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American Express Needs To Remove These 2 Letters To Be More Competitive

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Written by Charlie

Even though American Express has some great category bonuses, they will not be as competitive as they need to be unless they remove these 2 letters.

It has been a tough year or so for American Express. They lost their Costco and JetBlue relationships and have not really brought anything new or special to the table. Also, they have the terrible policy on their personal cards of receiving the bonus once per lifetime (this doesn’t just affect card churners) which I am sure has kept the number of new accounts to a lower number than in the past.

American Express Needs To Remove These 2 Letters To Be More Competitive

Chase Amex

American Express cards are not good for international category bonuses

But, they still have some pretty great perks and bonuses – from the big bonuses that come and go on their Membership Reward earning cards to their category bonuses and reimbursement perks. All in all, there are many good reasons to have a couple of Amex cards in your wallet, at least. They have also made it easier to use them abroad as they have removed the foreign transaction fees from many of their cards.

Using Their Cards Abroad

But, it is that issue of foreign use that I want to take issue with. I have several Amex cards (actually, I happen to have 3 Hilton Surpass cards right now!) and have been using my SPG card more since they removed the foreign transaction fee on it. However, the problem is with their category bonuses. When I am buying things like gas abroad, I like that Chase still gives me the category bonus on gas, even when purchased at non-US stations (they do not exclude them). The same is true for Chase’s other category bonuses on their cards – I am always able to get these bonuses when shopping at foreign stores in those categories.

The US-Only Categories

Be More Competitive

That is not the case with Amex, however. The 2 letters they need to remove are – US. Those are the letters on their various category bonuses and they are written like this:

  • 2X points at US restaurants
  • 2X points at US gas stations
  • 2X points at US supermarkets
  • 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases(then 1x)
  • 2x points at US gas stations
  • U.S. purchases for advertising in select media
  • U.S. purchases at gas stations
  • U.S. purchases for shipping
  • U.S. computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers

Those are just the category bonuses from 3 American Express cards – the Premier Rewards Gold, the Everyday Preferred, and the Business Gold Rewards. All of them have great category bonuses but restrict them to locations in the US only. For someone who travels frequently internationally, that is a huge negative when it comes to deciding which card to pull out and pay.

With my Chase Sapphire Preferred, it covers dining with the 2X points – everywhere. With my Chase Ink Plus, it covers gas stations with the 2X points – everywhere. With gas, that is especially huge in places like Europe where the gas prices are much higher in the US (which means you are likely to be spending much more on gas). Getting bonus points on that spend is great, which is why my Amex card stays at home and I pull my Chase Ink Plus out for that.


It is good that Amex has been making their cards more internationally friendly by dropping the fee, but if they want to be more competitive with issuers like Chase, they need to remove the 2 letters US from their category bonus terms. Being able to use their cards and receive those bonuses outside the US would be great. In the meantime, Chase is my card of choice for those categories when abroad.

There is a lot of money spent on American credit cards abroad – a good amount of that often being spent at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations (especially for longer stays). Amex is losing some ground with that opportunity by not allowing bonuses to be earned on that spending.

Are there Amex cards you do not use internationally because of those category restrictions? Which card would you be more likely to use if Amex dropped the US-only part?

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • There are new reports which contradict the misperception regarding the “once per lifetime” bonus on personal cards. Offers are being received both through email and snail mail that do not include the exclusionary text in the terms and conditions. And signup bonus points are posting.

      • I got one as well. I think AMEX wants to “ease” its way back to letting former customers get the bonus. I’m guessing that they don’t want to make it available to everyone now because of the financial “hit” from many cardholders who would simply spend the $1K and then put the card in the drawer. And in terms of choosing who gets the offer, they probably have certain established criteria. For what it’s worth, my credit score is over 820 which certainly didn’t hurt.

  • Does Amex put this restriction because they don’t have a the same level of control on the merchant category outside the US? When I used Discover card in Japan every charge came through as “JCB Merchant”, then the name of the merchant. The categories were inconsistent. i.e. A restaurant in HND came through under a shopping category (although of course, there could be other factors in play, such as the airport operator centralizing charges).

    • It’s a good question and I honestly don’t know the answer. I know that Visa and MasterCard have been the powerhouses on the international scene and that there are still many vendors internationally that do not take Amex so that could be part of it.