By Joe Taylor Jr. CardRatings contributor | Updated, May 6, 2013
Unlike Olympic medals, there's no consistent pecking order for credit cards based on their color or material, with one exception. You can thank Bank of America and American Express for inventing the metallic tiers we know today. Until the 1960s, consumers chose credit cards by brand name: American Express catered mostly to frequent travelers, Diners Club handled business lunches, and the BankAmericard (now called Visa ) appealed to retail shoppers.
American Express launched their Gold Card to gain more traction with business travelers and with elite consumers. By the 1980s, most credit card issuers used platinum cards to establish an even loftier tier of privileges and benefits. Although Visa and MasterCard set minimum benefits and service levels for banks to call their cards "platinum," there's no connection between platinum status and purchasing power.
In fact, many credit cards for fair credit use Platinum status as a way to make you feel a little better about paying larger fees and finance charges than customers with slightly higher credit scores. You might find a better set of features and benefits from a gold card with one lender than with another's platinum card. The past
few years have seen even more monikers hit the market: "Diamond," "Titanium," "Sapphire," "Signature," "World," and over a dozen others that denote varying levels of customer service.
There's one standout from this sea of descriptives: the iconic, black American Express Centurion Card. Until recently, AmEx wouldn't even confirm the existence of such a card if you called to request one. By most accounts, if you spend more than $250,000 per year on an American Express Platinum Card in your own name, you might receive an invitation to apply for your own black card. It arrives in a commemorative case the size of a shoebox, with a cloth-bound guide to member benefits.
For a $2,500 annual fee, cardmembers enjoy access to an elite team of concierges who can bring just about any travel booking or luxury experience into reality at a moment's notice. The card weighs a ton, it's thicker than a typical American Express card, and it's been known to tear lesser retail point of sale devices to shreds. Despite attracting some imitators, the Centurion Card remains the one credit card that can make even the most experienced boutique manager do a double-take.
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