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For a long time, American Express had a pretty solid hold on the travel rewards card market and the many high-spending customers who come along with it. The last several years have seen a huge and exciting shake-up, led by Chase introducing some of the most successful and valuable rewards cards with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Amex had to play a bit of catchup, first by making some updates to the Platinum Card® from American Express (such as the addition of 5x points on airfare) and more recently with some exciting changes to the American Express® Gold Card, formerly the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. Today, we’ll take a look at how the refreshed Amex Gold Card stacks up to the beloved Chase Sapphire Preferred and see which card is right for you.
I’ll be comparing these two cards across a number of categories, including the value of their welcome bonuses, earning potential, redemption options, perks and eligibility to see what type of travelers would benefit from each card.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred continues to offer one of the most valuable welcome bonuses on the market, the same one it’s offered for most of its nearly 10-year history: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at an even 2 cents each, making this bonus worth $1,000. At the very least, you’re guaranteed to get $625 of free travel if you redeem directly through the Chase portal, but more on that later.
The Amex Gold Card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, worth $700 based on TPG’s valuations. The CSP comes out ahead by $300, but keep in mind that you could be targeted for a higher 50,000-point welcome bonus on the Amex Gold through the CardMatch tool or through a referral link.
Verdict: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, unless you can score a 50,000-point Amex Gold offer, in which case the bonuses are both worth $1,000.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers two simple and useful bonus categories: an unlimited 2x points on all travel and dining purchases. That works out to a 4% return based on TPG’s valuations. The real highlight isn’t just the categories themselves as much as how broadly they’re defined. “Travel” means the standard hotels and airfare, but it also includes Uber, parking meters, limousine rentals and a whole host of other pleasant surprises you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Same thing with dining, as everything from bars and restaurants to food trucks and meal delivery services will earn you double points.
Some of the most exciting changes to the Amex Gold Card come in the form of new bonus categories, which now include the following:
- 4x at US restaurants
- 4x at US supermarkets (up to $25,000 in spending per calendar year; then 1x)
- 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel
Note that the card used to have a 2x bonus category at US gas stations, which was removed during the upgrade. With Membership Rewards points worth 2 cents each, these bonus categories translate to an 8% return (4x) and a 6% return (3x) respectively. They are both more generous than the bonus categories on the CSP, and more restrictive. In addition to the $25,000 cap on the 4x US supermarket bonus, the restaurant and supermarket bonuses only apply in the US. As someone currently living abroad, that does me absolutely no good, while the CSP continues to reward my dining purchases all around the globe.
Verdict: Too close to call, or at least too personal. Many people will get more value out of the Amex Gold’s higher bonus categories, but if you’re frequently outside of the US or don’t shop at grocery stores often, the CSP will serve you better.
Both of these cards are similar in that they earn some of the most valuable transferable points currencies around. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are a fan favorite thanks to 13 incredibly valuable hotel and airline transfer partners, including United, Southwest, Hyatt and British Airways.
American Express Membership Rewards has its own suite of valuable partners, including Delta, Aeroplan and British Airways. TPG values both loyalty currencies at 2 cents apiece, but your travel habits might make one currency better than the other. For example, if you live in a Delta hub you might get more value out of Membership Rewards points, while those who have a coveted Southwest Companion Pass can get some insane values out of Chase Ultimate Rewards.
There is one clear redemption benefit that the CSP has over the Amex Gold, which is specific to the card itself and not the points. Both Chase and Amex offer a pay with points option through their respective travel portals, with points normally being worth 1 cent each. However, CSP cardholders will get a 25% bonus when redeeming points for travel, making their points worth 1.25 cents each (which is also why the CSP bonus is worth “a minimum” of $625). If you’re new to the world of points these direct redemptions can be a low-effort way to get some free travel, and if you’re a loyal American Airlines flyer you can even earn more miles this way.
Verdict: I give the Chase Sapphire Preferred a slight edge here, but it’s easy to imagine scenarios where the Amex Gold Card and Membership Rewards points would be more valuable. You should consider your own travel plans before settling on a single card.
Perks & Credits
In exchange for a $95 annual fee (waived for the first year), the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a number of travel perks, although they all fall into the category of things you hope you don’t have to use. They include rental car insurance, trip delay and cancellation insurance, baggage loss and delay insurance and a number of other lesser-known benefits. These are a great safety net while you travel, but they don’t do much to enhance your day-to-day life when everything is going according to plan.
The Amex Gold Card now has a much higher annual fee of $250 (which is not waived for the first year, as it was with the Premier Rewards Gold Card) but it offers up to $220 in annual statement credits to offset that higher fee. The credits break down as follows:
- $100 annual airline incidental credit — This is not redeemable toward the cost of airfare, but rather for incidental charges like seat assignment, checked bag fees and lounge access (though you may be able to use it to purchase gift cards for some airlines).
- Up to $120 in annual dining credit — Card holders will receive a $10 monthly credit that can be used at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse or Shake Shack.
If you currently have the Amex Gold card, you’ll be grandfathered into the old $195 annual fee until April 1, 2019. Card holders will also receive baggage loss and damage insurance, as well as double points on hotels booked through the Amex Hotel Collection and a $75 property credit on stays of 2 nights or more.
Another great benefit of the Amex Gold Card is the ability to access Amex Offers, which offer valuable cash back or bonus points on purchases you already planned to make. While many Amex cards get you access to Amex Offers, some of the most rewarding offers are highly targeted so having another card couldn’t hurt.
Verdict: While the CSP is a good value for the price, the Amex Gold Card ends up costing less out of pocket if you’re able to max out the airline and dining credits.
Unfortunately, just because you want a credit card doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get it. Chase and Amex each have their own rules, which will restrict a different subset of customers from applying for these cards. With Chase, it’s the infamous 5/24 rule. Generally speaking, this means that if you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards in the last 24 months, you’ll be automatically rejected for most credit cards, including the CSP.
Chase added another restriction recently, so that current holders of either the CSP or the premium Sapphire Reserve, as well as anyone who has received a bonus for either Sapphire in the last 48 months, will be ineligible for a new CSP bonus.
With Amex, the restriction is much simpler, and it comes in the form of the “once per lifetime” bonus policy. While Amex limits the number of total credit or charge cards you can hold with them at once — and according to various reports, it’s starting to crack down more on welcome bonus eligibility — in terms of bonuses, the only question to ask is have you ever had this card before. Amex even added a tool to its website that will tell you if you’re ineligible for a welcome bonus before you pull the trigger and apply for the card.
Verdict: Chase’s 5/24 rule counts almost all your credit applications against you, while Amex only considers your history with its cards. That’s a much more generous policy, and it means that more travel rewards enthusiasts will be eligible to apply for an Amex Gold than for a CSP.
The recent changes to the Amex Gold Card are really exciting, as they make the Amex card portfolio more competitive and bring its offerings more in line with Chase. Eligibility aside, there are pros and cons to each of these cards depending on your spending patterns and redemption goals.
Ultimately, it doesn’t have to be a “this or that” decision; there’s room for both of these cards in a well-developed points strategy. The Sapphire family, whether you have a Preferred or Reserve, includes some of the most valuable credit cards on the market, but the new 4x bonus categories on the Amex Gold beat anything that Chase offers in terms of return on spending. These cards complement each other well, and I personally plan on keeping both of them in my arsenal.