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American Express vs. Discover: Which is best for me?

Compare welcome offers, rewards and secondary benefits.

Updated

Fact checked

If you’re choosing between American Express and Discover, there are a few factors to consider. You’ll want to look at welcome offers, rewards and secondary benefits. Overall, American Express is better for travel cards, while Discover is better for cashback cards.

What features and services do American Express and Discover offer?

American Express and Discover are credit card networks and issuers. This means they can easily keep secondary benefits relatively uniform throughout their products.

That’s different than Visa or Mastercard, which are card networks only. Their benefits can change drastically depending on the issuer — for example, Chase, Bank of America, etc.

Compare American Express and Discover credit cards

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
6% on select US streaming services, 3% on transit and US gas stations, 6% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 annually, then 1% after that and on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 12 months (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Perfect for families: Get up to 6% on everyday purchases and a welcome offer worth $300. This heavy-hitter rewards card has uncontested value. Rates & fees
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
20% at Amazon.com up to $200 back in the first 6 months, 2% at US gas stations and select US department stores, 3% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year, then 1% after that and on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
$0
This everyday cashback card is ideal for Black Friday and holiday shopping with 20% back at Amazon.com up to $200 back in the first 6 months. Rates & fees
American Express® Gold Card
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
$250
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Rates & fees
The Platinum Card® from American Express
10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on directly-booked flights or on flights and hotels on Amex Travel. 1x points on all other purchases. Starting January 1, 2021, your 5x points on flights will be capped on up to $500,000 annually (then 1x points).
See rates & fees
$550
One of the most valuable premium travel cards, featuring two welcome offers worth up to $4,500, multiple travel credits and unrivaled lounge access. Rates & fees
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
6x points at Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3x at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2x for all other purchases
15.74% to 24.74% variable
$450
Earn 100,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 or more within your first 3 months, plus earn 25,000 after the first anniversary of card membership (offer expires 1/13/2021). Rates & fees
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Compare up to 4 providers

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Discover it® Cash Back
5% back in rotating categories up to $1,500 combined each activated quarter, then 1% after that and on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 14 months (then 11.99% to 22.99% variable)
$0
Earn 5% back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories every quarter you activate, then 1% thereafter. Earn 1% back on all other purchases.
Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card
1.5x miles on all purchases
0% intro for the first 14 months (then 11.99% to 22.99% variable)
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5x miles on all purchases - from airfare and hotels to groceries and online shopping.
Discover it® Chrome Gas & Restaurant Card
2% back on gas and dining up to $1,000 combined quarterly, then 1% after that and on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 14 months (then 11.99% to 22.99% variable)
$0
Earn 2% cash back on gas and dining on your first $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. After that earn 1% in these categories and on all other purchases.
Discover it® Secured
2% back on gas and dining up to $1,000 combined each activated quarter, then 1% after that and on all other purchases
22.99% variable
$0
2% cashback at restaurants or gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus 1% cash back on all other credit card purchases.
Discover it® Chrome for Students
2% back on gas and dining up to $1,000 combined each activated quarter, then 1% after that and on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 6 months (then 12.99% to 21.99% variable)
$0
Earn 2% cash back on gas and dining on your first $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. After that earn 1% in these categories and on all other purchases.
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Compare up to 4 providers

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Key benefits you’ll find with both American Express and Discover

Consider each cards’ benefits:

  • Welcome offer.
    American Express typically has welcome offers you can earn by spending a certain amount on your card within a few months. Discover has a unique signup-bonus structure where it’ll match rewards earned in your first year.
  • Annual fee.
    Amex offers no-annual-fee cards, as well as travel products that cost hundreds of dollars a year. None of Discover’s credit cards have annual fees.
  • Rewards.
    Amex offers a few cashback cards. It also offers cards that give you Membership Rewards points or rewards for travel programs. Its strongest categories include groceries, airfare and hotels. Most of Discover’s cards are cashback products. There’s one travel card, the Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card that comes with 1.5x miles on all purchases. Key categories include gas stations and restaurants.
  • Intro APR.
    A few Amex cards offer 0% intro APRs. Almost every Discover card has an intro APR. Zero-interest periods vary, so check each card’s terms.

Secondary benefits: American Express and Discover

The secondary benefits vary considerably between the providers. Discover offers nothing in purchase protection or travel insurance. Rather, it carves out a unique niche by providing tools that help customers use credit responsibly.

With high-annual-fee cards, you might find additional benefits such as baggage insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance and concierge service.

Standard American Express secondary benefits:

  • Extended warranties.
    Buy an eligible item with your card. Amex may extend the manufacturer’s original warranty.
  • Purchase protection.
    If you buy an eligible item with your card, you may be reimbursed if the product is damaged or stolen.
  • Return protection.
    Buy an eligible item with your card. If within 90 days you want to return the product and the retailer won’t accept it, you may be reimbursed by American Express.
  • Car rental insurance.
    Pay for your rental car with your card and decline the insurance at the rental counter. Your vehicle may be covered against damage or theft.
  • Global Assist.
    Call Amex for assistance before your trip, and for emergency assistance when you travel more than 100 miles from home.
  • Roadside assistance.
    Access towing, tire changes and more if you’re stuck on the side of the road. You’re responsible for third-party charges.
  • Travel accident insurance.
    Get coverage for accidental death or dismemberment on eligible trips you buy with your card.

Pro tip: Amex offers no price protection, which reimburses you a portion of your purchase price if you buy a product and find a lower price elsewhere. For this benefit, look for Visa or Mastercard credit cards.

Standard Discover secondary benefits

  • No overlimit fees.
    This can be helpful if you occasionally exceed your credit limit. Other providers might charge you around $37 per overlimit transaction.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
    This includes cashback cards, which typically charge foreign transaction fees.
  • Free Social Security number (SSN) alerts.
    Discover will alert you if it sees your SSN on questionable websites, or if new accounts appear on your Experian credit report.
  • Freeze it.
    If your card is lost or stolen, just freeze it through the Discover website or mobile app. This will instantly block all incoming transactions on your account.
  • Monthly FICO score.
    This helps you see how your credit score is progressing. Normally, you’d have to pay third-party services to view your FICO score.This FICO score is pulled from TransUnion, one of the top three credit bureaus in the United States.
  • Request free overnight card delivery.
    A nice perk if your card is lost or stolen. Most providers won’t expedite card delivery, or will charge for it.
  • Cash at Checkout.
    You can draw money as you check out at a participating retailer. This will be classified as a purchase, not a cash advance.

Pros and cons of American Express and Discover credit cards

No card provider is perfect. Here are a few factors to weigh as you decide between Amex and Discover.

American Express pros and cons

Pros

  • More travel cards than Discover, including cobranded hotel and airline products.
  • No foreign transaction fees with travel cards.
  • Excellent cards for grocery spending.
  • More business credit cards.

Cons

  • May require a higher credit score and annual income.
  • Some products are charge cards, so you must pay off your entire balance each month.
  • No card with rotating cashback categories.
  • No student or secured credit card.
  • Not as widely accepted globally as Visa or Mastercard.

Discover pros and cons

Pros

  • No annual, overlimit or foreign transaction fees with any card
  • You could earn a great first-year signup bonus depending on your spending.
  • A few cards with rotating 5% cashback categories.
  • Offers a student and secured credit card.

Cons

  • Only one travel card.
  • No tiered travel rewards.
  • Lacks purchase protection and travel insurance.
  • Not as widely accepted globally as Visa or Mastercard.
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The verdict

The winner

American Express is an excellent choice for a travel card. It’s the clear favorite if you want purchase protection or travel insurance.

If you want a cashback card, Discover is a contender. It has cards that offer strong cash back in quarterly rotating categories. It’s a stellar choice for a student or secured card, and it offers unique secondary benefits.

Best of both worlds

The provider’s cards are very different, so there’s plenty of room to pair cards from both sides.

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Bottom line

Though Amex and Discover overlap in a few regards, they largely offer cards with big differences.

If you’re not sure either provider is right for you, consider other credit card companies.

Frequently asked questions

  • Are all American Express products charge cards?
    No. Most Amex products are actually credit cards, which let you carry balances month to month.
  • Will I have issues using an Amex or Discover card in the United States?
    In the United States, Discover is accepted by nearly as many merchants as Visa or Mastercard. Amex is less widely accepted because of the company’s higher processing fees. Still, you probably will have little trouble using it with major businesses.

    If you’re traveling abroad, you may want to carry a Visa or Mastercard as a backup. Discover and Amex have footprints in other countries, but many merchants are unlikely to accept them.

  • What’s the difference between a card network and a card issuer?
    A card network facilitates transactions when you use your card. It determines where your card is valid, whether your transaction can be approved and what fees merchants pay to use the network.

    A card issuer is the bank or credit union that administers your credit card. It sets your card’s fees and interest rates.

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