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Branding and marketing for American Express cards traditionally associated them with business users and affluent individuals (or at least those aspiring to affluence), who valued their lack of stated borrowing limit and could afford to pay their balances in full each month. (The first Amex cards were charge cards, with very limited provisions for carrying a balance from one month to the next.)
The Amex brand has since broadened its outreach: Many, if not most, of its cards are now traditional revolving credit cards. And its relatively new series of Cash cards are tailored more to Target runs than corporate travel.
Still, American Express cards typically are not considered entry-level credit cards. They tend to require good to exceptional credit scores beyond the reach of newcomers to credit, their associated interest rates are often higher than those of competing card brands, and many of the cards charge annual fees as well. The fact that they aren't accepted by as many merchants as Mastercard and Visa also makes them a less appealing choice as the first card for your wallet.
If you qualify, however, the current generation of Amex cards offers some terrific user rewards, and some truly attractive introductory terms. Here are three of our favorites for your consideration.
Best Card for Gas and Groceries: Blue Cash Everyday® Card From American Express
The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is designed to get you in the habit of using a credit card for day-to-day shopping runs, and it makes a pretty compelling case for doing so. It gives you 3% cash back on what you spend at U.S. supermarkets (up to a maximum of $6,000 in purchases per year, with 1% cash back on subsequent purchases). That's a nice rate of return. Along with the added fraud protection you get by using a credit card instead of a debit card, that's good reason to use the card for grocery missions.
The Blue Cash Everyday® Card also gives you 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores, and 1% back on other purchases. Cash back is provided in the form of Reward Dollars that can be easily redeemed for statement credits, gift cards and merchandise.
On top of all this, there's an especially compelling reason to seek out the Blue Cash Everyday® Card now, thanks to a very attractive introductory offer. With a 0% annual percentage rate (APR) for the first 15 months, you can transfer over balances from other credit cards or rack up a few one-off charges (for your wedding, say, or a dream vacation) and not sweat if they aren't paid off immediately. Exceeding about 30% of your borrowing limit could ding your credit scores, but your scores will bounce back quickly when you pay down the balance, and 15 months gives you a generous amount of time to do that without paying any interest.
You'll even get a $150 statement credit if you use the card for $1,000 in purchases in the first three months after you receive it. Oh, and the annual fee on the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express? There isn't one.
Best Card for Corporate Expenses: The Platinum Card® From American Express
With a $550 annual fee, you definitely want the boss picking up the cost of The Platinum Card® from American Express (or plan to claim it as a write-off if you're in business for yourself). And you'll need to commit to making payments in full each month because this card is a throwback to the original Amex charge card concept. But if you can handle the costs, use it often for business travel, and are willing to navigate the sometimes thorny process of redeeming Amex Membership Rewards® points, you'll find the perks are great:
You get a hefty 5X return—5 Membership Rewards® points for every $1 you spend—on flights booked directly with airlines, flights booked through American Express Travel, and on prepaid hotels booked at amextravel.com.
You also get up to $200 per calendar year in fee credits to pay for baggage-fee charges and more with the airline of your choice. (A good strategy for redeeming your Membership Rewards® points could be to convert them to travel miles with that same airline.)
As an introductory bonus, you'll get 60,000 Membership Rewards® points if you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Other benefits include access to Amex's Global Lounge Collection, an exclusive collection of airport lounges located around the world; VIP status with Uber and $15 in free rides each month ($20 in December); and up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue. If you frequent hotels affiliated with Amex's Fine Hotels & Resorts program, you can also receive complimentary benefits and upgrades that Amex claims are worth up to $550 annually.
If you travel heavily for work and can tap into Amex's network of affiliate partners, you'll find The Platinum Card® from American Express will open doors to new perks and benefits.
Best Card for Military Service Members: USAA® Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card
Membership in USAA is required for this card (and your card application doubles as a USAA application if you're not already enrolled). While both active and former service members are eligible, along with some of their family members, the card is really tailored to active personnel, with benefits designed to ease the challenges of deployments and military relocations.
You earn 1% cash back on all purchases with this card, with a couple attractive exceptions: You get 5% cash back on your first $3,000 in combined spending on gas and on-base purchases annually. It'd be better if that cap were higher (or nonexistent), but that's a healthy return rate. You also earn 2% cash back on your first $3,000 in supermarket purchases per year.
Where the card really shines is in the APR reductions it offers to military families during relocations. The card drops its standard APR for purchases (currently in the range of 14.15% to 28.15%) to 4% for up to 12 months on purchases made during deployments or permanent changes of station (PCS).
Newly activated service members who already have the USAA® Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card also benefit from its above-and-beyond compliance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA): The SCRA requires lenders to lower the APRs on certain existing loans to service members entering active duty. The SCRA allows a maximum APR of 6%, but the USAA Amex card reduces the APR on existing balances to just 4%.
With no annual fee and features created with the needs of active military personnel in mind, the USAA® Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card is well-suited to the needs of service members and their families.
Which Card Is Right for You?
There's no single best American Express card out there for everyone, and there are a variety of specialized Amex cards tailored to users who do business with specific affiliate brands, such as Delta Airlines and Hilton Hotels. If you're getting a card specifically for business or leisure travel, these could offer you big savings.
Take the time to research several credit cards and compare their features to decide which one is best for you.
American Express cards offer a host of perks and privileges, and each card packages them up a little differently. So study the card offers carefully to identify the benefits that'll do you the most good, and to ensure you take full advantage of all your American Express card provides.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.