"Then they are fawning over us, saying, 'Oh, I hope you had a good visit!' We just look at each other across the table and crack up laughing," Wheeler says.

When charm fails, flash the card

Edward Ip, the owner of an information-technology consulting firm, is another cardholder who prefers to be discreet.

"The people the card attracts are not the people you want to attract," he says. "Your close friends know who you are and what you do, so they're not surprised or shocked to see it." That said, "it is a great way to get the bartender's attention."

Ip says his card can be credited with the bottle of champagne that was sent to his table the first time he visited the famed New York restaurant 21 Club, as well as an upgrade at a Beverly Hills hotel. "Charm works really well to get upgrades, but in these cases I got the perks before I demonstrated my charm," Ip says.

The Black Card as a pickup tool

John Mahdessian, the owner of a high-end fabric cleaning service in New York, has had the card since 1999. He says he sought out the card by intentionally charging $1 million on his AmEx that year with the sole aim of being invited. Mahdessian says the card exudes the type of status he seeks.

"I'm the most eligible bachelor with a spotless reputation," says the fortysomething New Yorker. "I like to use it to impress the ladies, and they certainly are very inquisitive about it. I think that it shows that you are not only responsible with your money but that you have arrived financially in your life and in your career.

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But not all women are bowled over by the Black Card. Liz Grimes encountered one when she was a waitress in college. She waited on a couple in their 20s who came in for lunch. They were low-key and friendly, and, after chatting with Grimes for a while, the guy handed over his Black Card to pay the bill. Grimes and her colleagues were impressed.

"We were all wondering how someone so young could have possibly gotten their hands on one of these. Was it his parents? Maybe his job?" Grimes recalls. Imagine her surprise when she picked up the signed receipt to find a $30 tip on a $30 bill -- and a phone number, smiley face and note that read, "Call me."

"My friends insisted that I call him for the pure fact that he paid with the Black Card," Grimes says. She refused. "Just because this guy obviously had money, I was not going to sacrifice my morals and get involved in this situation."

Or, as Mahdessian says: "Just because you charge $1 million doesn't mean you have $1 million."

This article was reported by Emma Johnson for CreditCards.com.