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I saved $350 on my vacation by paying with the Amex Gold Card—here's how you can, too

American Express

Let's face it, vacations aren't cheap.

You have to pay for the travel, lodging, activities and food, which can add up to a hefty bill at the end of your trip. But if you use the right credit card, you could receive exclusive discounts that can save you hundreds of dollars.

I saved $350 by using my American Express® Gold Card during a recent vacation to Arizona. The card is one of CNBC Select's top picks for the best travel credit cards and offers superb travel and dining perks that helped me more than recoup the card's $250 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Here's how I easily saved $350 with my American Express® Gold Card, and how you can, too.

American Express® Gold Card

  • Rewards

    4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide and shop at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then it drops to 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $250

  • 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 and our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Strong rewards program with 4X points earned on dining worldwide and 3X points earned on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com
  • Up to $100 credit in airline fees, up to $120 in dining credits at participating partners and up to $100 hotel credit
  • 35,000 Membership Rewards® points welcome bonus after you spend $4,000 within first 3 months
  • Baggage insurance plan covers up to $1,250 for carry-on baggage and up to $500 for checked baggage that is damaged, lost or stolen
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • No introductory APR period
  • $250 annual fee
  • American Express isn’t as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard
  • This is a charge card, which means you have to pay off your balance in full each billing cycle
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $806
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,631

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

read more
On American Express's secure website.

Take advantage of annual statement credits

The American Express® Gold Card offers a $100 annual airline fee credit to cover incidentals, such as seat upgrades and checked bags, as well as in-flight food and beverages.

Before you can take advantage of the credit, you have to select an airline to benefit from this perk. I opted for JetBlue because it's the airline I fly most often. I used my credit to offset the $130 cost of upgrading two seats to Even More Space.

Cardholders can also benefit from an annual $120 dining credit ($10 a month) at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations, after a one-time enrollment. I didn't use this credit when traveling, but if I had, that would've added $10 to my savings.

Book a hotel through American Express Travel

The bulk of my savings ($250) came from booking my hotel via American Express Travel and selecting a resort in The Hotel Collection, which offers cardholders exclusive perks, such as a $100 hotel credit, complimentary room upgrades, early check-in and late check-out, when available.

I stayed at the Mountain Shadows Resort in Paradise Valley, and I used the $100 credit to cover room service and dining expenses at the resort during my stay.

To my pleasant surprise, I also received a complimentary daily breakfast for two (up to $25 per person), which is a perk that's usually exclusive to The Platinum Card® from American Express' Fine Hotels and Resorts.

For my three-night stay, my partner and I were able to maximize the breakfast credit. I even pulled out my phone to calculate the cost of menu items to ensure I used up the total $50 credit. I couldn't resist getting my full money's worth!

Complimentary breakfast at Mountain Shadows Resort
Alexandria White for CNBC

To receive these credits, I simply had to charge any purchases at the resort to my room. Then upon checkout, the credits were applied to my balance. Since I had prepaid for my hotel and spent exactly up to the discounts I knew I'd get, I checked out with a $0 balance.

Overall, using my American Express® Gold Card during vacation added up to great savings, which made me feel less stress since I knew that my bill wouldn't be as high as it could've been, had I used a different credit card.

Interested in learning more? Read our American Express® Gold Card review.

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.

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.

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