Best Charge Cards: 2018

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness

Updated Jul 17, 2018

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Best for Premium Travel Rewards

Best for Regular Travelers

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 2018

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 1.3 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 American Express Platinum Card® (Review)
Regular Travelers American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (Review)
Low Annual Fee American Express® Green Card (Review)

Best for Premium Travel Rewards

Platinum Card® from American Express
Apply Now

Platinum Card® from American Express

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $550
  • Interest Rate: Not Applicable - Paid in Full Monthly
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Up to $200 Uber Savings Annually.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • As a Platinum Card Member, you can enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More. Terms Apply.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 a year in baggage fees and more at one airline. Terms Apply.

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.

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 1.3 cents per point, for example, you’d be getting an effective cash back equivalent of 6.5% for the 5X category, a nice step up. And the 2X category would provide a 2.6% 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✓ ($75), 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 1.3 cents per point, for example, it would only take $3,077 in spending.

Read more in our Review of the American Express Platinum Card

Best for Regular Travelers

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
Apply Now

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $195
  • Interest Rate: Not Applicable - Paid in Full Monthly
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • 3X points for flights booked directly with airlines. 2X points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and US supermarkets. 1X points on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit. Up to $100 a year in baggage fees and more at one airline.
  • Get a $75 hotel credit on qualifying charges, plus a room upgrade upon arrival, if available with The Hotel Collection at americanexpress.com/hc. Terms apply.
  • $0 Intro Annual Fee for the 1st year, then $195.
  • Terms Apply.

If you don’t travel enough to warrant the Amex Platinum card, you might prefer the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (Review). At $195 per year, waived the first year, it’s a less expensive way to earn Membership Rewards points while getting a few travel perks.

You can 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 $3,000 in spending to offset the annual fee, as explained below.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 3X Membership Rewards points per dollar on flights booked directly through airlines
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar:
    • on eligible travel expenses booked through American Express Travel
    • at U.S. gas stations
    • at U.S. supermarkets
    • at U.S. restaurants
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 25,000 Membership Rewards points for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months after account opening

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 either 3X or 2X points for your eligible travel purchases, but you’ll have to do all your shopping through Amex Travel to get the most out of this card.

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

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

When redeeming points for 1 cent each, you’ll get a 3% cash back equivalent on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2% back in the other bonus categories. If you get a value of 1.3 cents each through a point transfer, it would be a 3.9% cash back equivalent and a 2.6% cash back equivalent, respectively.

We recommend always going for a point transfer, because if you use points to pay for flights you won’t earn rewards at the normal 3X rate, like you would when booking regularly.

Benefits

The Premier Rewards Gold Card comes with a handful of useful benefits:

  • $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.
  • 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, Cell Phone Protection, and Travel Accident Insurance.

Terms & Fees

The Premier Rewards Gold has an annual fee of $195, waived the first year. There are no fees for foreign transactions.

You could offset this fee completely by using the full $100 airline credit, and then using The Hotel Collection perk twice to get $150 in value. That would actually give you $55 extra, just for using the card benefits.

In some cases you may only be able to use those credits in part, however. Let’s say you get $95 in value from them, offsetting the annual fee down to $100.

To earn $100 worth of points, you’d need to spend $3,334 on flights booked directly with airlines. That assumes you redeem points for 1 cent each. If you get a point transfer that provides 1.3 cents per point, it would only take $2,565 in spending.

Read more in our Review of the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card

Best for Low Annual Fee

American Express® Green Card
Apply Now

American Express® Green Card

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $95, $0 the first year
  • Interest Rate: Not Applicable - Paid in Full Monthly
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 2X points for every $1 spent by booking with your card through American Express Travel.
  • Earn 1X point every $1 you spend on all other eligible purchases.
  • Points have no expiration date.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year of card membership, then $95.
  • Terms and restrictions apply.

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 $100 less than the Premier Rewards 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 that will offset the annual fee down to just $95. 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.

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 Premier Rewards Gold 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 points 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 1.3 cents each, with a point transfer, you’ll get a cash back equivalent of 2.6%.

Point transfers are obviously the better option if you want to get the best value for your points. When you use points to pay for flights you won’t earn any rewards, so we recommend avoiding that redemption method in general. You’d be better off using the Green card to book the flight, getting 2X points in the process.

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 Premier Rewards 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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