The revamped American Express® Gold Card has been a big hit among award travel enthusiasts thanks to it’s fantastic earning rates and array of perks. However, despite its obvious appeal, I hadn’t added it to my wallet for one main reason: my inability to earn a welcome bonus on the card. You see, I previously held the card’s predecessor (the Premier Rewards Gold Card), and American Express’ once-per-lifetime policy for welcome offers includes previous versions of a product, as detailed on the Amex Gold Card’s application page:
“Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card or the Premier Rewards Gold Card.”
As a result, I wouldn’t be eligible to earn the welcome bonus of 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new card in your first four months of cardmembership — nor would I be able to use the CardMatch Tool to see if I was targeted for a 50,000-point offer (offer subject to change at any time).
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Nevertheless, I recently applied and was approved for the American Express Gold Card, knowing full well that I couldn’t earn the welcome bonus. Here’s why I did it.
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I’m thrilled to start earning 4x points at supermarkets. (Photo by GeorgeRudy/Getty Images)
I always try to maximize every, single purchase that I make, mainly through the use of online shopping portals and credit cards with various category bonuses across different types of merchants. I love my perfect quartet of Chase cards — especially my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points on my travel and dining purchases — but there was one category in which I knew I could do better: supermarkets. I had long used my Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card on these purchases, earning me 6 points for every dollar I spent. I had also used the card at Hilton properties, and together, I was able to easily reach the $15,000 yearly spending threshold to earn a free-weekend-night certificate.
Then, in June, I was targeted for an upgrade offer on the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express. Suddenly, I had a more lucrative card to swipe at Hilton properties — and my ability to reach the spending threshold required for the certificate suddenly became much harder. The Amex Gold (and its 5x earning rate at supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases each calendar year) started to look much more attractive, but was it worth it without a welcome offer?
Well … I decided to crunch the numbers to figure out.
In 2019, I spent $6,540.01 on purchases at grocery stores (as of December 23). Here’s how that translates to earnings on the two cards in question:
Surpass: 39,240 Hilton points (worth $235.44 based on TPG’s most recent valuations)
Amex Gold: 26,160 Amex points (worth $523.20)
In other words, swiping the Amex Gold would’ve earned me an additional $287.76 in rewards in 2019 on groceries alone. This single category of purchases would be enough to cover the $250 annual fee on the Gold card (see rates and fees).
RELATED: Who should (and who shouldn’t) get the Amex Gold card?
Then there’s the 4x points per dollar spent on worldwide dining using the American Express Gold Card. I currently use my Sapphire Reserve for dining out to earn 3x points, yet swiping the Amex Gold would get me an additional point per dollar spend. And since we peg both Amex and Chase points at 2 cents apiece, that’s an additional 2% return at restaurants.
No annual fee for authorized users
Another aspect of the American Express Gold Card that’s so appealing is the fact that there’s no additional annual fee to add an authorized user to the card. Before applying for the Amex Gold, I used to use my Sapphire Reserve for all dining purchases. However, I wasn’t willing to add my wife as an authorized user to the card — which would incur an additional $75 fee each year — just so she could also get 3x points when she dines out for work without me. Instead, she uses her Ink Business Cash Credit Card, which offers 2% cash back on up to $25,000 in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants every account anniversary year — or 2x Ultimate Rewards points when we pool our Chase points in a single account.
Now, since I’ve added her as an authorized user on my new Amex Gold, she’ll double her earnings. In 2019, she spent $2,023.08 dining out with her Ink Cash, earning 4,046 Ultimate Rewards points (worth $80.92). If she spends the same amount in 2020 and uses the Amex Gold instead, she’ll double those earnings — 8,092 Amex points (worth $161.84).
I’m a big fan of JetBlue — especially the carrier’s Even More Space seats — and I plan to put my airline fee credit on the Amex Gold toward those fees. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
I’ve already more than covered the $250 annual fee on the American Express Gold Card through the bonus categories, so the additional perks on the card are just icing on the cake. There are two in particular that I fully intend to maximize:
$100 airline fee credit: This can be used to cover baggage fees, in-flight purchases or seat assignment fees on a qualifying airline that you select at the beginning of the year. As a semiregular JetBlue flyer (who doesn’t travel enough to reach Mosaic status), I plan to designate JetBlue as my airline of choice and then put the credit toward Even More Space seats.
Up to $120 dining credit: I’ll enjoy up to $10 in statement credits each month when I use my new Gold card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shake location. I’ve already enrolled for this perk through my online account, and I’m excited to put this to use in the new year.
For a full breakdown of the card and its perks, be sure to check out our full Amex Gold review.
What lesson this teaches
Not surprisingly, many award travelers love travel rewards credit cards with large welcome offers. However, as issuers continue to tighten their application restrictions, I’ve shifted my mindset away from a one-time influx of points or miles and instead begun focusing on optimizing my wallet for regular spending. I now have the following cards for the bulk of my purchases, all of which earn my very valuable transferable points:
American Express Gold Card: dining and supermarkets (4x points, or 8% return)
Chase Sapphire Reserve: travel (3x points, or 6% return)
Ink Business Cash Credit Card: telecommunications and office supplies (5x points on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, or 10% return)
The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: everyday purchases (2x points on up to $50,000 in annual purchases, or 4% return)
Chase Freedom Unlimited: everyday purchases where Amex isn’t accepted (1.5x points, or 3% return)
In other words, I now get at least 3% back on virtually every one of my purchases — and up to 10% on some of them.
The take-away? Don’t give too much weight to welcome bonuses. Sure, it’s nice to get that big pop of points, but that’s not the only thing to focus on when building a strategy to maximize your points and miles. I’ve now opened myself up to hundreds of additional dollars in annual rewards, simply by looking past a welcome offer and recognizing the value of the Amex Gold for my regular purchases.
Over the last year, I must admit that I’ve felt a bit like the black sheep at TPG team dinners, as I watch colleagues pull the American Express Gold Card out of their wallets to earn 4x points. I resisted applying for the card myself, since I knew I wasn’t eligible for the welcome offer. However, when I finally sat down and ran the numbers, I quickly realized that the card was a great fit thanks to the earning rates at restaurants and supermarkets.
The end result? I am now a proud holder of the Amex Gold Card — even though I will not earn a welcome bonus.
If you’ve held off on getting the Gold card for a similar reason, I encourage you to crunch the numbers on your annual spending patterns to see if you’ve been missing out on valuable rewards.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.
Featured photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy
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