Discover vs. American Express: Which is Better for Your Wallet?

CREDIT CARDS - CASH BACK CREDIT CARDS
Premium travel benefits or everyday cash back: which do you prefer?
Updated April 12, 2024
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American Express and Discover are credit card issuers, and both are also card networks. Other entities in the credit card industry are card issuers or networks, but usually not both. This makes American Express and Discover unique compared to the competition.

Despite this similarity, there are plenty of differences between Amex and Discover. Most of the differences boil down to fees, perks, and the types of credit cards they offer.

In general, Discover offers no-annual-fee cards with cash back. American Express offers a broader range of cards, many of which are geared toward travel. Discover is best if you prefer simple, straightforward cash rewards. Frequent travelers will find more value with American Express.

In this article

Key takeaways

  • American Express and Discover both issue a selection of credit cards on their own card networks.
  • Both types of cards are widely accepted in the U.S., but acceptance can be less reliable internationally than Visa and Mastercard.
  • Discover cards can sometimes have lower fees than Amex cards, but Amex may offer better perks, especially within the U.S.
  • Discover cards can be better for everyday spending, while Amex cards tend to offer more generous benefits for frequent travelers.

Discover vs. American Express

Discover American Express
Number of credit cards 7 17
Types of cards Cash back, secured, student, travel Hotel, airline cash back, rewards
Main issuer perks No annual fees, Cashback Match™ , price & purchase protection Extended warranty, travel protections, statement credits
Point values 1 cent each 1 cent
Travel partners N/A 17 hotels, airlines, and other partners

Our verdict

Either Discover or American Express could have better credit cards for you, depending on your preferences, as they’re geared toward very different types of credit card users.

None of Discover’s credit cards have annual fees, while offering generous cashback rewards on everyday purchases. And Discover offers many cards with an unlimited match of all the cashback you earn in your first year.

Several of Amex’s cards have annual fees, but they make up for it with a variety of travel credits, travel protections, hotel status, and more.

The bottom line is that frequent travelers will appreciate Amex’s benefits, but Discover could be a better choice for the everyday thrifty shopper.

Discover benefits and drawbacks

Pros Cons
  • High cashback rates
  • Unlimited match of all the cashback earned in the first year for many cards
  • No annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Introductory APR offers
  • Limited premium perks for travelers

When comparing Discover to American Express, the biggest benefit of Discover is its high cashback rates with no annual or foreign transaction fees. For example, with the Discover it® Cash Back you can earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases—automatically.

Several Discover cards also have introductory APR offers on both purchases and transfers, allowing you to save even more.

Another benefit of Discover is that it has cards for students as well as secured credit cards, making it potentially a good choice for credit builders. You won’t find similar credit cards from American Express.

The biggest drawback for Discover cardholders is the cards’ limited benefits, especially when compared to American Express cards. Several American Express cards offer a range of travel benefits, such as credits toward the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fees, but most of them aren’t available with Discover cards.

While Discover cards can be great for everyday purchases, they generally don’t have as much to offer for frequent travelers.

Find out more about Discover credit cards.

American Express benefits and drawbacks

Pros Cons
  • Luxury hotel and airline benefits
  • Comprehensive travel protections
  • Wide range of travel credits
  • Some cards have high annual fees

The biggest benefits of American Express include statement credits, high reward rates, and lucrative sign-up bonuses. American Express is also great for travelers, offering complimentary concierge services for booking dinner or travel reservations. You also get various travel protections with Amex cards, such as car rental loss and damage insurance.1

The biggest drawback for American Express, when compared to Discover, is the high annual fee you will pay for some of its cards. However, some Amex cards include a number of credits and discounts that can offset a large portion of the annual fee.

Learn more about American Express cards.

Discover vs. American Express: What both companies excel at

Although American Express and Discover have many differences, there are some areas that are strong for both card networks. Here are the areas where both cards do well:

  • High reward rates: While American Express and Discover each have their own unique products, both have the possibility to earn high reward rates in certain categories.
  • Customer satisfaction: Both have exceptional customer satisfaction. For instance, American Express and Discover ranked first and third in the J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study, respectively.
  • Intro APR: Both card issuers have several cards with an intro APR on balance transfers and purchases.
  • Welcome bonuses: Both American Express and Discover have attractive bonuses for new members. For Discover, some cards offer a Cashback Match of all the cashback earned in the first year, while many Amex cards have cash back or point bonuses after meeting a spending requirement.

American Express and Discover each have unique offerings with more differences than similarities. However, they both offer high reward rates and welcome bonuses and have high customer satisfaction ratings.

0% intro APR: Discover it® Cash Back vs. Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Intro APR 0% on balance transfers for 15 months, and then 17.24% - 28.24% Variable

0% on purchases for 15 months, and then 17.24% - 28.24% Variable

0% on balance transfers for 12 months, and then 19.24% - 29.99% Variable

0% on purchases for 12 months, and then 19.24% - 29.99% Variable

Annual fee $0 $0 intro annual fee for the first year, $95 per year thereafter (Terms apply)
Welcome offer Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. Earn a $250 statement credit after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 6 months
Earning rate Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases—automatically. 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (for first $6,000 per year, after that 1%) and on select U.S. streaming services, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on eligible transit, and 1% cash back on other eligible purchases
Credit needed Excellent, Good Excellent, Good
Learn more Learn more

The Discover it® Cash Back has the advantage for 0% intro APR periods because it has a 0% introductory APR for 15 months (then 17.24% - 28.24% Variable), while the intro period on the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express only lasts 12 months.

However, the Discover card has a balance transfer fee of 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms). For the Amex card, the balance transfer fee is $5 or 3%, whichever is greater.

Winner: Discover it Cash Back because of its longer introductory period.

Cash back: Discover it® Cash Back vs. Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Reward rate Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases—automatically. 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations, and U.S. online retail purchases (up to $6,000 per year on purchases in each category, then 1%); and 1% cash back on other eligible purchases
Welcome offer Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. Earn a $200 statement credit after spending $2,000 in purchases in the first 6 months
Annual fee $0 $0 (Terms apply)
Redemption methods
  • Statement credit
  • Gift card
  • Deposit into bank account
  • Pay with select merchants, such as Amazon
  • Donations to charity
  • Statement credit
Intro APR 0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers (then 17.24% - 28.24% Variable)

0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases (then 17.24% - 28.24% Variable)

0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers (then 19.24% - 29.99% Variable)

0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases (then 19.24% - 29.99% Variable)

Foreign transaction fee 0% 2.7%
Credit needed Excellent, Good Excellent, Good
Learn more Learn more

The Discover it® Cash Back and the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express each have their strong points, but the Discover card takes the edge.

With the Discover it Cash Back you can earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases—automatically. The Amex Blue Cash Everyday offers 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations, and U.S. online retail purchases (up to $6,000 per year on purchases in each category, then 1%); and 1% cash back on other eligible purchases.

However, it will take more effort to get the most value out of the Discover card since its 5% categories change every quarter. The Amex card could still be better if you want a no-nonsense card that earns a respectable cash-back rate in several common spending categories.

Winner: Discover it Cash Back due to its 5% cash back on cash back at different places each quarter up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.

Travel rewards: Discover it® Miles vs. The Platinum Card® from American Express

Discover it® Miles

Discover it® Miles

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Rewards rate Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare (on up to $500,000 per calendar year, after that 1X) and eligible hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
Welcome offer Discover will match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $8,000 on purchases on your new card in the first 6 months
Annual fee $0 $695 (Terms apply)
Redemption methods
  • Statement credit
  • Bank deposit
  • Credit for travel purchases in the past 180 days
  • Pay with Miles at Amazon and PayPal
  • Statement credits
  • Book travel through
  • American Express Travel
  • Transfer to travel partners
  • Gift cards
  • Pay with points at checkout at select merchants
Annual credits
  • None
  • $200 hotel credit for prepaid stays through American Express Travel which requires a minimum two-night stay
  • $200 Uber Cash (terms apply)
  • Up to $200 airline fee credits
  • Up to $100 in statement credits for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue
  • $189 CLEAR Plus credit
  • Walmart+ membership credits
  • Statement credits toward the application costs of Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • Enrollment required for certain benefits
Travel perks
  • None
  • Lounge access Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status
  • Hilton Honors Gold Status
  • Car rental status at Avis, Hertz, National
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance 1
  • Trip delay insurance 2
  • Trip cancellation and interruption insurance 3
  • Enrollment required for certain benefits
Foreign transaction fee 0% None
Credit needed Excellent, Good Excellent, Good
Learn more Learn more

If you travel often, it’s hard to beat the The Platinum Card® from American Express. It includes a wide range of travel protections, access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection, lower fares on international flights, and custom itineraries with the Platinum Travel Service.

It does have a $695 annual fee, which is one of the highest in the industry. However, it offers a number of credits that are worth much more than $695, so for the right customer, the card can pay for itself.

If that annual fee seems a bit too steep, though, you can redeem Miles for travel with the Discover it® Miles.

Winner: The Platinum Card for its luxury perks.

Which credit card company should you choose?

Discover and American Express both have a lot to offer, but there are different reasons for choosing one or the other. Here’s when to choose Discover and when to choose American Express.

When you should choose Discover

  • You want to avoid annual fees
  • You’re a student or want a secured credit card
  • You want the highest cashback rates on everyday spending
  • You want a long intro APR period

When you should choose American Express

  • You want premium travel benefits and protections
  • You want higher hotel or airline status
  • You can take advantage of Amex cards’ credits

What factors to consider before choosing

Here are some of the main things to take into consideration:

  • Spending habits: American Express is a good choice if you travel often and prefer luxury travel. But if you’re more concerned with earning cash back on everyday purchases, Discover might be a better option.
  • Travel perks: Certain American Express cards include a range of premium travel perks, including lounge access, travel credits, and travel insurance. Discover doesn’t have many premium travel benefits.
  • Credit score: American Express cards generally require good to excellent credit and don’t have many options for those with lower credit scores. Discover, on the other hand, has a secured credit card and a student card, which could be an option for those with lower FICO scores. Keep in mind that your credit score is just one factor issuers consider and isn’t a guarantee of acceptance.
  • Intro offers: Amex cards usually offer a cashback or point bonus after spending a certain amount, while Discover offers its Cashback Match of all the cash back you earn in your first year. The Cashback Match is unlimited, allowing you to earn a nice bonus.
  • Customer service: Both American Express and Discover have excellent customer service, Amex tends to score slightly higher for its high-quality concierge services.

There is much to think about when comparing these two issuers, but think about how you plan to use each card. Each offers different bonuses and rewards, which could tip the scales in one card issuer’s favor.

FAQ

What credit score is needed for American Express?

You will generally need at least good credit to be approved for an American Express card, which is at least a 670 credit score. However, the company may consider other factors, such as your income, credit utilization, and payment history.

Is a Discover card good for building credit?

Discover is a good choice for building credit because it offers two student cards and a secured credit card. These cards may offer easier qualifications than premium cards from American Express. In addition, none of Discover’s cards have annual fees, which may be better for credit builders.

What is the difference between a Discover card and an American Express card?

There are many differences between a Discover card and an American Express card, but in general, Amex cards offer a better range of travel benefits and protections, often in exchange for an annual fee. Amex cards can also have higher credit score requirements.

Discover cards tend to be more focused on earning cash back on everyday purchases with no annual fee. Some Discover cards may offer easier qualifications than Amex cards.

Is there a Discover card with no annual fee?

None of Discover’s credit cards have annual fees. In addition, they don’t have foreign transaction fees.

Discover vs. American Express: bottom line

Discover and American Express are both card issuers and credit card networks with several major credit cards available between them. Both allow you to earn cash back on a range of purchases, but Discover’s focus is more on everyday spending, while American Express tends to focus on a premium travel experience. Due to American Express’s premium travel experience, these cards can be more exclusive and have annual fees.

If you frequently travel and prefer an elevated travel experience, an American Express credit card is a great choice. But if you simply want a cash back card for everyday spending with no annual fee, consider a Discover card. Both cards can be great choices, but the best choice depends on how you plan to use it.

A Simple Cashback Card for Day-to-Day

4.9

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Current Offer

Earn a $200 statement credit after spending $2,000 in purchases in the first 6 months

Annual Fee

$0

Rewards Rate

3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations, and U.S. online retail purchases (up to $6,000 per year on purchases in each category, then 1%); and 1% cash back on other eligible purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks
Card Details

Author Details

Bob Haegele Bob Haegele is a seasoned personal finance writer, leveraging his bachelor's degree in information technology from Marquette University to dissect complex financial topics.

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