2016’s Best American Express Card – WalletHub Editors

Posted by: John S Kiernan

American Express is a venerable brand, known for customer service and as a status symbol. So it’s understandable that you’d be interested in the company’s cards. But thinking you want an Amex is a far cry from knowing you’ve found the best card for your needs.

To help you nab the right deal, our editors compared 31 Amex offers to find the best American Express credit cards for seven of the most common consumer needs. You can find the winners listed in the table below, followed by in-depth explanations and non-Amex alternatives to consider along with each selection. You may notice that credit cards for (re)building credit, student rewards and balance transfers aren’t included. That’s because all American Express credit cards require at least “good” credit for approval, and the few offers that even allow balance transfers charge a 3% transfer fee.

With that in mind, we recommend checking your credit score for free on WalletHub to see whether you can qualify for an Amex. You can also check out our editors’ picks for the best student credit cards and the best balance-transfer credit cards, if you’re in the market for such offers.

Best For… Best Amex Best Feature Learn More
Initial Bonus Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express 70,000 bonus miles Editors’ Notes
Cash Back Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Up to 6% cash back at supermarkets Editors’ Notes
Points/Miles Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express Up to 3 points per $1 spent on airfare Editors’ Notes
Hotel Rewards Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express 5 points per $1 in Starwood purchases Editors’ Notes
Big-Ticket Purchases Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express 0% intro rate for the first 12 months Editors’ Notes
Business SimplyCash® Plus Business Credit Card from American Express 5% cash back on office supplies and wireless phone services Editors’ Notes

Best Amex Card: Initial Bonus

The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express gives you the opportunity to earn more than one valuable rewards bonus. In addition to 70,000 miles for spending $3,000 within three months of account opening, you can get $100 for making a Delta purchase in the first three months as well as both 10,000 miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles for spending $25,000 in a calendar year. You’ll also receive a round-trip companion certificate each account anniversary.

All in all, the average consumer would earn more than $1,500 in rewards with the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card over the first year of use. And that figure even includes the card’s $195 annual fee, which is one of its biggest weaknesses, along with the need to be brand-loyal to Delta.

Best Of The Rest: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Spending $4,000 within three months of account opening gets you 50,000 bonus points, redeemable for $625 in travel booked through Chase or a $500 statement credit. And with no annual fee during the first year ($95 thereafter), Sapphire Preferred is the perfect choice for travelers with excellent credit who want a big rewards score without limiting their booking options to a single airline.

Side-By-Side Comparison: Platinum Delta SkyMiles Amex vs. Chase Sapphire Preferred

Best Amex Card: Cash Back

American Express Blue Cash Preferred is one of the market’s best cash back credit cards, according to our editors. It provides generous rewards in some of the biggest everyday spending categories, offering 6% cash back on the first $6,000 you spend at supermarkets each year as well as 3% cash back on gas and purchases at certain department stores. Plus, its $150 bonus for spending $1,000 in the first three months and its offer of 10% cash back at Amazon.com (up to $200 saved) for people who apply by Jan. 11, 2017, can help defray the cost of its $95 annual fee.

All things considered, the average person can expect to earn roughly $1,126 in net rewards over the first two years with Blue Cash Preferred, according to our calculations. But whether or not it’s the card for you really comes down to how much you spend at gas stations and department stores. If they aren’t among your biggest expense categories, or you don’t make credit card purchases often enough to justify paying an annual fee, our choice for the best non-Amex alternative might be more your speed.

Best Of The Rest: Citi® Double Cash Card
Perhaps the best overall cash back credit card on the market, this no-frills offer gives you 1% back on all purchases and another 1% back when you pay your bill. And it doesn’t charge an annual fee.

Best Amex Card: Points/Miles

The Premier Rewards Gold Amex Card is a decent offer that has the misfortune of competing against a historically valuable crop of travel rewards credit cards. It’s fine the first year, when no annual fee is in effect, giving you 25,000 bonus points for spending $2,000 in the first three months, in addition to regular rewards headlined by 3 points per $1 spent directly at airlines.

But those ongoing rewards and the $100 airfare credit you get each account anniversary aren’t enough to compensate for the $195 annual fee that kicks in year two. That’s especially true for anyone who likes to book airfare through travel-comparison sites such as Kayak and Expedia, as those purchases would not be eligible for the 3-point earning tier. There’s simply more value and more flexibility to be found elsewhere.

Best Of The Rest: Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
With one of the market’s best initial bonuses and elite ongoing rewards, Arrival Plus is probably the best all-around travel rewards credit card on the market right now. Adding to its appeal is the fact that you can apply your miles to any travel-related purchase that appears on your monthly statement. In other words, there are no restrictions in terms of where you can book rewards travel.

Best Amex Card: Big-Ticket Purchases

With decent rewards to complement 0% financing for the first 12 months, Blue Cash Everyday is a good option for people who generally pay their bills in full but currently face a big-ticket purchase that will take less than a year to pay off. But it simply can’t compete with the market’s best 0% credit cards, whose introductory rates remain in effect for 15 to 21 months.

Best Of The Rest: Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
Diamond Preferred’s 21-month 0% intro term makes it the best card for new-purchase financing on the market. And if you don’t have the excellent credit needed to qualify (check for free), cards such as Chase Slate offer better 0% deals than Blue Cash Everyday.

Best Amex Card: Hotel Rewards

The SPG Credit Card from American Express didn’t make our editors’ list of the year’s best hotel credit cards, but it still has a lot to offer. That includes 25,000 bonus points (worth roughly $662 in free nights) for spending $3,000 within the first three months and no annual fee the first year ($95 thereafter). So it’s a decent choice for Starwood loyalists, but travelers who are open to other accommodations have plenty of superior options to choose from.

Best Of The Rest: Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Credit Card
It’s tough to top 9 free nights, which is what this card will give you for spending $2,500 within 90 days of account opening. It does charge a $75 annual fee, though.

Best Amex Card: Business

How much do you spend on wireless services and office supplies? That’s the deciding factor here. If they’re among your biggest expenses, Simply Cash Plus is the way to go, giving you 5% cash back in both categories. You also get to pick a 3% cash back category from a list that includes airfare, hotels, certain forms of advertising and even cloud computing services. But not all small business owners spend their money that way, so some might prefer a simpler, more flexible option such as Capital One Spark Cash.

Best Non-Amex Alternative: Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business
In addition to 2% cash back on all purchases, you’ll have the opportunity to earn a $500 statement credit for spending $4,500 within three months of account opening. And the standard $59 annual fee is waived the first year.

Remember, your personal credit standing is what dictates your ability to get a business credit card. You can check your latest credit score for free on WalletHub to gauge your odds of approval. WalletHub is the only site that offers free credit scores that are updated on a daily basis, so you won’t get a better sense of your standing anywhere else.

Finally, it’s important to note that American Express isn’t as widely accepted internationally as Visa and MasterCard. So if you’re headed abroad anytime soon, make sure to confirm what types of plastic the merchants in your destination take. Or you could erase all doubt by getting one of the best international credit cards.