Today, American Express offers a wide range of cards that are intended to appeal to all types of consumers. Their consumer credit business started back in 1958 with the original American Express card, which became the Green card. In 1966, the Gold card was introduced and eventually, the Platinum card joined the family in 1984.
In the last 35 years, the only other American Express charge card introduced is the Centurion (Black) card. Since that one is exclusive and only open by invitation, for this comparison I’m going to stick to the cards anyone can apply to get.
It’s true that American Express offers many other cards (sixteen others if my counting is correct), but those cards are credit cards while the original cards are still, essentially, charge cards.
What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked!
Here’s a chart from Credit Karma’s website:
Charge card vs. credit card
|Charge card||Credit card|
|Has a preset spending limit||No||Yes|
|Requires you to pay the bill in full each month||Generally yes||No (but you must make at least the minimum payment and watch out for APR)|
|Has late payment fees||Generally yes||Generally yes|
|Has an annual fee||Depends on the card, but generally yes||Depends on the card, but generally yes|
|Has a wide selection of card issuers||No||Yes|
|Holds you responsible for unauthorized transactions||Generally no||Generally no|
As you can see, the main difference is that a charge card needs to be paid in full each month while you can carry a balance on a credit card (while paying interest). The key phrase here is “generally” because American Express, the main issuer of charge cards, has been constantly morphing their charge cards to be more like credit cards. In fact, you’re now able to carry a balance on your Green and Gold American Express cards for charges over $100 with the Pay Over Time feature. American Express will issue a “limit” for your Pay Over Time Charges.
A charge made by you or any Additional Card Member on your account is eligible to be paid over time if it is equal to or more than $100 and is approved by us. The following types of charges are ineligible for Pay Over Time: Cash and Express Cash, American Express® Travelers Cheques and other cash equivalents, casinos and other gambling transactions, any fees owed to American Express except foreign transaction fees, and other transactions designated by us
For transactions added to a Pay Over Time balance at your request, we will begin charging interest as of the date they are added to your Pay Over Time balance. For transactions added automatically to a Pay Over Time balance, we will charge interest beginning on the date of each transaction. We will not charge interest on charges added to your Pay Over Time balances automatically if you pay the Account Total New Balance by the due date each month.
Carrying a balance, having a credit limit and paying interest charges sounds a whole bunch like having a credit card but AMEX still considers these to be charge cards, so I will as well.
Here’s a breakdown of the three American Express Charge Cards:
American Express Green Card
The Classic Green American Express card (or as I call it, the card Sharon will never get rid of) (Note from Sharon: Be quiet. I know the number my heart. Why would I want to get rid of a credit…sorry, a CHARGE card number I can recite off the top of my head?)
This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year for new cardholders. You earn 1 Membership Rewards point for each dollar spent on the card and double points for charges made for travel at the Amex Travel website.
American Express has revamped the Gold and Platinum cards and the Green card is rumored to be getting a refresh as well. I hope so because since you can earn more points with a no-annual-fee AMEX card, this card really doesn’t have any redeeming features. (Note from Sharon: They better not change the number on my Green card!!!)
American Express Gold Card
The AMEX Gold card just went through a major change and to celebrate it was offered as a limited edition Rose Gold card. Currently, you can only get the Gold version and here are the details of the card:
The annual fee of the Gold card was increased to $250. It earns Membership Rewards points for purchases and has the following bonus categories:
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards points at US restaurants
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards points at US supermarkets, on up to $25,000 per year in purchases
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com
The card also provides the following credits. Note that I do not consider these the same as getting cash back to offset the annual fee as there are many restrictions on using the credits.
- $100 Airline Fee Credit – Select one qualifying airline and then receive up to $100 per calendar year in statement credits when incidental fees are charged by the airline to your American Express® Gold Card account.
- $120 Dining Credit – Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required
The Gold Card’s 4x bonus categories on restaurants and supermarkets and 3x on flights booked directly with the airlines put it up to the top of the class for the hot card to get. I had my dad sign up for this card a few years ago and it’s going to be a keeper for him.
American Express Platinum Card
I have a love/hate relationship with the AMEX Platinum card. I love the benefits it offers but I hate the cost, the difficulty of getting the credits and the limitations on the same benefits that I love. I also can’t stand that for a card that’s supposed to be designed for the sophisticated traveler, the travel protections provided by the card, quite frankly, suck. Now that I got that out of the way, here are the details of the card:
The AMEX Platinum card has a $550 annual fee. For that, you receive a laundry list of benefits but very few bonus earning categories.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com
Earning 5X points is nice for airfare but AMEX’s travel protection for trip delays was behind the rest of the competition to the point where I booked with Chase or Citi even though I earned fewer points for my purchase.
The Platinum card also has a $200 Airline Fee credit, up to $200 yearly in Uber credits, TSA PreCheck or Global Entry reimbursement and several other benefits you can read about in my full review of the card.
American Express has done just about as much as they can to make their charge cards similar to credit cards without actually turning them into credit cards outright. For those of us interested in collecting points, we like these cards because you can earn a sign-up bonus for each flavor of American Express card and these cards don’t count against the number of credit cards AMEX allows you to have with them (which I believe is still capped at five cards).
The Gold card is the most interesting one to me right now and if I hadn’t already built a card portfolio that provided excellent rewards for grocery spending and dining expenses, that’d be a card I’d jump on in a second. The only drawback it has is limiting the bonus to US locations, which I can only imagine is because the difficulty to make sure international charges coded correctly for the bonuses. I ditched my Platinum card a few months ago and I’m still deciding if that was a good idea or not. For now, we’re not missing the lounge access we received from having the card and that was the main reason I was keeping it.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary