Each of the cards offers something different at a different price point. Their annual fees range from $0 all the way up to $450. Some of them come with sign-up bonuses, and others have excellent earning potential, offering up to triple points on some purchases, as well as some fantastic perks, such as free access to Amex’s swanky Centurion Lounges.
But before we get too far, let’s briefly talk about why you’d want to be a part of the excellent Membership Rewards program. As a cardholder, you can use your points to purchase a variety of things—such as merchandise, gift cards, car rentals, cruises and entertainment—through the program, but Membership Rewards is really best for transferring points to airline frequent flyer programs.
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If you’re careful with your bookings, you’ll easily get more value per point if you transfer and redeem for tickets directly from an airline. Of the three major rewards programs, Membership Rewards has the most options with 16 airline transfer partners. Citi ThankYou has 12, and Chase Ultimate Rewards has six.
Amex has a solid roster of airline partners, too. It includes Delta, British Airways, ANA, Air France, KLM, JetBlue and Virgin America. And if you’re into super-luxurious travel, you can also use your points towards flights in the unbelievably swanky premium cabins offered by Emirates and Singapore Airlines.
With Membership Rewards’ airline partners, you have access to all three of the major airline alliances: the Star Alliance, SkyTeam and oneworld. You can easily get anywhere in the world.
If that’s not enough flexibility, you can purchase some or all of your air travel directly from the Membership Rewards online travel center. Though you may not get the most value for your points by booking through the website, it does give you the ability to choose any airline and to pay for part or all of your ticket with points. This can be a good option for last minute flights, or when reward availability is limited.
Getting in the Game
The Green card, Amex’s entry-level charge card, doesn’t offer much. You get one point per dollar spent on all purchases. There are no bonus categories, nor does it come with a sign-up bonus. One thing you do get is access to the Membership Rewards program for only $95 a year, the cheapest of the charge cards.
But it’s not the only entry-level card in Amex’s lineup to give you access to Membership Rewards. If you go outside the charge card offering and look at the credit cards, you have two better options: Amex EveryDay and EveryDay Preferred.
You might be wondering, though, is there an important difference between a charge and credit card? With a charge card you are supposed to pay off your balance every month. If you don’t, you’ll incur serious fees. A credit card, on the other hand, allows you to carry a balance, though you have to pay interest.
In reality, Amex offers a Pay Over Time benefit to most charge card holders. That allows you to carry a balance like a credit card. The differences, then, are very little, particularly if you pay off your card every month.
In any case, here’s how the cards compare:
|Sign-Up||None||10,000 points||15,000 points|
|Earning Potential||1x for everything||2x at supermarkets; 1x for everything else||3x at supermarkets; 2x at gas stations; 1x for everything else|
|Annual Fee||$95, waived for the first year||$0||$95|
|Perks||None||20% extra points if you make 20+ purchases in a billing period||50% extra points if you make 30+ purchases in a billing period|
The EverDay card has no annual fee, and the EveryDay Preferred is $95. Unlike the Green card, the Preferred card’s fee is not waived for the first year.
If you’re looking for a Membership Rewards card that has minimal fees, either of the EveryDay cards are a good choice. Both have sign-up bonuses, bonus earning categories and bonus points if you make enough purchases during a billing cycle.
The Green card doesn’t offer any of those benefits, and all purchases only earn one point per dollar.
Whether or not it’s worth the extra $95 a year to get the Preferred card depends on how much you’ll spend at supermarkets and on gas. You’ll get triple points on groceries and double at gas stations with the Preferred card, whereas the standard EveryDay card offers double points on groceries and no bonus for gas.
Going for Gold
Here’s a look:
|Gold||Premier Rewards Gold|
|Sign-Up Bonus||None||25,000 points|
|Earning Potential||2x at supermarkets; 1x for everything else||3x on airfare; 2x at restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets; 1x for everything else|
|Annual Fee||$160, waived for the first year||$195, waived for the first year|
|Perks||$75 credit for Hotel Collection bookings||$100 annual statement credit for airline fees; $75 credit for Hotel Collection bookings|
Much like the Green card, I don’t think the standard Gold card has much to offer. There’s no sign-up bonus and relatively few perks. In fact, I think either of the EveryDay cards beat this card with its $160 annual fee.
The major difference between the Gold and no-fee EveryDay card is that you’ll get double points at restaurants instead of supermarkets. If you spend more at restaurants it might be worth the extra cost, but for an extra $35 a year, you’ll get a lot more with the Premier Rewards Gold card.
The Premier Gold card has a 25,000-point sign-up bonus, plus generous triple points per dollar spent on airfare. You’ll also get double points at both restaurants and supermarkets, plus for gas. In fact, you can earn more in more categories of purchases with this card then with any other Amex offering.
Is it worth the extra $100 a year in annual fees compared to the EveryDay Preferred card? That’s up to you and your spending habits. But keep in mind that the annual fee is waived for the first year, so you could try it out and decide. Plus, the Preferred Gold card comes with an annual $100 statement credit for airline fees, which can help offset the added cost of the annual fee.
It’s All About the Perks
At a whopping $450 a year, the Platinum card is really meant for those who want to travel in style. Though it offers the largest advertised sign-up bonus of any of the Amex cards—40,000 points—you probably wouldn’t get the card just for that reason. You could get more points for much less elsewhere (with the Chase Sapphire card, for example).
This card also only offers one point per dollar spent on all purchases. There are no bonus categories. So why would you want it?
For the perks:
|Sign-Up Bonus||40,000 points|
|Earning Potential||1x for everything|
|Annual Fee||$ 450|
|Perks||Centurion and Priority Pass lounge access; Global Entry /TSA PreCheck fee credit; $200 airline fee credit; Gold status with Hilton and SPG; $75 creit for two-night stays booked through the Hotel Collection; Free Boingo WI-FI|
If you use airport lounges, this card’s free lounge access to Amex’s very nice Centurion lounges and the free Priority Pass Select lounge membership can go a long way to paying for the annual fee. Priority Pass, which gives you unlimited access to over 900 lounges, is worth $400 on its own.
You’ll also get a $200 credit towards airline fees, so you won’t have to think twice before checking a bag or changing your flight.
One unique perk of the Platinum card is that it gives you elite status with Hilton and SPG. That gets you free room upgrades and other excellent benefits, like late check-in/check-out and breakfast.
You may be surprised to find out, though, that the Platinum card isn’t the most premium Amex offering. The super-elite Centurion card (also known as the Black card) is shrouded in mystery. That’s because you have to be selected by Amex to even apply for the card.
For this reason, official details are hard to find. By most accounts, though, it’s only offered to those who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their card every year. If you spend that much, then maybe the rumored $5,000 one-time membership fee and $2,500 annual fee wouldn’t be too shocking.
What do you get with the card? It’s hard to say since Amex doesn’t release details to the general public. But most of benefits fall in line with the Platinum card, except there are more of them.
In addition to lounge access and airline and Global Entry fee credits, you’ll also get elite status with a variety of hotel and rental card programs, such as Hilton, SPG, IHG, Hertz and Avis. Plus you’ll get a variety of unique travel perks, like Centurion International Arrival Services, and benefits with Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts and the Centurion Hotel Program.
Probably the best perk, though, is Platinum status with Delta. That’s not easy to get and can be quite valuable, giving you free upgrades and bonus miles, among many other benefits.
It’s unlikely that most of us will ever see one of those cards, let alone have one, but it’s nice to dream sometimes.