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This page was originally published in April 2023. See our current American Express® Gold Card, Citi Premier® Card, Citi® Double Cash Card reviews for updated rewards rates and card benefit details. See our Bankrate points and miles valuations for updated rewards valuations.
If you’d asked me a year ago what my go-to credit card was, I would have told you it was the Citi Premier® Card, without question. While I have over a dozen travel credit cards, I’m frugal and don’t like to splurge on high-annual-fee cards unless I can get my money’s worth. But then a tremendous welcome bonus offer convinced me to apply for the American Express® Gold Card, which quickly replaced my Citi Premier.
After a year of using the card, I downgraded my Citi Premier to a Citi® Double Cash Card because my Amex Gold offered higher earnings in key spending categories. The $155 annual fee difference ($95 for Citi Premier vs. $250 for Amex Gold) quickly melted away as I earned more points and cash back, and I received valuable travel perks through American Express.
In total, I got over $3,000 in value from my Amex Gold during the first year alone. Here’s a detailed look at why I swapped my Citi Premier for the Amex Gold, despite the latter’s higher annual fee.
I saved almost $425 with Amex Offers
In the last year, I saved $424.89 through various Amex Offers, completely offsetting the Amex Gold’s $250 annual fee. Among the savings were $80 off a JetBlue flight, $140 off three different Marriott hotel stays, $68 in savings at Hyatt hotels and various retail discounts. Amex Offers not only helped me save on travel, but these discounts often made it possible for me to stay at the hotels I wanted to stay at. When it came down to a Hilton versus a Hyatt property, the Amex discount allowed me to go with my first choice — a Hyatt hotel.
When staying at the pricey Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, the $40 in savings I received covered breakfast at the hotel restaurant with picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean. If it hadn’t been for these deals, I would have opted for frugal alternatives. Overall, my Amex Gold helped me save money and enjoy a better travel experience.
The Hotel Collection got me over $100 in perks on a trip to New York
During a brief trip to New York last year, I decided to book a stay at the Soho Grand Hotel. Normally, I book hotels affiliated with chains where I have elite status so I can enjoy complimentary breakfast and various perks. However, the Soho Grand offered a better location for that particular trip, so I checked out American Express Travel for any deals. American Express not only offered competitive rates, but I received a $100 on-site credit and a room upgrade at check-in. (This $100 credit with The Hotel Collection is available to all cardholders who book two consecutive nights or more at an eligible property through American Express Travel).
I used the $100 credit to pay for breakfast at the hotel’s Soho Diner, which was convenient and a pleasant experience. I got up early during that visit, and not having to leave the property to get a bite to eat was invaluable. I had booked a Deluxe room and was upgraded to a spacious Grand Deluxe with a lovely view. The room was comfortable and clean — something that isn’t necessarily a given in a world of hospitality staff shortages and hotels struggling with post-pandemic cutbacks.
The Hotel Collection perk from my Amex Gold was instrumental in letting me experience an exceptional hotel with a few extra perks thrown in. It’s worth noting that the Citi Premier Card offers an annual $100 hotel credit on a single hotel stay of $500 or more (excluding taxes and fees) when you book through ThankYou.com or 1-800-THANKYOU. However, the $100 credit is applied post-tax, and since Citi rates are sometimes higher than the publicly available rates, it’s not always worthwhile.
I earned over 3,000 more points on groceries and dining with my Amex Gold
Last year, I charged $3,163.50 in grocery and restaurant spending to my Amex Gold. At 4X points per dollar spent on restaurants, Uber Eats purchases and U.S. supermarket purchases (on up to $25,000 in purchases per year, then 1X points), I earned 12,654 Amex points, which is worth about $253.08 if I redeem them with a high-value transfer partner.
Charging the same amount of spending on my Citi Premier would have earned me 9,491 points, since the card offers 3X points on restaurant, supermarket, gas station, hotel and air travel purchases. This is worth about $152, according to Bankrate points and miles valuations. With the Amex Gold, not only did I earn 3,163 more points, but I also earned Amex Membership Rewards points (worth around 2.0 cents each), which are more valuable than Citi ThankYou points (worth around 1.6 cents each).
While there is a $155 difference between the Amex Gold’s $250 annual fee and Citi Premier’s $95 annual fee, the additional points earned on select purchases partially offset the additional cost. Of course, the card isn’t worth keeping just for a 3,163-point difference alone, but it certainly adds to the list of reasons for keeping it.
Amex’s Premium Car Rental Protection is valuable
In September 2019, Citi eliminated most of its travel and purchase protections. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Several months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and people without travel insurance ended up being on the hook for thousands of dollars while the travel industry took a nosedive. Travel protections are incredibly important, especially rental car collision coverage, which saved me over $3,000 last year.
The Amex Gold card offers car rental loss and damage insurance that is secondary coverage, meaning coverage only kicks in if your primary insurance rejects your claim. However, American Express lets you upgrade to primary coverage through its Premium Car Rental Protection program for as little as $12.25 to $24.95 per rental (coverage applies for up to 42 consecutive days). When I had to rent a vehicle for a month, I thought paying the $15 fee was worth it — and I was right.
Not yet three days into driving my rental car, I made a left-hand turn out of my hotel parking lot in the pitch dark and hit a metal railing. The right side of the car was pretty damaged, and I had to swap out the vehicle for a new one. American Express covered the entire cost of repairs, minus $300. The issuer handled everything, saving me the hassle of filing a claim with my insurance company and possibly facing a higher premium.
Had I paid with my Citi Premier, I would have been left completely unprotected unless I opted for the $15 daily insurance plan offered by the rental car company. Amex’s $15 plan covered my entire rental and saved me thousands on damages. The Amex Gold was worth the $250 annual fee for that alone.
The bottom line
When choosing a travel rewards card, it’s important to consider your lifestyle and spending habits. More importantly, you have to keep fine-tuning your rewards card wallet based on how those needs change over time. At the start of the pandemic, the lack of travel and purchase protections from the Citi Premier didn’t bother me, because I wasn’t traveling much then and was happy with the 3X rate on supermarket and restaurant purchases. As restrictions lifted and I began traveling again, the card lost its luster and I needed a replacement.
While the Amex Gold has served me well over the last year, I will continue to reassess the card’s value every anniversary when the $250 annual fee is due. Considering the travel and retail savings, higher category bonuses and premium rental car coverage, the American Express Gold Card has turned out to be a more rewarding card for me than the Citi Premier Card.
But who knows? I may switch back to the Citi Premier at some point. For now, the Amex Gold will stay firmly in my wallet.