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Looking for a new rewards card to help secure the points for your next trip? Today, we’re pitting two of the best mid-tier rewards cards head-to-head to see which card offers the best bang for your buck.
Both cards offer valuable welcome bonuses and an excellent return on spending. However, each will appeal to different people depending on your travel and spending habits.
The American Express® Gold Card charges a $250 annual fee (Rates & Fees). This fee can be hard to swallow if you don’t utilize the up to $220 per year in credits that the card offers. In exchange for this fee, cardholders receive up to 4 points per dollar spent on bonus category spending.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms Apply.
- Rates & Fees
- 4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide.
- 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X)
- 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com
- 1X on other purchases
- Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card charges a lower annual fee at $95 per year. While the card has broadly-defined bonus categories, it doesn’t offer quite as high a return on spending as its Amex counterpart.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.
- 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide
- 1X point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Let’s dig into the earning potential, redemption opportunities, and benefits of each card to see which one deserves a spot in your wallet.
The first item to weigh up is the welcome bonus. While the long-term earning potential is key to holding onto the card after the first year, the welcome bonus should obviously influence which card you apply for.
The Amex Gold is currently offering an increased 60,000 point bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 6 months. This is a significant increase from the standard 35,000 point offer. Also, it's the highest welcome bonus that we've seen on this card since it launched.
New Sapphire Preferred cardholders earn a bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, which is the standard offer for this card.
Not all points are worth the same amount. But, we assign Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards points roughly the same value. So, although the Amex Gold has an increased welcome offer, these cards return roughly the same value from the initial points received after signing up for the card.
One of the most prominent differences between these two cards is the annual fee. The Amex Gold charges a yearly fee of $250 each year compared to the Sapphire Preferred‘s $95 annual fee. Clearly, that $155 difference needs to be made up via benefits and earning points to ensure the Amex Gold is better for your hip pocket than the CSP.
While the annual fee is much lower on the Sapphire Preferred, yearly fees are a blunt instrument to measure a rewards card’s value. For that, we need to calculate the earning potential.
Earning Potential and Bonus Categories
Possibly the easiest way of determining which of these cards deserves a spot in your wallet is to calculate how many points you can earn each year. Both cards earn just one point per dollar on non-bonus spending. So, we only need to factor in how much you spend in each card’s bonus categories to get a handle on the earning potential for each card.
- Amex Gold — 4X points at restaurants worldwide, 4x at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year, then 1X), and 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- Sapphire Preferred — 2X points on travel and dining
As an example, let’s say you spend $4,000 a year on dining, $8,000 on groceries, and $5,000 on travel. This is how your rewards would add up, assuming a value of 1.7¢ for each type of points:
American Express® Gold Card
- Dining = 16,000 ($4,000 at 4X earning)
- Groceries = 32,000 ($8,000 at 4X earning)
- Travel = 10,000 (assuming roughly half of the travel spending is airfare purchased directly with the airline, so $2,500 at 3X earning and $2,500 at 1X earning)
- Total = 58,000 points ($986 @ 1.7¢ per point)
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Dining = 8,000 ($4,000 at 2X earning)
- Groceries = 8,000 ($8,000 at 1X earning)
- Travel = 10,000 ($5,000 at 2X earning)
- Total = 26,000 points ($442 @ 1.7¢ per point)
Now, your monthly expenses will likely be different from the spending amounts that we use above. And you might assign different values to each currency. Still, you can see how calculating the total points earned in each category is a useful way of working out the value each card can provide.
In this case, the difference works out to $544 worth of points each year in favor of the Amex Gold, before factoring in any additional benefits or spending. That more than covers the difference in annual fees between these cards.
Both cards earn flexible points and feature some great transfer partners. But there are subtle differences around how you can redeem your points and the value you get from each redemption option.
Redeem Points for a Fixed Value
The most significant difference in redemption value applies to the respective travel portals.
When redeeming Ultimate Rewards points from your Sapphire Preferred via the Chase Travel Portal, you’ll get 1.25¢ for each point. That's a 25% bonus compared to redeeming points as cashback. For example, if a flight or hotel stay costs $1,000 through the portal, you’ll pay 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points. At a base, you can also redeem points at 1¢ per point as cashback.
Amex Gold cardholders can redeem Membership Rewards points for travel through Amex Travel, but you’ll get just 1¢ per point in value. Amex Membership Rewards points can be cashed out at a value of only 0.6 cents per point.
Transfer Points to Travel Partners
Both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards allow you to transfer points to airline and hotel partners.
Membership Rewards features more transfer partners. However, many of the partners require a relatively high-level understanding of the programs to extract maximum value for your points. Programs like ANA Mileage Club, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Etihad Guest, and Avianca LifeMiles can provide outsized value. But they definitely involve some legwork to get an award booked.
On the other hand, Ultimate Rewards partners with 13 airlines and hotels—including heavyweight domestic programs like United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards, and World of Hyatt. That makes Chase Ultimate Rewards ideal if you focus primarily on domestic travel. Members can also extract serious value from British Airways Executive Club, Iberia Plus, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
For more information on transfer partners, check out our ultimate guides:
Feature Perks and Travel Protection Benefits
The Amex Gold offers up to $220 in annual statement credits designed to help offset the annual fee. These include:
- $100 Airline Fee Credit — which only covers fees, not airfare. Note: this credit is being removed as a benefit in 2022.
- $120 in dining credits — received as $10 monthly credits for use at select food outlets, including GrubHub, Shake Shake, and The Cheesecake Factory
How much are these credits worth?
Points and miles fans often point to the dining and airline fee credits’ value to justify the Amex Gold’s annual fee. However, the credits are too hard to use to assign them full face value.
Unless you already spend money dining at the designated restaurants that qualify for the dining credits, you aren’t getting any additional value. Indeed, it’s likely you end up spending more out of pocket just to try and recoup the monthly dining credit!
The Airline Fee Credit also has its issues. Amex will only reimburse incidental fees on the airline that you designate. So, you may be able to easily utilize the credit if you know you'll have bag fees with United in the upcoming year. However, this credit isn't nearly as handy as the $300 travel credit on the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or the $250 air travel credit on the Citi Prestige® Card.
It's also worth noting that Amex recently disclosed the airline fee credit will be pulled from this card at the end of 2021, to be replaced with an as-yet-unannounced new benefit.
Overall, I see the Amex Gold’s earning potential as a much better indicator of the long term value this card can offer than these credits.
Amex Gold cardholders can also take advantage of enhanced travel and purchase protection benefits, including a trip delay policy, baggage loss and damage insurance, purchase protection, and extended warranty benefits.
Although the Sapphire Preferred doesn’t receive any statement credits to offset the annual fee, it comes equipped with an impressive range of travel and purchase protection benefits that include:
- Primary car rental loss or damage insurance
- Trip interruption, cancellation, and delay coverage
- Lost and delayed baggage coverage
- Roadside assistance
- Emergency travel assistance
- Travel accident insurance
- Purchase protection
- Extended warranty
Application Restrictions and Strategy
Amex only allows you to earn the signup bonus on a rewards card once. So, if you’ve had the Amex Gold or its predecessor (the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express) you may not qualify for the welcome offer on this card. Thankfully, Amex will let you know during the application process if you aren't eligible for the welcome bonus.
Meanwhile, Chase layers both issuer-level and card family-level restrictions on the Sapphire cards. In addition to Chase's strict 5/24 policy, you won’t receive the bonus on the Sapphire Preferred if:
- You currently hold a Sapphire card, or
- You received a signup bonus on a Sapphire card in the previous 48 months.
The Sapphire Preferred features a lower annual fee, better travel and purchase protection benefits, and easier-to-use points with a higher cashout value.
However, the Amex Gold offers a better return on your spending over the long term. It’s a workhorse rewards card providing an excellent return on popular bonus categories like groceries, dining, and airfare. That makes it one of the key Membership Rewards cards to add to your wallet.
For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: American Express® Gold Card (Rates & Fees)
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