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When it comes time to apply for your first premium-ish rewards card, the American Express® Gold Card shouldn't be ignored. In fact, TPG senior contributor Ethan Steinberg says that he's even more loyal to his Amex Gold now during the pandemic.

The Gold Card has an annual fee of $250 (see rates and fees), which is effectively $30 when you factor in its monthly statement credits at select restaurants and its airline fee credit.

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It has relevant bonus categories such as global dining and U.S. supermarkets, plus it earns valuable American Express Membership Rewards points. Let's dive into why else the Amex Gold is a great card to consider, and who should and who shouldn't get the Amex Gold Card.

Key benefits

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael)Source: The Points Guy

The annual fee on the Gold Card is $250 (see rates and fees) — and it's not waived for the first year. To compensate, the card offers up to $220 in annual statement credits.

This breaks down to an up to $100 annual credit for airline incidentals (not valid on airfare, only on charges like seat assignment, bag fees and lounge access) and a up to $10 a month (up to $120 a year) dining credit at participating locations such as Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.

The bonus categories are also impressive, earning:

  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide
  • 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in spending per calendar year; then 1x point)
  • 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • 1x everywhere else

The card is offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 Membership Rewards points (worth $700 based on TPG's latest valuations) after spending $4,000 in the first three months. However, you could be targeted for a higher 50,000-point bonus (after spending $2,000 in the first three months) through CardMatch or a referral link (offer subject to change at any time).

You can also earn double points and a property credit of up to $100 when you book a prepaid hotel stay of two nights or longer through the Amex Hotel Collection.

Related: Full review of the Amex Gold

Who should get the Amex Gold card?

People who spend a lot on dining and U.S. supermarkets

Statement credits are a great way to offset a high annual fee on a credit card, but you don't apply for a new card to break even. You do it to get ahead.

The 4x bonus categories on worldwide dining and on U.S. supermarket purchases (up to $25,000 per calendar year; then 1x for U.S. supermarket purchases) amount to an 8% return, based on TPG's valuation of Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each. It almost goes without saying that people who spend heavily in these categories will get the most value out of this card.

The Amex Gold is not the first credit card to offer bonus categories on dining worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets, but it might be the most valuable one. Four Membership Rewards points per dollar beats out the 3x Ultimate Rewards points on dining offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

It's possible to end up with a slightly higher return on purchases at U.S. supermarkets by using the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, but the bonus categories on the Gold Card don't require you to jump through any hoops, such as a minimum number of transactions per month to earn the highest rates. This card doesn't have any foreign transaction fees if you decide to travel with it (see rates and fees).

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

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)Source: The Points Guy

People looking to complete the Amex trifecta

The two biggest weak spots in the Amex Gold Card's bonus categories (travel and everyday spending) can be easily fixed by pairing it with two other strong Amex cards: The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express.

No matter how much money you spend on dining and groceries a year, you'll likely want to combine multiple cards into the Amex trifecta to maximize your bonus-category earning.

If you combine these three cards and use each one for its bonus categories, you'll end up earning anywhere from 2-5x points, or 4-10% back on nearly all of your purchases. And these cards really fit together like puzzle pieces, with the Amex Platinum providing luxury perks, such as lounge access and hotel elite status, that the Gold Card doesn't, and the Blue Business Plus elevating your base earning rate on non-bonus spending from 1x to 2x (on the first $50,000 in eligible purchases each calendar year; then 1x) without costing you a penny in annual fees (see rates and fees).

People who can max out the $220 in annual statement credits

One of the toughest things for many new points enthusiasts to wrap their heads around is the value of a premium credit card. No matter how much personal value you get out of some of the perks, you still end up paying well over $100 a year out of pocket for the right to use them — often paying $450 or more up front before you begin to get reimbursed by statement credits.

Shutterstock 544193062 1 ScaledSource: The Points Guy

The Amex Gold makes that math much simpler if you can max out both of its annual statement credits.

Although the up to $100 annual airline incidental credit can't be directly applied to the cost of a ticket, you can use it for things such as change/cancellation fees, lounge day passes, seat assignment fees or checked bag fees.

The up to $120 dining credit is broken down into $10 a month, similar to the Uber credit that comes with the Amex Platinum, but it also is pretty easy to maximize. I can't think of a single purchase at any of the partner dining merchants (Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations) that would cost lessthan $10 a month, so if you eat out or order in once every 30 days this should be easy to take advantage of.

If using up the airline fee credits and the dining credit sounds like something you can do, you'll effectively end up paying $30 a year to keep the Amex Gold, making it one of the cheapest cards relative to the benefits it offers. And it should be easy to earn back that last $30 by taking advantage of one or more Amex Offers, where you can earn discounts on purchases you likely would have made already.

People who are over 5/24 with Chase

Whether you have years of established credit or are new to the points world entirely, we at TPG almost universally recommend that you start by applying for Chase credit cards because of the pesky 5/24 rule. Simply put, this rule means that you will be automatically rejected for most Chase cards if you've opened five or more credit cards in the last 24 months.

(Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy)Source: The Points Guy

The question of what you should do after you've maxed out your five slots with Chase gets a little trickier, but the Amex Gold could be a great answer. Not only will you immediately begin earning a valuable transferable points currency, but the 4x bonus categories will help you earn your free vacation even faster.

I also believe that having access to multiple types of points makes all of your points more valuable, as it gives you more options to pick from for any specific trip you want to take. For certain Star Alliance redemptions, being able to pick between Aeroplan (transferring Amex points) or United (transferring Chase points) could end up saving you hundreds of dollars or thousands of miles.

People targeted for a 50,000-point bonus

The public welcome offer on the Amex Gold is currently 35,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months, but some readers have reported being targeted for a higher bonus of 50,000 points on the Amex website through referral links (offer subject to change at anytime) and through CardMatch.

Relate:

Since Amex has a "once per lifetime" policy with welcome offers, it always makes sense to see if you can get a higher offer. Those extra 15,000 points would add $300 in value to your bonus, making your total haul worth $1,000.

Who shouldn't get the Amex Gold card?

The Amex Gold has the potential to be a very lucrative card, but there are several groups of people who might struggle to get good value from it.

People who are under 5/24

As mentioned above, Chase's 5/24 rule is one of the most important considerations in building a starter strategy for credit cards. Five cards can seem like a lot to someone who has never even had one before, but those slots go by quickly and once you've used them up, you might never get them back.

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)Source: The Points Guy

The Amex Gold is going to be around for a while, so there's no reason to fire off an application for it right now, especially if it means compromising your strategy with Chase.

There are at least three Chase credit cards currently offering bonuses worth $1,000 or more based on TPG valuations or the cost of redemptions through Chase Ultimate Rewards — the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The value of the Amex Gold welcome bonus is $700. If you want to get this card at some point, make a mental note but don't get impatient and throw away your whole strategy.

The information for the Ink Business Preferred card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

People who live outside the U.S.

If you're outside the U.S., that means the 4x at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 each calendar year; then 1x) and the up to $120 dining credit do you no good. In fact, if you live outside the U.S., this card is much less valuable. The other perks, such as 3x on flights and an up to $100 credit when booking through the Amex Hotel Collection, can easily be overshadowed by other premium rewards cards.

People who won't max out the statement credits

The up to $100 airline incidental credit can be easy for some people to use, but it's not as easy as it has been in the past because airline gift cards are no longer triggering the credit and the up to $120 dining credit might be tougher to use if you enjoy cooking at home or don't eat at any of the partner restaurants. Ordering delivery just to use the free $10 credit might end up costing more than it saves.

(Photo by Poike / Getty Images)Source: The Points Guy

If that's the case, you're left with a card that might cost you more out of pocket than the ultra-premium cards such as the Amex Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve.

You're left footing a larger bill and getting fewer perks in return, as the Amex Gold doesn't offer any form of lounge access, elite status or even a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100).

People who've previously had an Amex Gold card

I personally appreciate Amex's rule on bonus eligibility. It's easy to understand that if you have previously earned the bonus on a credit card, you will not be eligible to earn it again.

Although the Amex Gold underwent a heavy makeover, it is still technically the same product that was known as the Premier Rewards Gold Card. This means that people who previously have had the old version will not be eligible for a bonus on the new product even if the old card has been closed.

People who want travel coverages and primary rental car insurance

The Amex Gold card isn't one of the best credit cards with travel protections. For example, the rental car insurance you get with the card is secondary, which means it only applies to expenses not covered by other insurances you have. On top of that, the card also doesn't have any trip delay or trip interruption coverage.

Rental Cars in a lotSource: The Points Guy

Now, compare that to the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which provides primary rental car insurance when you pay for the entire rental with your card (or with Chase Ultimate Rewards points) and decline the rental company's collision coverage.

The Sapphire Reserve also has amazing trip-delay protection: When you pay for at least part of your fare with the card you can have eligible expenses (up to $500 per ticket) reimbursed if your travel is delayed for six hours or more or requires an overnight stay. Eligible purchases that can be reimbursed with this coverage include lodging, transportation, toiletries, clothing or food expenses you incurred as a result of the delay.

Bottom line

The Amex Gold is a valuable option for U.S.-based customers who spend heavily on dining and groceries at U.S. supermarkets and are looking for an in-between, "premium-lite" card that offers good returns without an obscene price tag.

If you can max out all the benefits this card has to offer, it might become a cornerstone of your wallet. But if you live or frequently travel outside of the U.S. or can't max out both of the annual statement credits, stop and think about whether this is the best card for you.

Even if you decide against applying for the Amex Gold, make sure to check out TPG's list of the best travel credit cards to find the right card to meet your travel goals.

Check the CardMatch Tool to see if you're targeted for any special offers. These offers are subject to change at any time.

Additional reporting by Chris Dong and Jason Stauffer

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

For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus card, please click here.

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