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Author: Bankrate Staff | Last Updated: November 20, 2018
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How we chose our favorite American Express credit cards
Bankrate’s team of credit card experts studied the gamut of American Express cards. They then evaluated each card against Bankrate’s proprietary scoring method to award each American Express credit card a score out of a total of 100.
American Express is renowned for its top-notch customer service, generous welcome bonuses, and added perks and features. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to credit cards but the good news is that we have investigated the fine print to help you to find the American Express card that suits your needs. The Bankrate team have identified the best cards for various scenarios.
Bankrate’s team of credit card aficionados have evaluated the various pros and cons of American Express cards. They have analyzed the details of card offerings from welcome bonus, travel rewards and perks, redemption, annual fees, and more, to determine the best card for different use-cases.
Bankrate’s top picks for American Express credit cards
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for cash back and no annual fee
For no annual fee, this card still offers maximum rewards with great cash back returns on your everyday spending. For many suburban families the 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 a year, then 1%), and 2% at U.S. gas stations and select department stores means high returns on high-spend areas. For the right cardholder, you don’t have to change your spending routine or follow rotating bonus categories.
- High cash back rates on spending at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations and select department stores.
- No annual fee.
- Most wholesale clubs don’t qualify for the 3% supermarket rewards.
- Redemption is limited to statement credit or in American Express’ online catalog. There are other cash back cards with greater flexibility.
- If you miss a payment there is a high penalty APR rate that will last for six months.
Read our full Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express review.
American Express® Gold Card: Best for dining and grocery rewards
Unlike a lot of mid-tier travel cards, the Gold card offers above-average rewards rates on areas you spend in every day as well as on high-value travel categories you would expect. The welcome offer is generous and the cards statement credits help to make up for the sizeable $250 annual fee. If you’re looking for luxury travel benefits like lounge access, you may want to look elsewhere (although, you can obtain passes with the Gold card). Depending on your spending habits, your earnings potential is potentially high with the Gold card.
- Generous rewards, especially on spending at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel.com.
- Great airline transfer partners.
- $100 airline fee annual statement credits.
- You won’t pay foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S.
- $250 annual fee.
- No lounge membership, although you can obtain passes.
Read our full American Express Gold Card review.
The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for a large welcome offer
This premium travel rewards card boasts a ton of perks and a high-value welcome offer for cardholders seeking a luxury travel card. The cards annual fee is one of the highest around at $550 but for the right cardholder, the benefits more than make up for that annual expense. Useful premium travel rewards include airport lounge access, up to $200 incidentals air credit, and $200 annual credit for Uber rides. The card also offers very generous 5x Membership Rewards points for every dollar you spend on airfare (booked with the airline or through the travel portal) and on eligible hotels booked through the American Express travel portal. The big incentive is the current offer of 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Global Lounge Collection, which includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Great airline and hotel rewards.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- This is a charge card meaning your balance has to be paid in full every month.
Read our full The Platinum Card® from American Express review.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for cash back on groceries
For grocery shoppers, it doesn’t get much better than the 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to a $6,000 a year limit, then 1%) offered by this card. It also pays 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S department stores. Despite the $95 annual fee, they are some of the highest cash back rates available.
- Welcome bonus of $200 statement credit when you spend $1,000 in the first three months of opening the account.
- Generous rewards rates on everyday spending categories.
- Some specialty grocers and wholesale clubs don’t count toward the 6% cash back category.
Read our full Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express review.
American Express® Business Gold Card: Best business card for points
This card puts small business owners in the driving seat, allowing them to choose their highest rewards categories based on their spending. Extra benefits such as 1 year free G Suite Basic (for 3 users) and ZipRecruiter standard can add a lot of value for growing businesses and help to makeup for the $295 annual fee.
- 4X points on 2 select categories in which you spend the most each month
- 1 year free of G Suite Basic (for up to 3 users) and ZipRecruiter Standard.
Read our full American Express® Business Gold Card review.
Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express: Best for airline specific perks
If you frequently fly and usually travel with Delta, this card could offer a whole host of useful travel perks for you such as priority boarding, 20% savings on eligible in-flight purchases (in the form of statement credit), and your first checked bag for free.
- Earn 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles and 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months.
- Earn 2x miles per dollar on purchases with directly with Delta.
- Annual fee of $195.
- There are travel cards offering better rewards rates.
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Best business card for hotel rewards
This card comes with a sizable welcome bonus and high 12x rewards points on spending at Hilton Hotels and resorts, all for a relatively low annual fee of $95. If you’re frequently booking stays with the hotel chain you could be missing out on great rewards accrual potential with this card. You will also get complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status and the ability to earn a Weekend Night Reward after you spend an additional $15,000 in purchases on your card each year.
- Great rewards rates on spending directly with the hotel chain, and business and travel spending.
- 10 free airport lounge visits each year once enrolled in Priority Pass Select membership.
- If you like flexibility in choosing which hotel chain you stay with, getting a travel rewards card may suit you better.
SimplyCash® Plus Business Credit Card from American Express: Best business card for cash back
For businesses that can make the rewards categories work for them, this card has a lot to offer. It works like this: You can earn 5% cash back on spending at U.S. office supply stores and on wireless phone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers (on up to $50,000 in spending per year, then 1%), and 3% on the first $50,000 you spend on eight other categories. Here’s a few: U.S. restaurants, gas stations, purchases on shipping, computer hardware, airfare directly with the airlines. This has to be one of the most flexible business rewards cards available so if your spending is spread over a few key categories it’s certainly worth considering this card.
- Rewards program enables you to earn rewards in the areas that your business spends heavily in.
- There is no annual fee for this card.
- If your business spending is concentrated to one or two specific spend groups there could be cards offering higher rewards rate, without a spend cap.
- You will pay 2.7% foreign transaction for purchases made outside the U.S.
Read our full SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card from American Express review.
Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card: Best for hotel rewards and a large welcome bonus
Moderate-to-high spenders can rack up a lot of extra benefits from the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend card. If you charge $15,000 in purchases to your card in a calendar year you are eligible for a Weekend Night Reward. From the outset, you can juice your returns with a 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership. Overall, Hilton loyalists will find a lot to love about this card for a relatively low annual fee of $95. For anyone who’s looking for maximum flexibility, you may be better served with a travel rewards credit card.
- Generous welcome bonus.
- Weekend Night Rewards (terms apply) is a nice added perk if you would reach the spending threshold anyway.
- A chance to earn Hilton Honors Diamond status if you spend $40,000 on eligible purchases throughout the year.
- Very high late payment fee.
- If you want the flexibility to stay with different hotel chains you should consider a travel rewards card.
Read our full Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card review.
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express: Best business card for travel
Business travelers looking for premium travel benefits have the most to gain from this card. It offers a few exciting travel benefits like access to American Express’ Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass Select membership, and up to $200 per calendar year in airline incidentals credit. Airport lounge access alone could be worth the (steep) annual fee of $450. If you travel often and want to make the most of the time you’re waiting in airports, this feature alone could be worth becoming a card member.
- Welcome offer of 75,000 membership rewards points when you hit the required spending in eligible purchases.
- Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check members will receive one Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check statement credit every 4 years.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- All purchases on this card have to be business-related.
- This card is a charge card so the balance has to be paid off in full each month.
- High annual fee of $450.
Read our full The Business Platinum® Card from American Express review.
What is American Express?
American Express began life as a freight forwarding business and has grown to be one of the largest credit card issuers in the world. As of the end of 2017, there are 112.8 million American Express credit cards in operation.
Unlike a lot of other credit card companies, American Express is a payment processing network as well as an issuer. Amex offers credit cards and operates the back-end network that buyers and sellers across the globe rely on to process electronic payments. Payment network operators, like Visa and Mastercard as well as American Express, are funded by taking a cut of each transaction they process. This means that American Express can afford to offer extra features and slightly more generous rewards than some other issuers.
American Express has a long-established reputation for unbeatable customer service and competitive rewards. It is most well-known for its premium credit cards and its array of business credit cards.
It’s also one of the few credit card issuers that offers charge cards. Charge cards are credit cards where the balance has to be paid in full each month. That means you can’t carry outstanding charges on the account from month to month.
There are a couple of drawback to American Express credit cards: The first is that Amex generally requires you to have good or excellent credit to qualify for its credit cards, and secondly, some merchants (sellers) don’t accept American Express. Although Amex is growing its network reach there are some places you can’t use an Amex card i.e. the wholesale retailer Costco.
Why choose American Express credit cards?
There are a lot of benefits to having an American Express card in your wallet. Most notably, American Express is extremely highly-regarded for its customer service. The company’s Global Assist hotline provides information for any upcoming trips and assistance services, such as passport replacement services. Other travel perks include baggage insurance, car rental loss and damage insurance and travel accident insurance (just make sure to check the fine print in your cardholder agreement to see what you are covered for).
They also offer purchase protections such as extended warranties and returns protection. All of these benefits are often overlooked but they can really boost the value of your credit card.
Another big benefit of American Express cards is the rewards redemption. You can use your rewards to shop for merchandise using the MembershipRewards.com site, you can redeem your rewards as gift cards, and even use them in-stores at participating retailers.
A major bonus of the Amex Membership Rewards Program, for travelers in particular, is that you can transfer rewards points to American Express hotel and airline partners or use your points through AmexTravel.com where you can either pay all or some of your flight or prepaid hotel through the site.
How to find the right card for you?
It’s important when shopping for a credit card that you know what you are looking for. Credit cards can help you earn cash back rewards on your spending, fund your next travel adventure and make traveling easier, or even as a tool to help you navigate financial obstacles like a large purchase or outstanding debt. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to find the best credit card, you have to know what works for you.
American Express offers credit cards with great cash back rates, travel rewards rates, and business-centered benefits. Finding the best American Express card depends on your average annual spend amount, how you want to earn rewards (as cash back, miles or business-centered rewards), and how much you are willing to pay for your cardholder benefits as some Amex cards charge very high annual fees.
First, how much would you charge to your credit card over the course of the year? This will help you determine which welcome offers are within reach for you and which might cause you to overspend. Answering this question will also enable you to understand how much value – be it in cash back, points, or miles – you can expect to receive from your credit card over the year, and therefore if the annual fee is worth it. If you are a heavy-spender and travel frequently you may find that a premium travel rewards card would provide you with useful benefits.
Secondly, how do you want to earn rewards? For business owners and individuals, you should have a clear idea of whether you want to receive your credit card rewards as cash back, points, or miles. It pays to be honest with yourself here too, as much as you may want to travel frequently if you don’t fly regularly a travel rewards card may not give you the benefits you need. It’s also worthwhile to evaluate your spending to see where your highest spend categories fall. If you spend most of your budget at the grocery store then the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express could be right for you. If you’re a business that spends heavily on a specific category included in the high-rate groups offered by The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN then that card could offer you the most value.
Finally, are you willing to pay an annual fee? American Express is well-known for having high annual fees on some of its credit cards. For a lot of cardholders, the annual fee is more than worth the roster of rewards that the card offers but think long and hard about opening a card with an annual fee as that expense will be reoccurring. It can be detrimental to your credit score in the short term to close an account as this impacts two of the factors used to determine your FICO score: account length/history, and credit utilization, the higher the amount of unused available credit the lower your utilization will be.