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 (different from their charge cards, which require payment in full each month). It was first launched in 1987 but beginning in July 2009, American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) 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 if you have less-than-perfect credit and want an American Express card, my recommendation would be to work on getting another non-AmEx credit card or two on your report. Then in another six to nine months, try applying for the Gold Delta SkyMiles card because based on feedback I’ve received from applicants, it definitely sounds to be the easiest American Express card to get. I hear from people with scores in the high-600’s getting approved for it.
For a really good card that is relatively attainable, here’s one I really like:
No here are some caveats you need to know about the Optima if you’ve received a solicitation for it:
- The rewards program: The Optima credit cards use Membership Rewards, which is a points-based program (the other American Express charge cards also use it). It is a great program if you want to spend your points on travel and gift cards. 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 less than 1 cent per point. You can sometimes get more that when you redeem for gift cards, and you can often get a much better redemption value if you shift your points into the program’s partner airlines and redeem them strategically. So if you wanted the card to earn cash back, it may not be the best fit..
- It’s not an actual 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 American Express Platinum Card which is a charge card — a high-tier one, at that. 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 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, certain 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 today: 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, for a long time, it was a no-annual-fee card that participated in Membership Rewards Program. That’s changed, though, thanks to the American Express Everyday card, which made its debut in early 2014. The basic Everyday card has no annual fee, earns Membership Rewards points and rewards you extra if you make a certain number of transactions each month. For more information (and a link to the application), go here.
Some other 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, you may wish to do the math to determine an offsets earned.
Other great American Express 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 August 10, 2015