American Express offers a large array of cards that let you earn Membership Rewards points. We give an overview of each of them.
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American Express offers a large array of cards – including everyday spending cards, travel cards, business cards and co-branded cards – that let you earn Membership Rewards points. It can be confusing to try to sift through all the offerings and figure out where all the bonuses lie, so we’ve sorted it out for you.
Here’s a breakdown of the cards:
American Express Membership Rewards consumer credit cards
American Express Membership Rewards business credit cards
|Rewards rate||Introductory bonus||Annual fee|
Business Green Rewards card
|5,000 points with your first purchase (Terms apply)||$95, $0 first year|
|35,000 points if you spend $5,000 in first 3 months||$295|
The Blue from American Express card is an entry-level card for newbies with less-than-stellar credit scores. The card offers a paltry rate of one point per dollar of spending and no introductory bonus. Plus, unlike other Membership Rewards cards, it doesn’t allow you to transfer points to an outside loyalty program. But you can qualify for the card with a merely average credit score, so it may be a good starting point if you can’t qualify for any other American Express card.
Everyday spending cards
Everyday spending is not a strong point in the Membership Rewards program, but Amex does offer a card that lets you earn bonus points on everyday purchases.
The American Express Everyday Preferred card gives you 3 percent back on U.S. supermarket purchases (up to $6,000 in purchases per year), 2 percent back on U.S. gas station purchases and 1 percent back on other purchases, plus a 50 percent point bonus whenever you use your card at least 30 times in a month, for a $95 annual fee (waived the first year). That’s a very generous grocery bonus – amounting to 4.5 percent back if you trigger the bonus every month – but it’s unfortunately capped at $6,000 in purchases, and the requirement to use the card 30 times each month is onerous.
In fact, the requirements to earn the full bonus is stringent. Unless you use the card for most of your spending, you probably will have a difficult time mustering 30 separate purchases on a single card each month. In other words – if you’re not all about earning Membership Rewards points – this is probably not the card for you.
American Express is the pioneer of travel rewards cards, and its offerings are strongest in this category. You have three levels of card to choose from – all of which offer extensive travel perks, bonuses focused on travel purchases and high annual fees.
The American Express Green card – the lowest tier card – leaves something to be desired. Cardholders may find the $95 annual fee more affordable than other Amex travel cards, but the rewards are anemic – you get 2 percent back on travel purchases and a mere 1 percent back on the rest of your purchases, and there’s no introductory bonus. You can find many competing cards with a $95 annual fee that offer much better rewards rates and 50,000-point introductory bonuses.
The American Express® Gold Card is a good value for middle-of-the road cardholders and comes with a $250 annual fee that’s relatively affordable, though on the high side for the level of rewards that it offers. You earn bonus points on both travel and everyday purchases – 4 percent back at U.S. restaurants and on the first $25,000 in U.S. supermarket purchases each year, 3 percent back on flights booked directly with the airlines and 1 percent back on other purchases. You also get a decent 35,000-point bonus for spending $2,000 in the first three months. But the best thing about the card is its travel perks, including a $120 dining credit, $100 credit for airline fees, a $75 hotel fee credit, premium roadside assistance and a large list of other airline and hotel perks. These credits alone nearly erase the $250 annual fee.
And then comes the king of travel cards – the American Express Platinum card – offering a stellar 60,000-point introductory bonus, a litany of travel benefits and an outsized $550 annual fee. The Platinum card is squarely aimed at heavy travelers – you earn a massive 5 percent bonus on flights and hotels and you get some very generous travel credits, including a $200 airline fee credit, a $100 credit every four years for Global Entry, a $100 hotel fee credit and up to $200 worth of Uber credits. Also, the card grants you free lounge access – probably the most extensive lounge access package that any credit card has to offer – including Priority Pass lounges and ultra-posh Centurion lounges. The Platinum card is not for the casual traveler; however, if you travel frequently you can get more than $550 of value out of the Platinum card.
American Express also has several business card offerings that offer American Express OPEN benefits for business owners and bonus points on business purchases. These cards are a great opportunity to earn additional introductory bonuses for cardholders who have exhausted the introductory bonuses on Amex’s consumer line of cards.
Note, too, that you don’t have to be the owner of a brick-and-mortar business to qualify for a business card; independent contractors of all sorts may qualify.
The Blue Business Plus card is an excellent option for earning bonus points on everyday purchases – you get a 2x point bonus on all your purchases, up to $50,000 each year (1x thereafter). Moreover, the card doesn’t charge an annual fee.
Like the consumer version of the card, the American Express Business Green card offers an insipid rewards rate of 2 percent back on travel purchases and 1 percent back on the rest of your purchases, for a $95 fee (waived the first year). On the plus side, it comes with a small introductory bonus – you get a 5,000-point bonus just for using the card the first time.
The Business Gold Card rewards your highest spend in two 4 percent bonus categories – which can include dining, gas, travel and common business purchases.
The American Express Business Platinum card offers many of the same benefits – including lounge access – as the regular Platinum card. Unforutnately, the card doesn’t offer a $200 credit for Uber rides. However, it does have one feature to its advantage: You can earn 35 percent of your points back when you use them for flights on an airline that you designate at the beginning of each year. Essentially, you can boost the value of your points to 1.35 cents per point if you use them the right way – that’s a much better value than the consumer version of the card. Also, the card offers several generous credits targeted to business professionals: You get up to $200 each year on Dell purchases and, if you enroll by Dec. 31, 2019, free Platinum Global Access to WeWork for your first year of card membership. Considering that American Express values its WeWork benefit at $2,700, the value of these two perks alone can easily outweigh the card’s $595 annual fee.
Co-branded Membership Rewards cards
If the above list of Membership Rewards cards hasn’t already boggled your mind, American Express offers several co-branded cards that give you additional options for category bonuses and – most notably – additional options for earning introductory bonuses.
American Express Membership Rewards co-branded credit cards
Outside of its Mercedes-Benz card – which offers a bonus on Mercedes-Benz purchases – most of these cards are tied to financial institutions and require that you have a qualifying account to apply for the card. If you can pass that hurdle, there’s a major plus to qualifying for one of these cards: They’re all considered to be separate cards from American Express’s consumer and business line of cards, which means – if you’ve already earned the bonuses on the Gold and Platinum cards – you have additional options for earning a 50,000- to 60,000-point bonus.
Which American Express card should you apply for?
Membership Rewards cards aren’t for everyone. The rewards are focused on travel purchases and the best asset of the American Express travel rewards program is its travel perks – including lounge access – rather than travel rewards. In other words, you need to be a frequent traveler to really reap the benefits of the Membership Rewards program. That said, if you fit the bill and want to maximize your points, you should consider signing up for the following:
An everyday spending card –Membership Rewards cards are not strongest candidates for maximizing rewards on everyday spending, but if you are trying to rack up Membership Rewards points, you’ll probably want to sign up for the Amex Preferred Everyday card. If you don’t mind the $95 annual fee and you are able to use the card 30+ times each month, the Amex Everyday Preferred card may be your best bet – with its 50 percent bonus, you can earn up to 4.5 percent back on your first $6,000 in grocery purchases and 3 percent back on gas purchases.
A travel card – If you travel frequently enough to use all of its credits and travel perks, the Platinum card is an exceptional value, even with its $550 annual fee. Or, if you qualify as a business owner, you might want to go with the Business Platinum card, since it’s possible to get a 35 percent bonus on all your redemptions for airfare – you’ll need to do some math to decide which card offers the better value for you.
Note, if you don’t want to dole out the high annual fee for either of the Platinum cards, you might go with the American Express Gold Card instead – it can serve as both a travel and everyday card, since it offers bonuses on flights, restaurants and supermarkets purchases.
A flat-rate spending card – You should also consider adding the Blue Business Plus card to your wallet. You can rotate it with your other cards to earn a 2x point bonus on the purchases that don’t fit under any other bonus category.
One other very important consideration is timing. American Express has a very strict policy on earning introductory bonuses, only allowing you to earn the bonus on a particular card once in your lifetime. This means, if you want to earn the most bonus points possible, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the value of the introductory bonus for each card and apply when the bonus is higher than average.