For the semi-regular diner, for the last couple of years, there has been just one credit card to throw down at the end of meal: the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The card, which makes a satisfying plunk sound when it hits the table — a feature previously reserved for only the most elite of the elite cards — is today’s “it card.” Last year, at a credit card marketing dinner, a group of “young, affluent professionals” was asked what card they’d use to pay and why, according to a story recounted by the New York Times. “I’d probably use this,” one diner said while pulling out a Chase Sapphire Reserve. “An Amex says you’re rich, but this says you’re interesting.”
Thanks to targeted marketing, the Reserve sold points-hungry millennials on a card that signaled their status as a globetrotter or would-be food critic; it’s so popular that new cardholders film unboxing videos to document its arrival in the mail. As the quote culled by the NYT suggests, the rise of the Sapphire Reserve came largely at the expense of American Express.
But this week, AmEx is striking back in a bid to win over young people who love to eat. Its rebooted Gold Card — which also comes in rose gold for a limited time — offers quadruple points on dining out in the U.S., along with a $120 annual dining credit that will work at Shake Shack and Seamless or GrubHub, as well as the Cheesecake Factory, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. A new marketing campaign for the Gold Card also seems to suggest that American Express will be pivoting away from its reputation for discouraging young, middle-class people from applying; previously, it required specific salary thresholds and stratospheric credit scores.
Amex’s thirst for millennial money was evident at an extravagant, millennial bait-filled event this week. Influencers, press, and at least one celebrity mingled at a new restaurant and bar in Manhattan, taking selfies against walls covered in gold lamé, eating doughnuts sprinkled with gold glitter, and drinking, well, anything they wanted — including, of course, rosé. Several open bars served everything from golden champagne cocktails to tiki drinks; a four-course meal was offered in the dining room; and Shake Shack was served out of a golden vintage airstream trailer outside.
The new Gold Card comes with a $250 fee (up from $195), but quadruple points earned at restaurants and grocery stores represent a 7.6-percent return, according to The Points Guy. Cardholders also earn triple points when they use their card to book airfare directly with the airline or via American Express Travel, but only get 25,000 points as a signing bonus.
That’s nothing compared to the minimum 50,000-point bonus Sapphire Reserve cardholders get. (When it was first released, the card came with a coveted 100,000-point bonus.) Card shoppers will note the Reserve’s significantly higher $450 annual fee, but that’s essentially wiped away by a $300 per year travel credit, triple points on restaurant purchases (within the U.S. and out), and a 50-percent discount on travel booked through Chase.
It’s no surprise that Amex is, well, trying to chase down some of those Chase card holders. But they have an image problem: With its new Gold Card, Amex is hoping to position itself as the true rewards card for those into food. But the company will need to do more than court young people with a lot of Instagram followers. Amex is missing a few key elements, chiefly image and accessibility that can transcend the brand’s air of snobby exclusivity. Even I’m not immune: I recently got an Amex Platinum — for that sweet, sweet 100,000 point sign-up bonus — but am too embarrassed to pull it out of my wallet lest anyone I know make a snide remark. (As a colleague pointed out, having both the Amex Gold and a Sapphire Reserve loaded with points means you’ll cannibalize your own points by using one card over the other.)
Chase might have swallowed a fiscal loss by offering all of those initial perks to early Reserve cardholders, but it won over a sought-after generation ready to brand its own line of credit — while dining out nonstop.