Best Charge Cards 2019

Brendan Harkness

Author

Brendan Harkness

Updated March 6, 2019

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Charge cards are a type of credit card that usually require the full statement balance to be paid each month. Other than that, they’re like normal credit cards for the most part.

American Express is currently the only issuer of charge cards, so check out what it has to offer.

Best Pick For

Premium Travel Rewards

Why we picked this card

The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review) isn’t just the high-end charge card of the 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, The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (Review)). That includes the popular Priority Pass lounges, which are available with many credit cards, along with several others including Amex’s Centurion Lounges.

There are also travel and shopping credits to help offset the high annual fee, and elite hotel statuses to help you 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 plan your trips around booking through Amex Travel, or purchasing flights directly from hotels.

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, which is competitive among travel cards.

The Platinum card earns rewards at pretty good rates, but you could probably get at least as much value or more from the benefits, depending on how often you travel.

Key Features & Terms

  • 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 inflight food (not flight tickets) at your selected airline.
  • $200 Annual Uber Credits: $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.
  • Complimentary Boingo Internet access: Worldwide Boingo WiFi access at over one million hotspots through the Boingo American Express Preferred Plan.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Charge card: You must pay your balance in full each month.

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

Best Pick For

Foodies: Dining Out and Groceries

Why we picked this card

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 25% about travel and 75% about food.

You’ll earn points at industry-leading rates on food expenses, at both U.S. restaurants and U.S. supermarkets. It’s rare to see a high rate for both of those 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:
    • U.S. restaurants
    • 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 above (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 would be hard to beat that rate on food. The best cash back card with a consistent grocery category, by comparison, is the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (Review), which provides 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 spent per year. That card has a $95 annual fee.

Key Features & Terms

  • $100 Annual Airline Fee Credit: Use this to pay for incidental airline fees at an airline you select, 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.
  • Point Transfer: To airline and hotel loyalty programs, like JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Marriott, and Hyatt.
  • The Hotel Collection: Provides up to $100 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: 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.
  • Annual fee: $250
  • Charge card: You must pay your balance in full each month.

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

Best Pick For

Low Annual Fee

Why we picked this card

The American Express® Green Card (Review) is pretty disappointing compared to the Gold and Platinum cards.

The Green card doesn’t have much to offer, with a measly 2X points on certain purchases from Amex Travel and a few benefits. That might not be too bad, except that it comes with an annual fee of $95 after the first year. Add to this the fact that it has a foreign transaction fee (On a travel card? Really?).

Although American Express may choose to update the Green card to make it competitive, there currently isn’t much reason to get it. You could do better with no annual fee cards, along with other reward cards.

There is one situation where getting the Green card might make sense. If you’ve already received signup bonuses for the Gold and Platinum cards, you can’t get those bonuses again by applying for those cards later on. But if you get the Green card, you may get an upgrade offer to the Gold card which includes a bonus; and then you may get another bonus offer for upgrading to the Platinum. If you try this strategy you need to start by applying for both the Gold and Platinum cards, and then upgrade from the Green card; don’t do it the other way around or you’ll become ineligible for the bonuses after upgrading.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar on eligible travel expenses booked through Amex Travel
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar on all other purchases

Only certain purchases from Amex Travel are eligible to earn 2X points:

  • Flights
  • Prepaid hotels
  • Vacation packages (flights plus hotels)
  • Cruise reservations

All other purchases from Amex Travel (and elsewhere) will only earn 1X point, including car reservations and non-prepaid hotels.

Your points will be worth up to 1 cent each through the normal redemption methods, like flights and gift cards. But point transfers can provide more value, like 2 cents per point or more.

At 2 cents per point you’d be earning a cash back equivalent of 4% in the 2X category, and 2% on other purchases.

Those rates aren’t awful but you’re very limited in how you can earn points, making the $95 fee seem excessive. And there’s no public introductory bonus to sweeten the deal, although you may be targeted for a private signup bonus offer.

Key Features & Terms

  • Point Transfer: To airline and hotel loyalty programs, like JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Marriott, and Hyatt.
  • Amex Offers: Find significant discounts at a changing selection of merchants and websites, like Walmart Online Grocery, Squarespace, Hulu, and many more.
  • Complimentary ShopRunner membership: ShopRunner provides free two-day shipping and returns at participating online retailers, like Hugo Boss, Lord & Taylor, Timberland, and more.
  • Entertainment Access: Exclusive access and pre-sale tickets to shows in big cities around the country.
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Including Purchase Protection, Return Protection, Roadside Assistance, and Travel Accident Insurance.
  • Foreign transaction fee: 2.7%
  • Annual fee: $95, $0 the first year
  • Charge card: You must pay your balance in full each month.

Read more in our Review of the American Express® Green Card: Is it worth the $95 annual fee?

Is a Charge Card 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, 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 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.

American Express is currently the only credit card company issuing charge cards. There are three cards, as shown above: the Platinum, Gold, and Green cards. You’ll probably need better credit to qualify for the Platinum and Gold cards, although you won’t need excellent credit — good credit will suffice, and maybe even a bit less than that.

Amex charge 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. 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.

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. 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.

American Express may provide an option to let you revolve a balance from month to month at a given interest rate, known as the Pay Over Time service. Eligible charges of $100 or more can 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. 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 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 credit cards in most ways, but there are some important differences, such as how credit limits are reported to the credit bureaus. That means they can 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 nicely into your spending habits, without causing a hassle or costing you extra.

  • Annual fee: You have three fee levels to choose from for Amex charge cards, but the Green card isn’t really a contender. If you’re going to pay $95 for a card there are better options. The real choice is between the Gold and Platinum cards, and the answer should depend more on the card features (travel perks vs. food spending) than the fees.
  • Rewards: The Amex charge cards all provide Membership Rewards points, but they have very different bonus categories. Are you going to use the card more for travel, or for food? What about hotels in particular? The Gold card is great for food, and also has airline categories, while the Platinum is focused on airlines and hotels.
  • Point transfers: All three Amex charge cards offer the same point transfer options to airline and hotel loyalty programs. Point transfers can provide the best redemption values (like 2 cents per point, or even more) so no matter which charge card you use, aim to get high point values through transfers.
  • A strong signup bonus: Signup bonus offers come and go, and they’re particularly variable with Amex cards. If the current welcome offer is lower than usual, or if you haven’t received a private offer for a larger bonus, you may want to wait to apply until more points are being offered.
  • Extra perks: If you want luxury travel perks, like airport lounge access and elite hotel status, there’s no question that the Platinum card reigns supreme. You’ll still get some decent perks with the Gold card, but they aren’t quite as travel-oriented.
  • Shopping and travel protections: All three Amex charge cards come with the same set of protection benefits, like Return Protection and Travel Accident Insurance. But in some cases these protections are better on the more expensive cards; for example, the Green card offers regular Roadside Assistance, which makes you pay for every service call, but the Gold and Platinum cards offer Premium Roadside Assistance, which comes with four service calls per year at no cost.
There are many other credit cards besides charge cards. Take a look at our picks for the Best Credit Cards in a variety of categories.
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