The updated Amex Green Card has made waves in the travel rewards sector, but can the card keep up with its competition? Depending on what you value as a traveler, the Green Card might work better paired with another cash back credit card.
Dear Cashing In,
I’ve never really been one to have an Amex card, but I saw the Green Card got a face-lift. I’m starting to travel more, and I was wondering if the update is something I could benefit from. What do you think? – Shannon
Before all the rewards card hoopla of the last few years – with just about every major bank offering some version of points and miles or cash back – there was the simple American Express card. Anyone who watched television in the 1970s and 1980s can recall the card’s memorable slogan: “Don’t leave home without it.”
But the truth is that since those days, a lot of people have been leaving home without the card – which is now known as the American Express® Green Card. The sheer number of credit cards now available to consumers has exploded.
See related: Best travel credit cards
Green Card breakdown
Many cards now come with rich sign-up bonuses and category-spending bonuses. The American Express Green Card has evolved from its early days, when it was mainly pitched as an indispensable possession of worldly travelers who could use it to obtain traveler’s checks around the globe. But other cards have passed it by.
However, American Express has recently updated its venerable Green Card. And it is now loaded with enough perks to compete with other mid-tier travel rewards cards offered by peers such as Chase, Capital One, Citi, Barclaycard and others.
When stacked up against competitors, the Amex Green Card is better in some regards and worse in others. But at least now it is part of the conversation – and under consideration for people, like yourself, considering a travel rewards card.
American Express Green Card: What’s new
Let’s look at the new features of the card and its rewards structure:
- Annual fee: $150.
- Introductory bonus: 30,000 points after spending $2,000 in first three months.
- Rewards rate: 3 points per dollar on travel, transit and dining worldwide; 1 point per dollar on everything else.
- Points redemption: American Express Membership Rewards points can be transferred to a variety of travel partners and points don’t expire.
- Other perks: up to $100 annual credit for CLEAR (expedited airport screening) and up to $100 annual credit for LoungeBuddy.
At $150 a year, the annual fee is higher than most entry-level travel rewards cards, and it is not waived the first year. Its introductory bonus of 30,000 points is also on the meager side.
In contrast, most competing travel cards have an annual fee of around $95 a year – and a few of them waive it the first year. The most expensive ones (with airline lounge access) tend to hover in the $450- $550 range.
But you have the opportunity to earn more points on common spending categories than you would with competitor cards.
Three points per dollar spent on travel and dining is generous. That’s the same earning rate as the Chase Sapphire Reserve – which can be classified as a luxury card and has an annual fee of $550.
Maximizing Amex Green Card rewards
The other perks are less clear-cut – they are not as rich as the full-blown premium travel cards.
A $100 credit for CLEAR does not cover its full cost, and only about 60 airports nationwide have CLEAR. A LoungeBuddy credit is helpful – you can buy day passes and gain access to a variety of airline lounges – but again, it is not universal.
The rewards on the American Express Green Card are most competitive with those in the $95 annual fee range – such as basic airline cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and the Citi Premier Card.
Interestingly, if you’re considering the American Express Green Card, you might also want to examine the American Express® Gold Card, which is a step up.
It is $250 a year, but it includes up to a $100 airline fee credit (valid through Dec 2021) and up to a $120 dining credit – which are easier to redeem and more lucrative than the Amex Green Card perks and essentially knock down the price of the card – and it earns points at higher levels on dining.
If you want to maximize your rewards, you could pair the Amex Green Card with a flat-rate cash back card such as Citi® Double Cash Card, which effectively earns 2 percent back on all purchases – 1 percent when you charge and another 1 percent when you pay those charges. You could use the Amex Green Card for travel and restaurants and the Double Cash Card for everything else.
Because of its relatively high annual fee, the card really makes the most sense for people who are interested in a discount on a CLEAR membership (make sure your home airport has it) or who can make the most of the LoungeBuddy access. Check out both those programs before signing up.