Best American Express Travel Rewards Card

By Dawn Allcot / January 19, 2010
Best American Express Travel Rewards Credit Card

The American Express card remains one of the most prestigious credit cards a consumer can carry.  But it’s not all show – the card also provides various perks that make it a wise and practical financial choice for many people.

The company was one of the first to offer frequent flyer miles rewards programs. Today, the programs have been expanded to offer a host of different rewards, not just flyer miles.

As reward options have opened to include access to unique events, points that can be used on merchandise, hotel stays and more, it makes it even more difficult to select the best American Express card for you.

Start by evaluating your lifestyle to decide what you want in a rewards card.

  • Do you fly frequently?
  • How often do you eat out at upscale and popular restaurants?
  • Do you often stay in hotels for business or pleasure?
  • Do you have preferences of certain hotels and airlines?
  • Do you have roadside assistance through AAA, OnStar or your insurance company?
  • Would you like a card that helps you manage your finances?
  • Would you like a card that permits you to save money and earn rewards on everyday and luxury purchases?


With the answers to these questions in hand, you’re ready to compare the most popular choices in American Express Rewards Cards.  We’ll look at five cards:

  • Platinum Card
  • Preferred Rewards Gold Card
  • Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
  • Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
  • American Express Gold Card

Rewards Programs

American Express’ Membership Rewards programs, offered on each of these cards except the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card and Gold Delta SkyMiles cards (which each have their own rewards programs) provide points you can use to pay for travel, shopping, dining, and entertainment.

The Platinum Card gets you started with 15,000 bonus points for signing on, but you’ll pay an annual fee of $450. On the other hand, the Preferred Rewards Gold Card has no annual fee for the first year, and $125 a year after that. The Green card is $95 after the first year.

The Platinum card offers 1X rewards on virtually every dollar you spend, and 4X rewards points on purchases through the BonusPointsMall. The Preferred Rewards card gives you one point for every dollar you spend, and 3X points through the BonusPointsMall.com.

The Preferred Rewards Green Card is similar in its reward structure to the Preferred Rewards Gold Card.

All three cards give 2X bonus points when you book trips through American Express Travel. The BonusPointsMall features links to more than 500 popular retailers like Barnes & Noble and Apple – not obscure websites, but places people really shop.

For all American Express Rewards cards, points have no expiration date, and you can begin spending them when you earn 1,000. You can transfer points to more than 20 different frequent flyer programs, and flights have no blackout dates or restrictions.

The Starwood Preferred Guest(R) Credit Card from American Express and Gold Delta SkyMiles cards differ from the other three cards; their rewards and benefits are best for frequent travelers who are loyal in where they stay and how they fly. The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card lets you earn Starpoints for free stays at 940 Starwood Hotels and Resorts or for flights on hundreds of airlines.

The Gold Delta SkyMiles card is very generous in its rewards. You earn 20,000 points good for flights with your first purchase, at least one mile for every dollar you spend, and 5,000 bonus points if you sign up two additional Cardmembers to your account. A small business owner can earn significant bonus points by making the Gold Delta SkyMiles his official corporate card. You can redeem miles with Delta Airlines or any one of 15 partners.

Both cards, although issued by American Express, offer the flexibility to pay over time, making them better for customers who typically carry a balance.

Rewards Program Winner: American Express® Gold Card

While the Platinum Card provides the best overall rewards, that annual fee is a kicker – nearly 4X the annual fee of the other two American Express Rewards cards, and it’s not waived for the first year. I’d rather have 3X the bonus points and the lower annual fee from the Gold card.

Card Benefits Winner: American Express Platinum

All three American Express cards are very similar in their benefits, including:

  • Roadside assistance
  • 90-day purchase protection
  • Extended warranty
  • Online financial management tools

The Delta card and the Starwood card offer all these except online financial tracking.

Here’s where the annual fee for the Platinum card begins to pay for itself. You also get:

  • Personal Concierge Service
  • Companion Tickets
  • Complimentary Airport Club Access
  • Early Access to Concerts and Entertainment
  • Access to Unique Events

Conclusion

If you’re looking for prestige, benefits, and generous rewards and can manage your finances well enough to pay off your balance each month, there’s little doubt you should select the best American Express Rewards Card you can qualify for. The question is, will you use enough of the Platinum perks to make it worth the annual fee?

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