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Why the Amex Gold is the perfect 'in-between' credit card

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For all the differences between the major card issuers, their credit card offerings have started to look more and more alike in recent years.

Don't believe me? Let's play a little game: I'm thinking of a credit card with a $400+ annual fee, hundreds of dollars in annual statement credits, high-value bonus categories, a Priority Pass Select membership and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100). Can you guess which one? If you said any of the following you would have been right: Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige® CardThe Platinum Card® from American ExpressThe Business Platinum Card® from American Express, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. You can even make a similar comparison between more entry-level cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Citi Premier℠ Card.

The information for the Citi Prestige and Citi Premier has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The American Express® Gold Card has never fit well into either the premium card category or the entry-level tier. Historically it offered a rather high annual fee without many perks or bonus categories. But a top-down refresh of the card in 2018 changed nearly all of that, solidifying the Amex Gold as the perfect (and really the only) "in-between" credit card, straddling the line between entry-level simplicity and premium value.

This distinction is especially important right now, as people are looking to hold on to their premium perks and strong bonus categories without paying hefty annual fees while the economy is on such uncertain footing. Today we're going to take a look at how the Amex Gold carves out its own spot in this new "in-betweener" category, hopefully encouraging other card issuers to respond in kind.

For each category, I'll look at what you'd expect from a premium card, and an entry-level card, and how the Amex Gold is different. Note that I'm ignoring redemption options here, as Membership Rewards points can be redeemed the same way whether they're earned on an Amex Gold or an Amex Platinum (with the limited exception of the Amex Business Platinum's Pay With Points rebate).

Annual Fee

Premium:$450+

Entry-level:$99 or less, often waived for the first year

Amex Gold:The annual fee on the Amex Gold is $250 (see rates and fees), and unlike past offers, it's no longer waived for the first year. This is one of the most obvious ways in which it stands out as an in-betweener card. Premium credit cards are easily identifiable by their eye-popping $400+ annual fees, while most other cards hover at or below the $100 mark. In the last few years, we've seen several of the most popular premium rewards cards raise their annual fees to $550 a year or more, making it even clearer that the Amex Gold represents a solid discount. With premium cards, your out-of-pocket cost often ends up being closer to $100-$200 after you account for generous annual travel/hotel/airline statement credits, while entry-level cards rarely have any credits to offset the fee.

We'll go into greater detail about the Amex Gold's up to $220 in annual statement credits a little later, but if you're capable of maxing them out, your out-of-pocket cost each year will only be $30. This gives it a huge leg up on both the more expensive premium cards and the "cheaper" entry-level cards, and should certainly factor into your decision about whether this card is right for you.

Welcome Bonus

Premium:Generally, 50,000-100,000 points, worth $1,000-$2,000, though there's more variance across premium card welcome bonuses than there are with other card perks.

Entry-level:40,000-60,000 points, worth ~$1,000+

Amex Gold: Unfortunately the welcome bonus on the Amex Gold Card is one of its weakest elements, especially at a time when some TPG readers are being targeted for 100,000-point bonuses on the Amex Platinum (offer subject to change at any time; worth $2,000 based on TPG's valuations). New applicants will receive 35,000 Membership Rewards points (worth $700 based on TPG valuations) after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first three months, although you could be targeted for a 50,000-point offer with the same spending requirement through the CardMatch tool or via a referral link (offer subject to change at any time).

Those 35,000 points should be enough for a domestic round-trip ticket or maybe a one-way international flight (with some points left over) if you take advantage of one of Amex's transfer bonuses. Not only does this bonus fail to compare favorably to premium competition from the Amex Platinum and the Chase Sapphire Reserve — with its 50,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening — it also doesn't compare well to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which offers a 60,000-point bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months (worth $1,200 based on TPG's valuations).

Related: How to redeem American Express Membership Rewards for maximum value

But if we compare the Amex Gold to Amex's own introductory credit card, the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, the bonus starts to make a bit more sense. The Everyday Preferred is currently offering a welcome bonus of 15,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months, and no additional statement credits to sweeten the deal. While it would be nice to see a larger bonus on the Amex Gold card, at least Amex is doing (a little) something to differentiate this card.

The information for the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Earning

Premium:5%+ returns on travel, dining or other common bonus categories

Entry-level:2-4% returns on travel, dining, groceries, gas, etc.

Amex Gold: The real reason most people will want to get and keep the Amex Gold comes down to the card's excellent bonus categories. The Amex Gold earns at the following rates (terms apply):

  • 4x points on dining worldwide
  • 4x pointsat U.S. supermarkets (capped at $25,000 per calendar year, then 1x)
  • 3x points on flights booked directly from an airline or amextravel.com
  • 1x points on everything else

These categories combine to make the Amex Gold one of the most rewarding credit cards on the market for both dining and groceries and give it a huge leg up on Chase's Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards, which earn 2x (4%) and 3x (6%) on dining, respectively. These are premium-level (or better) bonus categories, without the price tag to match.

Related: Why I became even more loyal to the Amex Gold during the coronavirus pandemic

The big drawback, however, is that the 4x at U.S. supermarkets is capped at $25,000 in spending per calendar year (then 1x) and is only valid in the U.S. As an expat, it always frustrates me when travel rewards card are less rewarding to people who frequently travel out of the country. Even the 4x points on dining used to be restricted to the U.S. as well, but Amex expanded it to include worldwide dining a while back.

Perks & Credits

Premium: Lounge access, travel insurance, elite status, annual statement credits, concierge services and many, many more

Entry-level: More limited travel insurance and purchase protection

Amex Gold: It's easy to build a case that a card like the Amex Platinum is worth the $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) thanks to all the perks it offers such as hotel elite status, annual statement credits, lounge access and more. But as many people quickly found out when the coronavirus pandemic grounded most travel, if you don't take advantage of many of these benefits, the Platinum card might not be worth the cost. In some ways, the relatively limited set of benefits that come with the Amex Gold can be seen as a good thing, as it doesn't take nearly as much work and effort to squeeze the maximum value out of this card.

The main perks to get excited about are the up to $220 in annual statement credits, which break down as follows:

  • Up to $100 annual airline incidental credit. This is not valid on airfare, but can be used for incidental charges like seat assignment, lounge access and baggage fees. While many people had luck getting reimbursed for the purchase of airline gift cards in the past, Amex has cracked down on this practice and most recent data points show that this may not be possible anymore.
  • $10 a month (up to $120 credit each calendar year) dining credit valid at the following dining partners: Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and participating Shake Shacks.

Between the global dining and U.S. supermarket bonus categories and the annual dining credit, it's clear that the Amex Gold is meant for foodies. Almost any purchase made at one of the dining partners will be $10 or more, so if you see yourself dining out or ordering in from one of those businesses every 30 days it shouldn't be hard to maximize this credit. Maxing out both credits brings your out-of-pocket cost down to $30 a year, which can easily be made up for with your 4x bonus earnings.

This is nowhere near as many benefits as the Amex Platinum, which basically requires an encyclopedia to fully document all of its perks. The perks that the Amex Gold card does offer are short, sweet and easy to understand, and significantly enhance the overall value that the card offers.

Bottom Line

The American Express Gold Card is in a category of its own. In exchange for an annual fee that straddles the line between entry-level and premium, you'll earn 4x points on global dining and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x). While the Amex Gold doesn't offer as many perks as a true premium credit card, the up to $220 in annual statement credits brings your out-of-pocket cost down to just $30, making this one of the cheapest credit cards to hold relative to the benefits you'll receive and the valuable bonus multipliers you'll unlock. This combination of affordability, high bonus categories, and practical benefits makes the Amex Gold truly one of a kind.

For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, please click here

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.

Featured photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.



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