While it's not the highest card on the Amex Membership Rewards totem pole, the mid-range American Express® Gold Card is the best credit card you can use for buying food. Period, full stop, end of sentence.
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The Amex Gold carries a somewhat unique $250 annual fee; well above most ~$95 entry-level trave cards, but significantly less than the $550/year Chase Sapphire Reserve or Platinum Card from American Express.
If you spend $4,000 on purchases in your first three months with the card, you'll earn 35,000 bonus Membership Rewards points, which can be used to book travel through American Express, or (more lucratively) transfered to various airline and hotel partners like Delta and Marriott to secure award flights and free nights.
Amex Gold cardholders earn 4x points per dollar spent on dining worldwide, plus 4x points on your first $25,000 in purchases per year at U.S. supermarkets (then 1x). The former bonus stands out among a bevy of cards that offer 2x or 3x points at restaurants, and the latter is fairly unique in the travel rewards space; not many cards offer bonus points on supermarket purchases at all.
In addition, you'll earn a healthy 3x points per dollar on flights purchased directly from the airline, or from amextravel.com.
We covered Membership Rewards points in more detail on our Amex Platinum review, but in short, you'll want to transfer them strategically to participating airline and hotel loyalty programs, and use them within the confines of those programs to book your travel. With a little research and some clever use of airline alliance partnerships, you can get returns of over $.02 per point on your bookings, and sometimes quite a bit more.
The biggest perk of the Amex Gold is access to the lucrative network of Membership Rewards transfer partners, but the card comes with a number of additional benefits that largely offset its annual fee.
Up To $120 Annual Dining Credit
Each month, you'll have access to a $10 credit towards Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. Chances are, several of your favorite restaurants are available on Grubhub or Seamless, so it should be pretty easy to maximize this credit.
Up To $100 Airline Fee Credit
Every year, you can designate one eligible airline for your $100 airline fee credit, which will automatically apply to incidentals purchased with that airline. Think checked baggage fees, onboard purchases, and seat upgrades; not the flights themselves.
The Hotel Collection
When you book two consecutive nights at over 600 participating hotels through the American Express Hotel Collection, you'll receive a $100 hotel credit to spend on dining, spa services, and resort activities, plus a free room upgrade at checkin (subject to availability).
In addition, the card comes with a lot of the benefits you'd enjoy with most travel credit cards, like lost baggage insurance, no foreign transaction fees, and secondary rental car insurance.
Assuming you use the $100 airline fee credit and the $10 monthly dining credits, this $250/year Gold card essentially becomes a $30/year card, and comes with a great welcome bonus, unparalleled earning opportunities on food purchases (both at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets), and access to the Membership Rewards ecosystem, which is a favorite of frequent travelers.
The card is less expensive, and requires less mental effort, than the Amex Platinum, but the two cards share the exact same network of transfer partners. Hardcore points collectors may want to have both cards, but if the Platinum's $550 annual fee is a red flag for you, the Amex Gold is a terrific alternative.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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