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Some of my favorite perks (like Amex Centurion Lounge access) come from premium travel rewards credit cards, but those cards can come with hefty price tags. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele looks at cards that strike a balance between cost and benefits. I find that there tend to be three types of travel rewards credit card users. Some just refuse to pay any annual fees, while others are willing to pay over $400 a year for a top-of-the-line card with all the perks and benefits that come with it. In the middle are those who are looking for mid-range cards that offer strong value at a reasonable price. The credit card industry knows this, and has been intensifying its competition at price points just below $100 per year, with $95 emerging as a magic number. So in this post, I want to take a look at just how much credit card you can get for that price. Here are my picks for the top 10 credit cards with annual fees under $100. 1. Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express. Whenever I’m asked to just cut to the chase and tell people which single travel rewards card I recommend, my response is the Starwood Amex. Starpoints are the most valuable loyalty currency in TPG’s June valuations, and are easy to redeem for both hotel awards and transfers to airline partners. In addition, new benefits (starting August 11, 2015) include premium in-room Internet access, Boingo Wi-Fi, Sheraton Club access (for the business version of the card) and no foreign transaction fees. The annual fee will rise from $65 (waived for the first year) to $95 in August, putting this card in line with all the others trying to come in just below $100. 2. Chase Sapphire Preferred. You could argue that this is the card that really ignited the sub-$100 market segment when it offered double points on all travel and dining charges. Sapphire Preferred consistently makes the list of top travel rewards cards, which is no surprise given that you can get great value out of Ultimate Rewards points by transferring to any of six airline programs, and four hotel programs. There is a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year, and there are no foreign transaction fees. 3. Citi ThankYou Premier. Citi is trying to win converts to its entry in the mid-range travel rewards market by offering 3x points on travel and gas, and it uses a very expansive criteria for awarding these bonuses. You earn 2x rewards for dining and entertainment purchases, and you can transfer ThankYou points to 11 different airlines plus Hilton HHonors. As with many of its competitors, there is a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived for the first year and no foreign transaction fees. 4. Amex Everyday Preferred. Another must-have American Express card, the Everyday Preferred offers 3x Membership Rewards points at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 spent annually), 2x points at US gas stations and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Those bonus categories are already respectable; however, if you make at least 30 transactions during your monthly billing cycle, you get a 50% points bonus, which allows you to earn 4.5x, 3x and 1.5x, respectively. Membership Rewards points can be transferred to 16 different airline programs and four hotel programs. There is a $95 annual fee for this card, and sadly Amex still imposes a 2.7 % foreign transaction fee. 5. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. This card offers rewards in the form of miles that can be redeemed for one cent each as statement credits toward travel expenses. You earn double miles on all purchases, and you get a 10% rebate on miles redeemed, so the card effectively offers a return of 2.22% on all your spending. Other features include true Chip and PIN compatibility and World Elite MasterCard benefits. There is an $89 annual fee for this card (waived the first year), and no foreign transaction fees. 6. United MileagePlus Explorer Card. This airline card’s biggest accomplishment is making flying without elite status somewhat tolerable. You get priority boarding privileges, two United Club passes per year and a free checked bag for you and one traveling companion (only when you use your card to purchase your ticket). Better yet, an exclusive benefit allows you to use your miles to book an award on any unsold seat, albeit at the standard award level. In addition, cardholders receive greater access to economy class award space, which can be a huge plus. Be sure to consider the United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card as well; it offers double miles at restaurants, gas stations and office-supply stores. Both cards have a $95 annual fee (which is waived the first year with many offers) and no foreign transaction fees. 7. Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard. Like the United Explorer card, this card instantly offers you many of the perks of elite status. You get priority boarding and a free checked bag for yourself and up to four companions on the same itinerary. There’s also a business version that features double miles on office supplies, telecommunications and car rentals. Both versions of the card get you access to reduced mileage awards, and offer a 25% savings on in-flight purchases. There’s a $95 annual fee for both cards that is waived the first year, but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee. 8. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, this card offers double miles on all purchases, and each mile is worth one cent as statement credits toward travel expenses. Unlike Arrival Plus, there’s no 10% mileage rebate, but Venture Rewards only has a $59 annual fee which is waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees. 9. Chase Ink Plus. This business card is a favorite of travel rewards enthusiasts for the 5x points it offers on office supplies and telecommunications services (on up to $50,000 of spending annually), and 2x points on gas and hotels (again on up to $50,000 annually). As with the Sapphire Preferred, points are transferable to travel partners. This card has no foreign transaction fees. 10. U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card. This card doesn’t get a lot of attention, but I think it’s worth mentioning. It offers double points on gas, groceries or airlines, depending on which one you spend the most on each month, as well as all mobile phone service charges. Points are then worth as much as two cents apiece toward airline reservations, which are booked as revenue tickets that earn miles and qualify for upgrades. You also get up to $25 in airline allowance for every award travel ticket, which can be used for baggage fees and in-flight food and entertainment charges. Finally, this card offers another 3,500 points when you spend $24,000 in a cardmember year. Ultimately, you can earn rewards on some purchases that equal a return of about 4% on your spending, which is a pretty good deal in my book. This card has a $49 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees. Bottom Line As you can see, there are plenty of affordable card options for those who want strong bonus categories and travel-related perks. If you’re still intimidated by the prospect of any annual fee at all, check out this list of Travel Rewards Credit Cards with No Annual Fee. What’s your favorite mid-tier travel rewards card?
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||16.24%-23.24% Variable||Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95||0%||Excellent Credit|