Home Credit Cards The Different Flavors of American Express Charge Cards

The Different Flavors of American Express Charge Cards

by joeheg

Nowadays, 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 eventually became the Green card. In 1966, the Gold card was introduced and eventually, the Platinum card joined the family in 1984.

In the last 38 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.

A qualifying purchase for Plan It is at least $100 (or qualifying amounts of $100 or more, if you have a Consumer Card with a Credit Limit) and does not include a purchase of cash or cash equivalent, a purchase subject to foreign transaction fees, or any fees owed to us (including annual membership fees); as long as it remains within your Amount Available to Plan and does not exceed your Pay Over Time Limit or 95% of your Credit Limit, as applicable.

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:

American Express Green Card

green-card

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. There’s also a $100 yearly LoungeBuddy credit but I’ve yet to hear anyone who’s taken advantage of this benefit.

American Express Gold Card

Amex Gold Rose

The annual fee of the Gold card is $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.

  • $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.
  • $120 Uber credit – Earn up to $10 in monthly statement credits to all vehicle types with Uber, orders on Uber Eats and to any other services to which Uber permits Uber Cash to be applied.

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 told my dad to get rid of this card before his renewal.

American Express Platinum Card

AMEXPlatinumCard

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 $695 annual fee. For that, you receive a laundry list of benefits but very few bonus 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. I had given up on the card for several years before getting a great upgrade offer that I couldn’t refuse.

Final Thoughts

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, have value for people who use all of the perks and credits or spend heavily in the bonus categories. When it comes to these choices, Your Mileage May Vary.

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