Q: I’m weighing my American Express card options. What should I consider when it comes to maximizing rewards?
A: As you know, there are quite a few different cards from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner). Different people have different priorities, so let’s look at some rewards goals — and which cards might be a match.
Earning airline miles
If you fly Delta frequently enough, the Gold Delta SkyMiles card can help you earn reward flights faster. Plus, in addition to some benefits that make trips more pleasant, it’s offering a sign-up bonus.
The card has an annual fee of $95 (waived the first year), and you’ll have to decide if it’s worth paying. But keep in mind that, like other airline cards, the Gold Delta SkyMiles card waives bag fees (which can save you money) and offers priority boarding (which may justify paying a little extra).
Earning cash back
Non-traveler’s may prefer cash back, which can be used for anything. The Blue Cash Everyday and the Blue Cash Preferred accelerate your cash-back earnings by giving you bonuses in two common spending categories: groceries and gas.
Note the annual fee on the ‘Preferred’ version and make sure you compare the Blue Cash Preferred vs. Everyday before applying.
Earning free hotel stays
The Platinum Card ($450 annual fee) and the Premier Rewards Gold card ($175 annual fee, waived the first year) are both geared towards frequent travelers who like high-end accommodations.
However, also consider American Express’s Starwood Preferred Guest card offer. Why? First of all, it’s more versatile. You can use your points at Starwood Hotels – OR – you can transfer them to more than 30 partner airlines without any penalties, surcharges or fees. The American Express cards for travel also allow transfers, but have only about half the transfer partners. Plus, the Starwood card has a lower annual fee of $95 that is waived for the first year. Here is my full review of it.
Building credit as a student
American Express used to offer a student version of their Blue Card, but they discontinued that a few years back.
So if you’re a student who wants a credit card and would like to earn rewards, consider the the Discover it for college students. It even lets you earn up to 5 percent cash back in certain rotating categories.
Keep in mind that you can have more than one American Express card. In fact, this might be a savvy strategy for maximizing rewards, because there’s no such thing as a single credit card that is the optimal choice for all circumstances all the time.
Updated Jan. 13, 2015