The Best Charge Cards: For Travelers, Foodies, and Business Owners

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Blog

Jun 13, 2019 | Updated Jul 08, 2019

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Charge cards are a type of credit card that usually must be paid in full each billing period — you can’t revolve a balance from month to month.

That’s the most important difference between charge cards and other credit cards, but they also come with no preset spending limit. This means the max amount you can spend will change over time, but it doesn’t mean you can spend as much as you want.

American Express is currently the only major issuer to provide charge cards. Check out the best options available today (some are definitely better than others), see if one might be right for you, and learn how to make the most of it.

All of the Platinum and Gold cards below — both personal and business — are made of metal, giving them an impressive and sturdy presentation. Metal cards aren’t really any different from plastic cards, except for the flex value of course.

Best Charge Cards

Best for Premium Travel Rewards

Few cards can match The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review). It’s not just the high-end card of the whole bunch, it’s also one of the premier luxury travel cards.

The Platinum card is much-loved for its Global Lounge Collection, providing access to more airport lounges than any other credit card (except the business version of this card). That includes the popular Priority Pass lounges, which are available with many credit cards, along with several others including Amex’s own Centurion Lounges.

Cardholders also get travel and shopping credits to help offset the high annual fee, and elite hotel statuses (also best-in-class) to help save money, live more comfortably, and earn tons of extra points at hotels.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 5X Membership Rewards points per dollar on:
    • Flights booked directly through airlines or through Amex Travel
    • Prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar on other eligible travel expenses booked through Amex Travel
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 60,000 Membership Rewards points for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $600–$1,200 (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 12–24%

To earn a lot of points with this card you’ll need to book your trips through American Express Travel or purchase flights directly from airlines. If you can’t do that, you should consider a travel card with broader travel categories (but you might want this card for the benefits too).

Membership Rewards points are only worth up to 1 cent each through the basic redemption options, so we recommend you always wait to use them for a valuable point transfer. Point transfers could provide 2 cents per point or even more, giving you a cash back equivalent of 10% for the 5X categories, much better than most travel cards (but again, only for those limited categories).

Key Features

  • Global Lounge Collection: Complimentary access to Priority Pass, Centurion, American Express International, Delta Sky Club, Escape, Airspace, Lufthansa, and Plaza Premium Lounges.
  • $200 Annual Airline Fee credit: Good for incidental costs like baggage fees and in-flight food (not flight tickets) at your selected airline.
  • $200 Annual Uber credit: $15 in statement credits for Uber rides each month, except for December which gets $35.
  • $100 Annual Saks credit: Up to $100 in statement credits each year for Saks Fifth Avenue: $50 from January through June, and $50 from July through December.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit: A statement credit for the application fee of either Global Entry ($100 every four years) or TSA PreCheck ($85 once every four and a half years).
  • The Hotel Collection: A $100 hotel credit and room upgrades (when available) for every eligible two-night stay.
  • Fine Hotels & Resorts Program: Daily breakfast for two, room upgrades when available, amenities valued at $100, and more at eligible properties.
  • Complimentary Elite Hotel statuses: Hilton Honors Gold status and Marriott Bonvoy Gold status.
  • Point transfer: To a selection of airline and hotel partners.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $550

Read more in our Review of The Platinum Card® from American Express: Is It Worth the $550 Annual Fee?

Best for Foodies: Dining Out and Groceries

You might expect the American Express® Gold Card (Review) to be a lesser version of the Amex Platinum, but that’s not really the case. It’s more like a different card product altogether, designed for different people.

Where the Platinum card is all about travel, the Gold card is maybe 30% about travel and 70% about food.

You’ll earn points at industry-leading rates on food, whether you’re dining out or eating in. It’s rare to see a high rate for both of these 4X categories on the same card — usually you only see one or the other. You’ll also get annual dining and airline credits worth $220, but they really only serve to help offset the $250 annual fee.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 4X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at:
    • Restaurants worldwide
    • U.S. supermarkets, on up to $25,000 per year in purchases (then 1X)
  • 3X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on:
    • Flights booked directly through airlines
    • Flights booked through Amex Travel
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at gas stations (former Premier Rewards Gold Card users only, until 10/4/19)
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 35,000 Membership Rewards points for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $350–$700 (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 17.5–35%

Like the Platinum card (and every other card that earns Membership Rewards points) your most valuable redemption method will be point transfers. Transfers to airline and hotel loyalty programs could provide 2 cents per point, or even more if you find a good deal.

At 2 cents per point, you’ll be earning a cash back equivalent of 8% in the 4X categories, and 6% in the 3X categories. It’d be hard to beat that rate on food (but you can get close, or even a bit higher in certain situations).

So the idea here is to use the card for pretty much every bite you eat, and for the relevant travel categories. And then you should redeem the rewards for travel by transferring to airline miles or hotel points.

Key Features

  • $100 Annual Airline Fee credit: Use this to pay for incidental airline fees at an airline you select, like baggage fees and in-flight food and drinks. Does not apply to flight tickets.
  • $120 Annual Dining credit: Earn up to $10 in statement credits per month for purchases at eligible restaurants and food delivery services.
  • The Hotel Collection: Provides up to $100 in credits and room upgrades (when available) for every eligible hotel stay of two nights or more.
  • Point transfer: To a selection of airline and hotel partners, like JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Marriott, and Hyatt.
  • Amex Offers: Find significant discounts at a changing selection of merchants and websites, like (at the time of publication) TurboTax, Samsclub.com, Etsy, and many more.
  • Complimentary ShopRunner membership: ShopRunner provides free two-day shipping and returns at participating online retailers, like Auto Zone, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and more.
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Including Purchase Protection, Return Protection, Premium Roadside Assistance, and Travel Accident Insurance.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $250

Read more in our Review of the American Express® Gold Card.

Best for Premium Business Travel Rewards

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (Review) is a close cousin of the consumer Platinum card above. They’re alike in many ways, but the business card has some important differences, such as:

  • There’s an additional 1.5X reward category for large purchases
  • The current signup bonus can net you more points, but you’ll have to spend a lot more to get them
  • There are no Uber or Saks credits, but you’ll get a $200 Dell credit
  • You’ll get a year of Platinum Global Access for WeWork
  • You’ll get 35% of your points back when redeeming for eligible airfare
  • The annual fee is $45 higher ($595)

Those are probably the main features to look at if you’re trying to decide between the two versions. Unless you love WeWork or plan to make a lot of expensive purchases, you’ll probably have an easier time finding value in the consumer Platinum card.

Not sure if you’ll qualify for a business credit card? It’s probably easier than you think.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 5X Membership Rewards points per dollar on:
    • Flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel
    • Prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar on other eligible travel expenses booked through Amex Travel
  • 1.5X Membership Rewards points per dollar on purchases over $5,000, up to 1 million additional points per year (then 1X)
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 50,000 Membership Rewards points for spending $10,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $500–$1,000 (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 5–10%
  • 25,000 Membership Rewards points for spending an additional $10,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $250–$500 (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 2.5–5%

The redemption options are the same here as the consumer Platinum card, except for the 35% airline bonus. That would effectively give you a rate of 1.35 cents per point, which isn’t awful, but you could still do better with a point transfer to an airline or hotel.

That could give you 2 cents per point or more, so you’d earn a 10% cash back equivalent in the 5X categories, for example. For large non-category purchases over $5,000, you’d be getting a cash back equivalent of 3%, which is pretty solid.

Key Features

  • Global Lounge Collection: Complimentary access to Priority Pass, Centurion, American Express International, Delta Sky Club, Escape, Airspace, Lufthansa, and Plaza Premium Lounges.
  • $200 Annual Airline Fee credit: Good for incidental costs like checked bags and in-flight food, not tickets, at your selected airline.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit: A statement credit for the application fee of either Global Entry ($100 every four years) or TSA PreCheck ($85 once every four and a half years).
  • Complimentary Elite Hotel statuses: Hilton Honors Gold status and Marriott Bonvoy Gold status.
  • The Hotel Collection: A $100 hotel credit and room upgrades (when available) for every eligible two-night stay.
  • Fine Hotels & Resorts Program: Daily breakfast for two, room upgrades when available, amenities valued at $100, and more at eligible properties.
  • Platinum Global Access for WeWork: Get a year of Platinum Global Access for WeWork and gain access to over 300 premium, select workspaces in over 75 cities.
  • $200 Annual Dell credit: Enroll to get an annual $200 statement credit for U.S. purchases with Dell: $100 from January through June, and $100 from July through December.
  • Complimentary Boingo Internet Access: Worldwide Boingo WiFi access at over one million hotspots through the Boingo American Express Preferred Plan.
  • 35% Airline Bonus: Get 35% of your points back when booking eligible airfare through Amex Travel using Membership Rewards Pay with Points.
  • Point transfer: To a selection of airline and hotel partners.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $595
  • Employee cards: Get up to 99 employee cards, at various annual fees depending on the card type ($0–$300)

Read more in our Review of the Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Is it worth the $595 annual fee?

Best for Flexible Business Bonus Categories

The American Express® Business Gold Card (Review) is a bit different than the other charge cards here.

Rather than steady categories, you’ll earn 4X points in the two categories (out of six) you spend the most in each month. This gives you some flexibility if you’re not sure what exactly you’ll be buying from month to month, which can make it tough to plan out a credit card strategy.

Do you like ZipRecruiter or G Suite? If so, you have some good reasons to get this card, with over $3,000 in credits in your first year for those services. But if you won’t use those credits, you should probably consider other business credit card offers with benefits that align more closely with your company’s needs.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 4X Membership Rewards points per dollar in the two categories you spend the most in each month, up to $150,000 per year (then 1X):
    • Airfare purchased directly from airlines
    • U.S. purchases for advertising in select media
    • U.S. computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers
    • U.S. purchases for shipping
    • U.S. purchases at gas stations
    • U.S. purchases at restaurants
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar on eligible travel expenses booked through Amex Travel
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 35,000 bonus points for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $175–$700 (assuming 0.5–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 3.5–14%

Just like with all Membership Rewards cards, you should aim to transfer your points to airlines and hotels.

If you could get 2 cents per point, which is generally considered a pretty good value, you’d be earning an 8% cash back equivalent in the 4X categories. That’s pretty good, especially for categories like U.S. gas stations and U.S. restaurants.

Key Features

  • $2,988 ZipRecruiter credit: Available during the first 12 months of card membership for ZipRecruiter purchases, enough for one year of a ZipRecruiter Standard membership.
  • $204 G Suite credit: Available during the first 12 months of card membership for G Suite purchases, enough for one year of a G Suite Basic membership for three users.
  • 25% Airline Bonus: Get 25% of your points back when booking eligible airfare through Amex Travel using Membership Rewards Pay with Points.
  • The Hotel Collection: A $100 hotel credit and room upgrades (when available) for every eligible two-night stay.
  • Point transfer: To a selection of airline and hotel partners.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $295
  • Employee cards: Get up to 99 employee cards; the first card costs $50 per year, and all subsequent cards are free

Read more in our Review of the American Express Business Gold Card.

What Are Charge Cards, and Are They Right for You?

Charge cards are a type of credit card which usually require you to pay the entire statement balance in full each billing period. You can’t revolve the balance from month to month like a regular credit card, so you’ll need to always pay off the statement balance by the upcoming due date.

Since there are no interest fees being charged to the cardholder, charge cards usually have annual fees to help the credit card issuer make money.

If all that sounds fine to you, there’s no reason not to explore charge cards along with regular credit cards.

Your options are pretty limited since American Express is currently the only major credit card company issuing charge cards. You’ll probably need better credit to qualify for the Platinum and Gold cards compared to the others, although you won’t need excellent credit — good credit will probably suffice.

There are three other charge cards that didn’t make it on our best list, although the Green card is rumored to be getting an upgrade in 2019 (according to Doctor of Credit):

Credit Limits: How Much Can You Spend?

Amex charge cards don’t have regular credit limits; instead, they have no preset spending limits. This might be a bit confusing, because it does not mean unlimited spending.

According to American Express’ website, “Purchasing power adjusts with your use of the Card, your payment history, credit record and financial resources known to us, and other factors.”

So your purchasing power will change over time as you use the card. Some people believe the best way to increase your spending limit is to charge large amounts each month, while maintaining a perfect payment record as you go.

Generally, charge cards are known to have relatively high spending limits, making them good for anyone with large monthly expenses.

Since you won’t have an exact credit limit to work with, there’s a danger of accidentally maxing out your charge card or being declined when you make a purchase. You can’t see your overall spending limit. But you can go to Amex’s Spending Ability page to see if a specific purchase amount will be approved. You can also contact customer service to ask by calling the number on the back of your card.

Other than the payment requirements and spending limits, the terms and features of charge cards are pretty much like any regular credit card. Charge cards have rewards, benefits, annual fees, etc., just like other cards.

Charge cards are like other credit cards in most ways but there are some important differences, such as how credit limits are reported to credit bureaus and treated by credit scoring models. That means they can have different effects on your credit scores. Read more about the differences between charge cards and credit cards.

Getting the Most out of Your Charge Card

  • Be prepared to pay: You must pay your charge card’s statement balance in full each month. Spending within your means is always important with credit cards, and even more so with charge cards.
  • Match rewards and benefits to your spending habits and lifestyle: Pick a card with bonus categories that you already spend a lot in, and benefits that will help save you time, money, and hassle.
  • Explore your perks: American Express cards come with quite a few benefits, so take the time to explore and understand them before making large purchases or traveling. You could miss out on reimbursement for a delayed trip, or you might stay at one hotel when you had an elite status waiting for you with another brand.
  • Wait for good point transfers: No matter which card you have, the best (most valuable) way to redeem your Membership Rewards points is by transferring them to partner airlines and hotels. There’s an excise tax offset fee of .06 cents per point when transferring to U.S. frequent flyer programs, so those should probably be at the bottom of your list.
  • Employee cards: If you have an Amex business charge card you can get up to 99 employee cards, although in some cases they’ll have annual fees of their own. You can easily track purchases and set spending limits for employee cards to help you keep an eye on monthly expenses.
  • Amex Pay Over Time: You may have an option to revolve a balance from month to month at a given interest rate. Eligible charges of $100 or more may be moved to your Pay Over Time balance, either automatically or at your discretion, and you’ll need to make at least a minimum payment each month (a lot like a regular credit card). We recommend avoiding this option because you’ll be charged interest — and who wants that?
Charge cards make up a small slice of the overall credit card market. Dig into a variety of cards, designed for all manner of people and purposes, by browsing the Best Credit Cards.
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