Best Charge Cards: 2019

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness

Updated Jan 14, 2019

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Best for Premium Travel Rewards

We're currently unable to link directly to an application for the The Platinum Card® from American Express, but you can learn more here, on our advertising partner's website.

Best for Regular Travelers

We're currently unable to link directly to an application for the American Express® Gold Card, but you can learn more here, on our advertising partner's website.

Best for Low Annual Fee

What is a Charge Card?

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

That means there are no interest rates included in the card terms. Since there are no interest fees being charged to the cardholder, charge cards usually have annual fees so the credit card issuer can make money.

Currently, American Express is the only credit card company issuing charge cards. These cards don’t have regular credit limits; instead, they have no pre-set 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.

Generally, charge cards are known to have fairly high spending limits, making them good for anyone with very large monthly expenses. Some people believe that the best way to increase your spending limit is to charge large amounts each month, while maintaining a perfect payment record as you go.

Since you won’t have an exact credit limit to work with, there’s a danger of accidentally maxing out your charge card. You can’t see your exact spending limit. But you can go to https://www.americanexpress.com/spendingability/ to see if a specific purchase amount will be approved. You can also contact customer service to ask.

American Express may provide an option to let you revolve a balance from month to month at a given interest rate, known as their Pay Over Time service. However, not all cardholders will be eligible for this feature. We recommend avoiding this option because you’ll be charged interest —  and who wants that?

Other than that, 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 credit cards in many ways, but there are some important differences, such as how credit limits are reported to the credit bureaus. That means they’ll have a different effect on your credit scores. Read more about the differences between charge cards and credit cards.

Selection Criteria: What Makes A Great Charge Card?

The right charge card for you will fit into your spending habits, without causing a hassle or costing you extra.

  • An annual fee that’s reasonable, which suits your budget and lifestyle.
  • A high spending limit that lets you make the purchases you need.
  • A good rewards program, offering points for your frequent expenses.
  • Valuable extra benefits and protections when shopping and traveling.
There are many other credit cards besides charge cards. Take a look at some other rewards cards to broaden your options.

The Best Charge Cards of 2019

These three charge cards from American Express are a related series of travel rewards cards.

They all provide Membership Rewards points, which are best used by transferring to an airline or hotel frequent traveler program. Point transfers may provide as much as 2 cents per point or more. Other redemption options, like paying for flights through Amex Travel, will only provide 1 cent per point or less.

Best for Card
Premium Travel Rewards The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review)
Regular Travelers American Express® Gold Card (Review)
Low Annual Fee American Express® Green Card (Review)

Best for Premium Travel Rewards

The American Express Platinum Credit Card (Review) is one of the most rewarding travel cards on the market, with excellent rewards and benefits. But it’s meant for frequent travelers only, with a very steep price of $550 per year.

That makes it one of the most expensive credit cards on the market. But as you can see below, that fee can be offset completely by the value you get from all the benefits, if you make excellent use of them. If you don’t use the benefits quite so much, it might take just a few thousand in spending to offset the annual fee.

We're currently unable to link directly to an application for the The Platinum Card® from American Express, but you can learn more here, on our advertising partner's website.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 5X Membership Rewards points per dollar on:
    • flights booked directly through airlines or through American Express Travel
    • prepaid hotels booked through American Express 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

You can earn a whole lot of points with this card on travel expenses, but the catch is that you’ll need to do all your booking through Amex Travel to get that 5X rate.

If you redeem your points for 1 cent each, like paying for flights through Amex Travel, you’ll end up with a 5% cash back equivalent when spending in the 5X categories. You’ll have a 2% cash back equivalent for the 2X category, etc.

We actually recommend avoiding this redemption method because you won’t earn any rewards when you use points to pay for a purchase. If you were to just pay with the Platinum card as normal you’d earn 5X points instead, a much better deal for you.

Instead, look for a valuable point transfer opportunity. If you get a point transfer that provides 2 cents per point, for example, you’d be getting an effective cash back equivalent of 10% for the 5X category, a nice step up. And the 2X category would provide a 4% cash back equivalent.

Benefits

The Platinum card is known for its great travel perks, including membership in all sorts of lounge and hotel programs. Here’s a rundown of the most valuable benefits.

  • $200 Annual Airline Fee Credit: Good for incidental fees at one airline of your choice, like checked bags and in-flight meals. Does not apply to ticket prices, unfortunately.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓™: Once every four years you’ll get a credit for the application fee for either Global Entry ($100) or TSA Pre✓ ($85), for expedited screening at airports.
  • Global Lounge Collection: Amex provides complimentary membership with a wide variety of luxury airport lounges: Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Club lounges when flying Delta, Escape Lounges, Airspace Lounges, and the huge network of Priority Pass™ Select lounges.
  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Gold Status: Get perks when staying at Hilton properties, like room upgrades, 5th night free on award stays, and a 25% bonus on Hilton Honors Base Points earned.
  • Complimentary Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Status: Provides benefits at SPG properties, like an extra Starpoint per dollar spent, late check-out, and a welcome gift at every location.
  • Fine Hotels & Resorts: Hotel stays at eligible properties come with perks like daily breakfast for two, an amenity valued at $100, complimentary WiFi, and more.
  • The Hotel Collection: Eligible hotel stays of at least two nights or more get a credit of up to $75 for qualifying incidental expenses, like dining, spa visits, and resort activities.
  • $200 in Uber Credits Every Year:  Get statement credits for Uber purchases of up to $15 per month, except for December which provides $35.
  • Complimentary Boingo WiFi Access: Stay connected for free at over one million Boingo WiFi hotspots around the world.
  • Platinum Dining Program: American Express holds a reservation for you at over 1,000 top restaurants.

Terms & Fees

You’ll have to pay $550 per year to use the Platinum card. There are no fees for foreign transactions. That sounds like a lot, but you can use the card benefits and rewards you earn to offset that fee.

Let’s say you’re able to make great use of the benefits above. There are $400 worth of airline and Uber credits to get per year, up to $100 for the Global Entry Application fee every four years ($25 per year), and up to $75 in hotel credits for every eligible stay of two nights or more. If you use the full hotel credit twice in one year, that would be $150 in value.

In total, that would equal $575, even more than the annual fee! And that doesn’t even count the other benefits, some of which are very highly valued like the complimentary airport lounge access, Fine Hotels & Resorts program, and Gold status with Hilton and SPG.

It would probably take quite a bit of traveling every year to max out the benefits like that, however. You’d need to spend a lot of money in the process, probably.

In another situation, you might only be able to generate $350 in value from the benefits in a given year. If that were the case, you’d have $200 left to offset.

You could do that by spending $4,000 at the 5X rate, if you redeem your points for 1 cent each. Or, if you get a point transfer with a value of 2 cents per point, for example, it would only take $2,000 in spending.

Read more in our Review of the American Express Platinum Card

Best for Regular Travelers

If you don’t travel enough to warrant the Amex Platinum card, you might prefer the American Express® Gold Card (Review). At $250 per year, it’s a less expensive way to earn Membership Rewards points while getting a few travel perks.

You can potentially offset that fee simply by using the card benefits. Or, if you don’t use the benefits very well in a given year, it could take over $1,000 in spending to offset the annual fee, as explained below.

We're currently unable to link directly to an application for the American Express® Gold Card, but you can learn more here, on our advertising partner's website.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 4X Membership Rewards points per $1 spent at:
    • U.S. restaurants
    • U.S. supermarkets, on up to $25,000 per year in purchases (then 1X)
  • 3X Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on:
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per $1 spent at U.S. gas stations (former Premier Rewards Gold Card users only, until 10/4/19)
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 35,000 bonus points for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $155–$700 (assuming 0.5–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 8.75–35%

Many travel expenses are included here through Amex Travel, and you’ll also get a few other bonus reward categories, unlike the Platinum card above. You’ll get 3X points for your eligible airline purchases, whether they’re directly from the airline or through Amex Travel.

If you previously had the American Express Premier Rewards Gold, the former incarnation of this card, you’ll also earn 2X points at U.S. gas stations until 10/4/19.

When redeeming points for 1 cent each, you’ll get a 4% cash back equivalent when spending at the 4X rate, and a 3% cash back equivalent at the 3X rate. If you find a good point transfer deal that provides 2 cents per point, for example, you’d be getting an 8% cash back equivalent in the first case, and a 6% cash back equivalent in the second.

We recommend always going for a point transfer because you can get the best value for your rewards. If you use points to pay for flights without a point transfer you’ll only get 1 cent per point, not a very good deal. You could do quite a bit better with a point transfer.

Benefits

The Amex Gold Card comes with a handful of useful benefits, some of which could save you a tidy sum:

  • $100 Annual Airline Fee Credit: Use this to pay for incidental airline fees, like baggage 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 $75 in credits for every eligible hotel stay of two nights or more.
  • Amex Offers: Find significant discounts at a changing selection of merchants and websites, like TurboTax, SamsClub.com, Etsy, and many more.
  • Complimentary ShopRunner Membership: Free two-day shipping and returns at participating online retailers, like American Eagle, Peet’s Coffee, Staples, and more.
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Including Purchase Protection, Return Protection, Premium Roadside Assistance, and Travel Accident Insurance.

Terms & Fees

The Amex Gold Card has an annual fee of $250. There are no fees for foreign transactions.

You could offset this fee completely by using the full $100 airline credit and $120 dining credit, and also using The Hotel Collection once to get $75 in value. That would actually give you a total of $295 in value, $45 more than the annual fee.

In some cases you may only be able to use those credits in part, however. Let’s say you get $200 in value from them, offsetting the annual fee down to $50.

To earn $50 worth of points, you’d need to spend $1,250 at the 4X rate (which would give you 5,000 points). That assumes you redeem points for 1 cent each. If you get a point transfer that provides 2 cents per point, however, it would only take $625 in spending.

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

Best for Low Annual Fee

If you want the least expensive charge card option to earn Amex Membership Rewards points, the American Express Green Card (Review) might be right for you. It has an annual fee of $95, which is waived the first year.

That’s quite a bit less than the Amex Gold above, but this card offers only some meager rewards and benefits. Generally we would recommend the Gold over the Green card, because the Gold has a $100 airline fee credit and $120 dining credit that will offset the annual fee down to just $30. However, if you won’t be able to use that airline credit and you don’t care about the reward categories of the Gold card, you might like the simplicity of the Green card’s offer. But in pretty much every case we suggest going with a different travel credit or charge card, because the Green card just doesn’t offer much value.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar on all other purchases

So this card is pretty bare-bones compared to the Platinum and Gold cards above. The Green card provides a maximum of 2X points per dollar, not very much. There is no introductory bonus offer.

The following types of purchases in Amex Travel will be awarded 2X points:

  • prepaid hotels
  • vacation packages (flight + hotel packages)
  • cruise reservations

Other purchases through Amex Travel will only earn 1X point per dollar.

When redeeming points for 1 cent each, you’ll earn a cash back equivalent of 2% for eligible purchases through Amex Travel. If you redeem for 2 cents each, with a point transfer, you’ll get a cash back equivalent of 4%.

Benefits

There are a few benefits with the Green card that could help save you some money, but nothing like the travel credits and perks you get with the other Amex cards above.

  • Amex Offers: Get discounts at a wide variety of participating merchants, like Crayola.com, Casper.com, Advance Auto Parts, Nutrisystem, and more.
  • Complimentary ShopRunner Membership: Free two-day shipping and returns at select online retailers, like Eddie Bauer, Hugo Boss, Ray-Ban, Timberland, and more.
  • Entertainment Access: Provides presale and preferred-seating tickets for events in big cities, like Broadway shows, film festivals, and dining experiences.
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Including a Baggage Insurance Plan, Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance, and a Roadside Assistance Hotline.

You may be able to find some opportunities to save money with the Amex Offers and ShopRunner membership, but there aren’t really any travel benefits to make use of.

Terms & Fees

The Amex Green card has an annual fee of $95, which is waived the first year. There’s also a foreign transaction fee of 2.7%, which is pretty surprising to see on a so-called travel card.

This won’t matter at all if you’re going to stay inside the country, which is the case for many people. But in our opinion, a travel credit card shouldn’t have a foreign transaction fee, especially if it has an annual fee like this one.

The Green card is not very rewarding, and it doesn’t have much in the way of benefits. But if you’re looking for the cheapest way to earn Membership Rewards points, this is it. Just remember that you can offset the annual fees of the Gold and Platinum cards quite a bit or in full by using the travel benefits. So it may be worth paying more to get access to those cost-saving benefits.

A charge card might be right for you, but there are many other reward credit cards out there. Some card offers are focused on travel, while others provide cash back for different expenses. Amex also provides business versions of the charge cards above, which are all part of the American Express OPEN business program.
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