Earn bonus points for both eating in and dining out with the American Express Gold card

Darren Murph, CNN Underscored
Fri February 21, 2020

Story highlights

  • The American Express® Gold Card is ideal for people who spend lots of money at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets
  • Perks include dining and airline fee credits, but the card also comes with a high $250 annual fee

CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through The Points Guy affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.

Our quick take: The American Express® Gold Card card is a foodie's dream, allowing you to rack up plenty of Membership Rewards points with its bonus categories on dining worldwide and at US supermarkets. Plus, the card's dining credits can almost entirely offset its relatively expensive $250 annual fee.

Pros:

  • Earn an industry-leading 4 points for every dollar you spend on dining worldwide.
  • Earn 4 points per dollar at US supermarkets up to $25,000 per year (1 point per dollar thereafter).
  • Earn 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines.
  • Cardmembers can recoup most of the card's annual fee with up to $220 in included credits.

Cons:

  • Credits require planning and strategy to maximize.
  • Other cards may be better for everyday purchases.
  • Middling welcome offer.
  • $250 annual fee.

Current welcome bonus: Earn 35,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months.

Best for: Points-minded travelers who spend significant money each month on dining, groceries and travel.

Digging into the American Express Gold

The American Express Gold is a standout card, largely due to its clear efforts to be top-of-wallet in a few categories that are significant to many US households. Take a look at your budget — do you spend a fair amount of your cash on food? Chances are, the answer is yes.

Amex designed the Gold Card to cater to those who spend nontrivial amounts at restaurants and on groceries, offering 4 points for every dollar you spend at eateries worldwide and at supermarkets in the United States. You'll also net 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines, which isn't too shabby.

The card's 35,000-point welcome bonus — available after you spend $4,000 on purchases in your first three months of card membership — isn't spectacular, but those Membership Rewards points are worth at least $350 when you redeem them via Amex Travel for airfare, and you can potentially get even more value than that with Amex's transfer partners.

Combine the bonus with up to $120 in annual dining credits and up to $100 in annual airline fee credits, and it's as if American Express is compensating you to hold this card, at least for the first year you have it.

Advantages of the American Express Gold

By far, the biggest advantage of the American Express Gold is its superior earning rate at US supermarkets and restaurants worldwide. With no foreign transaction fees, this should be your go-to card for dining everywhere you go. In fact, those bonus categories are so strong that it may be worth holding this card even if you only ever use it for dining and groceries.

Given that this is very much a food lover's card, it comes as no surprise to see up to a total of $120 in annual statement credits are available for select dining spots as well. You can earn up to $10 in statement credits each month (so, $120 annually) when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations.

Get up to $10 in credits each month for purchases at Grubhub and other select dining establishments.

Those who fly routinely will enjoy earning 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with an airline. Plus, you can select one airline each year to receive up to $100 in statement credits when incidental fees are charged by the airline to your American Express Gold account. This includes things like checked bags and in-flight food, but doesn't apply to seat upgrades or gift card purchases.

How much potential value can you get with the Membership Rewards points you earn with the Amex Gold? While you can exchange points for cash in order to pay down the balance due on your statement, each point nets you just 0.6 cents when you redeem them that way. You can also shop at Amazon with Amex points at a rate of 0.7 cents apiece, or redeem for an array of gift cards or for airfare at Amex Travel at around 1 cent per point.

While the above options are easy — and yes, it's important to have easy options — savvy travelers will want to utilize Amex's 21 transfer partners for remarkable redemptions. Amex has partnerships with myriad hotels and airlines, enabling Membership Rewards points to be used for travel that would be prohibitively expensive if paid for in cash. For example, the Amex Gold welcome bonus alone can net you a long weekend in many Choice Hotel locations, or a round-trip domestic flight on Delta.

Related: Explore CNN Underscored's guide to the best travel credit cards of 2020.

Amex also includes a baggage insurance plan on the Gold Card, covering eligible lost, damaged or stolen baggage when you purchase the entire fare for a plane, train, ship or bus ticket with the card. In addition, you'll get secondary car rental loss and damage insurance for most vehicle types and in most countries. And Amex recently added trip delay insurance to the Amex Gold, meaning if your trip is delayed more than 12 hours due to a covered reason, you can get up to $300 in unexpected expenses reimbursed.

A couple of overlooked-but-useful perks: American Express cardholders are often eligible for early access to tickets through Ticketmaster. If you're in a large city and love concerts, getting a head start on ticket sales can be the difference between an enviable seat and a chair in the nosebleeds.

Also, Amex Offers have been quite stout of late. This is a rotating selection of discounts, covering everything from clothing to tax preparation software to travel. Those who make a habit of watching new ones pop up can save hundreds per year on purchases they were planning to make anyway.

Disadvantages of the American Express Gold

The Amex Gold is a good choice for dining and at supermarkets, but not as an everyday card.

The American Express Gold is a specialized card. Beyond dining, supermarkets and airfare, you'll earn only 1 point for every dollar you spend on everything else. This means the card isn't optimal as a card for everyday purchases, and works best when paired with a card like our benchmark credit card, the Citi® Double Cash Card, or the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card for purchases that don't fall into the Gold Card's bonus categories.

The included dining and airline fee credits are worth up to a total of $220 each year — nearly enough to offset the Amex Gold's $250 annual fee alone. However, they take a bit of strategy to use. The dining credit, for example, is capped at $10 per month, so you can't just use it in one fell swoop. Plus, the list of eligible restaurants is small. If you live in an urban area where Grubhub and Seamless are available, utilizing this credit becomes easier. But if you don't, maximizing the dining credit can be a challenge.

The airline fee credit can also be tough to spend, particularly for those who already have airline elite status, and in turn, don't have to pay for checked bags when flying their airline of choice. You're also restricted to just one airline each year with the Amex Gold, unlike the broader travel credit of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which applies not only to most airlines but also to a broad array of travel purchases.

Despite being a foodie's card, there are no notable food perks. For example, eligible Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited cardholders are entitled to a gratis DashPass subscription for between three months and a year, but that's not found on the Amex Gold.

Related: Read CNN Underscored's comprehensive review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Also, while this won't impact many families, it's worth noting that the 4x return at US supermarkets is capped at $25,000 per calendar year with the Gold Card. If you spend more than that on groceries in a year, you'll earn just 1 point per dollar after that.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that Membership Rewards points take some studying and effort to really maximize. Managing transfer partners and dealing with dynamic award charts may feel like too much work for many, and you can't easily transfer Amex points to friends who may view this as a hobby. If you're looking for travel rewards that are easier to redeem, you'll likely want to pick a card like the Capital One Venture or Chase Sapphire Preferred as an alternative.

Stacking up the American Express Gold against our benchmark

CNN Underscored has chosen the Citi Double Cash card as our "benchmark" credit card. That doesn't mean it's the best credit card on the market — rather, it means we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better, and where they're worse.

Here's how the Amex Gold scores against our benchmark. The features of each card in the below chart are colored in green, red or white. Green indicates a card feature that is better than our benchmark. Red indicates the feature is worse than our benchmark, and white indicates the feature is either equivalent or cannot be directly compared to our benchmark.

When reviewing other credit cards, we use this format and these criteria to compare them with our benchmark. You can read our credit card methodology for more details on what we take into account when it comes to perks, protections and redemption value.

Other credit cards similar to the Amex Gold

For foodies, there's one other notable credit card to consider: the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card. This cash back credit card offers unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Plus, it has no annual fee for the first year, then costs $95 each year thereafter. If you prefer cash back over travel points or miles, the Savor card may be the way to go — particularly if you can't easily leverage the annual airline fee and dining credits on the Amex Gold.

However, while cash back is infinitely more flexible than travel rewards — you can spend cash anywhere — you also can't increase the value of cash back the way you potentially can with points or miles. Membership Rewards points can be used with Amex's transfer partners to score premium trips for much less than you'd normally pay in cash, effectively increasing the value of your points when you redeem them.

Also, although it may not be immediately apparent, folks who are fond of the bonus categories on the Amex Gold should also look at the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. With a $95 annual fee, this card earns 6 Hilton Honors points for every dollar you spend at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations.

But keep in mind that points aren't all created equal. According to the point valuations of CNN Underscored's partner The Points Guy, American Express points are worth 2 cents apiece, while Hilton points are only worth 0.6 cents each. That makes 4 points on the Amex Gold worth 8 cents, while 6 Hilton points are worth just 3.6 cents.

Should you get the American Express Gold?

The American Express Gold is a definitive must-have for those who know they'll spend heavily at restaurants and US supermarkets, and who also have the patience to maximize their Membership Rewards points through Amex's transfer partners. For others, the simpler Capital One Savor could make more sense. The annual fee is lower, you'll still earn 4% on dining, and there are no hoops to jump through to redeem your cash back.

But remember, Amex points are among the most valuable bank point currencies. If you're willing to put in the research, a relatively small stash of them can land you in some pretty fabulous airline seats to far-flung destinations. So if you're looking to redeem credit card rewards for exotic travel and you spend a lot of your time eating in or dining out, the Amex Gold could be a good fit for you.

Learn more about the American Express Gold Card.

Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best credit cards of 2020.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.