Applying for the American Express Gold Card with no welcome offer
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The American Express® Gold Card is a big hit among award travel enthusiasts thanks to its fantastic earning rates and array of perks. However, despite its obvious appeal, I held off on applying for the card for one main reason: my inability to earn a welcome bonus. I previously held the card’s predecessor (the Premier Rewards Gold Card), and American Express’ once-per-lifetime policy for welcome offers includes previous versions of a product, as detailed on the application page:
“Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card or the Premier Rewards Gold Card.”
As a result, I wouldn’t be eligible to earn the welcome offer of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 on the card in the first six months of card membership — nor would I be able to use the CardMatch Tool to see if I was targeted for the 75,000 point offer (offer subject to change at any time).
Nevertheless, at the end of last year, I pulled the trigger. I applied and was approved for the American Express Gold Card, knowing full well that I couldn’t earn the welcome offer.
Here’s why I did it — and why you should consider doing the same.
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I always try to maximize every, single purchase that I make, mainly through the use of online shopping portals and credit cards with various category bonuses across different types of merchants. I love my perfect quartet of Chase cards — especially my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points on my travel and dining purchases — but there was one category in which I knew I could do better: supermarkets.
I had long used my Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card on these purchases, earning me 6x points for every dollar I spent. I had also used the card at Hilton properties, and together, I was able to easily reach the $15,000 yearly spending threshold to earn a free-weekend-night certificate.
Then, last June, I was targeted for an upgrade offer on the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Suddenly, I had a more lucrative card to swipe at Hilton properties — and my ability to reach the spending threshold required for the certificate suddenly became much harder. The Amex Gold (and its 4x earning rate at supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases each calendar year; then 1x) started to look much more attractive, but was it worth it without a welcome offer?
Well … I decided to crunch the numbers to figure out.
In 2019, I spent $6,540.01 on purchases at grocery stores. Here’s how that translates to earnings on the two cards in question:
- Surpass: 39,240 Hilton points (worth $235.44 based on TPG’s most recent valuations)
- Amex Gold: 26,160 Amex points (worth $523.20)
In other words, if I had been swiping the Amex Gold for those purchases, I would have taken home an additional $287.76 in rewards in 2019 on groceries alone. This single category of purchases would be enough to cover the $250 annual fee on the Amex Gold card (see rates and fees) — without taking into account any other perks on the card.
Then there’s the 4x points per dollar spent on worldwide dining using the American Express Gold Card. I previously used my Sapphire Reserve for dining out to earn 3x points, yet swiping the Amex Gold would get me an additional point per dollar spend. And since we peg both Amex and Chase points at 2 cents apiece, that’s an additional 2% return at restaurants.
Even better? After I added the card, I found that my go-to meal delivery service (Sun Basket) coded as a grocery purchase — meaning that I could earn 4x Amex points on these purchases. This is just one strategy to maximize these meal delivery purchases.
No annual fee for authorized users
Another aspect of the American Express Gold Card that’s so appealing is the fact that there’s no additional annual fee to add an authorized user (see rates and fees) to the card. Before applying for the Amex Gold, I used to use my Sapphire Reserve for all dining purchases. However, I wasn’t willing to add my wife as an authorized user to the card — which would incur an additional $75 fee each year — just so she could also get 3x points when she dines out for work without me.
Instead, she used her Ink Business Cash Credit Card, which offers 2% cash back on up to $25,000 in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants every account anniversary year — or 2x Ultimate Rewards points when we pool our Chase points in a single account.
Now, in the months since I’ve added her as an authorized user on my Amex Gold (though sadly without a bonus offer), she’s taking home double the points. In the first nine months of 2020, she spent $2,080.05 dining out with the Amex Gold, earning 8,320 Membership Rewards points (worth $166.40). If she had swiped her Ink Cash card, her earnings would’ve been slashed in half — to just 4,160 Chase points (worth $83.20).
When you consider the additional earnings on my grocery purchases and with my wife’s spending, I’ve already more than covered the $250 annual fee (see rates and fees) on the American Express Gold Card — so the additional perks on the card are just icing on the cake.
There are two in particular that were particularly appealing when I applied:
- Up to $120 dining credit: Another great perk on the card is up to $10 in statement credits each month when I use my Gold card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shake locations. That’s effectively $120 worth of dining credits over the course of the calendar year.
- Amex Offers: I’ve saved a ton of money (and earned a bunch of bonus points) by leveraging Amex Offers over the years, and adding another card simply opens me up to new discounts and rewards — something that you should check on a regular basis.
I’ve definitely used the dining credit through Grubhub, as my food delivery patronage has soared as a result of stay-at-home orders. In fact, some TPG staffers have become even more attached to the card since COVID-19 hit.
For a full breakdown of the card and its perks, be sure to check out our full Amex Gold review.
The important lesson
Not surprisingly, many award travelers love travel rewards credit cards with large sign-up/welcome bonuses. However, as issuers continue to tighten their eligibility requirements for these offers, I’ve shifted my mindset away from a one-time influx of points or miles and instead begun focusing on optimizing my wallet for regular spending. I now have the following cards for the bulk of my purchases, all of which earn me very valuable transferable points (return percentage based on TPG valuations):
- American Express Gold Card: dining and supermarkets (4x points, or 8% return)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: travel (3x points, or 6% return)
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card: telecommunications and office supplies (5% cash back/5x points on up to $25,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year, or 10% return)
- Chase Freedom Flex: rotating bonus categories, such as PayPal and Walmart (5% cash back/5x points on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter, or 10% return); drugstore purchases (3% cash back/3x points, or 6% return)
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: everyday purchases (2x points on up to $50,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x or 4% return/1% thereafter)
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: everyday purchases where Amex isn’t accepted (1.5% cash back/1.5 points, or 3% return)
The information for the Chase Freedom Flex have been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
In other words, I now get at least 3% back on virtually every one of my purchases — and 8-10% on categories where I spend a lot.
The take-away? Don’t give too much weight to sign-up bonuses. Sure, it’s nice to get that big pop of points, but that’s not the only thing to focus on when building a strategy to maximize your points and miles. I’m getting hundreds of dollars worth of additional rewards every year, simply by looking past a welcome offer and recognizing the value of the Amex Gold for my regular purchases.
Bonus: referral offer for existing cardholders
Of course, for the month of October, there’s a way to approach this that can be even more lucrative for existing holders of the Amex Gold card. If you refer a friend or family member to the card between Oct. 1 and Oct 28, you’ll not only earn a one-time referral bonus, but you may also earn extra rewards for every dollar you spend on your card for three months.
In other words, if you have the Amex Gold, consider referring your spouse or partner to a new card rather than adding him/her as an authorized user. You’ll both take home bonus points, and you may be able to earn up to 7 Amex points per dollar spent at restaurants and grocery stores for the next three months.
To check your offer, head to this page and log in to your account. You can then choose how to send your referral details.
Over the course of 2019, I must admit that I felt a bit like the black sheep at TPG team dinners, as I watched colleagues pull the American Express Gold Card out of their wallets to earn 4x points. I resisted applying for the card myself, since I knew I wasn’t eligible for the welcome offer. However, when I finally sat down and ran the numbers toward the end of the year, I quickly realized that the card was a great fit thanks to the earning rates at restaurants and supermarkets.
The end result? I have now held the Amex Gold for over nine months — and my Membership Rewards account balance has reaped the rewards.
If you’ve held off on getting the Gold card for a similar reason, I encourage you to crunch the numbers on your annual spending patterns to see if you’ve been missing out on valuable rewards.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.
Featured photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy
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With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per calendar year; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees