The American Express Blue Cash: Blue is Best(4.5/5 - 26 Votes)
If you’re looking for unparalleled rewards for your most common purchases, look no further than the American Express Blue Cash to fulfill your rewards needs. Unlike many high-end rewards cards, which cater to jetsetters and hotel-goers, the AmEx Blue Cash rewards typical spending purchases: groceries, gas and clothing. So if you eat food, wear clothing and drive cars – which, I venture to say, is a good portion of us – the Blue Cash has some of the most accessible rewards categories you can get.
And up to a point, its rates are astronomical: for a $75 annual fee, the Blue Cash Preferred gives 6% cash back at stand-alone grocery stores, up to $6,000 spent per year, and an unlimited 3% on gas and department stores. Its no-fee counterpart, the Blue Cash Everyday, still pays out 3% (up to $6k) and 2% respectively. Simple. No gimmicks. No caps. Just cash.
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express|
|Annual Fee||Signup Bonus||APR , Variable*||APR Promotions|
|$0||Earn 100 Reward Dollars after you make $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of Cardmembership.||12.99% - 21.99% Variable||0% on Purchases for 12 months|
Back to basics with the Blue Cash
The Blue Cash cards come with signup bonuses, too: $150 for the Preferred and $100 for the Everyday. The cards sound pretty great, so we bet you’re expecting us to throw a bunch of secret fees and conditions at you right about now, right? Oh, ye of little faith. We’re only going to tell you that, on top of your rewards being awesome, they’re also redeemable hassle-free. No expiration dates, gift card limits or point accumulation requirements – just cold, hard cash, gimmick-free. Redeem as often as your heart desires, starting at $25 for cash or gift cards. It’s just that simple.
Too good to be true? Nope, it’s real – there are just a few caveats.
First off, there’s the $6,000 a year cap on groceries. Spending past the $6k threshold earns just 1% cash back – an unlimited 6% cash back was just too good to last.
Another letdown of the Amex Blue Cash is simply that: its name. Unfortunately, Amex isn’t as widely accepted as other credit card networks, so we recommend having a no-fee Visa or MasterCard as a backup. Also, world travelers be warned: there’s a 2.7% foreign transaction fee. If you frequently travel abroad, check out these cards with no foreign transaction fee.
Alright, get happy again because we’ll tell you what makes the Blue Cash worth it.
So what is a stand-alone grocery store?
The Blue Cash Everyday earns 3% rewards at stand-alone grocery stores, and the Preferred earns 6%, up to the first $6,000 spent. But what counts at a grocery store? Generally speaking, if the main product is food, you’re in the clear – this means Safeway, Whole Foods and Stop & Shop. These do not include superstores and warehouses (such as Costco). Amex Canada’s site can give some color into what consitutes a grocery store:
Purchases at merchants where [grocery] sales are not their primary business (including superstores, wholesale clubs, alcohol retailers and general merchandise retailers) and purchases at sponsors do not qualify for the earn rate in this category.
Per the Blue Cash’s website, though, we can see what Amex considers to be department stores:
Bealls, Belk, Bloomingdale’s, Bon Ton Stores., Boscov’s, Century 21 Department Stores, Dillard’s, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sears, and Stein Mart
Earn rewards on the most common spending categories
Next to paying down the roof over your head and the kids’ school tuition, much of your paycheck is likely spent on food and gas, plus the occasional wardrobe upgrade. This is because, well, we all need to eat, get places and, preferably, get there clothed. The Blue Cash accounts for the everyday consumer’s fundamental needs, rewarding handsomely on those three categories.
With the 6% back bonus on groceries offered by the Preferred, you can make that rate on virtually anything by throwing in a few prepaid gift cards at the checkout line. Since most grocery stores carry a wide assortment of gift cards, you can use the supermarket rewards rate to cover a vast majority of the rest of your expenses. By exploiting this simple trick, you can earn 6% on your morning Starbucks fix, Dad’s electronics, the kids’ school and sports gear and everyone’s favorite restaurants. Of course, that brings you close to the $6,000-a-year threshold, but rewards on $6k are better than none.
The average American spends $3,800 on groceries a year, leaving him with $2,200 of wiggle room to buy not-grocery gift cards at the supermarket. Of course, this’ll vary with your spending habits, but a $6,000 cap is high enough to give you room to hack.
There’s also a referral bonus. Yup, get paid to tell your friends how awesome the Blue Cash is. Refer a friend and get $75 from the Preferred or $25 from the Everyday upon approval. The one condition here is that the card your friend is approved for has to be the same card you have; ergo, refer the Preferred if you’re a Preferred holder and vice versa.
Family feud: Everyday or Preferred?
Blue Cash Everyday or Blue Cash Preferred? We say the Preferred is, well, almost always preferred. Consider the average American’s spending: approximately $3,800 on groceries, $2,700 on gas and $1,700 at department stores each year. Even without the Preferred’s $150 signup bonus, your annual rewards in the bonus categories come out to $360, as opposed to $202 with the Everyday. That’s a difference of $158 – more than twice the Preferred’s $75 annual fee. In fact, even if all you charged to the card was $2,501 on groceries, you’d still be better off with the Preferred.
Bluebloods: How does the Amex compare?
Time for the big leagues: How do the Blue Cash cards stack up against other cash-back cards?
Blue Cash vs Chase Freedom: The Chase Freedom offers 5% cash back in bonus categories that change every quarter. Compared to the Blue Cash Everyday, its no-fee, cash back partner, the BCE has better grocery rewards (3%, up to the limit) but the Freedom has better gas rewards (average 3% – two quarters of 5% rewards and two of 1%, up to $1,500 spent quarterly). Visa is more widely accepted than Amex, and you’ll get 5% rewards on categories like Amazon, department stores and restaurants. Basically, if a hefty chunk of your money goes to groceries, go blue; if not, go with a bit more variety.
Blue Cash vs. Bank Americard Cash Rewards: Except for the fact that Amex cards aren’t as widely accepted as Visa cards, the Blue Cash Everyday trumps the Cash Rewards hands-down. First off, only your grocery rewards rate is capped – and the BCE’s grocery cap is equal to the BankAmericard’s cap on groceries and gas. The BankAmericard Cash doesn’t give rewards on department store spending, either. To its credit, it does give a 10% rewards boost if you have a BofA checking account, but generally this won’t surmount its inferior rewards rate. Here’s an example of a household’s monthly spending:
|Spending||Gas||Groceries||Clothing||Other||Monthly Rewards||Annual Rewards|
|Blue Cash Everyday||$4.00||15||$3.00||$10.00||$32||$384|
|Blue Cash Preferred||$6.00||30||$4.50||$10.00||$44||$531|
|BankAmericard Cash Rewards||$6.00||6||$1.50||$10.00||$26||$310|
So yeah, Blue Cash wins, even if we assume that a) you max out your gas rewards before moving on to groceries and b) you deposit into a BofA checking account. We’ve also included the Blue Cash Preferred’s annual fee. Nice try, BankAmericard. Better luck next time.
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express|
|Earn 150 Reward Dollars after you make $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of Cardmembership.||Earn 100 Reward Dollars after you make $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of Cardmembership.|
|Intro APR Promo|
|0% on Purchases for 12 months||0% on Purchases for 12 months|