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Amex Green Card review: An experiential travel card for the eco-friendly consumer

The American Express Green Card recently got an updated rewards program, making it ideal for travelers who love to dine out. CNBC Select reviews all the benefits of the card so you can decide if it's right for you.

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American Express relaunched the American Express® Green Card last fall to mark the card's 50th anniversary, with a revamped card design, new rewards program and a higher annual fee.

The card's fresh design was created in part to draw environmentally conscious consumers. Unlike many of the high-end rewards cards that are made of metal, Green from Amex is made from 70% reclaimed plastic collected from beaches, islands and coastal communities, in partnership with Parley for the Oceans.

It wasn't just the card design that got an update. This competitive travel credit card offers bonus rewards on travel and dining. Cardholders earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on eligible travel and 3X Membership Rewards® points when dining at restaurants. All other purchases earn 1X Membership Rewards® per $1 spent.

Below, CNBC Select breaks down everything you need to know about the American Express® Green Card, from rewards, benefits to fees to help you decide if it's the right card for you.

American Express® Green Card

  • Rewards

    3X Membership Rewards® points on eligible travel, transit and at restaurants worldwide and 1X Membership Rewards® points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    30,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $150

  • Intro APR

    Not applicable

  • Regular APR

    See rates and fees

  • Balance transfer fee

    See rates and fees

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • See rates and fees, terms apply.

Pros

  • Up to $100 credit for a CLEAR membership each year
  • Up to $100 credit toward purchases with LoungeBuddy each year
  • No fee charged for purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Travel protections, such as baggage, car rental and trip delay insurance

Cons

  • $150 annual fee
  • No lounge access
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $690
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,248

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

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On American Express's secure website

American Express® Green Card review

  • Rewards
  • Additional benefits
  • Fees
  • Bottom line

American Express® Green Card rewards

The American Express® Green Card cardholders earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on eligible travel, transit and at restaurants worldwide and 1X Membership Rewards® points on all other purchases.

Travel and transit purchases include: flights, hotels, tours, car rentals, ride shares, buses, subways, third-party travel websites and purchases at Amextravel.com.

The card also has a strong welcome bonus of 30,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $2,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months of membership.

CNBC Select calculated how many rewards the average American can earn if they optimize the way they use their American Express® Green Card. We worked with the location intelligence firm Esri, who provided us with a sample annual spending budget of $22,126.

The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953).

Here's how many points you can earn with your American Express® Green Card in each category:

  • Groceries: 5,174
  • Gas: 2,218
  • Dining out: 11,024
  • Travel: 6,733
  • Utilities: 4,862
  • General purchases: 3,953
  • Total: 33,964

Based on the annual spending budget from Esri, the average American can earn an estimated $690 in rewards the first year of card membership (including the points earned from the welcome bonus) and an estimated $2,248 in rewards over five years with the American Express® Green Card. This assumes that cardholders are redeeming points for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point. Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value, and you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your spending habits.

You can use your Membership Rewards® points to book a flight or hotel room through American Express travel. You can also transfer rewards to a number of loyalty programs, such as Delta SkyMiles and Hilton Honors, as well as redeem them for gift cards, Amazon purchases, Grubhub orders and tickets purchased through Ticketmaster. American Express offers a handy rewards calculator so you can make sure you're maximizing how you redeem your rewards.

Additional benefits

Cardholders can also take advantage of the American Express® Green Card's enhanced perks that help offset its $150 annual fee (see rates and fees), including up to $200 in annual statements, a mobile assistant and new payment features.

We break them down below:

  • CLEAR credit: Receive up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year toward a CLEAR membership, which unlocks "frictionless" experiences at over 60 locations nationwide, including airports, arenas, stadiums and Hertz rental car locations.
  • LoungeBuddy credit: Get up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year toward purchases with LoungeBuddy to relax at airport lounges around the world.
  • Mobile assistant: Within the Amex app, you can access a mobile assistant to help book flights or hotels, check rewards balances or ask account questions.
  • Split the bill and keep the rewards: Now when you charge a group expense to your card to earn all the rewards, you can request payment from friends and other people who owe you directly from the Amex app. A Venmo or PayPal account is required and enrollment is required.
  • Pay Over Time: This feature allows cardholders to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges, up to a preset limit.
  • Amex offers: Cardholders can benefit from various offers that typically require you to spend a certain amount of money by a set date to receive savings or bonus rewards credited to your account. For example. you could receive a $45 statement credit after spending $300 at select Marriott properties, or spend $100 or more at FreshDirect and get $30 back. Other offers give cardholders bonus points on eligible spending up to a limit, such as get +1 Membership Rewards® point for each eligible dollar spent at Saks.com. You have to opt in to take advantage of the extra benefits. Expect to see savings within 90 days after you meet the offer requirements. Learn more about Amex Offers.

Fees

The American Express® Green Card comes with a $150 annual fee.

If you are not using the two $100 statement credits provided with the card (for CLEAR and LoungeBuddy), you would need to spend $5,000 in combined dining and travel purchases to offset the cost of the annual fee. This should be achievable for the average American since they spend roughly a total of $5,919 in both categories per year.

There is no introductory 0% APR period, and the regular variable APR is 16.74% to 23.74%. Travelers going overseas can take advantage of no foreign transaction fees, which is a huge plus when venturing abroad. When you take out a cash advance, you incur a fee: 5% or $10 per advance, whichever is greater. The transfer timeline for balances is within 60 days from account opening.

Bottom line

The American Express® Green Card is a great card for those who frequently travel and eat out often. With its 3X Membership Rewards® points applied on these two categories, consumers can take advantage of more experience-based benefits, while also having the card's look as a reminder to reduce their plastic-use each time they use the card. Cardholders also have the added Amex perks.

While many travel cards offer application fee credits for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, this card instead offers a discounted CLEAR membership. Learn the difference between TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and CLEAR.

If the $150 annual fee is too high, there are a number of travel cards with no annual fee to consider, such as the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card, which offers unlimited 3X points per dollar spent on numerous categories.

Our methodology

To determine which credit cards offer the best value, CNBC Select analyzed popular credit cards available in the U.S. We compared each card on a range of features, including rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

CNBC Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.

Information about the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.