Today, American Express offers a wide range of cards 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, I’m going to stick to the cards anyone can apply to get for this comparison.
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 constantly been 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 with the Plan It and Pay Over Time features. American Express will issue a “limit” for your Pay Over Time Charges.
To create a plan, select qualifying purchases of $100 or more and a plan duration. If you have a Card with a Credit Limit, you can also select a qualifying amount of $100 or more and a plan duration. When creating a plan for purchases, you may select up to 10 qualifying purchases for each plan that you create in your American Express online Account. However, you may select only one qualifying purchase for each plan that you create in the American Express App. Plan duration options may vary depending on the total dollar amount of the qualifying purchases (or qualifying amount, if you have a Card with a Credit Limit) you move into a Plan.
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.
AMEX has refreshed the benefits of all of these cards over the last few years. Here’s a breakdown of the three American Express Charge Cards:
The American Express Green card (or as I call it, the card Sharon will never get rid of) (Note from Sharon: Be quiet. I know the number by 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 $150 annual fee. The Green Card earns three Membership Rewards points per dollar on eligible travel purchases including airfare, hotels, cruises, car rentals, campgrounds, trains, taxicabs, rideshare services, tours, ferries, tolls, parking, buses, subways, on third party travel websites, and amextravel.com. The card also earns three Membership Rewards points for each dollar charged at restaurants worldwide. You earn 1 Membership Rewards point for each dollar spent on the card for all other charges.
The Green Card also provides a $100 yearly credit for CLEAR, a benefit not offered by any other card. If you were going to pay this fee anyway, the card’s adjusted yearly cost drops to $50.
American Express Gold Card
When the AMEX Gold card went through a major change 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
In 2022, The AMEX Gold card will be losing the $100 Airline Fee credit. To replace that benefit, the card will be getting a $10 monthly Uber credit.
While the Gold Card’s bonus categories might make it valuable to a specific kind of user, the increased annual fee, removal of the airline fee credit make it less of an all-around card than it previously was. That’s why I’m telling my dad to get rid of it before his next renewal.
I have a love/hate relationship with the AMEX Platinum card. I love its benefits, but I hate the cost, the difficulty of getting the credits and the limitations on the same benefits that I love. American Express fixed one of the biggest issues I had with the Platinum Card when they added Trip Cancellation and Interruption and Trip Delay coverage at the beginning of 2020.
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
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).
I find the American Express Green Card the most interesting right now. With the ability to earn a large number of Membership Rewards with bonus points for travel and restaurant expenses and a $100 yearly CLEAR statement credit, it’s clearly a card where most people would be able to justify the annual fee.
The Gold Card and Platinum Cards, on the other hand, may have value for certain people who use all of the perks or credits or spend heavily in the bonus categories. I ditched my Platinum Card a few years ago and thought that I’d miss it. It turns out I didn’t miss it at all. When it comes to these choices, Your Mileage May Vary.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary