The popularity of charge cards skyrocketed following the Great Recession, and in 2014 many consider them a smarter choice for budgeting because you can't use them to accumulate interest-bearing debt. But which are the best charge cards in terms of rewards and benefits? First, let's look at what make charge cards distinctive:
  • Your monthly bill must be paid in full, which means you can't run up long-term debt like you can with credit cards. This introduces actual discipline into the equation -- so, if you can't afford to pay for something, don't buy it with a charge card. Think of it more as a convenience than a borrowing tool.
  • There is no interest charged as long as you pay your bill on time. If you pay late there is a penalty fee rather than an interest charge.
  • Charge cards offer a wide array of benefits that you won't always find on credit cards.
  • An annual fee is always required, since the issuing bank is not making any revenue from interest charges.
  • You often have a high credit limit or no preset credit limit (i.e., a dynamic credit line that adjusts to your monthly spending needs).
American Express is the pioneer in this field and is by far the largest issuer of charge cards in the United States. Some of the most iconic charge cards are issued by AmEx -- the Green Card, the Gold Card and the Platinum Card. Their benefits include several types of complimentary insurance coverage, comprehensive expense tracking, higher rewards and excellent customer service.

Which are the best for 2014?
So, which charge cards are considered to be the best? The Premier Rewards Gold Card and the Platinum Card from American Express are considered to be the top choices according to feedback gathered on the forum. These two cards also have historical records of delivering the best value.

Why? Here are just a few of the benefits that both cards have in common:
  • Membership Rewards Program - The charge cards from AmEx earn "Membership Rewards" points which are much more valuable than your typical credit card reward points. Why? Because you can transfer Membership Rewards points to more than 20 hotel and airline loyalty programs. Best of all, your points' value doesn't get diluted during the transfer -- you often get 1 mile or 1 hotel point in exchange for each Membership Rewards point.
  • Purchase Protection Benefit: This covers your qualifying new purchases for the first 90 days if something happens to them -- if they're stolen or accidentally broken, for example.
  • Extended Warranty Benefit - You get up to one year of extra coverage if you buy a qualifying item that has a manufacturer's warranty of five years or less. So if you bought an eligible computer with a one year warranty, you could get up to one additional year of coverage for free.
  • Roadside Assistance - You can call for roadside assistance up to four times per year and American Express will cover up to $50 each time. So that means this benefit alone might be worth up to $200 per year.
#1 Top Choice: For this one the membership fee is now waived the first year. Out of the two cards it also offers the highest rewards on both gasoline and supermarket purchases.
#2 Choice: The $450 fee is probably not justifiable for most people. But if you are a frequent traveler (especially if you are a road warrior business traveler) the benefits will definitely outweigh the costs, especially if you like to stay at high-end hotels and enjoy airline lounge access before and between flights.
What's the best offer if you still want a credit card?
Although not a charge card, this credit card has a reasonable annual fee given the many benefits you get. I have received quite a bit a positive feedback from people newer to credit or who have less impressive credit histories (and who got approved for it). It is a perfect choice for your first American Express card! It probably only makes sense if you live in a market serviced by Delta Airlines, though.

Are there any other charge cards available?
Yes -- and even though they aren't generally considered to be the top charge cards on the market, for some consumers they might be an appropriate choice:

Diners Club - At $95 (or more) per year and given the less-than-flattering customer service reviews lately, it doesn't make sense to choose this over AmEx. In fact, Diners Club is the absolute worst choice you could make in 2014 in my opinion.
AmEx Green Card - While it's true this is a good starter card, the annual fee is almost the same as the Gold; that makes it hard to justify getting this particular charge card.
Chase Ink Bold - A good card but it's only for business. It has a $95 annual fee.