The Best American Express Credit Cards for Rewards, Perks & Cash-Back [2021]

American Express logo on green wall of Centurion Lounge Phoenix
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When you look closely at each of the credit cards in your wallet you’ll find the name of the financial institution that issued your card. Additionally, you’ll notice the distinct logo of the payment processing network responsible for facilitating every transaction you make with the card.

That network may be Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or even Discover.

These processing networks serve as links between the financial institution that issued your card and the merchant from which you’re making a purchase.

Visa and Mastercard have a singular purpose of operating as card networks and do not actually issue credit cards. American Express, however, plays a more expanded role, serving as both a card issuer and a payment processing network.

American Express excels when it comes to issuing a diverse collection of card options, adding benefits that relate to each card’s target audience, and making it easy for nearly every consumer to find a card that fits.

With those attributes as a foundation, we’d like to offer our take on the collection of American Express cards that are potentially the best in each category.

Earning Rewards With American Express Cards

Higueron Hotel Malaga Curio Collection by Hilton
Rewards earned on American Express cards can be used to book airfare, provide statement credits to offset expenses, or for securing free lodging. Higueron Hotel Malaga, Curio Collection by Hilton. Image Credit: Hilton

There are several options for earning rewards with American Express cards. Membership Rewards provide value and flexibility, cash-back rewards offer liquidity, and co-branded airline and hotel cards earn miles or points that add to your loyalty program rewards balances.

Let’s look at the types of reward-earning possibilities with Amex cards.

Membership Rewards

Membership Rewards points are 1 of the most valuable types of rewards points you can earn due to their flexibility at redemption time. Redeem Membership Rewards for the best value on flights via Amex Travel or transfer to airline and hotel partners.

The Platinum Card® from American Express and the American Express® Gold Card are examples of cards that earn Membership Rewards points.

Cash-Back Rewards

Cash-back is one of the most flexible types of rewards as it can directly affect your bottom line. Cash-back earning structures and redemption processes are also generally easy to understand and execute.

You’ll find cards that automatically apply cash-back each billing period as a statement credit and cards that allow cash-back earnings to accumulate over time.

Examples of cash-back rewards earning cards include the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and the American Express Cash Magnet® card.

Co-Branded Card Rewards

American Express issues cards that are branded with both airline and hotel affiliations earn rewards in the form of miles or points in the affiliated loyalty rewards program of that brand.

For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card will earn Delta Air Lines SkyMiles and the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card will earn Hilton Honors points.

Bottom Line: The collection of American Express-issued cards offers several reward-earnings options including valuable Membership Rewards, cash-back, or miles and points on co-branded airline and hotel cards. 

The Best American Express Cards for Travel

LAS Centurion Lounge
Travel rewards cards come with travel-related earnings, redemptions, and benefits. The Centurion Lounge LAS. Image Credit: Centurion Lounge

Travel rewards cards have specific earning and redemption options that focus on travel. Additionally, the right travel rewards card for you will save you money, make your travels more comfortable and provide travel-related protections and benefits.

American Express understands the traveler and steps up to deliver card options for every traveler from the domestic road-tripper to the seasoned world traveler.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Known as the premier travel rewards card, the Amex Platinum card offers one of the best collections of benefits available, plus earning and redemption options that deliver strong travel-related value.

In addition to the generous welcome bonus, worldwide lounge access, elevated earnings on select category purchases, and the statement credits listed above, the Amex Platinum card offers these additional benefits:

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of earning Membership Rewards points is the ability to redeem points by transferring to airline and hotel travel partners to enjoy premium travel experiences.

This flexibility inspired us to search for and write about some of the best ways to maximize the points for luxury travel.

American Express® Gold Card

While the Amex Gold card functions powerfully as an everyday spending card, it also carries enough travel benefits to make it a contender for a place in your wallet if you’re a traveler.

Enjoy earning well at supermarkets and restaurants, and qualifying flight purchases, but also know that your card is earning valuable Membership Rewards points that can be redeemed for great travel value.

Here are some of the additional benefits you can expect with the card:

  • Up to $120 in dining credits each year
  • $100 hotel credit for 2-night or more stays at American Express Hotel Collection properties
  • Redeem Membership Rewards points for flights via Amex Travel, gift cards, and more
  • Transfer points to travel partners for greater potential value
  • Amex Offers
  • Secondary car rental insurance with the option to purchase Premium Protection for 1 low fee that covers the entire rental period
  • Baggage insurance
  • Purchase protection and extended warranty coverage

We like that the Amex Gold card has a dual life earning well on everyday purchases, yet comes through with good value when purchasing flights or redeeming points for travel experiences.

American Express® Green Card

Perhaps you’re not a seasoned world traveler but want to get started with a travel rewards card that doesn’t charge a high annual fee, yet offers a nice rounded collection of travel-related benefits.

With the Amex Green card, you’ll receive bonus earnings at restaurants worldwide and on travel purchases. All other purchases receive 1x earnings.

Here are some additional benefits you’ll find on the card:

  • $100 statement credit each year toward CLEAR membership
  • $100 statement credit each year for LoungeBuddy purchases
  • Complimentary Uber Eats pass through December 2021
  • Earns valuable Membership Rewards points
  • Redeem points for flights/travel via Amex Travel or transfer to travel partners for greater potential value
  • Trip delay coverage
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Extended warranty and purchase protection

Bottom Line: If you travel, even occasionally, you’ll want to have at least 1 travel rewards card offering related earning and redemption options, plus a collection of associated travel benefits. American Express offers nearly a dozen travel rewards card options from which to select. 

The Best American Express Cards for Cash-Back

Growing Money
Cash-back is easy to earn on everyday purchases with American Express cash-back cards. Image Credit: etajoefoto via Shutterstock

American Express shines when it comes to rewarding everyday spending with cash-back rewards. Cash-back is earned on every purchase in the form of Rewards Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits, gift cards, and merchandise.

Here are 2 of the most popular cash-back earning American Express cards.

Blue Cash Preferred® from American Express

Cash-back rewards add up quickly when you qualify for the Amex Blue Cash Preferred card’s initial welcome bonus, plus receive bonus-level earnings in the form of Rewards Dollars on qualifying purchases you make on a daily basis.

You’ll also enjoy savings if you have a large purchase or need to transfer high-interest balances from other cards with the 0% APR feature.

We like these additional benefits offered on the card as well:

  • Pay It Plan It repayment plan
  • Secondary car rental insurance with access to Premium Protection for 1 low fee that covers the entire rental period
  • Purchase protection, return protection, extended warranty
  • Global Assist Hotline
  • Travel accident insurance

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Making everyday purchases without earning cash-back is simply missing out. Especially when the no-annual-fee Amex Blue Cash Everyday card could make the process seamless.

And if you have a large purchase to make, the introductory 0% APR on purchases for 15 months could save you plenty on interest rate charges. After the introductory period, regular APR (shown above) will apply.

In addition to everyday earning power, you’ll receive these added benefits:

  • Pay It Plan It repayment plan
  • Secondary car rental insurance with access to Premium Protection for 1 low fee that covers the entire rental period
  • Purchase protection
  • Global Assist Hotline

Bottom Line: Cash-back is one of the most flexible types of rewards you can earn. American Express-issued cash-back cards allow your Rewards Dollars to accumulate so you can determine when and how you want to redeem your rewards. 

The Best American Express Business Cards

Female business owner
Business cards help organize your finances and keep business and personal expenses separated. Image Credit: Tumisu via Pixabay

At some point in the midst of growing your business, you realize the value of keeping personal and business expenses separated by utilizing a business credit card. You may have also realized the benefits of organization, balancing cash-flow, and the additional business-related features a business card has to offer.

American Express knows the needs of business owners and reflects that knowledge in its card offerings. Here are some of the best American Express business cards.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

When your business operation requires a lot of travel, you’ll want a card that can live up to the associated demands. Receiving statement credits for airline incidentals and having worldwide lounge access is certainly a good start, but the Amex Business Platinum card offers much more.

Here are some of the benefits, in addition to those mentioned in the snapshot above, that you can expect with the card:

  • Earn 1.5x points on eligible purchases in key business categories, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else (up to $2 million in purchases per calendar year)
  • Up to $400 statement credit for Dell purchases
  • Up to $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • 35% rebate when redeeming Membership Rewards points for flights via Amex Travel
  • Transfer points to travel partners for potentially greater value
  • Trip interruption, cancellation, and delay coverage
  • Return protection, purchase protection, and extended warranty coverage
  • Amex Offers
  • Secondary car rental coverage with access to purchase Premium Protection for 1 low price that covers the entire rental period
  • Baggage insurance

American Express® Business Gold Card

Unlike bonus earnings on the personal Amex Gold card, the Amex Business Gold card focuses its earnings on common business-related expenses and offers features/benefits that businesses can utilize.

No pre-selection is required as cardmembers receive 4x bonus earnings automatically. Each statement period your highest 2 expenses from these qualifying purchase categories with receive 4x earnings, up to $150,000 per year:

  • Tickets purchased directly from the airline
  • Radio, online, and TV advertising from U.S. providers
  • Qualifying U.S. provider technology purchases including computer hardware, software, and cloud solutions
  • U.S. gas station purchases
  • U.S. restaurant purchases
  • Shipping purchases from U.S. providers

While bonus category earnings focus on business-related expenses, so do these card benefits:

  • Free employee cards
  • QuickBooks compatibility
  • Utilize the American Express Business App to load receipts and notes
  • Year-end statements help organize your expenses at tax time
  • Mobile account management and alerts

Amazon Business American Express Cards

Amex CardBenefits and Info
The Amazon Business American Express Card

The Amazon Business Prime American Express Card

 

  • $125 Amazon gift card for qualifying Prime members at card approval, $100 gift card for non-Prime members
  • 5% cash-back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases for Amazon Prime members, 3% cash-back for non-members, up to $120,000 in purchases each year
  • 2% cash-back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores
  • No annual fee
  • Terms apply
  • Rates and fees

If your business involves high-volume purchasing on Amazon, Amazon Business American Express cards could add some serious cash to your bottom line. While these cards won’t be the best choice for most businesses, the cards are an example of the diversity of American Express card choices.

And with no annual fee, an Amazon Business Amex card could also serve as the perfect companion card to a primary business card.

Additional benefits include the following:

  • Option to select 90-day financing versus cash-back
  • Free employee cards
  • Secondary car rental insurance with access to Premium Protection for 1 low price that covers the entire rental period
  • Baggage insurance
  • Global Assist Hotline
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Purchase protection, return protection, and extended warranty

Bottom Line: While we’ve only listed a few of Amex business card options here, American Express offers more than a dozen business cards. Each card has earnings and redemption options focused on business owners, regardless of the size of your operation. We’ve dug deep into the collection and offer our recommendations in this article on some of the best American Express business credit cards.

The Best American Express Airline Cards

Delta American Express Reserve
Image Credit: American Express

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

CREDIT CARDCARD INFO
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card


Learn More
(at Amex's secure site)
  • Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
  • Earn up to 60,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $30,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 15,000 MQMs four times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Receive a Domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+® or Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government-imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Complimentary access into the Delta Sky Club® for you when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • Enjoy complimentary access to The Centurion® Lounge or Escape Lounge – The Centurion® Studio Partner when you book a Delta flight with your Reserve Card.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Earn 3x Miles on Delta purchases.
  • Earn 1x Mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850)
  • Annual Fee: $550
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve card, click here.

$600

Must Reads: For more info on the Delta Reserve card, see our insights on its benefits and our full review.

If Delta is your airline of choice, the Delta Reserve card will enhance that relationship with Delta-specific perks, earnings, and redemption options.

  • Priority boarding and free checked bag
  • Complimentary Delta Sky Club access
  • 2 1-time use Delta Sky Club guest passes each year
  • Complimentary Amex Centurion Lounge access when flying Delta
  • Delta SkyMiles companion flight certificate each card anniversary
  • Up to $100 TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee statement credit
  • Upgrade priority over same-level elite status travelers
  • $20 back per month at U.S. restaurants (through December 31, 2021; enroll through Amex Offers)
  • Discounted CLEAR membership
  • Access to Pay with Miles redemption option
  • A faster path to Delta SkyMiles Medallion elite status
  • Trip cancellation, trip interruption, and trip delay coverage
  • Secondary car rental with access to Premium Protection for 1 low fee that covers the entire rental period
  • Return protection, purchase protection, and extended warranty

While the Delta Reserve card is top of the line when it comes to Delta-branded cards, American Express issues additional cards that may offer better value for the Delta loyalist:

To review all the Delta-branded cards available, including business cards, visit our article on the best cards for Delta loyalists.

The Best American Express Hotel Cards

Hilton Gold Elite Status
American Express hotel-branded cards offer complimentary hotel loyalty program elite status. Image Credit: Hilton

If you frequent a particular hotel brand, you may be familiar with how loyalty program status can enhance your experience with that brand. A hotel-branded card steps up that experience even further.

Here are our choices for some of the best hotel-branded American Express cards.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

In addition to the exceptional earnings mentioned in the card snapshot above, the Hilton Aspire card offers these premier benefits any Hilton Honors loyalist would enjoy:

  • Complimentary top Diamond Elite status
  • Priority Pass Select membership with access to over 1,300 lounge properties worldwide
  • 3x earnings on all other purchases
  • Additional free hotel night certificate after spending $60,000 in a calendar year on the card
  • $250 Hilton Resort statement credit
  • $250 airline incidental fees statement credit
  • $100 property credit for 2-night or more stays at Conrad and Waldorf Astoria properties
  • $20 back per month at U.S. restaurants (through December 31, 2021; enroll through Amex Offers)
  • Trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance
  • Baggage insurance plan
  • Shopping benefits such as return protection, purchase protection, and extended warranty

Find a Hilton-Honors-branded card that fits your travel profile with these additional American Express-issued Hilton Honors cards that come with elite status, elevated earnings, free hotel nights, and more:

For an in-depth look at all of the best cards for Hilton loyalists, we’ve created an informative overview.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

CardHotel RewardsSample Benefits/Fees
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card


Learn More
(at Amex's secure site)
  • 6 Marriott Rewards Points/$1 spent at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • Up to $300 in statement credits each year of card membership for eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • Gold Elite status, Priority Pass Select Membership, complimentary anniversary night, premium internet access
  • Annual Fee: $450
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, click here.

Designed for the ultimate Marriott Bonvoy loyalist, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card delivers elite status, top earnings at Marriott, free hotel nights, and travel and shopping benefits.

  • Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status; spend $75,000 in a calendar year for Platinum Elite status
  • $300 statement credit each card anniversary year for purchases made at Marriott properties
  • 1 free hotel night certificate each anniversary year, up to 50,000 points
  • 15 elite night credits toward higher status level
  • Up to $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees
  • Restaurant and flight purchases receive 3x bonus earnings, 1x on all other purchases
  • $100 property credit for 2-night or more stays at Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis properties
  • $20 back per month at U.S. restaurants (through December 31, 2021; enroll through Amex Offers)
  • Secondary car rental insurance with access to Premium Protection for 1 low fee that covers the entire rental period
  • Trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance
  • Baggage insurance plan
  • Return protection, purchase protection, and extended warranty

There are several Marriott Bonvoy-branded cards available. Some of these cards are issued by American Express and others issued by Chase. You can find the best of both in our article on the best credit cards for Marriott Bonvoy loyalists.

Bottom Line: Hotel-branded cards serve to enhance the benefits of hotel loyalty programs by providing elevated earnings, expanded redemption options, free hotel nights, and on-site property benefits. For more information on the best hotel-branded cards, our article will provide an excellent overview. 

American Express Network Cards Not Issued by American Express

We mentioned earlier that American Express operates as both a financial institution that issues credit cards and as a payment processing network that serves as a link between the financial institution and merchants.

There are, however, circumstances where American Express serves a single role as only a payment processing network for a card issued by a financial institution other than American Express.

Here are a few examples of cards, also known as third-party cards, that utilize the American Express payment processing network but are not issued by American Express:

  • Wells Fargo Propel American Express® — no annual fee card with cell phone protection and 3x earnings on dining, transit, flights, hotels, homestays, car rentals, and streaming
  • U.S. Bank Cash 365™ American Express Card — no annual fee and 1.5% cash-back on all purchases
  • USAA® Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card — no annual fee with 5% cash-back on the first $3,000 in purchases at gas stations and military bases and 2% cash-back on the first $3,000 each year at grocery stores
  • USAA® Secured Card American Express — best for those with no credit or poor credit

In addition to having transactions made on these cards processed by American Express, some of the benefits that come with these cards may also be American Express benefits.

Bottom Line: American Express occasionally serves as the payment processing network on cards issued by other financial institutions. The card-issuing financial institution may also choose to offer some American Express benefits with these cards. 

Final Thoughts

With American Express functioning as a card issuer, payment processing network, and benefits provider, the resulting collection of cards is diverse.

Nearly every consumer, regardless of spending habits, annual fee preference, or desired benefits, can find an American Express card that’s a potential perfect match.

And while you may currently need a backup Visa or Mastercard when traveling globally, the American Express acceptance network has expanded greatly as evidenced by its domestic acceptance now at over 10 million merchants.

If you’re curious how American Express stacks up to its competitors, check out our post comparing Amex to Chase.


The information regarding the American Express® Green Card, Amazon Business American Express Card, Amazon Business Prime American Express Card, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, Wells Fargo Propel American Express®, U.S. Bank Cash 365™ American Express Card, USAA® Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card, and USAA® Secured Card American Express was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Business Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, click here.


Frequently asked questions

Which is the best American Express card?

American Express issues dozens of cards, each one with features and benefits that offer advantages for a specific type of consumer.

The best American Express card for you will be the 1 that aligns and rewards your greatest expenses. In addition, you’ll want the card to offer redemption options, whether cash-back, Membership Rewards points, airline miles, or hotel points that match your objectives.

The card’s benefits should also be useful to you and finally, the annual fee will be one you’re comfortable paying.

Is American Express or Visa more accepted?

Visa is the largest payment processing network and widely accepted globally, more than any other.

American Express, however, is the top issuer of credit cards domestically and now accepted by 99% of U.S. merchants.

If you travel internationally, you’ll want to have a back-up card (Visa or Mastercard) in case your American Express card is not accepted. Domestically (in the U.S.), the chances of it being accepted are quite high.

What is an Amex third-party card?

An Amex third-party card is a card that uses the American Express payment processing network but the card is not issued by American Express.

For example, Wells Fargo bank may issue a credit card and select the American Express network to process transactions between the merchant and Wells Fargo.

The card would be a Wells Fargo card but you will see the Amex logo on the card as well because Amex serves as the processing network. Amex may also provide some of the benefits that come with these third-party cards.

Which is better Membership Rewards or cash-back?

Membership Rewards points are one of the most valuable rewards currencies due to their flexibility at redemption time. If you’re a traveler, having the ability to transfer rewards points to airline and hotel partners to receive potentially greater than 1 cent in value per point makes Membership Rewards better than cash-back.

If however, you want simplicity in your redemption options and prefer using cash-back rewards for statement credits, cash-back may be a better choice.

Does Amex do cash-back?

American Express issues several cash-back cards including the popular Amex Blue Cash Everday card and the Amex Blue Cash Preferred card. You earn cash-back on each eligible purchase (minimum 1%) and elevated bonus earnings on specific category purchases, such as supermarkets.

Cash-back is earned in the form of Rewards Dollars which are deposited into your rewards account. Rewards are available for redemption once your statement period ends and you have made at least the minimum required payment on your account.

You can redeem Reward Dollars for a statement credit, gift cards, or merchandise. As long as your card is active, rewards do not have an expiration date.

Christine Krzyszton

About Christine Krzyszton

Christine, who lives in Northern Michigan, travels about 300,000 miles a year despite her remote location. Her expertise is traveling the world on a weekend with no pre-determined destination in mind, letting the cost of the airfare determine where she will go. She has over four million flown miles and elite status on all three major domestic carriers.

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3 comments

  1. I have an SPG AmEx and am a member of SPG. Should I keep the point from the AmEx with AmEx or send them to SPG? Thanks

    Reply

    • Hi Dan, those SPG points should have been automatically transferred to your Marriott account, at a 1:3 ratio. E.g. 1 starpoint gets you 3 Marriott points. SPG points no longer exist as they are now Marriott points. I’d suggest logging into your SPG/Marriott account and checking, they are probably there!

      Reply

  2. Rosalind Ragland-Carlisle December 8, 2019

    I applied for the Chevron/Texaco credit card and was denied with the explanation that my credit score was not good enough, that it was only 362. This is a lie. My credit score was over 600 because 3 days prior to applying for the card I purchased a new car which is what made me think of putting in for it in the first place.
    Just another example of a giant business doing, saying, and getting away with whatever they want to and I am extremely angry as well as disappointed.

    Reply

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