Q: What happened to the Optima credit card from American Express? I went to their website and can’t find it anywhere!
A: The Optima was AmEx’s very first credit card (versus their charge cards, which require payment in full each month). It was first launched in 1987 but beginning in July 2009, American Express stopped accepting new applications for it (the exception being the “Oasis” applicants with less than perfect credit, discussed below, who are still offered it).
You can’t get an Optima unless you’ve been solicited for it with a targeted offer. If you call and ask to apply you can’t do it. So my recommendation (as of November 2013) would be to work on getting another non-AmEx credit card or two on your report. Then in another 6-9 months, try applying for their Gold Delta SkyMiles because based on feedback I’ve received from applicants, it definitely sounds to be the easiest AmEx to get. I hear from people with scores in the high 600′s getting approved for it.
For a good card that’s easy to get, here’s one I really like:
For Q4 2013, here are some caveats you need to know about the Optima if you’ve received a solicitation for it:
- It’s not a true Platinum Card: There are two classes – regular and platinum. Although the latter is technically called the American Express Optima Platinum, don’t confuse it with the AmEx Platinum Card which is a charge card. The Optima Platinum had no annual fee, versus the $450 fee for the Platinum Card. As you can expect, the differences in benefits between the two is like night and day.
- The rewards program: The Optima credit cards use Membership Rewards, which is a points-based program (the other AmEx charge cards also use it). It is a great program if you want to spend your points on travel, gift cards, etc. but when it comes to cash back, it’s not a good choice. Why? Because if you choose a cash or equivalent (like statement credit) the value you get is usually 50% less than choosing partner gift cards. This means if you use the Optima card for cash back, it’s like you’re only getting 1/2% rebate.
- The Optima Oasis is different: Still available, this program is for those who have burned bridges with AmEx in the past and are looking to make things right. After paying off an old debt in full, many ex-cardmembers would be invited to apply for the AmEx Optima Oasis card, which would have a credit limit up to half the amount of the charged-off balance. This program is a very targeted offer and not available to everyone. To the best of my knowledge, AmEx’s partner collection agencies (such as First Source Advantage and NCO) are the ones who are responsible for offering the Oasis program.
- Very few Optima accounts exist as of 2013: As mentioned the normal Optima card application was closed off in 2009 and since that time, many existing cardmembers have been converted to other AmEx cards. Long story short, the normal version of this credit card (not talking about the Oasis) is extinct and its probably only a matter of time before all accounts are switched to other American Express cards.
What made the Optima AmEx so attractive was that it was a no annual fee card that participated in Membership Rewards Program. As of today, all the cards that participate in this program involve an annual fee, so if you want it now you will have to pay. On the other hand, there are a number of other no annual fee cards that definitely beat the AmEx Optima Platinum anyway.
Some good current options with Membership Rewards:
Gold Card: A lot of benefits for a reasonable annual fee.
Platinum Card: This is the granddaddy, premier choice for a charge card. The $450 annual fee isn’t for everyone but if you travel a lot, it actually makes sense.
Great choices that have no annual fee:
Blue Cash: There are now two versions (one has no annual fee) and the cash rewards are hard to beat.
Blue Sky: For those that want a no annual fee travel rewards card with some extra perks.
Written or last updated November 11, 2013