboard card that was in circulation).

The first AMEX credit card was actually introduced October 1, 1958 – American Express introduced travel-and-entertainment charge card (The original card was actually paper printed with purple ink to resemble Travelers Cheques)

The first plastic American Express appeared in the early 1960s, while their adoption had become increased as vendors found traditional AMEX booklets too difficult to manage. It was because of this that well received the new plastic cards, which used charge plate machines, thereby making transaction and record keeping easier and less error prone.

American Express AMEX First Plastic Card from 1960s

Plastic cards became dominant and remained the main player, however, it was not until 1966 that the common credit card came to, when Bank of America established BankAmerica Service Corporation to franchise the BankAmericard which then became known as “Visa“, still not black). Mastercard, originally Mastercharge, came to be in 1966 in addition, where both Visa and Mastercard credit cards were open-loop (inter-bank), and American Express was closed-loop (intrabank).

American Express took the lead again in 2004 in some parts of Europe, and in 2006 in the United States by changing their elusive BLACK CARD (formally known as the Centurion Card), to a hand crafted titanium card to replace it’s plastic ancestor. Times as changed, this isn’t your grandfather’s “purple cardboard,” although American Express Charter Members (Members since 1958) do get some special privileges.

American Express Centurion Card2008 of course brought the “Visa Black Card“, made from Carbon Fiber. The Wikipedia editors, however, did neglect to include credit cards in applications of carbon fiber (we’re kidding): “The properties of carbon fiber such as high tensile strength, low weight, and low thermal expansion make it very popular in aerospace, civil engineering, military, and motorsports, along with other competition sports.”

We’ll stick with black hand hammered titanium for now, someone update Wikipedia.

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Departures Magazine

Leave your centurion card at home, both centurion card and platinum card members get Departures magazine. Departures is an exclusive lifestyle magazine published by American Express that only available to card holders. Richard David Story is the Editor-in-Chief.


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Black Ink (formerly a magazine with no name)

Black Ink used to be a magazine with “no name” from it’s start in 2004. It was the magazine received alongside Departures magazine which Platinum cardholders receive as well.


However, starting in spring of 2007, the magazine was officially titled Black Ink. European, Asian, and Austrailian Centurion card holders will still receive Centurion Magazine.

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Centurion Magazine is issued by Journal International

Centurion Magazine was only issued for UK, ICC, Germany, Switzerland, Hong Kong Centurion members. Here are some photos.

Hong Kong Versions:



UK Versions:




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Leading Hotels of the World (2006)

Membership to the Leading Hotels of the World program for international card holders circa 2006.




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International Centurion Card Welcome Kit

Here’s a photo of the International Centurion Card welcome kit, US Welcome kits haven’t come with luggage tags recently.


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Swiss Centurion Invite Kit


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Japanese Mandarin Oriental Benefits


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German Centurion Welcome Kit



Invitation Letter and Thanks from Kenneth Chenault:


German Centurion Card (older, still plastic)



Centurion Plus Card



German Centurion Service Information



German Centurion Airline Ticket Holder



German Luggage Tags (Platinum, Gold, and Black/Centurion)


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Centurion European Welcome Kit

Brochures and information.


High end leather luggage tags.


Program Benefits.


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Japanese Welcome Kit circa 2006







Applications for programs that come with the card.





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Hong Kong Welcome Kit


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US Centurion Business Invitation Kit


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Centurion US Consumer Welcome Kit with Luggage Tags

Below are some photos of US Welcome Kit’s, recent kits no longer come with luggage tags.



Here are legacy luggage tags that used to come with centurion welcome kits.


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Titanium Centurion First Introduced in 2004

The switch to titanium was first made when the Centurion card was introduced in France, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Sweden in 2004. Later the Centurion card was introduced in the US

Original Centurion Card (Black AMEX)


Titanium Version


Original Centurion Card vs. Centurion


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UK Charter Member Cards

UK Centurion Card with IC chip (Charter Member)


Charter Member Sample Card


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2006 Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR)

The 2006 FHR Guide.

And the 2006 SLH Guide.


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Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) no longer Platinum

One of the great perks of being a centurion card holder is the associated travel benefits. Cardholders used to receive Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum membership automatically, now this has been downgraded to Gold membership as of January 2006. Let’s hope they bring back Platinum


Gold benefits from Starwood:

Earn Free Night Awards faster. Increase your rewards to 3 Starpoints for every eligible U.S. dollar spent — a 50% bonus over Preferred Guests.

Enhanced Rooms. Rather than redeeming Starpoints for a better room, you’re entitled to an automatic room upgrade at check-in when one is available. An enhanced room includes rooms on higher floors, corner rooms, newly renovated rooms, or rooms with preferred views.

4 p.m. late checkout, when available.

Complimentary weekday newspaper.

Gold Preferred Guest® special customer service telephone.

Check-cashing privileges up to $300.

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2005 Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR) Guide

2005 FHR Guide


2005 SLH Guide


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