If you like rewards, you’re going to love American Express. Depending on which American Express card you choose, you can earn cash toward your statement, Delta SkyMiles®, Hilton HHonorsTM points, Starpoints® to use on the Starwood hotel network, a certificate toward the purchase or lease of a Mercedes-Benz, American Express Membership Rewards® Points, or Plenti® points.
So which card should you choose? If you read that list of rewards and immediately thought “I stay at Starwood hotels all the time!” or “I want Plenti® points!” then your decision will be obvious. For the rest of us, I examined American Express’ 12 credit cards and their reward options, and came up with five top picks:
The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks
- Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express and Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Best for cash back
- Amex EveryDay® Credit Card and Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card
Best for points
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card
Best travel perks — but only on Delta
Although all of American Express’ cards offer rewards, I focused on the ones that either offered rewards that would appeal to the largest group of people (not everybody’s going to be interested in the Mercedes-Benz Card from American Express, for example) or that offered high-value rewards, such as a free companion flight every year.
Best for Cash Back
If you’re hoping to earn cash back on your purchases, you want one of American Express’ Blue Cash credit cards. First up: the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. You’ll earn $100 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Other perks include earning 3% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases — beyond that, you’ll still earn 1%.
In addition to these cash back rewards, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express also boasts no annual fee and a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months.
If you make a lot of purchases at supermarkets, gas stations, and department stores, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express might be worth the $95 fee. Let’s say your grocery budget is $700 per month; 6% of that gets you $42 cash back a month, so you’d earn back the cost of your annual fee in just over two months. Everything else is just gravy — but you should do the math on your own purchase history to determine if the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is right for you.
Be aware that all of the cash you earn from both Blue Cash cards comes in the form of statement credits, which means you can only use it to pay down your statement — that $42 from the example above you’d use on your next credit card bill. (Occasionally, though, American Express may give you other ways for you to redeem your cash back rewards, such as merchandise or gift cards.)
Best for Points
If you’re looking to rack up American Express Membership Rewards® Points, get your hands on the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card.
This card is designed to help you earn Membership Rewards® Points, which can be used to help pay off eligible charges. Membership Rewards® Points can also be used to make purchases via American Express Travel, buy gift cards, and more (you can check out American Express’ Membership Rewards® site for the full details).
If you can afford the $95 annual fee, you’ll get significantly more benefits with the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card — and since you can use Membership Rewards® Points for everything from charitable donations to Uber rides, it might be worth the annual fee if you’re committed to getting as many Membership Rewards® Points as possible.
Here’s just one example from the vast Membership Rewards® Points catalog: You can get a $25 Home Depot gift card for 2,500 points. So, if you had the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card, you could earn that $25 gift card by spending $834 on groceries and earning 3 points per dollar. If you had the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card, you’d have to spend $1,250 on groceries to get your 2,500 points and your $25 gift card.
Here’s the real question: Is it better to get an American Express card that gives you rewards in cash, or in points?
I’m always in favor of cash, simply because I know what the value of cash is. I also like the idea of earning simple statement credits, instead of navigating the overwhelming amount of options that you can purchase through the Membership Rewards® catalog. It’s also worth noting that the Blue Cash cards let you earn extra cash back at department stores, and the Amex EveryDay® cards don’t — so I’m slightly partial to Blue Cash.
Best Travel Perks
American Express offers three different Delta credit cards, and the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card hits the sweet spot between the perks you’ll receive and the annual fee you’ll pay for the privilege.
The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card has a variable APR of 15.49% – 19.49% (no 0% intro rate, sorry) and it’ll cost you a $195 annual fee, but you get the impressive list of benefits mentioned above.
If you’re not into that $195 annual fee, you can apply for the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express instead, but you’ll lose the 20% savings on in-flight purchases and the domestic round-trip companion ticket. (You know that ticket is going to be worth more than $195.) The base mile earnings are the same — 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases, 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases — but you’ll earn smaller mile bonuses and won’t get the Annual Miles Boost™.
If you want to max out your Delta SkyMiles® experience, there’s always the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, but be careful — this one comes with a $450 annual fee and the perks are only slightly better than the perks you’ll get with Platinum Delta SkyMiles®. Your mile bonuses are higher with the Delta Reserve Credit Card, and you’ll get free access to the Delta Sky Club® lounge, but that might not be worth the extra cost.
This isn’t the only travel card American Express offers. If you’re a Hilton HHonorsTM member, you’ll definitely want to check out the Hilton HHonors™ Card from American Express and the Hilton HHonors™ Surpass® Card from American Express, and it also has the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card® from American Express if you want to earn Starpoints® toward hotels in the Starwood network. However, I chose to highlight its Delta cards because I like cards where you can see the tangible value of what you’re getting — like a free flight, free checked bags, and 20% off in-flight purchases — instead of cards that put you into a sometimes confusing points system.
Heads-up: American Express also offers three “charge cards” in addition to its 12 credit cards.
With a charge card, you can charge as much as you want to your account — as long as you pay it off in full every month. The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, and the American Express® Green Card each come with their own rewards and perks, so check them out if you’re interested in learning more about the charge card experience.
The Bottom Line
All of American Express’ credit cards have lengthy and sometimes complicated rewards systems, so read through everything carefully before deciding which card is best for you. Remember that American Express wants you to earn rewards, so they’ve set it up to make sure you get something from nearly every purchase — it’s up to you to decide what that something should be.