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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced travelers to rethink their credit card rewards strategy from the ground up. This is especially true for more premium credit cards that have seen their value propositions completely upended. Normally, customers would pay several hundred dollars in upfront annual fees and slowly recoup that value through luxury travel perks, but that system has had to change with people not traveling right now.
In response to this unprecedented slowdown in travel, issuers have added limited-time perks, statement credits and bonus categories across dozens of cards this year already. The keywords here are limited time. While it's entirely possible that some of these promotions get extended, you shouldn't get used to these new benefits, as most of them will disappear over the coming months.
The American Express® Gold Card is perhaps the most popular card that hasn't had any limited-time COVID-19-related benefits added to it. Still, this pandemic, and the way it's changed people's spending patterns, has helped cement the Amex Gold's spot in my wallet for many years to come. Read on to see why I love this card so much and will happily be renewing it even without any limited-time perks this year.
Amex Gold overview
The American Express® Gold Card is relatively unique in an industry with a lot of similar card options. For starters, it straddles the line between premium and entry-level with a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees). And that fee is heavily offset by two annual statement credits:
- Up to $120 annual dining credit.Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at participating dining partners (up to $120 total per calendar year), including Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, some Shake Shack locations and Boxed. This perk is a monthly statement credit similar to the Uber credit on The Platinum Card® from American Express, which helps offset its $550 annual fee (see rates and fees). It's easy to enroll through the Amex website to get this Amex Gold benefit.
- Up to $100 annual airline fee credit. Each calendar year, you'll receive up to $100 in statement credits toward incidental airline fees such as baggage fees and inflight purchases. This works the same as the credit on the Amex Platinum cards. You must designate a qualifying airline, which you can change once at the beginning of each year.
Another reason the card is such a fan favorite has to do with its foodie-friendly bonus categories. Amex Gold cardholders earn 4x Membership Rewards points per dollar on worldwide dining and at U.S. supermarkets (U.S. supermarkets capped at $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1x). The card also earns 3x points per dollar on flights booked directly with the airline or at amextravel.com and 1x everywhere else.
Related Reading: American Express Gold card review
Great for dining and groceries year-round
If you'd asked me six months ago, I would have said that travel was one of the most important things in my life. While I'm itching to get back on the road as soon as it's safe to do so, this pandemic has also helped us separate our wants from our needs and reminded us what's truly essential.
There isn't much more essential than food, and that's an area where the Amex Gold leads the pack. Its 4x bonus categories for worldwide dining and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per calendar year; then 1x) are among the best out there. And when coupled with the up to $10 monthly dining credit, they help make this card a one-stop-shop for dining out, cooking at home or relaxing on the couch with takeout or delivery.
At the moment we're seeing many cards offering bonus points on grocery purchases, temporarily displacing the Amex Gold from its spot near the top of the list. It's worth remembering though that many of these bonuses are capped and all of them have expiration dates. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® — with its $550 annual fee — had previously offered 5x points per dollar on your first $1,500 in monthly grocery purchases — but that ended on June 30, 2020.
However, Chase did add new limited-time perks and bonus categories through Sept. 30, 2020.
- 5x points on Instacart delivery and pickup orders — on up to $3,000 across the three-month promotional period
- Up to $50 in statement credits towards an Instacart Express membership (annual or monthly)
- 5x points at gas stations — on up to $1,500 across the three-month promotional period
- 10x points on select streaming services (such as Spotify or Netflix) — on up to $1,500 across the three-month promotional period
On the Amex side, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card — with its $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) — is currently offering 12x bonus points at U.S. supermarkets through July 2020. There's no cap on the earnings, but don't be fooled by the high bonus multiplier. TPG only values Hilton points at .6 cents each, meaning the 7.2% return you'd get buying groceries with the Aspire is still less than the 8% you'd get with your Amex Gold.
Once these limited time promotions end, the Amex Gold will remain a top choice in these popular categories while many of its current competitors go back to earning a measly 1x.
high value with a modest annual fee
While the Amex Gold offers some great bonus categories, it's the high points multiplier that seals the deal. There aren't many cards out there that offer the ability to earn 4x transferable points per dollar or higher in any categories, let alone essential ones such as dining and groceries (I'm not focusing on cards like the aforementioned Hilton Aspire which offer high multiples but fewer valuable points).
In fact, only two other transferable points-earning cards come to mind as offering 4x points or higher: The Citi Prestige® Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express. The Citi Prestige, at $495 a year, offers 5x points per dollar in air travel and restaurants and the Amex Platinum earns 5x on airfare booked directly with the airline and airfare and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel. The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
These cards carry annual fees of $495 and $550 respectively, nearly double the $250 annual fee that the Amex Gold charges. Of course, all three cards offer various statement credits to help offset the annual fee, but you're still looking at twice the upfront cost with those other cards.
Many people simply don't travel enough to justify holding an ultra-premium credit card or aren't interesting in putting in the work necessary to maximize all the benefits to break even on the cost of the higher annual fees. The Amex Gold offers premium earning rates at a much more accessible price point. I'd personally much rather the card keep its 4x earning rate than raise the annual fee in exchange for a higher multiplier.
What the Amex Gold could do better
When TPG's Points, Miles and Deals reporter Victoria Walker wrote that the Amex Gold would need to offer more perks in order to convince her to renew, she hit on one point that I strongly agree with. One of the biggest complaints people have about Amex's premium charge cards (specifically the Amex Gold and Amex Platinum) is that their annual "airline incidental fee credits" are so restrictive that they can be challenging to use.
Compared to the annual travel credits on the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige, which are automatically applied to a wide range of eligible purchases, Amex makes you jump through hoops to use its airline fee credits. First, you have to select one designated airline to use your credits on, which can be challenging if you live in a city like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles that are served by many different carriers. Next, these credits aren't eligible for airfare, only for a small list of incidental fees like checked bags and seat selection. These credits are an important part of the equation used to justify the card's annual fees on both the Amex Gold and Amex Platinum, so more ease-of-use would be nice.
If these credits are tough to redeem during normal times, many people will find them downright impossible to redeem now. I understand why Amex didn't tweak the earning rates on the Amex Gold card (they're already so rich and generous), but this wasted up to $100 annual airline credit really stings. I would have loved to see Amex expand the use of the credit for this year to include groceries (at U.S. supermarkets), food delivery or dining the same way it did with cards like the Hilton Aspire and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.
More often than not you have to pay a premium annual fee in order to unlock valuable bonus categories and benefits. I've always loved that the Amex Gold offers strong earning rates at a very accessible price point. If anything, the slowdown in travel has only reminded me why I love this card so much. While there are a number of cards temporarily displacing it with limited time bonus categories, once those promotions expire the Amex Gold will reclaim its spot near the top of my wallet — where I expect it to stay for many years to come.
Featured image by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy
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