This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele looks at the perks offered by a variety of premium travel credit cards, and explains why they’re worth the cost of admission.
Premium credit cards may scare many people away with their $400-plus annual fees, but travel rewards enthusiasts know that despite the high price tag, these cards can offer exceptional value. In this post I want to examine which premium travel rewards cards are currently available, whether the perks they offer are worth paying for and more.
What These Premium Cards Have in Common
All of these cards feature some sort of airport lounge access, which by itself tends to cost as much or more than the respective annual fees. In addition, all of these cards offer numerous travel insurance and purchase protection policies, as well as some sort of concierge service that offers personalized assistance for booking travel, making dining reservations, buying gifts or completing virtually any other task you could ask someone to do over the phone. Finally, I would expect premium service with regard to your account and no foreign transaction fees.
What to Look for in a Premium Credit Card
Since all of these credit cards offer lounge access, you need to investigate which lounges are in each network to find the ones that suit your travel needs. These might include the primarily domestic lounge networks of American, Delta and United, the mostly international lounges of Priority Pass, or both.
You’ll also want to see whether the card has a competitive rewards program. Ironically, some of these cards offer fewer bonus point categories than other, less expensive cards offered by the same issuer. The main reason to get a premium card is for the perks and not the points, but you should still aim to collect points that are valuable to you, even if you won’t be earning at a high rate.
Speaking of perks, you should closely examine all of the benefits offered by each card, and evaluate how useful they may be to you. For example, the golf benefit on the Citi Prestige card is only valuable if you play golf, while the upgrade priority on the Delta Reserve card is only useful if you actually hold Delta Medallion status. Finally, many of these cards come with credits toward airline fees and/or the $100 application fee for the Global Entry program, so be sure to consider those savings when evaluating whether paying the annual fee is justified.
I’ve listed what I think are the top 6 premium cards on the market right now. Here’s the short list, but below you’ll find more details about each.
1. Citi Prestige Card
2. The Platinum Card from American Express
3. Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
4. United MileagePlus Club Card
5. Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
6. Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express
Here’s a detailed look at each of the cards listed above, including their benefits, sign-up bonuses and other factors to consider.
Current Bonus: Earn 40,000 ThankYou points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: Receive a $250 air travel credit each year for airfare, baggage fees, lounge access and some in-flight purchases. You also get Admirals Club access and Priority Pass Select lounge membership, the latter of which is good for both you and a guest. Get your fourth night free at hotels with no black-out dates when you book four consecutive nights at any hotel via a personal travel adviser designated by MasterCard. $100 Global Entry application fee credit. No foreign transaction fees.
Earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent on air travel and hotel purchases, 2 points per dollar on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Redeem your points for air travel at a rate of 1.33 cents apiece, or 1.6 cents apiece on American Airlines and US Airways. Citi ThankYou Rewards also now has 12 transfer partners, including Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Virgin Atlantic and Hilton HHonors.
Annual Fee: $450
Is it worth getting? As the ThankYou Rewards program becomes increasingly valuable by adding more transfer partners, this card has become a great way to earn points, especially when you can take advantage of bonus spending categories. Prestige is one of the few cards that offers both direct airline lounge access and a Priority Pass membership. Other perks such as the golf benefit and the fourth night free hotel benefit really stand out as well. For someone who wants extensive lounge access and isn’t married to a single frequent flyer program, this card offers exceptional value.
Current Bonus: Earn 40,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months (although you might receive a targeted offer with a larger bonus).
Benefits: $200 annual air travel credit. $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Access to Delta SkyClub, Priority Pass and Amex Centurion lounges. This card only earns 1 Membership Rewards point per dollar spent, but those points transfer to 16 different airlines and 4 hotel partners. (Note that the transfer ratios to British Airways and Iberia will decrease starting October 1.)
Annual Fee: $450
Is it worth getting? Longtime cardholders swear by this card, which was one of the first premium cards offered. Like the Citi Prestige, this card offers multiple lounge network options, including the small but growing list of Amex Centurion Lounges. One of the best benefits of this card is that you can add up to three authorized users for $175 total, and each of those authorized users gets most of the same benefits as the primary cardholder.
When it comes to earning bonus points, this card comes up short, as it still offers just 1 point per dollar on all purchases, trailing even the Amex EveryDay Card, which has no annual fee. Nevertheless, there’s still plenty of value in this card’s long list of benefits to justify its $450 annual fee, even if you end up using other cards for most of your spending.
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $5,000 in the first three months, although you might receive a targeted offer for more.
Benefits: Full Admirals Club membership, which allows you (and immediate family or up to two guests) to access lounges even when you’re not flying on American Airlines. $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Priority check-in, security and boarding on American Airlines and US Airways. One free checked bag for you and up to eight companions. 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases.
Earn 2 points per dollar on American Airlines and US Airways purchases, and one point per dollar elsewhere. Also, earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles when you spend $40,000 in a year.
Annual Fee: $450
Is it worth getting? While this card may not offer the same value as the two listed above, it’s hard to pass on an opportunity to earn 50,000 AAdvantage bonus miles, and overall it’s a good option for those who fly American Airlines regularly. It offers one of the few ways to earn additional EQMs without flying, and it’s an easy way for occasional AAdvantage flyers to enjoy nearly all of the perks of elite status from day one.
Current Bonus: This card doesn’t come with miles, but it does include a $100 statement credit after your first purchase. There are also some targeted offers that waive the annual fee for the first year.
Benefits: Full United Club membership. First and second bag fee waivers for you and one companion. Premier Access travel services including priority check-in, boarding, security and baggage handling. No fee on close-in award booking and expanded access to saver award seats. Earn 2 points per dollar on United purchases and 1.5 points per dollar on all other purchases.
Annual Fee: $450
Is it worth getting? Like the AAdvantage Executive card, this card makes sense for frequent United travelers and those who want elite status perks before attaining elite status. United Club access isn’t offered by any other credit card, so if you would consider getting a membership anyway, this card is a good option. Finally, this is one of the few premium credit cards that truly offers more rewards from spending than similar, less expensive cards.
5. Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
Current Bonus: Earn 2 complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton Hotel after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Benefits: Earn 5 points per dollar at Ritz-Carlton and Marriott properties; 2 points per dollar on airline, car rental and restaurant purchases; and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Earn a 10% annual premium on points earned throughout the year. Get three annual upgrades to club level on stays of up to 7 nights. Receive a $300 annual travel credit, plus a $100 hotel credit on paid stays of two nights or more. Automatic Gold Elite status for your first year (valid at Marriott properties as well, and you can extend your status by spending $10,000 each account year). Lounge Club membership.
Annual Fee: $395
Is it worth getting? When you factor in the $300 annual air travel credit, you’re essentially left with a $95 card that offers some pretty lucrative benefits. It really takes just a single paid stay with Ritz-Carlton to make this card easily worthwhile, especially with the Club Level upgrades. If you stay at Ritz-Carlton properties regularly, it’s a no-brainer.
Current Bonus: 10,000 SkyMiles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after your first purchase.
Benefits: Delta SkyClub lounge access for the cardholder only. Flight benefits like one free checked bag, priority security and boarding, upgrade priority over those in the same elite status level, and discounts on in-flight purchases. Get an annual companion certificate in economy or first class on domestic flights. Earn 15,000 MQMs when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year, plus another 15,000 MQMs when you spend $60,000.
Annual Fee: $450
Is it worth getting? For Delta flyers, this card is well worth getting for the companion pass alone. It’s disappointing that the card only offers SkyClub access to the cardholder, but it’s also the most generous of these premium cards when it comes to handing out elite qualifying miles. If you don’t fly Delta regularly, though, there’s little reason to consider this card.
As you can see, a card’s annual fee doesn’t always correspond to its value. While the cards above all come at roughly the same price point, some are clearly only a fit for select travelers. If you’re looking for a card that offers a diverse array of useful perks, Citi Prestige and the Amex Platinum Card are probably your best bets, though the airline and hotel cards on this list can be a good fit if you’re loyal to those brands.
Which benefits do you value most in a premium travel rewards card? While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk. This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.
While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk. This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.