American Express offers well over a dozen personal charge and credit card products in the U.S., with a wide variety of costs, benefits, and promotional offers. If you're in the market for a new credit card, American Express may have one that meets your needs. Here are some details of American Express' credit card offerings to help you make a smart decision.
American Express has a wide variety of credit card products
American Express is generally known as a high-end credit card issuer. In fact, the company's affluent and high-spending customer base is what has enabled Amex to charge higher fees to merchants than Visa or MasterCard.
However, in recent years, American Express' product portfolio has evolved into a wide variety of credit card products. Sure, there are still the high-end products, such as the flagship Platinum Card® from American Express, which comes with a $550 annual fee, and perks such as airport-lounge access, incidental fee credits, and even $200 of Uber rides per year. There's even a level above this, in the form of the exclusive Centurion® Card, better known as the "black card," which has a $2,500 annual fee on top of its $7,500 initiation fee, and comes with some out-of-this-world perks.
On the other end of the spectrum are some cards with no annual fee, but still with some impressive benefits. For example, the American Express Blue Cash Everyday® Card has no annual fee and offers a $100 new cardholder bonus after spending $1,000 within the first three months, a 0% intro APR for 12 billing cycles, and has ongoing cash-back reward rates of up to 3% in certain categories.
In addition, American Express offers several credit cards tailored to specific types of customers, such as frequent travelers, or shoppers at certain retailers. American Express is a co-branding partner for Delta, Starwood Hotels, Mercedes-Benz, and Hilton. In addition, several other retailers, such as Macy's, offer American Express credit card products of their own.
Some of Amex's cards aren't technically "credit cards" at all
It's also important to point out that some of the cards offered by American Express aren't "credit cards" at all, but rather are classified as "charge cards."
Here's the difference. With a credit card, you have the option of paying your bill in full each month, or carrying over some, or all, of your balance, and paying interest to the credit card issuer for the loan. A charge card, on the other hand, must be paid in full every month, so there are no interest charges to worry about.
The traditional American Express cards -- American Express® Green Card, Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, and The Platinum Card® from American Express -- are charge cards, although cardholders can now choose an option that allows them to carry a balance, known as the "Pay Over Time" feature. In fact, until not too long ago, all of American Express' business came from charge cards, not credit cards.
Some of American Express' best credit cards
A close relative of the budget-friendly Blue Cash Everyday® Card I discussed earlier, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card could be an excellent choice, especially if you use the card to pay for groceries.
The card has a modest $95 annual fee, but also has a $150 new cardholder bonus after spending $1,000 within the first three months. You also earn cash back at a 1% rate on all purchases, but this is increased to 3% at U.S. gas stations and certain U.S. department stores, as well as a sky-high 6% cash-back rate at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases per year. New cardholders enjoy a 0% intro APR period on both purchases and balance transfers for 12 billing cycles.
I mentioned earlier that American Express is Delta's co-branding partner, and these can be excellent credit cards for frequent travelers. There are three tiers of Delta-branded American Express cards, so these can be smart choices for frequent business travelers, as well as people who fly just a few times each year.
The introductory bonuses offered by these cards change fairly often, so be sure to check American Express' website for the most current offers. However, just to name a few of the ongoing benefits of the Delta cards, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card has a $95 annual fee and gives cardholders priority boarding, a free checked bag on Delta flights, and no foreign transaction fees. The next level is the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Card ($195 annual fee), which has those same perks, but also comes with an annual companion certificate -- essentially a buy-one-get-one-free domestic main-cabin flight -- as well as the ability to earn Medallion Qualification Mile (MQM) bonuses after meeting spending thresholds.
Finally, the high-end Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express ($450 annual fee) adds free Delta Sky Club access, more generous MQM-earning opportunities, and the ability to use the annual companion certificate on a first-class flight.
Which is best for you?
At the time of this writing, American Express has 18 different personal charge and credit cards available, and as I've discussed, there's tremendous variety among them. In addition, American Express changes its introductory offers from time to time, so be sure to check the most current information before you decide.
The bottom line is that different consumers benefit from different types of credit cards. For example, the American Express Platinum Card® is a fantastic credit card product, if -- and only if -- you use its benefits enough to justify a $550 annual fee. Similarly, the Delta co-branded cards only make sense if you fly on Delta regularly.
There's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all credit card, which is why American Express offers so many different products. Of course, compare American Express' products with offerings from other issuers to find the best credit card for you.
Matthew Frankel owns shares of American Express. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Mastercard and Visa. The Motley Fool recommends American Express. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.