Why AMEX Centurion Cardholders Don’t Care About Membership Rewards

by joeheg

American Express offers a wide variety of cards for both personal and business use. You can choose from co-brand cards, with partners like Delta or Marriott, or cards that earn Membership Rewards. You also have the option of a credit card or a charge card. AMEX started as a charge card company and only later started offering credit cards. In fact, most cards you associate with American Express, like the Green Card, Gold Card, Platinum Card, and Centurion Card, are charge cards.

Back in the day when there was only the Green Card, having an American Express card meant you were doing well. Just take it from Pele and Pavarotti.

Initially, owning an American Express card was akin to being part of a select club. The American Express Card became an emblem of the international traveler and top-level executive. Although the Gold Card was launched in 1966, it was only available to “high-spending” customers.

“Our card is a prestige instrument used primarily for travel and entertainment … it is not a ‘shoppers card’,” American Express CEO Howard Clark told shareholders in 1969.

In 1984, an even more exclusive “Platinum” card was introduced. It wasn’t until 1991 that American Express launched the Membership Miles program, which eventually became Membership Rewards as we know it today.

American Express then released the ultimate status card, called “Centurion” but known as the “Black Card,” in 1999. Depending on who you believe, this card was created after a conversation between Jerry Seinfeld and the president of American Express.

While the Black Card has all of the mystery, those who know Membership Rewards know that it’s not the best points-earning card.

But as they say in the video, if you have a Black Card, you probably don’t care how many Membership Rewards points you have in your account.

According to American Express in Centurion Magazine, the average net worth of a Centurion Cardholder is $9.2 million, with an annual salary of $1.4 million. And remember, that’s an average number. In fact, it’s dropped a bit which is probably due to opening up applications to more members.

It used to be that only AMEX members like Barstool Sports founder and owner David Portnoy could get a Centurion Card. In this TikTok video, he shows his balance of 45 Million Membership Rewards points when shopping at Rite Aid.


The AMEX King 👑 @Dave Portnoy

♬ original sound – Barstool Sports

While most of us are out here figuring out which card is best to use at supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants, and for travel expenses, people with the AMEX Black Card use it everywhere and earn 1 point per dollar. Once you’ve cracked the 1 million-point barrier, you can probably book any one-way flight in Delta One.

AMEX Centurion Cardholders don’t mind earning just one point per dollar spent. Moreover, if you have a Black Card and are still trying to earn more Membership Rewards with each purchase, perhaps paying a $10,000 initiation fee and a $5,000 annual fee wasn’t the best financial decision.

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Jeremy April 8, 2024 - 8:19 pm

I highly disagree with this. I think you get to the point of those sort of income and net worth numbers by being savvy. There are many surgeons, CEOs, etc. who DO care about the card they use

ACinCLT April 9, 2024 - 2:34 pm

The black card is used for the benefits it offers (and a certain level of exclusivity). @Jeremy you are wrong. Maybe people with a black card care about points but, if so, they don’t use that card to get them. Also, the majority of people I’ve known with black cards can afford to fly private, let alone buying first class seats on commercial aircraft, so use of points for travel really isn’t something that moves their needle.

Penny Wise April 15, 2024 - 12:12 pm

“the average net worth of a Centurion Cardholder is $9.2 million, with an annual salary of $1.4 million”

While the raw numbers are impressive, that’s actually a very poor ratio. I would certainly hope someone with that high an annual income invests enough to have more than just ~6.5x net worth to income ratio. Or do they also just burn through all that money?


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