This Is Why I Don’t Like The American Express Gold Card (USA)


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Earlier this week I was going to discuss my reasons for disliking the American Airlines Gold Card but because the Amex website decided that it wasn’t going to let me view the Gold Card webpage I didn’t get around to doing that.

At the time I mistakenly thought there was an outside chance that Amex was temporarily pulling the card to revamp it in response to the changes to Citi’s Prestige card but it all just turned out to be one big glitch – today all is back to normal and I can access the Gold Cad page once again.

Anyway….on with the blog post

American Express Personal Gold Card – Benefits & Earnings

Right now this is what the standard offer on the Gold Card looks like:

  • Annual fee of $250
  • Sign-up bonus of 35,000 points after spending $2,000
  • 4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. Restaurants
  • 4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. Supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases annually)
  • 3X Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines and amextravel.com
Image courtesy of American Express

Also, the American Express Gold card offers the following:

  • A $120 annual dining credit which gives enrolled card members up to $10 per month in statement credits when they use their card at any of the following dining partners:
    • Participating Shake Shack locations
    • The Cheesecake Factory
    • Ruth’s Chris Steak House
    • Grubhub/Seamless.
  • A $100 airline fee credit per year for incidental expenses like baggage fees at one selected airline of the card member’s choice
  • $75 hotel credit on qualifying charges, plus a room upgrade upon check-in, when available, when you book a stay of at least two consecutive nights at a hotels in Amex’s Hotel Collection.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

What I Don’t Like

This is a very Amex-ish card and I don’t mean that in a good way – the benefits could be great but Amex makes some of them too specific or deliberately too hard to use…and that’s very annoying.

The Dining Credit Issue

The headline number of $120 sounds great until you realise that it’s spread over 12 months and only applicable at an incredibly limited number of eateries – if you don’t use GrubHub/Seamless I can imagine this being quite a tricky benefit to use economically.

Why not lower the annual dining credit and make it useable everywhere and in one go?

That would make it a lot easier to use but wouldn’t do Amex any good – Amex has deliberately set up the dining benefit in this way to make it hard to use which should ensure that there are a significant number of people who let most of the benefit lapse.

The Airline Credit Issue

The airline credit is annoying as it works in exactly the same infuriating way as the airline credit on the Platinum Card from American Express.

You can only use the credit on one airline which you have to choose at the beginning of the year (not much good to people who don’t stick to one airline or know what their travels look like for the year ahead) and it isn’t valid on airfare spending.

This credit is only really meant to work for airline fees (like those you pay for checked baggage or seat assignments) so it’s often not really much use to anyone with good airline status (or, in some cases, mediocre airline status) because those are things status gives you for free anyway.

Review Admirals Club Miami D30

The credit sometimes works for lounge memberships which, admittedly, can be useful but there are stories of some memberships triggering the benefit while others don’t….and then there’s the issue of people who already have lounge memberships though other credit cards already.

There isn’t much point in using the airline credit on a lounge membership if you already hold a credit card that gives you just that.

If you’re an American Airlines or Delta flyer you can circumvent this restriction by buying gift cards (which come with limiting factors of their own)….but should you really have to game the system to get value out of a published benefit?

This is another example of Amex setting up a benefit in such a way as to maximise the chances that a lot of cardholders don’t take full advantage of it.

The Hotel Credit Issue

The $75 hotel credit would be a very nice thing to have if you weren’t forced to (a) book two nights and (b) book through Amex’s hotel collection.

Booking through Amex’s hotel collection has the same results as booking through most other 3rd parties in that the large hotel chains will not recognise a guest’s status or offer the guest any elite credits or points earnings on his/her stay.

If you’re looking to book a boutique hotel or don’t care about hotel points/status then this may not be too bad…..but how many readers does that description apply to? It definitely doesn’t apply to me.

Why couldn’t the hotel credit apply for all hotel bookings? Amex could even reduce the credit to $50 and it would still be a vast improvement if it was useable more universally.

The Restaurant Earnings Issues

There are two issue here:

  1. Why limit the earnings to US restaurants?
  2. Why is Amex still having issues with crediting points for legitimate earnings?

Limiting the bonus you can earn on dining to US restaurants is just plain cheap….and with the Citi Prestige Card now offering 5 points/dollar at all restaurants worldwide the Gold Card is being shown up (yes, the Prestige has a higher headline annual fee but when you net off all the benefits  suspect there isn’t much between the cost of these two cards)

It’s bad enough that Amex is limiting dining bonuses to US establishments only but when the card issuer isn’t even crediting legitimate spend correctly you know things are bad.

Greg over at Frequent Miler reported as far back as last November that Amex wasn’t awarding bonus points for legitimate dining spend at various locations countrywide (even when the eateries were correctly coded as restaurants in the Amex system). That’s nothing short of terrible customer service….and this is still going on.

Presumably, eventually, Amex will credit cardholders with the points they’re owed but I suspect it will only be crediting the cardholders who notice the issue and complain. Can you see Amex retrospectively crediting people’s accounts with points if they haven’t noticed the error?

Bottom Line

The American Express Gold Card could be a genuinely good card were in not for Amex making life deliberately difficult for cardholders.

The annual fee is $250 (which doesn’t sound too bad when you first read the benefits) but for $250 I don’t expect to have to jump through hoops to make the most of the benefits a card offers.

Why make the airline rebate so hard to use? Why make the dining credit so annoying to use? Why force cardholders to choose between status benefits and the hotel credit offered by the Gold Card? Why limit the dining bonus to US restaurants when the card is clearly (in part) aimed at those who travel (no foreign transaction fees, a hotel credit and an airline credit)?

If you’re prepared to play games I’m sure the Gold Card can work for you (especially in the first year) but, funnily enough, most people don’t want to play games. Most people just want a good solid credit card to use….and this isn’t it.

Right….bring on the anger from the Gold Card lovers out there 🙂

28 COMMENTS

  1. Agree 100%. Especially the lame dining credit. It’s worth zero to me. YMMV.
    As an aside, AMEX’s most prestigious card(the Platinum, most don’t get their Black) has the single most obtuse benefit of any:
    Their monthly Uber credit.
    Having to first load money to the Uber then be sure to use the Uber credits as ride payment method is purposely confusing. AMEX knows this. And Uber is about the shadiest company on the planet so this makes sense.

  2. Yes, I too wish credit card companies would make it easier for me to be an unprofitable customer.

    The only part of this post that I will agree with is that Amex needs to clean up their bonus category recognition. The rest of your points seem to come from the perspective of someone who is looking for a single card to put all their spend on and keep long term, which is really a strange perspective for a travel/cc blogger.

    I would think you, and most of your readers, are looking to extract maximum value from signup bonuses and first year benefits before either cancelling or getting a satisfactory retention bonus. From this perspective, it’s an outstanding value for the first year, especially when most of us signed up for it with 50k + 100$ restaurant rebate (20% back up to $100) + 2x$100 airline credit + 12*$10 grubhub + 4x restaurant and groceries, all for $249.

    I don’t see how you can complain about that value proposition. How much free stuff is good enough for you? After the first year you can decide whether to keep it or not, it’s not a lifetime commitment.

    • You seem to have a very one dimensional view of credit cards and then wonder why I don’t share it…I don’t get it.

      There’s more to credit cards than sign-up bonuses and the post is clearly titled “This Is Why I Don’t Like The American Express Gold Card ” and not “I don’t like the Amex Gold Sign-Up Bonus” or “I don’t Like The 1st year value of the Amex Gold Card”

      The post I wrote simply outlines what I don’t like about the Gold Card and nowhere does it suggest/state that I’m looking for a one-card-fits-all scenario.

      You sarcastically say that you “too wish credit card companies would make it easier for {you] to be an unprofitable customer” when I’m not suggesting things should be unprofitable for Amex at all.

      I’m suggesting that Amex is marketing the Gold Card as a great card with good benefits in as number of areas when, if you look at it closely, those benefits aren’t nearly as good as they can be made out to be.

      Why can’t Amex simply offer a $120 dining bonus accepted everywhere or $100 hotel bonus useable everywhere and be done with it? No other bonuses (that don’t really add up to much) to deal with.

      Is that asking Amex to be unprofitable?

      • First of all, whether you “like” the card or not should be equivalent to whether or not you like the 1st year value of the card, if you are a rational person. When you sign up for it, you are only committing to one year. You have the option to continue after the first year, and it might make sense to, especially with a retention bonus (which are very likely), but you don’t have to. If you don’t get good value out of it the first year, then there really is no reason to sign up for a card in the first place. So I find this argument of yours quite odd.

        Second, yes, in fact you are asking Amex to make the card unprofitable. Benefits like airline credits, grubhub credits, and hotel credits are structured that way to increase breakage. The US restaurant restriction is obviously there because swipe fees are much higher in the US. This restriction limits their losses on the 4x benefit. If conversely they just gave you back a straight $220 credit and 4x internationally on restaurants then sure it’s easier, but it’s also going to make the card unprofitable for Amex…much less breakage, and much higher costs. Conversely, the current structure, though complex, makes the card profitable to both savvy customers and to Amex, considering that many customers will not take full advantage of the benefits.

        If you want to win the game, you have to play the game. If you don’t want to play, then go get a 2% cashback card and be done with it.

        • I’m looking at the card (and commenting on the card) as a card to keep in my wallet not as a 1 year thing so how good or bad it is in the first year alone makes no difference.

          I think you misunderstood my point about the credits – I’d prefer it if Amex gave a set credit for dining (which works everywhere and at once) OR a set credit for hotels – not both.

          Overall though, and please correct me if I’m wrong, you appear to be saying that this is a good card for someone who’s prepared to play and game the system but not great for anyone else….which I’m pretty sure is what I’ve been saying (especially in the last paragraph of the post).

          • First year net value is the most important factor in deciding to sign up for the card, if nothing else from a financial, NPV standpoint, especially if you have to pay an annual fee upfront. The net value tends to goes down after the first year regardless of the card, so to say first year value doesn’t matter is just silly. You’re doing your readers a disservice to suggest otherwise.

            I would say that the card is EXCELLENT, not just good, for someone willing to play the game. For those not willing to play the game, i.e. not using the airline or grubhub credits, well it’s still really good in the first year, but beyond that it would depend on whether you spend enough on restaurant/groceries to offset the AF.

            Plenty of people will sign up for the card, keep it after the first year, and not play the game correctly, which is of course why Amex can offer these generous benefits and still be profitable. That doesn’t make it a bad card. It just makes it a bad card for people who can’t/don’t know how to maximize the value.

            The issues you are complaining about is what allows Amex to offer such generous benefits and bonuses. Easy credits like you want will have less breakage, so they cost Amex more to offer. Sure we all want 4x + easy credits + lots of benefits, and pay nothing for it, but that’s just not profitable, so it’s not going to happen. Something has got to give. Either play the game or stick to no AF cards.

            • But my point is that they’re not generous benefits – they’re mediocre/poor benefits masquerading as good benefits.

              Also, once again, I’m not asking for Amex to offer “4x + easy credits + lots of benefits”.

              I’m saying this would be a better card with one credit benefit which is easy to use (like benefits from Chase and Citi can be) and 4x that works worldwide and, much more importantly, actually pays 4x when the card is used correctly.

              Amusingly you’re telling me that the card is best if you’re willing to game the system and squeeze every last benefit out of the card while Eric (below) is accusing me of gaming and abusing the system and blaming me for the benefits being as they are.

              Apparently I can’t win 🙂

  3. You gamed and abused the systems and you ruined it for everyone. Restrictions wouldn’t be in place if you didn’t abuse/game the systems to begin with. So zip your mouth, suck it up and get over your demanding whinny a**.

    • Oh dear.

      Here we have the “bloggers ruin it for everyone” and “all bloggers are the same” whine with a little bit of rudeness thrown in.

      Please, please, please show me how I have “abused the systems” and “ruined it for everyone” it should be fascinating to see what nonsense you come up with.

      One last thing – this is your one pass.

      Unlike a lot of other bloggers I don’t believe in allowing rude, obnoxious and baseless comments on this blog so either learn to make your points politely and enjoy participating in an adult discussion or you won’t get to participate at all.

  4. Where do people live that grubhub/seamless doesnt have things in their area? I get that some might not otherwise use the service. but everyone eats something so I have a hard time imaging people can’t find ANY value out of these credits.

    As for the travel credits…. this makes some sense to me if you are captive in a United hub since UA gaveup gift cards… but otherwise buy airline credits in one of the other airlines and get them reimbursed. They dont expire, so you know you can eventually use them.

    Bottom line though, the card is worth holding for the high earnings potential on spending alone (unlike say the amex platinum which is benefit driven), which more than justifies the annual fee. These benefits are ancillary.

    • Re: GrubHub – the way the credit is structured it encourages people to use GrubHub who may not otherwise have done so and, because it’s only a $10 credit/month it also will probably encourage them to spend more then they would ordinarily have done (few are going to spend just $10 or less).

      I understand why Amex is doing this but I don’t think it’s good practice to suggest people engage in spending they may not have otherwise engaged in just to use a credit card benefit.

      The travel credits will only work for Delta gift cards and AA gift cards so that rules out Alaska/Southwest/United/JetBlue/Frontier/Spirit and that’s going to rule out a lot of people. On top of that, it’s worth pointing out that unless the gift cards are used in conjunction with a credit card to purchase airfare then the consumer will be giving up a lot of rights and protections.

      • “On top of that, it’s worth pointing out that unless the gift cards are used in conjunction with a credit card to purchase airfare then the consumer will be giving up a lot of rights and protections.”

        Sure, but even if your ticket is only $60, you can use a $50 credit and spend $10 on whatever CC to get the same rights. Its not that hard to use these efficiently with a minimal amount of effort.

        Also, I have a hard time thinking “heres a card with great point earning structure to justify the annual fee and also gives essentially $100 of free travel, but I wont use it because I only fly routes less than $50 and need insurance on every single one of those flights.” If that situation applies to you, you probably don’t want any travel card with a fee of any kind.

        • I’m not saying the benefit isn’t usable – I’m saying it’s very limiting…especially compared to other travel/airline rebates available.

          Also, we’re always being told that we live in a miles and points bubble and that we’re not the target audience for these cards (which we’re not) so, with that in mind, how many people in the country (outside of the comparatively tiny miles and points community) do you think are (a) aware that you can buy gift cards to use the credit and want to have to jump through hoops like that to get back some of their annual fee?

  5. SPOT ON!!!!
    – The $100 travel credit is very hard to use since I have gold status with United.
    – The $120 dining credit is hit or miss month to month… I’ve used it twice in 5 months.

    I honestly don’t see the big deal… With this card or the Platinum…. and yes, I signed up for both in October of last year for the sign-up bonuses ($50k for gold & 75k for Platinum & 15k referral bonus).

    I think most bloggers put a value on AMEX points that’s WAY too high… Especially as a United flyer.

    AMEX points, for me, are with 1 cent for United Tickets and .7 cents for hotels… With the CSR, my points are worth 1.5 cents on any airline ticket OR Hotels. For me, since I don’t transfer miles, AMEX falls very short. (I would NEVER transfer miles to United since flights booked with miles don’t count towards status or lifetime miles)

    My Math (Chase):
    $100 Dining, using the CSR = 300 points
    $100 United, using the CSR = 300 Points
    $100 @ Target using Chase Freedom Unlimited = 150 Points
    Value of 750 points = $11.25 [750 points * 1.5 CSR Bonus /100]

    My Math (AMEX)
    $100 Dining, using the AMEX Gold =400 points
    $100 @ Target using AMEX Gold = 400 Points
    $100 United, using AMEX Gold = 300 Points
    Value of 1,100 points = Somewhere between $11.00 (Airline) and $7.70 (Hotel)

    I value flexibility … Hotels are a VERY big part of travel… If I fly round trip domestically to NYC and stay for 4 days, my hotel bill will exceed my airline ticket EVEN if I buy 1st class.

    On the Platinum card, I do use the Uber credits… other than that, the hotel status and the Centurion lounge access is the only reason I’m keeping the card. The gold, however, will be canceled as soon as I can spend the $100 travel credit for this year.

  6. Use Grubhub or Seamless and order pick up. You can order lunch from office or an entree with basically $10 off.
    Just use it smartly and don’t let it go waste.

  7. I’m not normally someone that bashed bloggers but I have to say it here, the card is a good deal and you are complaining about things that were likely put in place to make them more difficult to take advantage of so they could save money! You make it sound like AMEX should just charge you $250 annual fee for a credit card and then without ANY effort on your/our part credit us back $120 for the dining credit, $100 for the airline credit and $75 for the hotel credit! It sure would be great just for them to pay us all $45 to get the card! Give me a break!

    • I think you should read some of the comments following the post where I clearly state that what you suggest I want isn’t what I want at all.

      Out of interest, outside of AMEX, how many other credit card issuers can you name whose $200+ cards require you to jump through hoops to use the benefits they offer? Or that limit the credits by month rather than by year?

  8. The point that is being missed is that if it is simple it is usually not possible to get outsized value. When things are complex those who are smart will get great value and those who are dumb/or lazy will lose out. If an airline sold every ticket on the plane at a fixed price it would not be profitable for them at all. It is because some people like flexibility and hence are willing to pay a lot which allows others who are willing to live with lot of restrictions to get a good deal. Similarly those who want outsized value from their miles to fly business// first class are willing to live with lot of restrictions in terms of availability, routing, connection time etc and those who prefer simplicity can pay for the standard award ticket or purchase a regular revenue ticket. That is just the way the world functions. If it was one size fits all it would be boring and lose-lose for both parties.

    This is the first high annual fee card I have come across that I am willing to keep in the long term past the first year. I have a shake shack and cheesecake factory with 5 miles which I as it is used to visit and Grubhub covers atleast 40+ additional restaurants so using it once a month is no big deal. Buying a $100 AA Gift card is no big deal given that I live in a captive hub city. Hence I consider this to be a $30 annual fee card that gives me 4x at restaurants and 3x on flights. Also, dont forget the 4x at US Supermarkets which can be quite beneficial as well.

    I have tried the Amex Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi prestige but could not justify to myself keeping them past the first year.

    Can you name another high annual fee card that is better than this one?

  9. Wow. I can never figure out why some people seem to take personal offense and even get angry by someone sharing a an opinion that differs from theirs as related to…wait for it…the relative benefits of credit card perks. How one can be personally offended with this, I have no idea. And dearly hope I never will.
    Personally, I can relate to about every single gripe you have with these benefits. (I’ve got the card, but just for the first-year value.) The restaurant credits are useless in our semi-rural location. The reason I collect miles/points is so I don’t have to pay cash for a hotel so the hotel credit is useless. I like the 4X at grocery stores, but I have other much cheaper-to-free cards that can either match that or come pretty close anyway. If it wasn’t for the $100 airline credit I wouldn’t have wasted my time on this one. But since I can buy a couple $100 AA gift cards the first year (Dec and Jan) and just sell those at around 90% value, so the final cost out-of-pocket of $70 for the first year of this card is worth the trouble for 50,000 or whatever bonus Membership Rewards points I received.
    (And it really makes me angry that you didn’t mention the gift card selling method of recouping a lot of that annual fee if you’re really not interested in the using the credit by its stated qualifications.) (I’m kidding!! 😉
    And maybe whenever I hit the big city and come across a Cheesecake Factory, if I can remember, I’ll get some free cheesecake too! I think that would fall into the “just frosting on the cheesecake” category.

  10. Well put. This shows why it’s sort of pointless to try and tell others which cards are “worth it” and which cards aren’t, except maybe in the most basic of terms. Even then you’re going to run into trouble. We can really only determine for ourselves what’s “worth it”. I know for me, there’s no way I’m going to get $250 worth of benefits out of this card beyond the first year. On the other hand, I’ll gladly continue to pay the $450/yr for the Aspire since it saves me well over that $450 fee during the year thanks to all the many benefits I can fully use.
    So to answer your question, I can name at least a couple of higher annual fee cards that are better than this one. For me at least.

  11. Good analysis, although I don’t completely agree. The big value of the card is the 4x at supermarkets, although the 4x at US restaurants is pretty nice as well. The rest is mostly bs filler to make the card look more valuable than it really is. Also, I find the US restriction on restaurants to be super cheesy.

  12. Perhaps you should create your own bank, your own credit card rewards program. Nothing to bitch, moan, whine about. Typical “me me me” [redacted by TFM].

    • If you consider a critique of of a credit card on a miles & points blog to be an example of “me me me” then I have absolutely no idea what you’re doing reading a miles and points blog in the first place.

      Feel free to leave some more comments if you’d like (I think they help TFM’s page rankings) but be aware that I’ll redact anything rude or obnoxious that you write so you may want to look elsewhere if you want to vent.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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