Top Travel Plastic: 5 Best American Express Card For Travel

best american express card for travel
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So, you’re on the hunt for the best American Express card for travel? Truth is, tried-and-tested AMEX have long been one of the top-rated issuers of plastic for would-be globetrotters. They’re known to consistently offer some of the best deals and rewards of any credit card company to folks looking to jet around the world and shorten the bucket list. And we’re not just talking five-star corporate travelers. We’re also talking the everyman who’s looking to garner points for their first biz class trip to Bangkok and whatnot.

Yep, just as you’ll see in this guide, there are American Express card options for all sorts. You’ve got the top-of-the-range plastics for the regular corporate people. Folks donning the suits for important board meetings can bag those to ensure they get access to the slickest lounges from Berlin to LA. At the other end of the spectrum are the cards for the more casual traveler, which lower those reward requirements and offer basic frills like lounge access and Avios points for airline upgrades.

Of course, it’s always important to do your own deep research into any credit card application and to be aware of the financial setup of the card you’re picking. Be sure to read all the small print with the products below before applying, ensure you never spend out of your depth, and understand all the ins and outs of what you’re getting.

The American Express Gold Card

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If we had to pick, the AMEX Gold Card would be the overall best American Express card for travel in 2023. Come to think of it, it would have been the overall best American Express card for travel in 2022, too, plus the five or seven years leading up to that. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that this is, simply, the best credit card for travelers issued just about anywhere.

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What we love most about it is that it’s not tailored specifically to big-spending, high-end clients. This is a travel credit card for the everyman, the everywoman, the casual traveler, and – perhaps at a little push – the backpacker. How’s that, you ask? Well…there’s zero annual fee for the first year (after which you just plan to cancel it down before it jumps to the standard £160 in any case) and there are pretty modest spending requirements to bag those tasty bonuses, which is what you’re here for, right?

Talking of bonuses, the Gold Card garners newcomers a whopping 20,000 Membership Rewards points when they spend just £3,000 in the first three months. You’ll also 3x points on any money spent on travel, along with 2x points on moolah spent directly with airlines. You can see how that really leans into the regular globetrotter, but also how the bar isn’t set so high that you need to drop a mortgage’s worth of money to get things rolling.

And the travel boons don’t end there, either. This AMEX card grants up to four free lounge access passes every year, and membership of a global lounge network. That means you can breeze into some fine facilities in various airports around the globe, from Heathrow to Jo’burg, Bangkok to New York, get showers at the airport and even free food (and G&Ts, ahem), all without spending a dime. We also love that refer-a-friend scheme, which can bag you 6k points in a jiffy when you convince a mate to sign up.

The American Express Platinum Card

American Express Platinum Card
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The AMEX Express Platinum can be seen as the higher-end version of the Gold Card (see above). It’s a product designed for the more frequent globetrotters out there, and lends itself well to luxury travelers and even corporate travelers. It’s not for nothing that it’s often seen as the bee’s knees of upscale travel cards from American Express, but it does come with a price tag…

Specifically, it comes with a price tag of £575 per year. Unlike with the Gold Card, that’s not waived in the first year of ownership, so you’ll need to be ready to drop a hefty sum just to get your hands on this bad boy. That said, there are payoffs. You’ll get a eye-watering 30,000 Membership Rewards points just by spending £4k in your first couple of months, which is a third more than the lower-ranked products here, plus 12,000 extra if you successfully pull off an invite a friend.

Lounge access? You bet! The Platinum means unlimited access to a whole network of the most sought-after facilities on the planet. That means Centurion Lounge access (AMEX’s own top-rated lounges) when available, but also premium business lounges in over 650 cities and more than 1,400 airports around the globe. If you spend a lot of time in transit or doing changeovers, that’s a gift!

There’s also a cascade of more niche perks associated with the Platinum. Guests using designated Hotel Collection stays will receive $100 credit for spa visits or dining whenever they check out. You’ll enjoy complimentary late checkout at multiple accommodations run by the world’s leading brands, plus one-off deals from big travel stakeholders like Marriot Bonvoy and Radisson Rewards.

British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card

British Airways planes
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We’d say that the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card is a great option for folks who travel a lot with the UK national flag carrier. It’s really focused on that airline and that airline alone because the main bonus – made available after you spend over a mere £1,000 in the first three months of ownership – is 6,000 Avios points to use directly on bookings with them. However, the real carrot on the proverbial stick here is that those points can effectively be doubled using the 2-for-1 voucher that users get after a total spend of £12k on the card overall. Nice.

There are some important caveats with that key deal. First, you’ll need to book your two flights within a year of getting the voucher, so there is a time limited to keep your eyes on. Second, you’ll be limited to flights that have eligibility for the vouchers, though in our experience they’re kinda’ across the board. Third, you can only book economy tickets, so this really is a card aimed at the casual traveler, not the luxury traveler.

There’s no annual fee associated with the AMEX BA card but there is an optional upgrade that attracts a fee of nearly £200 per year. You can go for that to plump up your benefits a little and be able to book biz-class seats using that bonus voucher. The downside with this product for us is the fact that there’s no double points on spending with BA or partner airlines. That seems like it’s an easy win and should be the obvious inclusion, but it’s nowhere to be seen.

Marriott Bonvoy AMEX Platinum

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The Marriott Bonvoy AMEX Platinum does for hotel goers what the BA version of the premium plus does for regular fliers. Where with the latter the focus is on those prized Avios points, here the focus is on points to use on stays at hotels within the Marriott Bonvoy family. The upshot? This piece of plastic really lends itself to business travelers who often find themselves frequenting the lobbies and corporate facilities of this chain hotel brand, not to mention lux travelers who like mainstay city and urban destinations where Marriott tends to have a bigger presence.

So, what are the bare bones? There’s a £75 annual fee that all new applicants will have to pay right away. That gives you earning powers of 2x points on any purchase but a whopping 6x points on all spending directly with Marriott hotels – garnering plenty of rewards just by sleeping in those plush five-star hotel beds doesn’t sound so bad, eh? You can also bulk up your stack by inviting buddies, since this one comes with a 9,000-point referral bonus.

The real prize here is automatic Silver Status on Marriott’s own loyalty program. And even that can be pushed up to the uber-coveted Gold Elite when you use the card for more than £15,000 worth of purchasing in any given year. The card is also packed with the basic travel features of most AMEX plastics, such as Global Assist (a round-the-clock travel assistance program) and travel disruption insurance to name just two perks.

American Express Business Platinum Card

Amex business card
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The pick of the best American Express cards for business travel would have to be the Business Platinum Card. This is the corporate version of the aforementioned personal Platinum AMEX, so it’s really the crème-de-la-crème of plastics in the category. Okay, so there’s an annual fee of £650 here, but we think that’s more than mitigated by the abundance of benefits that comes down the line. Let’s dig a little deeper into those…

First thing’s first: Lounges. Holders of this one will enjoy access to the uber-comprehensive American Express Global Lounge Collection. That’s a range of 1,200 lounges in over 130 countries around the planet. They’ll also enjoy access to the famed Centurion Lounges, which are the deluxe offering that you get in major hubs like JFK and Heathrow. Next, there’s worldwide corporate travel insurance as standard, a dedicated AMEX expenses app to help employees keep track of spending and receipts, and access to high-tier hotel loyalty programs.

As we’ve mentioned, business applicants here will need to pay 650 smackers to get the card in the first place. But that’s not it. They’ll also need to hold a current UK bank account and not be enrolled in any other AMEX membership program.

The best American Express card for travel – our conclusion

If you’re hunting for the best American Express card for travel then you’ve got plenty of products to pick from. We’d say that the Gold Card still reigns supreme. We’ve met plenty of travelers who’ve used it to garner airline points and lounge access; travelers who aren’t big spenders or big-wig corporate folks for that matter. That said, there are also top-of-the-range cards like the Platinum for both individuals and businesses, plus cards aimed squarely at travelers who fly a lot with BA or stay a lot with certain hotel brands.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.