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Why the Amex Green is my favorite card for points-and-miles beginners

Oct. 05, 2020
7 min read
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Nov. 10, 2019.

I've been recommending the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card for a while now to anyone who wants to dive into travel rewards cards. The card makes it easy to earn and redeem points with one of the most valuable rewards programs out there. However, the American Express® Green Card has established itself as a solid option for points and miles beginners.

The Amex Green Card, which was refreshed last year, comes with expanded bonus categories and travel benefits. You'll earn 3x Amex Membership Rewards on eligible travel (including transit) and restaurants worldwide. The card also has two annual travel credits: up to $189 statement credit toward a CLEAR membership and up to $100 statement credit for LoungeBuddy purchases.

The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

New cardholders can also get a 30,000-point welcome bonus after spending $2,000 in the first three months.

So, what makes this card particularly great for points-and-miles beginners?

High-value bonus categories

The bonus categories of the Amex Green Card are common expenses for almost anyone, not just frequent flyers. The Amex Green Card defines travel broadly to include transit, home rental sites like Airbnb, campsites, taxis, ride-shares and more. This allows beginners to earn rewards on more than just airfare and hotels, the two travel expenses other Amex cards typically focus on. The card also provides bonuses for dining out worldwide.

(Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)
Transit is now included as a bonus category on the Amex Green, meaning you could earn 3x on your daily commute to work via mass transit, taxis and ride-shares. (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy.)

The Amex Green Card's bonus categories are now comparable to the Chase Sapphire Reserve's, a premium credit card that comes with a $550 annual fee. The Amex Green Card, on the other hand, only charges a $150 annual fee (see rates and fees). It's more than the mid-tier Chase Sapphire Preferred charges ($95), but the Chase card only earns 2x on travel and dining. The difference can easily offset the higher fee of the Amex card.

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Let's say you spend an average of $1,500 a month on your card, with $1,200 spent in bonus categories and $300 spent on non-bonus spending. This is what the difference in rewards looks like over the course of a year between the Amex Green and the Chase Sapphire Preferred:

CardBonus rewardsNon-bonus rewardsTotal value*
Amex Green43,200 Membership Rewards points3,600 Membership Rewards points$936
CSP28,800 Ultimate Rewards points3,600 Ultimate Rewards points$648

*Total value of rewards based on TPG valuations and are not supplied by the issuer.

The difference in the rewards earned with the Amex Green Card far outweighs the $55 difference in cost between the two cards.

Perks built for beginner travelers

The benefits offered by the Amex Green still don't compare to The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but I wouldn't expect that from a mid-tier card. The two annual travel credits you'll get with the Amex Green aren't meant to compete against premium cards that target luxury travelers and frequent flyers. These are benefits that are built for beginners.

LoungeBuddy is an airport lounge booking and reviews platform that was acquired by Amex earlier this year. The $100 credit will most likely get you two passes per year into choice lounges (although you could stretch it out to three or four passes if you only book budget lounges). This isn't as valuable as a Priority Pass Select membership or the Amex Platinum's unmatched lounge access, but many beginners don't travel enough yet to need more comprehensive access. Two passes a year to lounges like SWISS Business Lounges (which aren't in the Priority Pass network) are a great bonus for less-frequent flyers.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
With LoungeBuddy credits, you can purchase day passes to lounges like the Plaza Premium Lounge at London Heathrow. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy.)

The CLEAR statement credit is something all travelers can appreciate. A CLEAR membership helps expedite the ID authentication process at participating airports and is a great companion benefit to TSA PreCheck. There are plenty of cards out there that will cover your TSA PreCheck application fee, but it's rarer to find a card that covers your CLEAR membership fee. Even if you don't have TSA PreCheck, a CLEAR membership can still help you shave time off of your wait at airport security. You can also get an added CLEAR membership discount by holding a Delta cobranded credit card, being a member of Delta SkyMiles or belonging to United Airlines' MileagePlus loyalty program.

Membership Rewards is a great program to get started with

At TPG, we are constantly advising readers to keep a diversified portfolio of points, but you have to start somewhere. Amex Membership Rewards is one of the top rewards programs available, offering flexible redemption options, valuable transfer partners and plenty of opportunities to maximize earnings with Amex Offers. TPG values each point at two cents each, which is only matched by one other major card issuer — Chase.

You can redeem your Membership Rewards for amazing award flights through transfer partners — including premium-class suites on Singapore Airlines. (Photo by The Points Guy.)

Not only is it a great program for beginners, but as you travel more, Amex Membership Rewards will become even more valuable as you maximize transfer partners and bonuses. There are also multiple cards in Amex's lineup geared to travelers, so you can sign up for complementary cards that also earn Membership Rewards.

Bottom line

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has held a top spot in my wallet for as long as I've had it. It's still a top travel card for beginners, but the Amex Green Card is a compelling choice for your first foray into the world of credit card points and miles. With 3x on assorted travel purchases and restaurants worldwide (plus great travel credits with the CLEAR and LoungeBuddy statement credits), the Amex Green Card is now hard to beat — even with a higher annual fee than the Chase card.

Are you a points and miles beginner? Check out our beginner's guide and sign up for our daily newsletter for everything you need to know about maximizing your rewards to upgrade your travel!

For rates and fees of the Amex Green card, click here.

Featured image by (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.