The American Express® Green Card has been completely revamped. Previously it was a nearly useless $95 per year card. Now, at a $150 per year, it is a serious Chase Sapphire Reserve competitor with 3X rewards for travel and dining. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Green card falls short in a head to head comparison.
Let’s compare the Green from Amex to the Chase Sapphire Reserve side by side:
|Green from Amex||Chase Sapphire Reserve|
|$150 Annual Fee||$450 Annual Fee – $300 Travel Reimbursement = $150 Net|
|No FX fees||No FX fees|
|Earns 3X travel & dining||Earns 3X travel & dining|
|$100 Annual Lounge Buddy Credit||Priority Pass Membership|
|$100 Annual CLEAR Credit||$100 Global Entry Credit every 4 years|
|Minimal Travel Protections||Best In Class Travel Protections (found here)|
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
Annual Fee (Advantage: Amex)
Thanks to the Sapphire Reserve card’s awesome travel protections, I personally put most travel spend on this card. As a result, every year I automatically earn the $300 Travel Reimbursement in the same statement cycle as the annual fee. So, for me, the net annual fee for the Sapphire Reserve really is just $150 ($450 annual fee minus $300 travel credit). There is, though, a tiny loss due to the fact that I don’t earn rewards on the $300 of spend that was rebated.
All that said, the Green card has the advantage in that you don’t have to pay $450 up front. You don’t need to make sure to spend $300 on travel in order to bring the net annual fee down to $150.
Foreign Transactions (Advantage: Chase)
Both cards have no foreign transaction fees, but Visa cards are accepted in far more places worldwide than Amex.
Rewards (Advantage Depends on Circumstances)
Both cards earn 3X for travel and dining and 1X everywhere else. So the real difference in rewards value depends upon how much you value Amex Membership Rewards vs. Chase Ultimate Rewards. If you want to cash out your rewards, then Amex has the edge, but only if you have the Schwab Platinum card which lets you cash out points at 1.25 cents each. If you want to use points to pay for travel, then Chase has a big advantage with points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel booked through Chase. If you want to transfer points to airline partners, then Amex has the edge since they have more transfer partners and frequent transfer bonuses. If you want to transfer points to hotels, then Chase has the edge because they support transfers to Hyatt (which has a generous award chart).
See our guides for more information:
Airport Lounge Access (Advantage: Chase)
Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders get full Priority Pass membership. This allows you to freely visit any Priority Pass lounge or restaurant with up to 2 guests. The Green card, meanwhile, gives you only $100 per year of Lounge Buddy credit. Lounge Buddy is a very useful app for finding out about which lounges are available at every airport worldwide. Lounge Buddy also lets you pay for access to some airport lounges. Unfortunately, their selection is even more limited than Priority Pass. Here’s an example…
At Newark airport (EWR), Lounge Buddy offers only one lounge for sale. The Art & Lounge outside of security in Terminal B is available for $40. If you used the Green benefit to get yourself and one guest in to this lounge, you’d use up $80 of your annual $100 benefit with just one visit.
Priority Pass, meanwhile, offers access both to Art & Lounge and the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Newark’s terminal B. It is important to note that access times are limited for Priority Pass cardholders at this lounge, but if the times meet your needs, this is a fantastic option. And, not only could you bring in 2 guests, but you could visit every time you travel without using up this benefit.
There are times where a Priority Pass lounge may turn you away for various reasons. They may have a rule about access being limited to 3 hours before you flight, or they may only allow access during certain hours, or they may turn you away if the lounge is full. The one advantage that I can think of to buying lounge access through Lounge Buddy is that it is a way to secure access to lounges that might otherwise turn you away.
Airport Security Benefits (Advantage: Amex)
Thanks to my Delta Diamond status, I get CLEAR for free. CLEAR lets me skip the sometimes very long ID check lines at the airport (just before security). Instead, I look into the camera and CLEAR verifies my identity based on my eyes (you can use your fingerprints instead if you don’t mind touching the same germ infected touch pad that everyone else uses).
I also have Global Entry for free thanks to many cards that offer that perk. Global Entry gives you expedited clearance back into the country when traveling internationally. Even more valuable to many, Global Entry gives you TSA PreCheck. This lets you go through special PreCheck security lines at the airport and means that you don’t need to remove your shoes, laptops, or liquids.
The main difference between CLEAR and TSA PreCheck is that CLEAR lets you breeze past the first line at security: the place you line up to show your ID. TSA PreCheck then speeds up the second part where you put your bags through x-ray machines and you go through a metal detector or body scanner. The best is to have both so that you can zoom through both parts of security every time.
Global Entry costs $100 every 5 years. So, at best, the Global Entry fee reimbursement is worth $20 per year. CLEAR is much more expensive for those without top tier Delta or United status. By default, CLEAR costs $179 per year, but there are easy ways to reduce the price:
- Student Discount: $50 per year
- Delta & United members (both are free to join): $119 per year
- Delta & United elite members (not top tier): $109 per year
- Delta Diamond, United 1K, and United Global Services members: FREE
- Family Plan: Add up to 3 family members for $50 per person per year
How to sign up for discounted memberships:
- Student discount click here
- Delta members click here
- United members click here
- Family Plan: log into your CLEAR account to add family members
For top tier Delta and United elites who get CLEAR for free, the Green from Amex CLEAR benefit is only worthwhile if you want to add family members. You could essentially add two family members for free thanks to the annual $100 reimbursement.
For students, the CLEAR benefit is only worth $50 per year. I doubt that you can add family members to a student plan.
For everyone else, the CLEAR benefit is worth up to the full $100 per year. If you were going to pay for CLEAR anyway, the CLEAR benefit brings the Green card’s net annual fee down to just $50.
Travel protections (Advantage: Chase)
The Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers awesome travel protections. Check out this post for a comparison with other ultra-premium cards. The Sapphire Reserve covers all of the following:
- Primary car rental collision damage waiver
- Baggage insurance
- Roadside assistance
- Trip cancellation & interruption insurance
- Trip delay insurance
- Travel accident insurance
- Emergency evacuation & transportation
- Emergency medical & dental
Meanwhile, the Green card has minimal protections:
- Secondary car rental collision damage waiver
- Baggage insurance
In most categories, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is about as good or much better than the Green from Amex. The one notable exception is with airport security. The Green card’s $100 CLEAR rebate is a very nice and valuable perk. That said, even if you value the perk at the full $100, the net cost of the Green card would still be $50 per year. If you spend a lot on travel and dining and don’t already have a good card for those categories, then it may be worth paying that fee. Or, if you value the Lounge Buddy $100 benefit at more than $50 per year, you could argue that you get more than $150 per year in benefits from the Green card regardless of whether you use it for spend.
I love that Amex has improved the Green card enough to make it worth analyzing. Unfortunately, I think that this card is a good fit for only a small subset of people. In my opinion, travelers who want the best travel card should go with the Sapphire Reserve card. And travelers who don’t want to spend much on annual fees should look at fee-free options (see: Best Fee-Free Travel Credit Card). The Green card meanwhile, is good for travelers who value Membership Rewards points more than other currencies, don’t mind paying a mid-range annual fee, and highly value the annual $100 CLEAR reimbursement.