The Most Underappreciated Credit Card in America

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It’s a fast earning card, with some of the most valuable points, and it’s a great overall deal. You even make money (cash) in your first year while pocketing a signup bonus.

And yet it doesn’t get nearly the attention of flashy newcomers, or cards that have seen loads of changes and generated news.

The two reasons I think it gets short shrift – although it shouldn’t – are:

  • It isn’t the big benefits cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express with its broad airport lounge access, comped elite statuses, and Uber credits.

  • It isn’t the biggest up front bonus card. The standard initial bonus is 25,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.

The card I have in mind though is the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. (Offer expired.)

It earns triple Membership Rewards points for airfare purchased directly from airlines and double points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and at US supermarkets (terms and limitations apply and all that).

Most intriguingly, it comes with a $100 airline fee credit that it works in much the same way as the fee credit for the Platinum cards — you pick an airline from their available list for the credit and in some cases even online purchases of electronic airline gift cards will reimburse, even though they aren’t supposed to.

What’s especially interesting is that the card has a $0 annual fee the first year (then $195). During the first annual fee year it’s possible to get the $100 fee credit twice (once in each of two calendar years). So you’re actually making a profit on the card in my view.

And Membership Rewards has more transfer partners than anyone else:

  • Airlines: JetBlue, Aeromexico, Air Canada Aeroplan, Air France KLM, Alitalia, ANA, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Delta, El Al, Emirates, Etihad, Hawaiian, Iberia, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic
  • Hotels: Starwood, Hilton, Choice

The real winner here is ANA for its really great Star Alliance award chart — sure they require roundtrip bookings, but nothing wrong with a throwaway Tokyo – Honolulu coach return segment when booking first class US-Asia.

Etihad, Singapore, and Air France KLM have really useful spots though all participate with other transferable currencies. Etihad lets you book American Airlines awards at American’s pre-devaluation miles pricing. Singapore and Air France offer lots more award space to people using their miles instead of partner points.

Hawaiian is useful for booking their own metal flights to Hawaii, especially now that you can no longer use American miles to fly between the mainland and Hawaii on Hawaiian.

Pair this with no annual fee The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express which offers 2 points per dollar on your first $50,000 in purchases per year (1 point per dollar thereafter).

And of course The Platinum Card® from American Express earns 5 points per dollar on airfare booked directly with airlines.

Ultimately on the ‘underrated/overrated’ scale the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express — with fast earning of valuable points and at a good price — is severely underrated. Which isn’t to say it’s the single best rewards card in the market, but it has to be in the top 15% and it’s rarely talked about.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

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Comments

  1. Solid card to be sure, but when the Plat got 5x on airline spend, it lost its utility for me. It’s good at a lot of things, but there’s nothing it is the best at and the signup bonus is pretty meager.

  2. If you don’t fit into CHASE’s tight credit/application box, and you want ONE credit card, then the PRG is the best all around card you could have.

    great post

  3. @Gary, interesting. Would you KEEP the PRG if you have the Platinum and Biz Blue+? I have had all three for a while and it appears to me the PRG has lost its place in my wallet. Am I missing something? TIA.

  4. The charge card to have is the Platinum due to the lounge access and other benefits. It also gives 5x on air travel, superseding the PRG. Therefore, the PRG is really a $95 fee card that gives 2x MR on dining and supermarkets, which I guess is valuable and comparable to the Preferred. The question is whether it is worth the $95 fee. I see tons of people using Amex Platinum for dining, so apparently it’s not valuable enough to the average consumer.

    That said I may get it for the quick MR

  5. @Stvr care to tell me what you disagree with specifically and why? Knee jerk reactions that this isn’t a strong card actually PROVE my point that perception of the product doesn’t measure up to its actual quality (which is the point – not that it’s the single best card, just the most undervalued, my claim is that the gap between gut reactions and reality is wider with this card than with others).

  6. A lot of cards that aren’t mentioned on blogs are truly underrated. In fact, they’re not even considered because the banks don’t offer the bloggers incentive to advertise them.

  7. I completely agree with Gary. Additionally, this card has really good purchasing benefits and premium roadside assistance included with annual fee! From an earnings perspective, it checks a lot of boxes for everyday spenders.

  8. @Dave,

    Please offer some examples. I’d love to hear some cards you feel are of equal (or better) merit to this one.

  9. Gary,

    The card is not appreciated because it has been replaced by either the AMEX Platinum for very frequent flyers and travelers or by the AMEX Blue Business Plus or AMEX Everyday Preferred for less frequent travelers based on how their spending patterns fit the card bonus categories and how the card benefits are perceived as value – and this does not account for other credit card options other than AMEX such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve. A simple annual spending spreadsheet analysis (I have done it for this card) would indicate the difficulty in exceeding a 2% annual return return with the Premier Rewards Gold card unless significant annual airline expense was part of the spend plan and with that much travel, the AMEX Platinum becomes hard to ignore. Less frequent travelers likely would put more money in their pockets at years end with an AMEX Blue Cash Preferred card . AMEX Premier Rewards Gold also uses breakage with the incidental airline fee credit and reduced point redemption values for certain redemptions to make it more difficult to achieve a 1.5% to 2.0% annual return. Thus, a disciplined individual spending analysis is required to evaluate the benefits of this card and might show that there are better options for most folks. I believe some of these realizations may have motivated Stvr’s comment above. Have a nice day.

  10. meh,

    My AMEX Premier Rewards Gold annual spending analysis spreadsheet used $0.010 to $0.012 per point. We do not fly premium international flights so higher valuations did not appear achievable. There are many alternate redemptions which do not achieve even the $0.010/point value. If you know a way to make this card return reliably beat a 2% cash back no annual fee card without premium international flights, I would love to hear it. I assumed a total annual spend of $4000 on flights. Higher annual spending like $10,000 on flights would change the value proposition significantly but would result in making the AMEX Platinum the more attractive option. I hope this helps.

  11. Gary – One thing I think most people miss about the Amex PRG….all those wonderful spending bonuses at the bottom of their online page that routinely give between 15X – 30X points per dollar. Those bonuses are truly the equivalent of another spend down. Just as an example, the AF offer of 20K for a 1K spend is better than a 50K card offer with a 3K spend down, which most people think is normal and would gladly take. Now let’s add in the fact that Amex routinely offers bonuses for transferring points, something that Citi rarely does and Chase NEVER does. That makes this card a “winner, winner, chicken dinner”. Using the transfer bonus got me the wonderful ANA RT Tokyo flight in F for 40% off, or 86K MR transferred to VS. I also got a RT J flight on Iberia to MAD for 49K. Redemptions like that are ridiculously cheap, and worth many year’s of AF’s. For the points needed to fly Austrian via Chase xfer to UA RT, I flew to Spain in biz class AND I am going to Tokyo in first class. I challenge anyone to come up with better redemptions and point values.

  12. Just applied. Got approved.

    Perfect card for use at gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants for bonus spend without worrying about “rotating” categories. The bonus for spend at these categories is superior to the Platinum Card.

    Will use Platinum Card for airline purchases. This Gold Rewards for gas/food/restaurants. Love Membership Rewards and Amex customer service.

    Good call, Gary.

  13. Chris,

    Are the spending bonuses you speak of different than the AMEX Offers and Benefits? Are they specific to Membership Rewards credit cards? I have the AMEX Blue Cash 5%, the AMEX Hilton, and the AMEX Starwood cards and none of them offer spend downs quite like you describe. Would these point bonuses also be available on the AMEX Everyday Preferred since it is another Membership Rewards credit card? Do I have to fly premium international flights to make this card pay? Thanks for the help.

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