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For all the differences between the major card issuers (Chase, Amex and Citi), their credit card offerings have started to look more and more alike in recent years.

Don’t believe me? Let’s play a little game: I’m thinking of a credit card with a $400+ annual fee, hundreds of dollars in annual statement credits, high-value bonus categories, a Priority Pass Select membership and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit. Can you guess which one? If you said any of the following you would have been right: Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige, the Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card. You can even make the same comparison between more entry-level cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Citi ThankYou Premier Card.

The Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card, now called the American Express® Gold Card, has never fit well into either the premium card category or the entry-level tier. Historically it offered a rather high annual fee ($195) without many perks or bonus categories. But a top-down refresh of the card has changed nearly all of that, solidifying the Amex Gold as the perfect (and really the only) “in-between” credit card, straddling the line between entry-level simplicity and premium value.

Let’s take a look at how the Amex Gold carves out its own spot in this new “in-betweener” category, hopefully encouraging other card issuers to respond in kind. For each category, I’ll look at what you’d expect from a premium card, and an entry-level card, and how the Amex Gold is different. Note that I’m ignoring redemption options here, as Membership Rewards points can be redeemed the same way whether they’re earned on an Amex Gold or an Amex Platinum (with the limited exception of the Amex Business Platinum’s pay with points rebate).

Annual Fee

Premium: $450+

Entry-level: $99 or less, often waived for the first year

Amex Gold: The annual fee on the Amex Gold has been raised from $195 to $250, and it’s no longer waived for the first year. This is one of the most obvious ways in which it stands out as an in-betweener card. Premium credit cards are easily identifiable by their eye-popping $400+ annual fees, while most other cards sit at or below the $100 mark. With premium cards, your out-of-pocket cost often ends up being closer to $100-200 after you account for generous annual travel/hotel/airline statement credits, while entry-level cards rarely have any credits to offset the fee.

We’ll go into greater detail about the Amex Gold’s $220 in annual statement credits a little later, but if you’re capable of maxing them, your out-of-pocket cost each year will only be $30. This gives it a huge leg up on both the more expensive premium cards and the “cheaper” entry-level cards, and should certainly factor into your decision about whether this card is right for you.

Welcome Bonus

Premium: Generally, 50,000-100,000 points, worth $1,000-$2,000, though there’s more variance across premium card welcome bonuses than there are with other card perks.

Entry-level: 40,000-60,000 points, worth ~$1,000+

Amex Gold: Unfortunately the welcome bonus on the Amex Gold Card is one of its weakest elements, especially at a time when many TPG readers are being targeted for 100,000-point bonuses on the Amex Platinum (offer subject to change at anytime; worth $1,900 based on TPG’s valuations). New applicants will receive 25,000 Membership Rewards points (worth $475) after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, and those who apply by Jan. 9, 2019 will also get 20% back at US restaurants (up to $100) in the first 3 months.

25,000 points should be enough for a domestic round-trip ticket or maybe a one-way international flight if you take advantage of one of Amex’s transfer bonuses. Not only does this bonus fail to compare favorably to premium competition from the Amex Platinum, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve with its 50,000-point sign-up bonus (after spending $4,000 in the first three months), but it also doesn’t compare well to the Sapphire Preferred, which offers the same 50,000-point bonus as the Reserve (worth $1,000 based on TPG’s valuations).

But, if we compare the Amex Gold to Amex’s own introductory credit card, the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, the bonus starts to make a bit more sense. The Everyday Preferred is currently offering a welcome bonus of 15,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, and no additional statement credits to sweeten the deal. While it would be nice to see a larger bonus on the Amex Gold card, at least Amex is doing (a little) something to differentiate it.

The Amex Gold Card is currently the best pick for dining in the US. Photo by Shawn Ang on Unsplash

Earning

Premium: 5%+ returns on travel, dining or other common bonus categories

Entry-level: 3-5% returns on travel, dining, groceries, gas, etc.

Amex Gold: The real reason most people will want to get and keep the refreshed Amex Gold relates to the changes that have been made to the bonus categories. The chart below shows the change in earning rates from the old version to the new version:

Bonus Category Premier Rewards Gold Card (Old) American Express Gold Card (New)
US Restaurants 2x (3.8% return) 4x (7.6% return)
US Supermarkets 2x (3.8% return) 4x (7.6% return), capped at $25,000 per calendar year
Airfare Purchased Directly From the Airline 3x (5.7% return) 3x (5.7% return)
US Gas Stations 2x (3.8% return) 1x (1.9% return)
Non-Bonus Spending 1x (1.9% return) 1x (1.9% return)

 

The changes are almost universally positive, with earning at US supermarkets and restaurants doubling to 4x points, or 7.6% back based on TPG’s valuations. The 3x points for airfare purchased directly with the airline or at amextravel.com isn’t changing, but earning at US gas stations is dropping from 2x to 1x. These changes make the Amex Gold one of the most rewarding credit cards on the market for both dining and groceries, and give it a huge leg up on Chase’s entry-level and premium Sapphire cards, which earn 2x (4%) and 3x (6%) on dining respectively. These are premium-level (or better) bonus categories, without the price tag to match it.

Two big drawbacks, however, are that the 4x at US supermarkets is capped at $25,000 in spending a year (then 1x), and that the 4x categories are only valid within the US. It always annoys me when travel rewards cards are less rewarding to those who actually travel, and as an expat I won’t be able to take advantage of any of these exciting changes.

CHICAGO - MAY 04: A customer is seen shopping at a Whole Foods store on May 4, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. Texas-based natural and organic foods retailer Whole Foods Market Inc. stock shot up 13 percent today after it announced second-quarter profit grew 27 percent after a 21 percent increase in sales. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
The card also offers 4x at US supermarkets, on the first $25,000 each year. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Perks & Credits

Premium: Lounge access, travel insurance, elite status, annual statement credits, concierge services and many, many more

Entry-level: More limited travel insurance and purchase protection

Amex Gold: It’s easy to build a case that a card like the Amex Platinum is worth the $550 annual fee, thanks to all the perks it offers such as hotel elite status, annual statement credits, lounge access and more. But if you don’t take advantage of many of these benefits, the Platinum card might not be worth the cost. In some ways, the relatively limited set of benefits that come with the Amex Gold can be seen as a good thing, as it doesn’t take as much work and effort to squeeze the maximum value out of this card.

The main perks to get excited about are the $220 in annual statement credits, which break down as follows:

  • $100 annual airline incidental credit. This is not valid on airfare, but can be used for incidental charges like seat assignment, lounge access and baggage fees. Many people have luck redeeming this credit for airline gift cards as well.
  • $10 a month (up to $120 a year) dining credit valid at the following dining partners: Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Shake Shack

Between the dining and US supermarket bonus categories and the annual dining credit, it’s clear that the Amex Gold is meant for foodies. Almost any purchase made at one of the dining partners will be $10 or more, so if you see yourself dining out or ordering in from one of those businesses every 30 days it shouldn’t be hard to maximize this credit. Maxing out both credits brings your out-of-pocket cost down to $30 a year, which can easily be made up for with your 4x bonus earnings.

Another lesser-known perk of the old Gold Card that is remaining unchanged is the double points and $75 property credit when booking hotel stays of 2 nights or longer through the Amex Hotel Collection. Cardholders will also be insured if their luggage is lost, stolen or damaged during flights booked with the Gold Card.

This is nowhere near as many benefits as the Amex Platinum, which basically requires an encyclopedia to fully document all of its perks. The few perks that the Amex Gold card does offer are short, sweet and easy to understand, and significantly enhance the overall value that the card offers.

New York City, USA - April 15, 2013: Customers dine at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. The chain diner opened in 2004 and the Madison Square Park location is the original.
Get up to $120 in statement credits each year when you use the card at eateries including Shake Shack. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Bottom Line

The Amex Gold is in a category of its own. In exchange for an annual fee that splits the gap between entry-level and premium, you’ll be able to earn 4x points at US restaurants and US supermarkets.

While the Amex Gold doesn’t offer as many perks as a true premium credit card, the $220 in annual statement credits brings your out-of-pocket cost down to just $30, making this one of the cheapest credit cards to hold relative to the benefits you’ll receive.

American Express® Gold Card

With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 25,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.

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More Things to Know
  • Get the American Express® Gold Card in Limited Edition Rose Gold, only available until 1/9/2019.
  • Receive 20% back as a statement credit at U.S. Restaurants within the first 3 months, up to $100 back. Offer available to new Card Members who apply by 1/9/2019.
  • Plus, earn 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at US restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at participating dining partners. Enrollment required.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per year for incidental fees at one selected airline.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
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Annual Fee
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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