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Credit cards are kind of like automobiles – there’s a wide range from your cheap, no-frills starter cards all the way up to your tricked-out Maseratis and Bentleys. Today I’d like to take a look at the creme de la creme of travel credit cards with some of the highest annual fees out there, and just what you get for all that money. Even though I don’t qualify for most of these cards myself, sometimes it’s fun to imagine taking them for a test drive.
1. The Platinum Card from American Express
Type: Personal and Business versions
Current Sign-Up Bonus: The personal version has a 25,000 points when you spend $2,000 in 3 months and 50,000 points after $3,000 in 3 months with the Mercedes-Benz version. 25,0000 points when you spend $5,000 in 3 months for the business version
Key Perks: Benefits include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access to Delta, American and US Airways lounges, Priority Pass Select membership, a $100 refund when you apply for Global Entry, Starwood Gold status, access to the Fine Hotels and Resorts Program, no foreign transaction fees. The Business Platinum card also has exclusive OPEN Savings benefits, and points are worth 25% more than with the personal version when you use Pay With Points.
Update: Beginning March 22, 2014, American Express Card Members will no longer have access to American Airlines Admiral Club and US Airways Club airport lounges through Airport Club Access / Airport Lounge Program. This means that Card Members will no longer be able to gain complimentary access to the American Airlines airport lounges (known as Admirals Club lounges) or the US Airways Club airport lounges as a benefit of their Platinum Card Membership.
Annual Fee: $450 for the business and personal versions, $475 for the Mercedes-Benz version
My Take: Although $450/$475 seems like a big pill to swallow, I’ve carried this card for years because the value of the lounge access for me outweighs the annual fee because I fly both Delta and American frequently and I’d be paying over $900 a year for memberships with each lounge. The $200 yearly airline credit, which is very easy to use, makes it reasonable, and then when you add on lucrative sign-up bonuses, these cards become a no-brainer, though they are not the best American Express cards for earning points- for that I use my Premier Rewards Gold (3x points on airfare, 2x gas and grocery with a 15,000 point bonus upon spending $30,000 each calendar year).
2. Delta Reserve
Type: Personal and Business
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 10,000 Delta Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after your first purchase.
Key Perks: Complimentary Delta Sky Club access for you and 2 guests, lucrative MQM earning ($30,000 spend in a calendar year earns 15,000 miles and 15,000 MQMs; $60,000 in a calendar year earns an additional 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs), Companion Certificate, enhanced Medallion upgrade priority, 2 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases.
Annual Fee: $450
My Take: If you’re a frequent Delta flyer and value lounge access and the ability to earn 30,000 MQMs per year based on spending, this is the most lucrative Delta card you can get. Also, if you leverage the companion ticket, that alone can easily cover the annual fee – and unlike many other companion tickets you’re able to use it on the cheapest fares. However, if lounge access is your top priority, I’d recommend going with one of the Amex Platinum cards because Membership Rewards points are more valuable since they transfer to Delta and over 20 other partners.
3. United Club Card
Current Sign-Up Bonus: $100 statement credit after your first purchase.
Key Perks: United Club membership, which gives you and your travel companions access to all United Club locations and participating Star Alliance lounges worldwide, free checked bags for you and a companion, priority check-in and boarding, no foreign transaction fees, 1.5 miles.
Annual Fee: $395 – if you sign up for this card in a Chase branch, the annual fee will be waived for the first year.
My Take: You used to be able to get United lounge access with the Amex Platinum card, but that changed in 2011. Now if you want access, you need to pay and they just increased fees across the board, so the $395 annual fee is cheaper than buying membership outright. Getting the first year free is a no-brainer. While many cards are offer 2X-10X bonuses on certain categories, having a 1.5 earning base ratio on United miles (which I think are the most valuable miles out there) is great for all those expenses that fall between bonus spending categories.
4. Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 70,000 Ritz Carlton Rewards points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months.
Key Perks: Automatic Gold status the first year and every year after when you spend $10,000, three club level upgrades annually subject to availability, $200 annual airline credit, $100 credit to use on-property for dining and spa with every 2-night stay, Priority Pass Select lounge access, no foreign transaction fees, earn 5X points per $1 at Ritz-Carlton and 2X points per $1 on most airline, car rental and dining purchases.
Annual Fee: $395
My Take: The value of this card really depends on how much you value the Ritz-Carlton club-level upgrades. Once you subtract the $200 airline . Club level upgardes are available 3 times per year up to a week each – easily saving your hundreds of dollars if you use wisely. The Priority Pass Select is also an Amex Platinum benefit, and if lounge access is your key goal, I’d rather go for one of those cards because you get more valuable, flexible points. This card is really best for those who plan to stay at Ritz-Carlton and Marriott frequently and will get a lot of value out of elite status and upgrades.
5. Citi Prestige
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 30,000 ThankYou points after you spend $2,000 within 3 months.
Key Perks: $250 airline travel credit each year, $100 Global Entry application fee credit, an annual worldwide companion ticket booked through Citi’s travel benefits provider, complimentary 4th night stay at luxury hotels, no foreign transaction fees, chip-based technology. Earn 3 points per dollar spent on air travel and hotels, 2 points for every $1 spent on dining at restaurants and entertainment, and earn one point spent on other purchases. Receive complimentary access to nearly 40 American Airlines Admirals Club lounges, plus hundred of VIP lounged through Priority Pass Select. Transfer points around the world with ThankYou Points Transfer
Annual Fee: $450
My Take: With the devaluation of the lower-end ThankYou cards, the Prestige is probably the best bet for big spenders considering you get 1.33 cents per point in value when redeeming ThankYou points, and the companion ticket can save the annual fee. That said, ThankYou points are not as valuable as other currencies – they can’t be transferred to any airline programs – so I’ve never been intrigued on these cards and will continue to pass on them unless there’s a big change in the value proposition of the program.
6. Citi Executive AAdvantage World MasterCard
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 in 3 months – I found this offer in a pamphlet in the American Airlines Admirals Club Lounge.
Key Perks: Admirals Club membership, earn 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases and when you spend $40,000 or more in a calendar year you will earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), one free checked bag, priority boarding and 25% savings on in-flight purchases. This card comes with SmartChip technology and no foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $450
My Take: American historically has been very stingy with the ability to earn elite qualifying miles by any way other than by flying, so if you need a boost, this is really the only way to do it without getting on a plane. Just note that if you usually qualify for elite status on Elite Qualifying Points, that the EQM spending boost won’t count.
7. JP Morgan Palladium
Current Sign-Up Bonus: None.
Key Perks: Full Priority Pass membership, earn 35,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $100,000 annually, earn 2X Ultimate Rewards points per $1 on travel and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases, complimentary upgrade to first class with each purchase of a round-trip business class ticket from the U.S. to London on British Airways and a complimentary companion ticket for each full-fare, non-restricted, round-trip business class ticket from the U.S. to anywhere British Airways flies. Access to Palladium Concierge, and Marquis Jet Perks. This card is only available for private banking clients but
Annual Fee: $595
My Take: The key here is that it gives you full Priority Pass membership, so it gets you into United Clubs and Alaska Boardrooms as well as a ton of other independent clubs. Frankly, in terms of the spending bonus, if you are putting this much on your credit card, you’re probably better off getting Sapphire Preferred for its 2X spending bonuses on dining and travel, the rotating 5X category spending bonuses on the Freedom, or the Ink Bold and Ink Plus‘s 5X and 2X category spending bonuses. Depending on what you spend your money on, you’ll probably earn more points by leveraging the cheaper cards – especially since they all have sign-up bonuses.
8. American Express Centurion
Type: Personal and Business
Current Sign-Up Bonus: None.
Key Perks: Along with all the benefits of the Platinum cards, this card also comes with membership in the Gulfstream Aerospace Private Flyers Club, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold status, as well as US Airways Platinum Preferred and Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion status. Cardmembers have access to a dedicated concierge service and travel agent, complimentary companion airline tickets on international flights on select airlines, first-class flight upgrades and access to airport club as well as membership in Sony’s Cierge personal shopping program and dozens of other elite club memberships. During stays at Mandarin Oriental worldwide, receive on free night every year when at least one paid night is booked and receive privileges at hotel chains like Ritz-Carlton, Leading Hotels of the World, and Amanresorts.
Annual Fee: The card requires a one-time initiation fee of $5,000 and then has an annual fee of $2,500.
My Take: $7,500 is a huge pill to swallow, though to pay $2,500 a year for mid- to top-tier elite status isn’t terrible if those statuses can get you upgrades and save you money. In general, however, most of the people who want this card simply want it for the cache. I’m not a cardholder myself, though I know several, and they tell me the concierge service really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you already have elite status, you’re better off getting yourself the Platinum card and saving yourself all that cash every year.
9. Visa Black Card
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 25,000 bonus points when you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days.
Key Perks: Priority Pass Select membership (so no United Club access), 24 hour access to the card’s concierge service, no foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $495
My Take: This is basically a 1% cash back card and you get 2 cents per point in value when redeeming for airline tickets, which is not impressive. Bottom line, this is a “wannabe” Amex Platinum card with a higher annual fee and less valuable points.
10. Bank of America Accolades Card
Current Sign-Up Bonus: None.
Key Perks: Priority Pass membership, earn one WorldPoint for every dollar that you spend on the card, which you can redeem for airfare at rates of up to 1.6 cents per point. Special offers on first and business class international airfares and luxury hotel offerings as well as cruises.
Annual Fee: $295 though it is waived for private client members of Bank of America with more than $200,000 in assets with their private wealth management unit.
My Take: Though the annual fee on this card is lower than the others on this list, the only real perk here is that Priority Pass membership, which can be valuable if you plan to use lounges a lot, but if that’s the case, you might as well get the Amex Platinum card instead since you get access to Priority Pass lounges as well as American, Delta and US Airways lounges, plus the $200 airline fee rebate, which brings the annual fee on that card below the fee on this one.