American Express Credit Cards – Which Is Right For You?
If you only want to own one credit card, American Express probably isn’t for you.
Its credit cards are accepted at approximately 6 million U.S. merchants, which is about 30% fewer than accept Visa, Mastercard, and Discover. Having a backup credit card is a good idea if you find yourself without cash and only have an American Express card on you.
Even if it’s your secondary credit card, American Express offers some of the best rewards around. Many of the cards Amex offers deliver rewards bonuses for new card users that are hard to find elsewhere. If you often fly on Delta Airlines, stay at Marriott or Hilton hotels, or want access to Centurion lounges at airports, among other perks, then an Amex card may be the best card you ever own.
Here are some of the best American Express credit cards available, broken down by categories that they’re best for.
- Overview of the best American Express credit cards
- Summary of the best American Express credit cards
- The bottom line
Overview of the best American Express credit cards
|Card name||Best for|
|Green Card||Low annual fee|
|Blue Cash Preferred||Groceries|
|Blue Cash Everyday||Amazon|
|Hilton Honors Surpass||Hilton properties|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant||Marriott properties|
|Delta SkyMiles Gold||Delta Airlines miles|
|Cash Magnet||$0 annual fee|
|Amex EveryDay||20% extra points|
American Express Gold Card
The Gold Card offers some great rewards for foodies. Earn 4X points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases.
If you’re dining out a lot, or ordering takeout, or having food delivered to your home during the pandemic, the card also offers four points for every $1 spent at restaurants.
Up to $120 in dining credit is given when using the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. Up to $10 in statement credits each month is given when using the card at one of those businesses.
American Express Green Card
The Green Card rewards triple points for all kinds of travel. Rideshares, subway swipes, monthly tolls, and ferry rides paid for with the car earn these extra rewards, as do flights and rental cars.
This classic card offers other benefits to travelers, including up to $100 statement credit per calendar year for CLEAR membership. The service uses eye scans and fingerprints to help people get through security faster at select airports and stadiums. The card also gives $100 in statement credit for airport lounge access through LoungeBuddy.
The Green Card isn’t cheap, with an annual fee of $150, but considering what some other Amex cards charge, it’s relatively inexpensive. The card has enough perks for travelers that should cover that cost.
Blue Cash Preferred Card
Chances are your spending at supermarkets increased substantially in 2020, and may continue to go up in 2021 if you cook at home more because restaurants are closed or limited to takeout orders. The Blue Cash Preferred Card makes supermarket shopping a little cheaper with 6% cash back on up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then it drops to 1%.
Spend $125 every two weeks at supermarkets and you could get $195 cash back per calendar year, according to Amex.
It also pays 6% cash back on some streaming subscriptions, so you can save while eating dinner on the couch and watching TV. If you get to travel again, it pays 3% cash back on transit and gas purchases.
The card is free for the first year, then the annual fee is $95. American Express has increased the cash back bonus for new members from $250 to $300 after spending $3,000 in the first 6 months of account opening.
Blue Cash Everyday Card
If you’re planning a big purchase on Amazon within the next 6 months, the Blue Cash Everyday Card pays 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the card within the first 6 months of card membership, up to $200 back.
The card also pays $100 back after spending $1,000 in the first 6 months, so it should be easy to get $300 in statement credit if you spend $1,000 at Amazon.
(There is also a Blue business card.)
Travel is an area that American Express cards excel at, and the Platinum Card offers some of the best travel rewards around, but at a cost of $550 in an annual fee.
The 75,000 bonus points for spending $5,000 in the first3 months make this rewards card one of the best for cardholders who travel often. It also pays 5X rewards points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, and 5X points on hotels booked through American Express Travel – some of the best membership rewards points you'll be able to rack up.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card
Three types of Hilton Honors American Express cards are offered. The basic card has no annual fee, the Surpass card has a $95 annual fee, and the Aspire card charges $450 annually.
The two cards with fees don’t have bonus rewards offers for new members as of January 6, 2021, but the no-fee Hilton Honors card offers 80,000 bonus points after $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of opening the card.
The Hilton Honors Surpass Card offers the middle ground between the no-fee card and the $450 annual fee card, though without a signup bonus. If you prefer to stay at Hilton properties, then this card is a great deal with a low fee and high rewards. It gives 12X Hilton Honors bonus points for each $1 spent at Hilton hotels, which is only 2X fewer points than the Aspire card awards.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card
Marriott Bonvoy is the loyalty program for the Marriott hotels chain. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant credit card from American Express has a hefty annual fee of $450, but it can be worthwhile if you stay at Marriott hotels often.
The card has an offer that expires January 13, 2021, so if you’re reading this after that date, you can check the Amex website to see if another deal has popped up. The deal provided 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for spending $5,000 within 3 months, and for celebrating your first year of card membership.
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card
Delta Airlines has four credit cards with American Express. Annual fees range from zero to $550. The Gold card has $0 annual fee for the first year and then is $99.
Some of the benefits it offers Delta Airlines passengers include:
- $100 Delta flight credit after spending $1,000 on card in a calendar year.
- 2X miles for every $1 spent directly with Delta.
- Take up to $50 off the cost of a flight for every 5,000 miles redeemed with miles booked through Delta's website.
- First checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Priority boarding on Delta flights.
- 20% back on Delta in-flight purchases.
- No annual fee
Cash Magnet Card
You shouldn’t expect much from a credit card with no annual fee, but the Cash Magnet Card from Amex delivers with unlimited 1.5% cash back on purchases. That’s free money in a statement credit for purchases you’d make anyway, but without paying an annual fee.
Amex’s Blue Cash Everyday card, which we reviewed as a top cashback card, is good too because it has no annual fee and gives 3% cash back for supermarket purchases.
But if you’d rather have cash back for other things you buy with an Amex card, the Cash Magnet Card is a good card without an annual fee. In addition to getting cash back, new members get $200 after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening an account.
Amex EveryDay Credit Card
As is common with American Express cards that don’t have an annual fee, the Amex Everday Credit Card has a 0% intro APR for 15 months, then changes to a variable APR starting at 12.99%.
That can be a good way to finance a big purchase for a year or so, provided you pay it off before the APR resets. The card can also be a smart way to make balance transfers from high-interest credit cards you have, and then pay them off before the 0% interest period ends. Check if transfer fees are charged, and make sure the savings makes up any difference.
The card doesn’t offer many benefits, starting with double points at supermarkets, but it has an interesting points bonus. Use the card 20 or more times on purchases in a billing period and you’ll earn 20% more points on those purchases, minus returns and credits.
Summary of the best American Express credit cards
|Card||Annual fee||Welcome bonus||Reward rate||APR|
|Gold Card||$250||60k / spend $4k in 4 mos||4X dining and restaurants, 3X flights||15.99-22.99%|
|Green Card||$150||45k / spend $2k in 3 mo||3X restaurants, transit, travel||15.99-22.99%|
|Blue Cash Preferred||$0 first year, then $95||$300 / spend $3k in 6 mos||6% cash back at supermarkets, streaming||0% first year; then 13.99-23.99%|
|Blue Cash Everday||$0||$100 / spend $1k in 3 mos||3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets||0% 15 mos; then 13.99-23.99%|
|Platinum||$550||75k / spend $5k in 3 mos||5X flights, prepaid hotels||15.99-22.99%|
|Hilton Honors Surpass||$95||None||12X Hilton hotels, 6X dining, groceries||15.74-24.74%|
|Marriott Bonvoy||$450||125k / spend $5k in 3 mos + anniversary||6X Marriott Bonvoy hotels||15.74-24.74%|
|Delta SkyMiles Gold||$0 / $99||35k / spend $1k in 3 mos||2X dining, groceries, Delta airline purchases||15.74-24.74%|
|Cash Magnet||$0||$200 / spend $1k in 3 mos||Unlimited 1.5% cash back||0% 15 mos; then 13.99-23.99%|
|Amex EveryDay||$0||10k / spend $1k in 3 mos||20% extra points after 20 purchases||0% 15 mos; then 12.99-23.99%|
Will the welcome bonus pay me in cash?
Cash is always nice to have, but that’s not exactly what you get with the welcome bonuses we’ve outlined for these Amex cards.
For example, if a card promises new members $200 in cash after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening a card, you won’t get a $200 check in the mail and spend it any way you’d like. You can’t pay rent to your landlord with cash back from a credit card.
Instead, you’ll get a statement bonus. It will be listed on your credit card statement and will be applied to that month’s bill or a future one if it isn’t used immediately.
When is it worth paying an annual fee?
It depends on how you use the card. If you’re not going to use most of the perks a card offers, then you may want to start with a credit card with a $0 annual fee. And we mean it should remain zero in the coming years, not just an introductory period and then switch to a $95 or so annual fee.
The highest credit card benefits are offered to travelers and can require an annual fee of around $500. That’s a big spending threshold to pass to make the card worthwhile, but it can add up if you get enough rewards points for airline flights or hotel stays.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card has a $450 annual fee, but it makes up for part of that by giving a $100 statement credit every four years for Global Entry and TSA Precheck to get you through airports faster.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card also offers a free award night at a Marriott hotel every year after your card account anniversary, which should equal at least $200 in value, and $300 in statement credit when making purchases at Marriott hotels. All of those perks, if you travel a few times a year, can make the card worth the annual fee.
There are also Amex cards with annual fees of $100 or so, and can give you more points and other rewards than you’d get from a card with no fee.
If you can, check how much money you spent in the last year at supermarkets, dining out, flights, and hotels, and look for credit cards that offer the best rewards for what you spend the most money on. For travel, you may have to go back to 2019 to see what you spent in a normal year of travel.
What else can I use rewards points for?
Free flights and hotels aren’t the only things you can use rewards points for, though the cards we’ve recommended that are tied to hotels and airlines can give you the most value when used with those brands.
Amex also rewards to be used in a variety of ways. They can be redeemed for a gift card, or simply as a statement credit to pay all or part of your next Amex bill. You can also upgrade flights with Amex points, rent a car, or pay for a cruise.
American Express has a shopping portal to use rewards points to buy almost any product and brand you can think of. A North Face men’s jacket, for example, can cost $199 or 39,800 points.
The value of rewards points varies according to how you choose to use them. Amex has an online calculator to show how much points are worth. With 10,000 points on the American Express Gold Card, the points are worth:
- $70 at Amazon
- $70 at PayPal
- $50 at Ticketmaster
- Up to $100 in gift cards
- $60 in Amex charges
- $100 toward a flight
- $70 toward a hotel room
- $70 toward a rental car
- $100 worth of upgrading on a flight
- $50 worth of shopping in its portal
It’s worth checking the airlines, merchants, and other businesses that accept these reward points as cash. All of the travel booking must be through American Express Travel (amextravel.com), which may not have access to all of the flights you want.
What credit score do I need?
Nowhere in the American Express long list of disclosures does it mention what credit score is required to be approved for its credit cards.
American Express is well known for requiring customers to have good to excellent credit, and many websites have reported that as fact.
The credit reporting agency Experian says that while each Amex card has its own standards for approval, if you’re getting a card directly from American Express, you’ll generally need good credit to qualify. That’s a FICO credit score of around 700.
However, Amex allows other companies to offer its cards also, so you may be able to qualify elsewhere with a lower credit score.
Pros and Cons
American Express credit cards offer some of the best benefits among credit cards. It has high travel and other rewards, which can make a vacation free, or simply give you a lower monthly bill on your Amex card through a statement credit.
If you keep an eye out for promotions, you should be able to find a welcome bonus that fits your spending habits. If you like to stay at Marriott hotels, for example, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card offers 125,000 rewards points to new members who spend $5,000 in the first 3 months of having the card, and make it to their one-year anniversary as a card member.
Amex charges annual fees for most of its credit cards, and some can be quite high, up to $550.
American Express cards are accepted at about 30% fewer U.S. merchants than Visa, Mastercard and Discover are, so you may not always be able to use an Amex card where you want to. As a backup, you may want a Visa or other type of credit card to cover you.
If you’re shopping locally, your local merchant may not be so thrilled when you use an American Express card. A swipe from an Amex card can cost merchants 2.5% of the sale, compared to lower fees of 1.7-2% for other credit cards.
The bottom line
Applying for a credit card isn’t something you want to do lightly. It’s a big responsibility that can hurt your credit score if you don’t pay it on time each month. Ideally you want to pay the bill off completely each month so that you don’t pay finance charges.
If you can do that with an American Express credit card, you can be on your way to earning more rewards points than you may be able to find elsewhere. For people who regularly use Hilton or Marriott hotels, or fly on Delta Airlines, getting an Amex card branded with those companies can help them earn many more rewards points for purchases on those hotels or airlines.
If you’re looking for a way to be rewarded for your daily expenses, an Amex credit card may be one of the best ways to achieve it.