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Making the Most of the American Express Gold Card

If you use the card strategically at the right places and take advantage of all of its dining perks, you can come out ahead.
Oct. 31, 2019
Airline Credit Cards, Cash Back Credit Cards, Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
Making the Most of the American Express Gold Card
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If you’re looking to make the most of the American Express® Gold Card, get your fork ready.

After a series of refreshes in 2018 and 2019, the card now dishes up outsized dining rewards, earning 4 Membership Rewards points on every dollar spent at restaurants worldwide. That means dining in, dining out and dining abroad all net you that same elevated rate. It also serves up 4 points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases a year) and up to a $120 annual dining credit, among other foodie-related perks. Terms apply.

The card comes with a $100 annual airline incidental fee credit, which combined with the dining credit can cancel out most of the card’s annual fee of $250. If you use the card strategically at the right places and take advantage of all of its benefits, you’ll likely come out ahead. Here’s how.

» MORE: Full review of the American Express® Gold Card

Snag that welcome offer

Those who apply for the American Express® Gold Card may receive the following welcome bonus if approved: Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months. Terms Apply. NerdWallet values a Membership Reward point between 0.5 cent and 1 cent depending on how you redeem.

Although this isn’t the largest new cardmember offer available, it’s still valuable. Aim to meet that minimum spending threshold, and you’ll snag a points bonanza that could be worth as much as $350 if used for travel.

» MORE: Best credit card bonus offers

Know what counts as ‘restaurants’

Earning bonus points at restaurants worldwide seems pretty easy, right? But there’s a catch: You’ll get those elevated rewards only at locations that are assigned a merchant category code for dining. MCCs are typically based on what the primary area of commerce is for a business. For example, a restaurant located in a hotel may actually code as a travel purchase. And a cafeteria in an office building may also not be considered a qualifying dining purchase. Be mindful of these loopholes when planning to dine in or take out.

A restaurant located in a hotel may code as a travel purchase. A cafeteria in an office building may not be considered a qualifying dining purchase.

Also keep in mind that some cardholders have reported issues receiving their bonus points when dining at places that use third-party processors (like Square and Toast) to take their payment. If for some reason you don’t receive the right number of points for an eligible meal, hang on to your receipt and contact the card’s customer service line. (In June 2019, an AmEx spokeperson said that moving forward, eligible purchases made through third-party processors should count for 4X the rewards.)

Lastly, even though the American Express® Gold Card doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, be aware that American Express is less widely accepted abroad than Visa or Mastercard. So if “dining out” figures prominently on your international itinerary, you’ll likely want to bring a backup card.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best credit cards for restaurants

Understand the dining credit

A $120 dining credit is a pretty sweet perk, but be aware of the fine print before you go splurge on that fancy meal. Cardholders are eligible for up to a $10 statement credit per month, for a total of $120 per calendar year. And the credit has to be used at one of the following eligible partners: Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. Terms apply.

Cardholders are eligible for up to a $10 statement credit per month, for a total of $120 per calendar year.

If any of these are on your regular roster, it should be easy as pie to use up the full amount of credit. Otherwise, plan strategically to make sure that monthly $10 doesn’t go to waste.

Use supermarket savvy

Anyone who spends a lot on groceries can appreciate earning elevated rewards on those purchases. But think beyond the bread and milk. Many supermarkets carry household items you may not have considered when you were shopping for dinner. Cleaning supplies, toiletries, wine and even office supplies can often be found at your local store.

Many supermarkets carry household items you may not have considered when you were shopping for dinner.

Don’t forget those gift cards either. You can buy ones for your favorite restaurants, retailers, movie theaters and more at the supermarket and earn bonus points that way.

Be mindful that this enhanced earning rate is valid only at U.S. supermarkets, and doesn’t apply to warehouse clubs and superstores. If you planned to prepare some of your own meals on a future international sojourn, know that your trip down the aisles of a foreign supermarket won’t earn you bonus rewards.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best credit cards for groceries

Book through AmEx or the airline directly

Some cards earn points on all travel, but the American Express® Gold Card is more focused, earning 3 points per dollar on flights, but only those booked through amextravel.com or directly with the airline. If you want those higher earnings, avoid buying flights through a travel agency or other discount site. Terms apply.

Choose your airline wisely

The American Express® Gold Card comes with an annual $100 airline fee credit. This perk covers incidental charges like baggage fees and services including airport lounge day passes and in-flight refreshments on select airlines. There are a couple of steps before you can take advantage of this credit, though. First, you must choose your preferred airline before you’ll be able to use the credit. And, once you’ve chosen an airline, you can’t switch until the following January.

You must first choose your preferred airline before you’ll be able to use the card’s annual airline fee credit.

Once you use your card to make an incidental purchase, the credit will be applied automatically to your account in two to four weeks. Charges must also come directly from the airline, so fees incurred on third-party services aboard the plane (wireless internet, for example) are not covered.

Optimize your points redemption

Redeeming your Membership Reward points is easy: Log in to your American Express account, click “Redeem Points” and choose from one of several options for redemption.

But juicing the most value for those rewards requires some know-how.

Consider transfer partners

You can transfer Membership Rewards points to several other loyalty programs, including frequent flyer programs from British Airways, Delta and Emirates, and hotel loyalty programs like Choice and Marriott. In most cases, it’s a 1:1 transfer, which offers some of the best value per point. For example, you’d need 1,000 Membership Rewards points to exchange for 1,000 British Airways Avios

One thing to keep in mind: When transferring to U.S. airlines, there’s a fee of $0.0006 cent per point, with a maximum charge of $99. 

» MORE: How to add money-saving travel offers to your AmEx card

Book travel via the AmEx portal or Expedia

You can use Membership Rewards points to book travel directly through American Express via the AmEx Travel site, where you can find flights for a value of 1 cent per point, or prepaid hotels, cruises and vacation packages for a value of 0.7 cent per point. You can also use points to book through Expedia for a value of 0.7 cent per point.

Other redemptions

If your redemption desires don’t include travel plans, the Membership Rewards program offers plenty of other options, although they tend to offer less value per point. For example, a Membership Point is worth 0.7 cent when used on Amazon.com and worth 0.5 cent when used at Ticketmaster.

See the points value calculator and full list of places you can use your points here.