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Breakdown: American Express Card Benefits

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American Express benefits rightfully give the issuer a reputation for high-end, high-cost credit and charge cards. But as AmEx expands from its Platinum and Black roots to everyman credit cards and even prepaid debit cards, benefits have begun to vary widely based on the card. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of the most popular American Express personal charge and credit cards, their associated benefits, and any fees, rewards and signup bonuses that we think should inform your decision.  Note: There are also a number of business American Express credit and charge cards, like the Plum Card, the Business Platinum, and so on, but for clarity’s sake we’ll focus on personal cards here.  Happy nerding!

Membership Rewards: a tier-based rewards program

American Express’ rewards cards pay out in Membership Rewards points, which we value at the standard 1 cent per point and which are generally pretty easy to redeem in small amounts. We won’t go into the details of the program; for a full review, check out our review of the Membership Rewards points. The salient information is that the program is divided into three tiers: Membership Rewards Express, Membership Rewards, and Membership Rewards First. The tiers offer different benefits, detailed below. All three provide a “points advance” system, where you can spend your points before you actually earn them. You also earn 2x Membership Rewards points when you book travel through AmEx.

Tier Cards Benefits
MR Express All credit cards
Zync
  • 5,000-point advance
  • Can redeem for hotel/airline gift cards, no “top up”
Membership Rewards Green
Gold
  • 15,000-point advance
  • Can transfer any number of points to hotel/airline loyalty program and “top up” existing miles
MR First Platinum
Centurion
  • 60,000-point advance
  • Top up
  • Dedicated concierge line

AmEx Centurion (American Express Black): Applications for this card are by invitation only, and apparently the NerdWallet invite got lost in the mail, so unfortunately everything we’ve got is hearsay. We can tell you that the annual fee is $2,500, and there’s a $5,000 application fee. Benefits include a concierge, complimentary companion tickets on some international flights, personal shoppers, lounge access, hotel stays, and free enrollment into the Hertz Club Gold and Avis Presidents Club. Also, according to Wikipedia, the card itself is made of anodized titanium and has been known to set off airport metal detectors. Should I get one? If you have to ask, the answer is no.

American Express Centurion
Annual Fee Benefits
$2,500 + one-time $5k
  • Concierge
  • Companion tickets
  • Lounge access
  • Personal shopper
  • Membership Rewards First
Rewards Rate
If only we knew

American Express Platinum: Occupying the second slot in the high-end tier is the AmEx Platinum, which is far more accessible than the Black, though that’s not exactly saying much. It’s a huge step up from the Gold and Green cards, and despite the high annual fee, we think it’s worthwhile given the extensive perks. You can recoup the $450 fee in any number of ways, starting with a $200 airline incidentals credit, a $100 credit to the Global Entry program that lets you skip customs lines, and access to select Priority Pass, Delta, Centurion and Airspace lounges,. You get access to by-invitation-only events, companion tickets, and better rental car coverage than the other AmEx cards. Should I get one? We think that high-rolling, frequent international travelers will like the American Express Platinum, not least because the annual fee is all but wiped away with expensive perks. In fact, we prefer it to the AmEx Gold (which has a lower annual fee) and the American Express Delta Reserve (which has the same fee but fewer perks).

The Platinum Card® from American Express
American Express Platinum Credit Card
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  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Up to a $200 Airline Fee Credit Annually.
  • To receive the statement credit, you need to select a qualifying airline.
  • There are no foreign transaction fees with purchases made on your Platinum Card.
  • Platinum Card Concierge is your personal resource to help secure a last minute restaurant reservation, or shop for a hard-to-find gift.
  • Terms and restrictions apply
thumbsupPros
  • No foreign transaction fee
thumbsdownCons
  • Has annual fee
  • Needs excellent credit
Annual Fee Signup Bonus APR , Variable* APR Promotions
$450 Earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. N/A N/A [You must pay your balance in full each month]

*Note: As of October 2011, AmEx Platinum and Centurion cardholders won’t get automatic access to Continental and United lounges.

American Express Gold: The next step down from the Platinum, the Gold Card is the middle child of the AmEx family. The AmEx Premier Rewards Gold has a lower annual fee than the Platinum ($175, waived the first year) and a higher rewards rate (3x on airfare, 2x on gas and groceries) than the Platinum, but has far worse benefits. It’s not a MR First card, so while you can top up your points, you don’t get the concierge service, airline credit, signup bonus, lounge access or companion tickets. The regular AmEx Preferred Gold has an even lower annual fee ($125, again waived the first year) but its rewards rate is a flat 1%, so if you spend a mere $2,000 on gas/groceries and $1,500 on airfare a year, you’ve nixed the difference. Should I get one? We’re not in love with it. If you’re willing to pay a higher annual fee, the AmEx Platinum returns the extra amount and then some with its killer perks. If you’re unwilling, AmEx has a lot of cheaper cards with better rewards and only marginally less attractive benefits.

American Express Green: If the Gold Card is the middle child, then the Green is the Gold’s kid brother who tries to play basketball too but doesn’t realize that he’s only 4’3. The benefits are pretty mediocre: it has the standard travel perks, return/purchase/warranty protection, and so on, which you see on almost every AmEx charge or credit card. It has a $95 annual fee (waived the first year) which doesn’t make up for its equally yawn-worthy rewards rate. The one advantage it has over the AmEx credit cards is that it lets you top up your rewards points for existing hotel/airline loyalty programs. Should I get one? If you’re going to go for a $75+ annual fee, we suggest going with the American Express Blue Cash, which at least will give you better rewards without that big of a step down in perks.

American Express Blue: AmEx’s blue cards include the Blue Sky and Blue Cash credit cards. The two Blue Cash cards, the Preferred and the Everyday, give cash back on typical spending purchases. The Preferred gives 6% on up to $6k spent on groceries, unlimited 3% at gas stations and department stores, and 1% elsewhere, while the Everyday gives 3%, 2% and 1%. The Preferred has a $75 annual fee offset in the first year by $100 cash back. The Blue Sky cards give a flat 1.33% rewards rate (we value it at 1.33% because though you get 1 point per $1, the Blue Sky lets you redeem 7,500 points for $100). The Blue Sky Preferred has a $75 annual fee but gives a $100 airline incidentals credit and 2x points on dining, hotels and car rentals. The Blue Sky no annual fee and gives the flat 1.33% rate all around. Should I get one? The Blue Cash Preferred is one of the best cash back credit cards around, and a pretty good choice for suburbanites who spend on food and gas. We tend to think that the better rewards rate puts it ahead of the Blue Sky and Blue Cash Everyday.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American ExpressBlue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
American Express Blue Cash Everyday Credit Card
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American Express Blue Cash Preferred Credit Card
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on American Express's
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Signing Promo
Get 50 Reward Dollars, redeemable for a $50 statement credit, after you make $1,000 in purchases with your new Card in the first three months. Plus, get one year of Amazon Prime after you sign up for a new membership with your Card and meet the spending requirement in the same time period. Get 100 Reward Dollars, redeemable for a $100 statement credit, after you make $1,000 in purchases with your new Card in the first three months. Plus, get one year of Amazon Prime after you sign up for a new membership with your Card and meet the spending requirement in the same time period.
Intro APR Promo
0% on Purchases for 15 months; 0% on Balance Transfers for 15 months0% on Purchases for 15 months; 0% on Balance Transfers for 15 months
Annual fee
$0$75
Details
  • Get one year of Amazon Prime plus $50 back after you make $1,000 in purchases with your new Card in the first three months.
  • You will receive $50 back in the form of a statement credit.
  • Hassle-free cash back: no enrollment required, the same great reward categories year-round.
  • Earn Cash Back: 3% US supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases, 2% at US gas stations & select US dept stores, 1% on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  • No annual fee. Plus, 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, then a variable rate, currently 12.99% to 21.99%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.
  • Terms and restrictions apply.
  • Get one year of Amazon Prime plus $100 back after you make $1,000 in purchases with your new Card in the first three months.
  • You will receive $100 back in the form of a statement credit.
  • Hassle-free cash back: no enrollment required, the same great reward categories year-round.
  • Earn Cash Back: 6% US supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases, 3% US gas stations & select US dept stores, 1% on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, then a variable rate, currently 12.99% to 21.99%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.
  • Terms and restrictions apply.

American Express Clear: The AmEx Clear has its uses, mainly, that you can have multiple cards across the family but receive one consolidated statement and automatically receive a $25 shopping card when you rack up 2,500 points. But besides that, the rewards rate is a flat 1% across the board. You can even do better with the AmEx Blue Cash Everyday (though we tend to favor the Preferred over the Everyday), which also has no fee but gives 3% on groceries and 2% on gas and department stores (everyday spending categories – targeted at the Clear’s demographic). Should I get one? We don’t recommend it. The AmEx Blue Cash is more family-friendly and gives better rewards.

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    Hi,
    Are you saying that the American express clear card is no good to those people without any siblings yet? Meaning to say, bachelor should not get one?

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