You probably think the holders of the very best credit cards, such as the American Express Centurion (the "black card"), are all celebrities. But that may not be the typical Centurion member.
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Perhaps a better example is Taysha Valez, the 29-year-old founder of myTAY PCS, a mobile phone and Internet company. Valez lives in Hawaii and New Jersey. We chatted with her via email to find out how she uses the infamous credit card.
How did you get invited to be a Centurion member?
The invite was the same [for business and personal]. You must be a current AmEx card holder and spend a minimum of $250K in one calendar year. In 1999 our [business] spending was well over $250K a month on the card. I have never personally had a Platinum AmEx card. So the myth that you must have a Platinum card in order to be invited is not true. I am not sure if that has changed since, but in my experience it's not true.
Is this Centurion card related to business or personal use?
Both. My first one was related to business use. I've had my own business since I was 15. At that time I was a cardholder on my parents' AmEx account. Then by 18 I had a personal Gold card, and I would send American Express a check covering my expenses at the beginning of the month so that they would raise my limit. I went from Gold to Black by 19.
My current card is Personal. Most of my expenses on my personal card are still associated with my business because my business and personal life overlap. Being the "Princess of Pricey" is a pricey gig. I personally pamper my clients, friends, and family without a write-off.
Tell us about your business.
myTAY PCS is beauty, tech and telecom. In a nutshell we handle everything that has to do with the Internet and mobile. myTAY.tv, myTAYISP, myTAY.com, myTAY.in, GildedGosSIP.com, myTAY.mobi and ShopMrCruz.com--we power about 30 different niche social recommender communities. We're family-owned and homegrown.
Our core client is 24-34, women, no children, and graduate school-educated. myTAY PCS is the only telecom that caters to activating and servicing high-fashion phones. Most of our clients are lovers of fashion and shopping. It's almost a sport for them, and we provide the services to keep them connected at all times. More than a few of our clients are Centurion card holders from around the globe.
What does it cost to carry the card?
I hear the fees went up, but when I got my first card there was no initiation fee, just an annual fee of $1,000. And in 2005 the fees were as follows: upfront fee--$5,000; yearly fee for the first card--$2,500; yearly fee for each additional card--$1,500.
Do you feel that it's worth it to have the card, despite the high minimum and the fees?
High is relative. Compared to the benefits and the ease and upgrades, it's paid for itself 10 times over. For example, in fall 2007 Centurion-AmEx had a private dinner at Bergdorf Goodman. It was great! Each table had a private gift bag with the new Black card cases, and a swag bag that was personalized for each client, based on our previous purchase history. Nights like that are priceless.
What is the most you've charged on the card in one month's time?
The most was about $930K and it was for a home-decorating project that went way over budget. LOL But it was worth it. Gilded mirrors and antique washbowls and Swarovski crystal-lined whirlpool baths add up!
What was your most exotic, or single biggest purchase with the card?
It was an 18-carat padparadscha sapphire ring for $700K. It was an estate auction buy. This is like a championship ring--that's how huge and beautiful it is. I love it.
Do retailers have a reaction when they see the card?
It all depends on the retailer. Shopping areas like Short Hills [Mall in New Jersey], Kalakaua Avenue [in Waikiki], Fifth Avenue, etc., are used to the Black card. A lot of Centurion card holders from around the world shop those areas. It's when you whip it out at the local pharmacy or grocery store that you get the most "oohs" and "ahs." I try to use a cash card at select places. I don't use my Centurion for every single plastique purchase. Never at restaurants where the waiter walks away with the card, for example. Casual dining and day to day I use my TAY PAY card.
One time I was in Wegmans grocery store and all I had was the Centurion card. And I thought, "Oh, this is Wegmans so it won't be a big deal." Wrong! The check-out lady called over her co-workers and everyone in line started asking about who, where and what do I do for a living to have a card like that. Everyone assumes I'm married and it's my husband's account. That was a very wacky experience. LOL All I wanted was my grapes and walnuts.
Does having the card make you feel special or different? Do you feel part of an elite club? I feel different and special at the same time. And yes, I do feel a part of an elite club. It's a blessing to be able to afford to pay the dang bill every month! LOL All from my hard work, you know--do what I love to do, not what I have to do. So that's the club, that's where the specialness comes from.
Everyone I know who has the card is an entrepreneur. We all had a vision, went after it, took the risk, and delivered, and are handsomely rewarded for believing in ourselves and seeing our visions through to success. The Centurion card represents that. Hard work pays off. Anything is attainable. The card represents a limitless life. And I love that!
What extras do you get from the card, and which of those extras do you appreciate most?
Travel and shopping. It's all located in the booklets and the little USB stick that's included with it. I thought the business and the personal cards were the same, but it turns out there are differences:
Business gets these benefits:
*Quarterly Management Report *Regus Program (virtual office) *Fortune Small Business magazine *Assured hotel reservation program *Employee-card misuse protection *Savings of 5 to 15% on purchases from certain vendors, such as FedEx, Hyatt hotels and Hertz, just to name a few.
The main benefits on the personal card:
*The assigned concierge. All those last-minute gifts and they will even contact ShopMrCruz.com and expedite any gift orders I might have. They are like human search engines when you're searching for something that seems un-findable.
*The FHR (Fine Hotels and Restaurants) benefits because I love beautiful hotels.
*The Buyers Assurance Program has come in handy twice thus far. It covered a digital camera and had it replaced super-fast!
*The invites to exclusive events. From sky boxes and floor seats at sporting events to red carpet events and uber-exclusive gatherings around the world.
Do you consider yourself wealthy?
Yes, but not because of the card. Because wealth is an abundance of health, affording yourself options of all sorts, and having an abundance of love and joy in your life. So yes, I consider myself extremely wealthy and extremely blessed.
Curious about another entrepreneur with a Centurion credit card? Read our Q&A with Don Sabatini.
The original article can be found at CardRatings.com:Inside the life of Centurion cardholder Taysha Valez