Brandishing the upmarket Centurion metal designs, multi-category bonus structures, and luxe travel protections that American Express is so well known for often comes at a lofty price via hefty annual fees. But cardholders need not utterly demolish your budget to guarantee solid payouts. Amex still issues select plastic combining premium perks and outsized earnings potential with less bank-breaking annual costs.

We’ve compiled the shortlist of their top cards furnishing stellar ROI across essential spend categories, 5-star travel privileges, ample insurances and more - all for under $100 yearly.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card

Ideal For: Hardcore U.S. supermarket devotees.

Key Perks: $300 cash back after $3k spend in 6 months; 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 yearly); 2% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores; 1% back on everything else; $0 intro annual fee (then $95); 0% APR 15 months on purchases and balance transfers.

Analysis: Attain maximum payout by routing all grocery purchases via Blue Cash Everyday. The 3% uncapped category cash back outcompetes nearly all other cards. Fill ups and department store hauls rake in solid 2% rewards as well. New enrollees also snag $300 quick with the healthy sign up bonus. Just note the 0% APR period eventually expires, charging an ongoing variable rate between 14.49%-25.49%. Overall an everyday value MVP for supermarket loyalists.

American Express® Gold Card

Ideal For: French cuisine connoisseurs maximizing 4x dining rewards

Key Perks: 60k Membership Rewards points after $4k spend in 6 months; 4x points on dining worldwide; 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (max $25k/year, then 1x); 3x points on flights booked with airlines or Amex Travel; $250 annual fee; Up to $120 dining credit at participating restaurants and food delivery services.

Analysis: Brace your palate for an avalanche of Membership Rewards set in motion by routing all restaurant expenses through this primo premium card. Returns like effectively 8 points per $1 spent on grub truly wine and dine cardholders in epic style. The stacked credits also help counterbalance the $250 yearly sticker price. We recommend paying off balances monthly, as interest charges accrue at a variable 16.24-26.24% APR.

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

Ideal For: Jet setting Delta loyalists

Key Perks: 10k bonus miles after $500 spend in 3 months; 2x miles per $1 spent with Delta; 20% savings on eligible in-flight Delta purchases; No foreign transaction fees; $0 intro annual fee (then $99); Bonus miles don’t expire.

Analysis: Delta flyers tired of coughing up gargantuan annual fees just to earn accelerators can soar with this unsung alternative at a $0 intro cost. The 2x everyday rate bests Delta’s pricier Reserve and Platinum siblings. Access to Main Cabin discounted priority boarding plus that 20% airfare credit perilously close to negating the card's entire $99 fee as well. And your accrued miles won't mysteriously disappear due to account inactivity either.

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Ideal For: Hilton loyalists trekking internationally

Key Perks: 100k Hilton Points after $2k spend in 3 months; 7x Points on Hilton stays; 5x Points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; 3x Points on transit and flights booked with airlines or (1x after that); No foreign transaction fees; $0 annual fee; Silver Hilton elite status.

Analysis: Why fork over $95+ for Hilton’s Aspire or Surpass cards when their no-fee sibling serves up solid rewards multipliers, a generous signup bonus, and complimentary Silver status? 7x points alone on Hilton stays handily bests competing hotel cards’ base rate. The 3x travel category bonus even extends to taxi rides and subway trips abroad as well - a perk pricier alternatives notoriously exclude.

The Takeaway

Hopefully our breakdown gives you a fuller picture of American Express’s full suite of products - showcasing outstanding cards that pump up in-category bonuses without pumping up accountholders’ yearly costs. While the iconic Platinum and Gold cards capture all the hype and headlines, this curated collection has your back for maximizing daily savings with more modest - but still valuable - baseline perks for simply less.