Unfortunately, in Spain, there are not a lot of reward based debit or credit cards considering that the banking system here utilizes Visa/Mastercard as a standard versus places like Germany or Austria who base the banking system on Maestro, utilizing Visa and co as a credit card which allows for more banks and companies to offer travel reward based programs and incentives.

Nonetheless, the primary reason you need a travel based card is because of the rewards you get. If you are going to spend money, why not get something in return? Regardless of where you live, that is where the AMEX card comes into play. It definitely is our (my wife and Is) card of choice, primarily to collect flight miles and I recommend it to anyone for a variety of reasons. Now there are a few types and each one has its pros and cons. So it is recommendable to look at each of the card offerings, yet generally, I recommend the American Express Gold to anyone who wants to benefit from AMEXs offerings. Overall, I find that American Express offers amazing benefits not only when it comes to collecting miles (membership points) but also in terms of insurance coverages and a few other benefits.

For the sake of this post I only want to focus on the personal, not the business cards, nor the additional two personal cards listed below (However, if you live in Spain, then the Melia or Renfe card may be interesting as well).

  • American Express (Green)
  • American Express Gold
  • American Express Platinum

The offerings in terms of type of cards available vary from country to country, in Spain there are two additional personal cards which I wont review:

  • American Express Renfe
  • American Express MeliaRewards Gold

Where can I use American Express?

Globally speaking, after Visa and Mastercard, American Express is the third largest player in the credit card market. The first two are generally accepted anywhere and everywhere, and albeit them handing out more cards than AMEX they often do so over partners (banks) and hence conditions vary greatly. American Express issues their cards directly, which also limits the amounts and types of cards, yet as a result offer better conditions and overall benefits in comparison. The requirements to apply for an AMEX are fairly similar to other bank requirements, in Spain, they are a bit more stringent and don’t hand out AMEX cards to those not fulfilling the requirements (primarily income and credit check).

In regards of acceptance, AMEX is still far behind Visa and Mastercard in Europe and other parts of the world aside from the United States where it’s nearly equal, yet generally over the past years the acceptance rate has increased here and it is noticeable. I’ve surely noticed. Ranging from supermarkets, gas stations, clothing stores (especially major chains and luxury brands), to just about any eCommerce website including the big players, all now accept AMEX. This was very different a few years ago.

What speaks in favor of having and using AMEX

First off, don’t simply take my word for it. Do your homework and see what type of credit card suits you best – and if you even need one. The reason I generally (regardless of where you live) and genuinely recommend AMEX Gold is for a variety of factors including:

  • Extensive insurance benefits
  • Attractive bonus program (Membership Rewards)
  • High new customer bonus

Aside from the legendary concierge service of the Centurion Card also known as the Black Card (I’m not there yet 😉 ) and a downsized version of the same service with the Platinum card, AMEX Gold offers the average person just the right amount of what you need of a credit card primarly for those travelling. A lot of what AMEX offers goes way beyond what you get with any other credit card in a similiar context. It makes sense to apply for an American Express credit card if you really want to benefit from a good insurance and, like our primary reason, for the Membership Rewards program. I’ll explain what you can do with these rewards shortly, but in a nutshell, the only purpose we use them for are our flight bookings and upgrades when traveling.

Keep in mind that traveling is a science in and of itself and if done right, can offer a world of attractive benefits for near to nothing. My thinking behind this is, if it’s there and you understand how to use it, even if financially it may not be an issue for you or me to book a business class flight, why do so, if I can book a ticket for a fifth of the price of a business class ticket and upgrade for near to nothing from economy to business AND at the same time collect more rewards and miles while traveling, then why not? Hence, I’m sharing this with you because I want you to benefit as well. As they say, sharing is caring!

AMEX offers you the entry into the world of rewards, easily, without having to break bank because you’re going to spend that money anyhow, no? So use the opportunity with all the Euros you do spend and get something in return. I’m not going to recommend the Platinum to a majority of you, despite it having a few more benefits than the AMEX Gold, because financially it doesn’t make sense for a lot of you. It may make sense for us for personal reasons, as we travel a lot and we use our cards frequently, but the AMEX Gold will be more worthwhile for many of you wanting to make sense of your spent money on a daily basis. From my personal perspective you definitely cannot do anything wrong with this card. Across the board, AMEX offers one year free, and after that, the yearly fee of around 130 Euros (for the Gold card) is nothing compared to the benefits you receive using the card. In the end, if you don’t like it, just cancel your membership or downgrade. I go into more detail below on the cards, I just want you to have a general view of what speaks in favor of having the card.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not an AMEX spokesperson trying to sell you this card, I just want you to see through my eyes on this, yet as with a lot of things in life there are a few negatives and this doesn’t exclude AMEX. The downsides (only) to really point out are the withdrawal and foreign currency fees. Hence this card is only to be used to make payments and not withdraw cash at ATM’s whether in your home country or abroad. Stick to your bank card if that is what you want to do.

That being said, let’s walk through the cards so you get a feel of each of the personal cards AMEX offers.

American Express Green (Standard)

The AMEX Green Card is the standard credit card in the companys’ offering. The key advantage of this card is the low annual fee and the low turnover needed to acquire the bonus points. Again, this varies from country to country – in Spain this card costs 80 Euros annually, aside from the first year being free, yet in many other countries across Europe the Green Card is completely free.

The number of points you receive per Euro spent is the same as with the other cards and in order to acquire your new member bonus of 4,500 points you only need to spend 600 Euros in the first three months (Note: Amount and time frame vary from country to country as well).

Another advantage of this card is the basic insurance package that’s included:

  • Travel insurance (Spanish version includes 450K coverage)
  • Flight delay insurance
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Protection against abuse and coverage for example with online purchases

In comparison to the premium cards AMEX offers, the insurance may not seem very large, but when considering what you get for near to nothing, it’s definetly a postive thing. Due note that despite what’s listed above, I personally (if I owned the card) would not rely on the insurance for traveling especially with my kids. This is basic coverage like luggage delay, etc. It would be better to opt for another type of card or actual insurance for travel.

The downsides of this card remain the same as mentioned above, foreign currency fees and cash withdrawal fees are fairly high in comparison. Hence, use another card or your house bank card for payments in other currencies or withdrawals while traveling. 

In closing, the Green card is a good choice for you if you want basic insurance coverage, don’t think you’ll spend a significant amount of money using it and hence will only acquire the 4,500 points based on the 600 Euro minimum spend and will collect points from time to time. Also if you don’t want to pay an annual fee (in most countries) or a really low fee in Spain, than grab this.

Note: I don’t recommend anyone applying for this card. Honestly, apply for the Gold (its free for one year) and then if needed switch (downgrade) to the AMEX Green after a year. Logically you’ll get a higher bonus, if you meet the spend requirements, and can carry that over to the Green card should you wish to do so.

American Express Gold

This is the card I recommend, and is probably also one of the most common issued by AMEX, dependent on the basis that you meet the requirements – primarily your income and credit score. The reason it might be interesting for you is that there is (typically) no annual fee the first year and the attractive new customer bonus points (20,000) you acquire which can then be used, for example, towards travel rewards. After the first year the card only costs 130 Euros (varies from country to country), which literally is nothing when considering what you get.

If you use AMEX’s services properly, then this card is worthwhile. Collect membership points and take advantage of the insurance offerings this card offers, which are significantly better than the Green Card:

  • Travel cancellation insurance
  • International travel health insurance
  • Travel comfort insurance (flight or baggage delays, lost luggage)
  • Motor vehicle protection
  • Luggage Insurance
  • Travel Accident Insurance
  • Purchase protection (online purchases, misuse, etc)
  • Access to airport lounges
  • 10% discount with Hertz Gold Plus
  • Discounts at restaurants, events and concerts
  • Golf club accesses
  • etc….

You can already see that this card offers significantly more benefits then its counterpart above, particularly the travel cancellation insurance and foreign travel health insurance are of interest to me. I won’t even dive into any other explanations here. I think its fairly self explanatory why I recommend this card. I would say that if you travel more than 3 times per year, this card pays for itself. In addition, think about the membership rewards you collect which you can use towards travel or actual physical items. The question that remains is – “why not get it?”

Again, the only real downsides are the high fees in regards to foreign currencies and ATM withdrawels, but that is why you have other cards to your disposal. This American Express credit card can be a great choice – especially since you can test it completely for free in the first year!

American Express Platinum

The AMEX Platinum card is something along the non-plus ultra among the AMEX card line. It comes with a hefty yearly price tag (in Spain it’s 690 Euros), but you do get a significant amount of services that are unparalleled by other companies. However, I only recommend this card if (1) you can afford it, and (2) if you are a frequent traveller. 

The AMEX platinum is probably one of the best travel cards out there (from a European perspective, but from the homework I’ve done I would probably say in the U.S. as well), and the high annual fee is quickly justified when you look at what is offered:

  • 200 Euro travel credit for hotels and flights per year
  • 2x VIP Priority Pass worth ca. 399 Euros per membership
  • Insurance benefits with high coverage
  • Attractive welcome bonus (40,000 points)
  • Concierge service
  • Luxury hotel benefits
  • Personal travel services
  • A variety of AMEX specific experiences (Private Jet program, restaurantes, etc.)
  • A variety of other insurances
  • etc…

Taking all this into consideration, the Platinum card ends up paying for itself, but from my personal perspective only if you travel frequently. The best part is the welcome bonus of 40,000 points which in and of itself is already a free continental flight in Europe or multiple national flights in Spain (or your country depending on where you live).

The price is more than justified.

Again, the primary reason I carry an AMEX is the membership rewards program, like the other cards, however, the Platinum goes above and beyond. Consider the yearly travel credit. Mentally that alone melts the annual fee down to 490 Euros, allowing you to book hotels and flights.

Another beautiful benefit is the VIP priority pass, which for frequent travellers brings you to the prestige level of access to lounges across the globe. The best thing is you get two of these cards (example: my wife and I). Imagine relaxing and enjoying the benefits of lounge access even when traveling with Ryanair, Eurowings, or EasyJet.

I also mentioned insurances above, but just so you have an easy overview, the Platinum card includes:

  • International Travel Health Insurance & Medical Assistance
  • Travel cancellation and travel insurance
  • Trip interruption and travel interruption insurance
  • Travel baggage and travel document insurance
  • Car damage waiver
  • Travel comfort insurance (including luggage insurance)
  • Travel accident insurance
  • Private liability and legal costs insurance
  • Vehicle Assistance Service

This, in principle, for travel is as complete as it needs to be. The coverage amounts are high and the scope of services really include everything you need while traveling. However, you should keep in mind that there is always a certain deductible and most benefits only apply if you have paid by credit card. However, it is very attractive that the insurance also applies to the owner of the partner card. If you travel with children or grandchildren, the insurance benefits also apply to them (bingo!).

Yes, the Platinum card is an amazing travel card, but I do not recommend it for the majority of you. It’s just worth noting that it’s a great card and you quickly realize that the annual fee, at first glance may seem enormous, however, it quickly becomes clear why the benefits outweigh the annual fee. Still, the Gold is a great way to start.

Again, the only thing to note here are high fees for withdrawals and foreign currency exchange. 

Are there any alternatives?

Depending on the country you live in, there are numerous alternatives. As mentioned at the very beginning, unfortunately Spain is extremely limited in regards to credit cards with rewards programs and after extensive research I have only come across AMEX and the Iberia Icon. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of “reward” programs like grocery chain programs that offer discounts on your groceries, but this post specifically relates to travel and the benefits of a credit card that include things like insurance coverage and travel benefits. Your grocery card just wont do here.

I won’t dive into alternatives, as that is very country dependent and as mentioned Spain is limited based on the banking system. I recommend you do your homework, whether you live in the United States, Germany or Hong Kong, there are lots of cards out there (Miles & More card, Barclays, Santander Visa, N26, DKB credit card, Chase Sapphire, Capital One, AMEX Hilton, etc..) that offer similar or a variety of other benefits for travelers that may be better for you. The points is why spend money with your bank card and get nothing in return?

In closing…choosing an AMEX card.

I’ve come to really enjoy the benefits of having an American Express, and I believe its a great choice for anyone who travels (especially frequent travelers). The weakness of the card in regards to high fees for withdrawals and payments in foreign currency are a minor factor considering all the above benefits. The strengths clearly lie in the insurance advantages, the attractive Membership Rewards program and the additional benefits of the Platinum card. If for nothing else, then again I recommend the AMEX Gold, get the points, utilize them for a travel benefit and downgrade if needed. Think about it. You buy groceries at Carrefour anyhow, why not get points on top of the grocery discounts and perhaps have the chance to upgrade your next trip for nothing? Consider all three card models (and perhaps the Renfe/Melia alternative), if you live elsewhere consider other cards as an alternative or “on top”, but this is definitely a card I recommend having in your wallet or purse.

Let me know your thoughts below and if you have any other questions, let me know. 

Note: If you do decide to register an AMEX Gold we’d appreicate you utilizing the above links. You’ll receive all the benefits and we will receive a small recommendation bonus. All at no cost to either of us.

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