The Plastic Ceiling: Credit Cards You Can’t Have

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Consumers generally accept that the best credit cards are reserved for members of the credit elite, but there are some cards that even a perfect credit score can’t guarantee.

“There are cards that are invitation only,” Beverly Harzog, an expert with, tells MainStreet.

The most widely known of these elusive credit cards is the American Express Black Centurion. Amex (Stock Quote: AXP) refrains from formally disclosing the terms and conditions of the card; the only thing that a curious visitor can learn from perusing the issuer’s website is that the Centurion is “rarely seen, always recognized.”

But experts have gleaned, largely through interviews with the cardholders they could find, that the Centurion is generally awarded to existing cardholders who have charged $250,000 or more onto their credit cards in one calendar year. These big spenders pay a $5,000 initiation fee, with a $2,500 annual fee after that if they choose to add the card to their already fat wallets

While less is known about the particular perks these cards net for their holders, it is generally accepted that they receive some pretty swanky travel perks, including exclusive discounts and free upgrades on all sorts of carriers. “The concierge will basically do anything for you,” Tim Chen, CEO of, says.

Curtis Arnold, founder of, adds that the card doesn’t only offer travel benefits. A current cardholder recently told the website about a dinner Centurion hosted at Bergdorf-Goodman in which the free meal came with a complimentary gift bag full of personalized swag.

Of course, the Centurion isn’t the only invitation-only card out there. Chase offers the Palladium card, which Harzog says carries a much lower annual fee (around $595) than its Amex counterpart, but requires an equally full private Chase bank account, believed to be around $20 to $30 million.

Additionally, Chen says, to remain competitive “a lot of financial institutions have cards that they will only offer to customers who use their private wealth managers.”  This includes Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch, which both have their own cards tailor-made for their wealthiest consumers.

“There are probably a few others that we don’t even know about,” Harzog adds. “They’re very secretive about these cards because that’s part of the allure.”

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