Courtesy of American Express
The Amex Gold Card earns bonus points at restaurants like NOLA’s Turkey and the Wolf.
Comparing the benefits and bonuses of two of the best travel rewards cards available.
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You might have noticed that we’ve started covering credit cards (a lot more) at AFAR. For good reason! The number and quality of rewards credit card offers have positively boomed during this phase of the pandemic, despite fewer people actually traveling. First, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card launched its best-ever sign-up bonus. Then the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card followed suit. A number of airline credit cards have also upped their initial offers, as have several hotel credit cards, including the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.
Now, travelers have another excellent option to consider: the American Express® Gold Card. It’s currently offering up to 60,000 bonus points—nearly double what it usually offers—after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first six months of card membership. Here’s why you might want to consider it, especially if you already have, or were thinking about applying for, the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Here’s how the two cards’ current offers stack up:
Amex recently overhauled this card to reward members even more for everyday spending, which makes it a strong contender for those who might not be traveling much at the moment.
Current welcome offer: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 within the first six months. The card normally comes with 35,000 points after spending $4,000 in three months. You’ve got twice the time to earn nearly twice the points.
Earning: The Amex Gold Card earns bonus points on a well-rounded portfolio of purchases. It accrues four points per dollar at restaurants, including takeout and delivery, as well as on up to $25,000 per calendar year in spending at U.S. supermarkets (then one point per dollar after that). When you’re ready to start traveling again, you can earn three points per dollar on flights booked either directly with airlines or through AmexTravel.com. It earns one point per dollar on everything else.
Other perks: Cardholders receive up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year to put toward airline incidental fees, like charges for checked bags or seat assignments, on one qualifying U.S. airline they designate. They can also take advantage of up to $10 per month (so $120 per year) in statement credits when using their card to pay for orders from delivery services like Grubhub, Seamless, and Boxed, as well as participating Shake Shack locations. Starting early in 2021, the Amex Gold Card will also provide members with up to $10 per month in Uber Cash that can be used in the U.S. on Uber Eats orders or Uber rides. Cardholders can also enroll before December 31, 2021 for Uber Eats Pass, a monthly subscription that waives delivery fees on grocery orders over $30 in select markets, and on restaurant orders over $15, which are also eligible for a five percent discount. Finally, the card does not charge foreign transaction fees and provides a few travel and purchase protections.
Annual fee: $250
Update: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offer mentioned below is no longer available. View the current offer here.
One of the most popular rewards credit cards of all time, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is also offering its highest-ever sign-up bonus at the moment.
Current welcome offer: Earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of card membership. That’s 20,000 more points than usual for the same spending requirement.
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Earning: This card earns two points per dollar on dining (including takeout and delivery) and on a broad range of travel—typical things like flights and hotel bookings, but also train tickets, car rentals, ride shares, and even parking meters. From November 1, 2020, through April 30, 2021, it will also earn two points per dollar on up to $1,000 in purchases per month at grocery stores. It earns one point per dollar on everything else. Cardholders can register to earn five points per dollar on Lyft rides through March 2022.
Other perks: While most of us are stuck at home, this card’s comprehensive travel protections—like trip cancellation and delay coverage—are probably less pertinent than usual. However, it waives foreign transaction fees, and it is one of the few cards to offer primary rental car insurance, which might come in handy for road trips. Chase has a partnership with DoorDash where cardholders qualify for at least a year of complimentary DashPass membership, which can save an average of $4 to $5 per order on food deliveries.
Annual fee: $95
For those trying to decide between these two, frankly excellent, travel rewards cards, the choice comes down to a few key factors. They include how you’ll eventually use the points you earn with either card, and whether or not you can maximize the benefits of each to offset their annual fees. First, let’s look at how you can put Amex and Chase points to use.
American Express Membership Rewards points are among the most useful rewards currencies around. Points redeemed for bookings through Amex Travel are worth one cent apiece toward flights and a bit less than that for things like hotel bookings. So you can get around $400–$600 worth of travel from the bonuses alone. Amex points redeemed for statement credits and gift cards are usually worth even less, so avoid that option.
More interestingly, though, Membership Rewards points transfer to Amex’s 19 airline and 3 hotel partners.
There are some standouts here, including Delta SkyMiles, which will be helpful for folks based in the United States, and both ANA and Aeroplan, which field some excellent redemption values for flights on Star Alliance airlines around the world.
Amex frequently offers transfer bonuses to partners, which Chase only seldom does, so that might factor into your thinking. A quick example: There was a 40 percent transfer bonus to Marriott Bonvoy in September and October. So 60,000 Amex points would be worth 84,000 Marriott points, whereas 80,000 Chase points are still just 80,000 points with Marriott.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred bonus of 80,000 points is worth $1,000 (or 1.25 cents apiece) toward travel booked directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, which includes flights as well as hotels, cruises, vacation rentals, and more. So they’re a bit more valuable than Amex points in this regard. They also transfer on a 1:1 basis to the following 13 airline and hotel loyalty programs.
Though Chase fields fewer partners (and some that overlap with Amex), there are three U.S.-based airlines, and you can optimize the value of Hyatt and IHG Rewards Club for hotel stays around the world.
Aside from travel bookings, Chase cardholders can redeem Ultimate Rewards points for statement credits toward other purchases at a rate of one cent apiece. Chase also recently introduced a feature called “Pay Yourself Back.” Folks with the Sapphire Preferred get a value of 1.25 cents per point (the same usually reserved only for travel) when redeeming for statement credits toward groceries and home improvement purchases, as well as donations to around a dozen eligible charities now through April 30, 2021.
With bonuses, benefits, transfers, and statement credits in mind, here’s what you need to consider to make your choice between these two cards.
Going strictly by numbers, the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s 80,000 points might overpower the 60,000 points offered by the Amex Gold Card. But the math is a little more nuanced than that.
If you simply want to redeem points for travel through either issuer’s portal, then you should opt for the Chase card. However, if you plan to use your points to a specific airline or hotel, you should think about which program’s partners are more useful for your needs. Do you see yourself using United and Southwest miles, or is Delta your carrier of choice? Are you a Hilton loyalist, or would you get more use out of Hyatt points? Look at your past travel, and any destinations you might be considering for the future, and then think about which credit card program offers a better set of transfer partners who can get you there.
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The next major question will be which card lets you earn more points on the things you tend to buy the most. If groceries, dining, and airfare are three of your major expenses, the Amex Gold Card pulls way ahead—even with the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s temporary grocery bonus. However, if you tend to spend more on a wider range of travel categories—like rideshares, hotels, cruises, trains, and even campgrounds and parking—you can get more mileage out of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Dollar to dollar, this is a clear-cut consideration. The Chase Sapphire Preferred costs $95 per year to carry while the Amex Gold Card’s annual fee is a significantly higher $250. However, you also have to think about whether you’ll use the $100 in annual airline incidental fee statement credits, the $10 monthly Uber Cash, and the $10 per month toward dining which you can enjoy with the Amex Gold Card. That’s a potential $220 per year in value that you don’t get with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. What’s more, if you get the Amex Gold Card right now, you can potentially get $100 in airline incidental fee statement credits in 2020, and $100 more in 2021 since the benefit resets by the calendar year.
Amex Gold Card members can also book hotels through the American Express Hotel Collection, and reservations include benefits like room upgrades and, more importantly, a $100 credit per stay toward eligible activity, dining, and spa charges. Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders can book stays through Visa Signature Hotels and enjoy upgrades subject to availability, complimentary breakfast for two, and a $25 food or beverage credit.
Sapphire Preferred cardholders qualify for at least a year of complimentary DashPass membership with DoorDash after activating by December 31, 2021, which saves an average of $4 to $5 per order on food deliveries. So if you use DoorDash frequently, that can really add up.
One way the Chase Sapphire Preferred excels is with its suite of comprehensive travel protections. The card reimburses you up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses if you need to cancel or cut short your trip for eligible reasons. If you get stuck somewhere overnight or for more than 12 hours, its trip-delay reimbursement will cover things like meals and lodging up to $500 per ticket, and the card also protects against baggage delays and losses. What’s more, it is one of the few credit cards to offer primary insurance for rental car theft and collision damage so you don’t have to rely on your personal policy or purchase expensive coverage from the rental agency. Its purchase protection extends up to 120 days with a cap of $500 per claim and $50,000 per account against damage or theft of items that you buy.
For its part, the Amex Gold Card offers purchase protection up to 120 days and a maximum of $10,000 per incident and $50,000 per calendar year, so it’s better for large purchases. Its rental car coverage is secondary (meaning you have to exhaust the benefits of any other policy you have first), and it will cover lost bags, but does not offer trip delay, cancellation, or interruption coverage.
The simple fact is, both of these cards are fantastic options. That only makes it harder to choose between them. The Chase Sapphire Preferred costs less to carry and is offering its best sign-up bonus ever. Chase fields a small but impressive stable of partners, and the card’s travel protections can come in handy and save you plenty of money when things go wrong on the road.
That said, if your major spending category is groceries, you can use the monthly and annual statement credits, and you tend to travel more with Amex’s transfer partners, the Amex Gold Card is a strong alternative.
Depending on how you feel about the spending requirements for each card’s welcome offer, as well as the annual fees, you might want to consider getting both of them. That way, you’ll have even more ways to earn bonus points as well as put them to use toward travel when you’re ready to start booking trips again. Just be sure you are eligible for each card before applying.
While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available. This article was originally published October 21, 2020, and was updated November 9, 2020.
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