Branislav Nenin /

Understanding third-party American Express cards

Many American Express cards are issued by a separate bank – here’s how they work


American Express is both a payment-processor and a card-issuer, so many American Express cards are issued by a third-party. Discover the difference between American Express-issued cards and American Express third-party cards.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of our partner offers may have expired. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

American Express cards offer some of the best rewards rates and benefits you can find on a credit card, but not every card labeled American Express is actually issued by the institution.

In fact, there are quite a few third-party American Express cards out there, each with their own selection of cardholder perks and benefits. Many American Express cards are even issued by major financial institutions you have likely heard of, including PenFed Credit Union, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank.

When you sign up for an American Express card through another bank’s site, that bank is the card issuer. You’ll redeem your rewards with that bank and use the issuer’s account portals.

If you’re curious how this arrangement works and why American Express third-party cards exist, you’re not alone. Read on to learn more about how third-party American Express cards function and which credit cards currently fall in this category.

What is a third-party American Express card?

A third-party American Express card is a credit card that is processed by American Express (rather than Visa or Mastercard) but is not issued by American Express. For example, the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Credit Card is issued by USAA, despite having Amex in its name.

That means it earns cash back through USAA rather than earning Amex cash back or Membership Rewards points. All payments toward your card balance and rewards redemptions are processed by USAA. Then – like with a Visa or Mastercard issued by a bank – merchant transactions are processed by American Express.

Because a third-party American Express card is designed by the card issuer – not American Express – its benefits and protections are also determined by the card issuer. So while you might enjoy perks like roadside assistance or extended warranty, you’ll need to reference the card benefits guide issued by your bank rather than the American Express benefits site.

Keep these things in mind if you have a third-party American Express card

Because third-party American Express cards are issued by a bank other than Amex, you’ll redeem any rewards through your issuer’s portal – not the Membership Rewards portal. You’ll utilize your bank’s account portal, app and any additional programs as well.

Similarly, if you have a question about your card, you’ll utilize the card issuer’s customer service. If you have the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card*, for example, you can find answers to your questions on the Wells Fargo site or by calling the Wells Fargo customer service line.

Additionally, just because a card is an American Express card does not mean that it is a charge card. In fact, most third-party American Express cards are traditional credit cards.

Popular third-party American Express cards

Pros and cons of carrying a third-party American Express card

For the most part, you may not notice any difference if your credit card is processed by Visa, Mastercard or American Express. However, there are a few pros and cons to keep in mind. For example, third-party American Express cardholders can take advantage of card-linked offers through American Express Connect.

On the downside, American Express cards are not as widely accepted by merchants as Visa or Mastercard – especially when traveling abroad. This can be a deterrent for frequent international travelers.

Also note that rewards credit cards issued by American Express tend to have better cardholder perks and rewards. With that in mind, you should take the time to compare all your options among credit cards actually issued by Amex and American Express third-party cards.

American Express-issued cards

When it comes to finding the right credit card for your needs, you may be surprised at what you find when you begin researching credit cards issued directly by American Express. Not only do some cards from this issuer offer robust cash back programs, but many let you earn points in the popular and versatile American Express Membership Rewards program.

With any of their cards, you’ll utilize the American Express app, website and rewards portal to manage all your benefits. American Express cards also have full access to Amex Offers, American Express Travel and any other Amex offerings.

Though American Express is well-known for issuing premium credit cards with higher than average annual fees – like the American Express® Gold Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express – the issuer also offers many credit cards that offer rewards on everyday purchases with a lower annual fee.

For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers one of the best earning rates you can find on U.S. supermarket purchases and select U.S. streaming service subscriptions. The popular Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express* also lets users earn American Express Membership Rewards points with no annual fee.

Amex also offers co-branded cards for several hotel brands and airlines – such as the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card.

Bottom line

Whether you carry a Visa, Mastercard or Amex, there are plenty of perks to enjoy. Just be sure you know who issues your credit card and which perks and benefits you have access to. American Express third-party cards can be valuable in their own right, but credit cards issued by Amex are popular for a reason.

*All information about the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, Navy Federal More Rewards American Express card, PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express card, USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Credit Card and the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card has been collected independently by and have not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

Credit Card Rate Report
Cash Back

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more