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Choosing the right credit card is a tricky proposition. There’s no shortage of alternatives out there, with many companies offering dozens of options from which you can choose. Today I want to focus on one such issuer to answer a simple question: How do you choose the best American Express card for your wallet?
How We Chose the Cards
Before getting into the specific products, let’s start with the overall approach for this analysis. I started by selecting what I believe to be the best personal American Express credit cards on the market today. Then, I divided those cards up into three different categories:
- Those that earn transferable points
- Those that earn points or miles in a specific program
- Those that earn a fixed return
Then, within each category, I broke down the individual perks of each card using the following criteria:
- Welcome bonus
- Earning rate(s)
- Annual fee
Finally I tried to provide some context around each card and to whom it might appeal based on a variety of factors, including spending habits, travel patterns and desired rewards. As always, you likely have your own criteria for making these decisions, so feel free to use this analysis as a starting point to come to your own conclusions!
Remember too that American Express has tightened up its welcome bonus policies, so if you have had any of these products before, you likely aren’t eligible to earn the bonus again. However, all of them should be eligible for bonuses and discounts through Amex Offers, though the exact merchants and offers you’ll get will vary across cards.
The Best American Express Credit Cards of 2019:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for high-end benefits
- American Express® Gold Card: Best for dining
- The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express: Best for everyday spending
- The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express: Best for everyday spending with no annual fee
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Best for high-end Marriott perks
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Best for high-end Hilton perks
- Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express: Best for occasional Hilton guests
- Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express: Best for occasional Delta flyers
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for maximizing cash back
- Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for cash back with no annual fee
Every traveler should have a card that earns transferable points to shield yourself from devaluations and give you flexibility when it comes time to redeem, and American Express’ transferable currency is Membership Rewards points. The program partners with 18 different airlines including British Airways, Delta and Singapore.
You also have the option to transfer your points to three hotel chains: Hilton, the combined Marriott program and Choice. You do have the ability to use your points to book flights or hotels directly through Amex Travel, but transferring them to a partner and then redeeming them typically results in the best redemption value.
There are a few popular credit and charge cards that allow you to earn Membership Rewards points.
Bonus: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months of opening your account. However, be sure to check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’ve been targeted for a higher bonus of up to 100,000 Membership Rewards points (offer subject to change at any time).
Earning rate(s): 5 points per dollar spent for flights and hotels booked through Amex Travel as well as flights booked directly through the airline; 1 point per dollar everywhere else.
Benefits: You’ll enjoy access to over 1,000 airline lounges through Priority Pass along with Delta Sky Clubs and American Express Centurion Lounges. You can also receive a $200 airline fee credit annually to cover incidentals like checked bag fees, change fees and inflight purchases, plus $200 in Uber credits each year. The card also waives foreign-transaction fees (See Rates & Fees) and comes with complimentary Marriott Gold status and complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status.
Annual fee: $550 (See Rates & Fees)
Analysis: For a long time, the Amex Platinum was the premium travel rewards card, though this segment is now quite competitive. Nevertheless, the card does offer a very solid value proposition that even a semi-frequent traveler should appreciate. The annual credits for incidental fees on airlines and for Uber trips effectively reduce the annual fee to $150, and the earning rates on tickets booked directly with an airline make it an ideal card for airfare purchases, especially given the value of Membership Rewards points (2 cents apiece based on TPG’s most recent valuations). The lounge access on the card is quite widespread and continues to grow, with a new Centurion Lounge in Hong Kong and plans for the largest one yet in New York’s JFK Airport plus a new location in Denver. The card also gets you status with two hotel programs: Hilton and Marriott. These perks are compelling by themselves, so if you’re then targeted for a 100,000-point bonus through the CardMatch tool, I’d say applying is a no-brainer.
Bonus: 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $2,000 in purchases in your first three months. However, 50,000-point offers may be available through referral links (offer subject to change anytime).
Earning rate(s): 4 points per dollar spent on dining and at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year at supermarkets; then 1x), 3 points per dollar on flights purchased directly with the airline or at amextravel.com, and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.
Benefits: This was previously the Premier Rewards Gold Card, but it received a huge update in 2018 that drastically improved its bonus categories and added a focus on dining and related perks. You get up to $120 in annual credits toward dining each year, divided into up to $10 credits each month at participating retailers including Grubhub and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The card also offers up to a $100 annual airline fee credit, and 2x points and up to a $100 hotel credit for eligible Hotel Collection bookings.
Annual fee: $250 (See Rates & Fees)
Analysis: If the Amex Platinum’s annual fee is too rich for your blood, the Amex Gold Card could be a terrific consolation prize. This is especially true if you frequently eat out or order in, or shop at the supermarket (and pretty much everyone falls into one of these categories). The 4x earning rate on dining equals a stellar 8% return on your spending according to TPG valuations, and factoring in the $100 airline fee credit and up to $120 in annual dining credits, this card effectively costs just $30 per year.
- Who Should (and Who Shouldn’t) Get the Amex Gold Card?
- Does It Make Sense to Hold an Amex Platinum and Gold Card?
- American Express Gold Card Review
- 5 Things to Do When You Get the Amex Gold Card
Bonus: 15,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months.
Earning rate(s): 3 points per dollar spent at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year); 2 points per dollar spent at US gas stations; and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else. If you make 30 or more purchases in a billing period, you’ll earn 50% more points on those purchases.
Annual fee: $95
Analysis: This is another card that gets you into the Membership Rewards program without breaking the bank with a high annual fee. It’s also great if you don’t travel that frequently, as you don’t get the significant perks of the Amex Platinum or Amex Gold but still have some solid category bonuses for everyday spending. If you do use it as your primary card, you should definitely make a point of hitting 30 transactions a month to earn the 50% bonus, though be sure you know the timeline for how American Express awards these points.
Bonus: 10,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months, though you could be targeted for an elevated 15,000-point offer through CardMatch.
Earning rate(s): 2 points per dollar spent at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year); then 1 point dollar after that and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.
Annual fee: $0
Analysis: If you’re looking for a card without an annual fee that still allows you to participate in the Membership Rewards program, this flavor of Amex EveryDay is a terrific option. I love that it still gives you a category bonus at supermarkets, since many fee-free cards offer a flat earning rate across all merchants. It may take a while to get to a valuable redemption like Lufthansa first class, but it’s a good way to start!
The information for the Amex EveryDay Credit Card and the Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit 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.
In addition to cards that earn Membership Rewards points, American Express issues several credit cards that are specific for a particular airline or hotel chain. The big advantage with these cards is that they often carry benefits with the cobranded partner, which is great. However, you’re locked into earning points or miles in that specific program, leaving you at the mercy of the airline or hotel chain when it comes to devaluations that can wipe significant value from your accounts.
Bonus: 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
Earning rate(s): 6 points per dollar at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels; 3 points per dollar at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines; 2 points per dollar on everything else.
Benefits: This premium card offers up to a $300 Marriott Bonvoy statement credit each year of card membership, and this applies to room rates as well as on-property purchases like meals and spa treatments. Card holders also get a free night award each year after their card member anniversary, for properties that cost up to 50,000 points per night, plus complimentary Marriott Gold status.
Annual Fee: $450 (See Rates & Fees)
Analysis: You don’t need to be a hard-core Marriott loyalist to get some great value from this card. Between the $300 statement credit that can be used toward hotel stays, the annual 50,000-point free night award and complimentary Gold elite status, it can be relatively easy to justify this card’s premium annual fee.
For more information, check out our review of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex.
- Maximizing the Bonvoy Brilliant Amex Card
- Testing the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant $100 Property Credit
Bonus: 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership.
Earning rate(s): 14 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties; 7 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with the airline, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and US restaurants; 3 points per dollar spent everywhere else.
Benefits: The card carries a host of valuable perks, including an annual $250 airline fee credit (which works the same as the Amex Platinum’s credit) and an annual up to $250 credit valid at select Hilton resorts. The card also grants you automatic Diamond status and includes a weekend night certificate upon account approval and each year when you renew the card. You can also earn another weekend night certificate by spending $60,000 on the card in a calendar year. Finally, you’ll enjoy complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, allowing you and two guests to visit over 1,000 lounges around the world when traveling.
Annual fee: $450 (See Rates & Fees)
Analysis: This addition to the premium travel rewards credit card category launched in January 2018, and it’s the only hotel cobranded card that grants you automatic top-tier status with a hotel loyalty program. If you can max out the airline fee credit, your effective annual fee drops to $200, and the value of the weekend night certificate should (by itself) nearly cover the rest. They you have the terrific earning rates at Hilton properties, a return of 8.4% based on TPG’s most recent valuations plus Priority Pass membership. Even if you’re just a semi-regular guest at Hilton’s various brands, it’s fairly easy to get outsized value from the card.
For more information, check out our review of the Hilton Amex Aspire.
- Putting the Hilton Aspire’s Benefits to Use on a Trip to Puerto Rico
- 7 Reasons to Get the Amex Hilton Aspire Card
Bonus: 125,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $2,000 or more in purchases with your new card within the first 3 months of card membership.
Earning rate(s): 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties; 6 points per dollar spent at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations; and 3 points per dollar spent everywhere else
Benefits: You’ll enjoy complimentary Gold status with the card and the ability to upgrade to Diamond status by spending $40,000 in eligible purchases in a calendar year. The card also awards a weekend night certificate when you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year and grants you Priority Pass Select membership (though only gives you 10 complimentary visits; each additional one is $27).
Annual fee: $95 (See Rates & Fees)
Analysis: If you can’t quite justify the high fee on the Hilton Amex Aspire, the Ascend card is still a great option for those who visit Hilton properties a few (or several) times a year. Gold status with the program is among the most valuable mid-tier hotel statuses out there, and the weekend night certificate can get a few hundred dollars of value, especially if you redeem it at an aspirational location. For an infrequent traveler, the 10 free visits to Priority Pass lounges may be sufficient, and you’re still getting a very solid return of 7.2% on your Hilton stays plus 3.6% back on your dining, grocery and gas purchases.
Bonus: 60,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new card to make $2,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first 3 months.
Earning rate(s): 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else.
Benefits: Enjoy your first checked bag free and priority (Zone 1) boarding on all Delta flights. You’ll also enjoy a 20% discount on inflight purchases and will pay no foreign transaction fees. (See Rates & Fees)
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year) (See Rates & Fees)
Analysis: This card is a terrific option for those of you in Delta hubs (or if you regularly fly to or through a Delta hub). The free checked bag benefit will save you $50 on a round-trip flight, and priority boarding can help ensure that you snag space in the overhead bin. Even though Delta has significantly devalued its program over the last few years, there are still some solid redemptions using SkyMiles.
In addition to the Gold Delta SkyMiles Card, you could also consider the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express. In addition to welcome bonus and inflight benefits, this cards also gives you the opportunity to earn Medallion® Qualification Miles and provide several other benefits. For complete information, check out Choosing the Right Delta American Express Card.
The third (and final) category is fixed-value cards. These products offer either cash back or a currency that can only be redeemed for a set amount. Even though they don’t offer opportunities to maximize your rewards, they do offer a consistent return and simple earning and redemption structures. Here’s an overview of some American Express cards that fit into this category.
Bonus: Earn $250 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months. You will receive the $250 back in the form of a statement credit.
Earning rate(s): 6% cash back at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year), then 1% thereafter; 3% cash back at US gas stations, 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% Cash Back on transit and 1% back everywhere else. Terms apply.
Annual fee: $95 (See Rates & Fees)
Analysis: This card may be a good option for those of you who are looking to just put cash back into your wallet. A 6% bonus category is among the highest you’ll find with cash-back cards, though I wish the bonus extended to merchants other than supermarkets. Nevertheless, if you’re a big grocery shopper, getting a 6% return is solid.
Of course, there’s another (less expensive) cash-back option as well…
Bonus: Earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months. You will receive the $150 back in the form of a statement credit.
Earning rate(s): 3% cash back at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year), then 1% thereafter; 2% cash back at US gas stations and select US department stores; and 1% back everywhere else. Terms apply.
Annual fee: None (See Rates & Fees)
Analysis: This card carries no annual fee but offers a lower bonus ($150) and lower bonus categories (3% and 2% instead of 6% and 3%) than the Preferred. In order to make the Preferred Card worth the $95 annual fee, you’d need to spend the following in the first year:
- At least $1,500 at US supermarkets
- At least $4,500 at US gas stations and US department store purchases
- Some combination of the two that would earn you $45 extra cash back
In subsequent years, those amounts jump to $3,166.67 for groceries and $9,500 for gas/department store purchases, so be sure to crunch the numbers and make sure that your spending patterns justify incurring the annual fee.
Here is a Comparison for the top Amex cards to consider:
|The Platinum Card from American Express||60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in first three months. Terms apply.||$550|
|American Express Gold Card||35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 in first three months. Terms apply.||$250|
|The Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express||15,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $1,000 in first three months. Terms apply.||$95|
|The Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express||10,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $1,000 in first three months. Terms apply.||$0|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card||75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms apply.||$450|
|Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express||150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 in first three months. Terms apply.||$450|
|Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express||125,000 Htilon Honors points after you spend $2,000 in first three months. Terms apply.||$95|
|Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express||Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new card to make $2,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first 3 months. Offer ends 7/2/19. Terms apply.||$95 (waived first year)|
|Blue Cash Preferred Credit Card from American Express||$250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in first three months. Terms apply.||$95|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||$150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in first three months. Terms apply.||$0|
As you can see, American Express has a plethora of available credit cards that offer numerous benefits along with varied earning and redemption options. My personal recommendation is The Platinum Card from American Express thanks to the lucrative welcome bonus and incredible collection of perks. However, you should start the decision-making process by figuring out what type of rewards you want to earn and benefits you want to enjoy and then consider each individual product to see which one carries the perks and points that’ll work best with your individual situation.
Hopefully this post has given you some food for thought to help your choice!
Featured image of The Diamond Brothers.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Ascend card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Gold Delta SkyMiles card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday card, please click here.
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WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points Terms Apply.
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber credits annually
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees