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7 Premium Travel Cards You Should Consider in 2016

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi Prestige Card, Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card

You can find plenty of great travel-rewards cards with annual fees of $100 or less, but if you’re a frequent traveler, it might be worth looking at more premium cards. Though they come with fees of $395 and up, as TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen explains, they more than make up for those charges with airline credits, elite status benefits and more.

Although we usually discuss travel credit cards in terms of the points or miles they earn (transferable, co-branded with a specific airline or hotel or fixed-value), it sometimes helps to think about travel credit cards in terms of three different market segments: those with no annual fee, those with an annual fee of $100 or less and those with an annual fee around the $400-$500 mark.

Park-Hyatt-Sydney-P072-Sydney-Suite-Master-Bedroom.masthead-feature-panel-medium.jpg
There are several premium travel credit cards out there that offer perks like suite upgrades, hotel elite status and more.

While you can get some great value out of cards with no annual fees, like the Chase Freedom and the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard, it’s usually in that second market segment (an annual fee of $100 or less) that most people find the sweet spot. It includes all-round winners like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Citi ThankYou Premier Card and the EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express, all of which carry an annual fee of $95 (for the first two cards, it’s waived for the first year) and earn you valuable transferable points.

But once you’ve applied for those, you might turn your attention to the highest level of travel credit cards: those with annual fees that can range up into the hundreds (and in some cases, thousands) of dollars. Those annual fees might be hard for some consumers to stomach, but these cards are aimed at high-spending, high-value frequent travelers who will take advantage of the myriad perks and benefits these cards tend to offer. These can include anything from airline or hotel elite status, airport lounge access and concierge services to airline fee waivers, Global Entry application fee waivers and more.

When deciding which cards might be best for you and whether or not to apply, it pays to know the list of benefits each card comes with, calculate out the relative value for your needs and weigh that against the annual fee.

TPG loved his trip in Singapore First Class from Frankfurt-JFK.
You might want to look for a card that lets you transfer points to several travel partners so you can book first-class awards like Singapore Airlines’ Suites.

For instance, if you’re an American Airlines flyer, having The Platinum Card from American Express might not be as valuable as applying for the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, since the latter card gets you (and up to 10 additional cardholders) Admirals Club access, whereas the Platinum Card does not. Or if you fly Delta and value elite status, you might want the Delta Reserve Card instead of one of the others on this list because it offers cardholders the opportunity to earn elite-qualifying miles through spending.

In short, there’s a lot to consider, but here are the major factors:

Annual fee: Let’s not beat around the bush; with cards that cost hundreds of dollars per year to keep in your wallet, you have to think about whether paying that money up front is worth it.

Sign-up bonuses: Though some of these cards offer higher sign-up bonuses than their more basic counterparts, in some cases they don’t. And the spending requirement can be the same, if not higher. So you have to think about the minimum threshold that you’re willing to accept in order to apply.

Many of these credit cards offer similar benefits like airport lounge access.
Many of these credit cards offer similar benefits like airport lounge access.

Travel-specific benefits: Here’s where the laundry list comes in. Many of these cards offer similar benefits, such as an annual $200 airline fee rebate or access to Priority Pass lounges. But many also offer benefits specific to a single airline or hotel chain, as well as other value-added perks like a fourth night free at hotels, elite status and upgrades at certain hotels or upgrade priority and wider award availability on certain airlines, not to mention automatic elite status with car-rental agencies. Look at your travel patterns, both past and future, to determine which benefits you will take advantage of most.

Purchase/consumer benefits: Cardholders often forget about these benefits, but certain premium cards offer above-and-beyond consumer benefits — including purchase protection, extended warranty and Citi’s Price Rewind — that can end up saving you thousands of dollars.

With all that in mind, here’s a list of the seven premium credit cards you should consider for your travel strategy and needs in 2016.

1. Citi Prestige Card
2. Platinum Card from American Express
3. Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
4. Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
5. Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express
6. United MileagePlus Club Card
7. Centurion (Black) Card from American Express

CARD DETAILS

Here are the details on these cards, including their current sign-up bonuses and what benefits each specifically offers, as well as links to past posts with further information.

The Citi Prestige card offers a lot of great value-added perks that make it worth considering despite the high annual fee.
The Citi Prestige card offers a lot of great value-added perks that make it worth considering despite the high annual fee.

1. Citi Prestige Card
Annual Fee: $450

Current Bonus: 50,000 ThankYou points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. We haven’t seen this sign-up bonus waver in the past year or so, so you’re not likely to get more points if you wait.

Benefits: Earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar on air travel and hotel purchases, 2 points per dollar on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar on everything else. $250 air travel credit each year for things like airfare, baggage fees, lounge access and some in-flight purchases. Admirals Club access and Priority Pass Select lounge membership. No foreign transaction fees. $100 Global Entry application fee waiver. Get your fourth night free at hotels with no blackout dates when you book four consecutive nights at any hotel via a personal travel adviser designated by MasterCard, and free rounds of golf. Redeem your points for air travel at a rate of 1.33 cents apiece, or 1.6 cents apiece on American Airlines. Citi ThankYou Rewards now has 13 transfer partners, including Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Virgin America and Hilton HHonors, among others.

What sets it apart: The Prestige looks a lot like cards #2 and #3 on this list, the Platinum Card from Amex and the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, but some of its benefits differ in significant ways. Unlike the Platinum’s airline fee rebate, the Prestige’s annual $250 air travel credit can actually be used on airfare directly, and equates to more than half of the annual fee. On the other hand, the Citi / AAdvantage Executive card offers Admirals Club membership, whereas this one just gets you access to clubs. The 4th Night Free benefit alone can also be worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars alone each year depending on how often and where you book hotel stays. Not only that, but ThankYou Rewards has gone through a major transition in the past year, and now boasts 13 travel transfer partners, many of which differ from those of Amex and Chase, making this card a great way to diversify your points portfolio against any possible devaluations in the future.

For more information on the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Rewards, check out these posts:

The Platinum Card from American Express is one of the best-known cards in this category.
The Platinum Card from American Express is one of the best-known cards in this category.

2. Platinum Card from American Express
Annual Fee: $450

Current Bonus: 40,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. There are targeted offers through the CardMatch Tool, where you might be eligible for special bonuses like 100,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, which we saw over the summer and into the fall.

Benefits: This card comes with an entire catalogue of valuable benefits, including a $200 annual airline rebateDelta SkyClub and Priority Pass lounge access, access to Amex’s own expanding network of Centurion Lounges, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status, as well as the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application-fee credits, plus complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices.

What sets it apart: The Platinum Card is, if you’ll pardon the saying, the gold standard of premium travel credit cards, and it pretty much set the mold. The airline free rebate and Global Entry application fee rebate alone are worth more than half the annual fee, while if you actually use the lounge and Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits, you’re raking in at least another several hundred dollars in travel-related benefits each year. This card also offers top-tier purchase protections of up to $10,000 per item and up to $50,000 per year, as well as the choice of signing up for Amex’s premium rental-car insurance. Just as important, you can transfer the Membership Rewards points you earn to 20 airline and hotel partners, which makes the Platinum Card a great choice for many travelers looking for the flexibility to use their points with a variety of loyalty programs.

For more information, check out these posts:

The Citi / Executive AAdvantage card offers many benefits beyond Admirals Club membership.
The Citi / AAdvantage Executive card offers many benefits beyond Admirals Club membership.

3. Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
Annual Fee:
$450

Current Bonus: 50,000 AAdvantage miles when you spend $5,000 in the first three months.

Benefits: Admirals Club membership for primary cardholder and up to 10 additional cardholders. Earn 2x miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, and can earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles for spending $40,000 on the card each calendar year. Cardholders also get priority boarding, 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases, first checked bag free and concierge service, and the card comes with embedded Smart Chip technology. It also offers a credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.

What sets it apart: This card has a couple of key selling points. It’s been a while, but we’ve seen bonuses of up to 100,000 miles (when you spend $10,000 in three months), which is among the most lucrative sign-up bonuses out there, and you can even earn it multiple times, but hopefully we’ll see it come back. Its other main feature is Admirals Club membership — the card recently expanded this benefit so that authorized users (of which you can add up to 10 per card account) also get lounge access, greatly increasing its value proposition. This card also offers those airline credit card perks we all look for, like increased mileage-earning, priority treatment and free checked bags. Not only that, but it’s also one of the only cards out there that lets you earn elite-qualifying miles through spending, which can be a nice shortcut to earning elite status.

Many people tend to wonder whether to get the Citi Prestige or the Citi / AAdvantage Executive because the two cards offer similar benefits. The Executive card is still a great option for American Airlines loyalists who value elite status (or perks that mimic it), while the Prestige offers a broader range of benefits. Check out this post for a more thorough answer to that question, and see these tips on how to use 82,500 miles from the Citi / AAdvantage Executive Card.

The Ritz-Carlton card offers perks that go above and beyond the hotel experience.
The Ritz-Carlton card offers perks that go above and beyond the hotel experience.

4. Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
Annual Fee: $395

Current Bonus: Earn 2 complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton Hotel after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three 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 paid stays of up to seven 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.

What sets it apart: This credit card has to be one of the most compelling premium products on the marketplace, especially if you stay at Ritz-Carlton properties frequently. Not only is the sign-up bonus worth up to 120,000 points (though it’s been as high as 140,000 in the past), but a year of automatic Gold Elite status and the ability to extend it indefinitely by spending just $10,000 annually on the card is a great benefit for Ritz enthusiasts. Plus, that versatile $300 travel credit (which you can even use on a Global Entry application), the Club Level upgrades and $100 hotel credit on every paid stay of two nights or more all add up to potentially huge value if you actually plan to stay at Ritz-Carlton properties.

The Delta Reserve Card come with SkyClub access, in addition to other Delta-specific benefits.
The Delta Reserve Card come with SkyClub access, in addition to other Delta-specific benefits.

5. Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express
Annual Fee: $450

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. Earn 2 miles per eligible dollar spent on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar spent on other eligible purchases. Receive a domestic companion certificate each year upon renewal. You can earn 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs after you spend $30,000 or more in qualifying purchases on your card in a calendar year. You can earn an additional 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs after you spend $60,000 or more in qualifying purchases on your card in a calendar year. Flight benefits like free checked bags, priority security and boarding and discounts on in-flight purchases.

What sets it apart: Though the annual fee is a hefty $450, this card is a great choice for stalwart Delta flyers — especially those with a history of high credit card spending. It comes with (albeit limited) Delta SkyClub access, and that annual companion certificate can be worth hundreds of dollars, as can upgrade priority over elites in your same tier. Then there’s the opportunity to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles. Not only will spending $25,000 in a calendar year waive Delta’s Medallion Qualifying Dollars spending requirements for elite status, but if you spend a lot, you can also earn up to 30,000 MQMs per calendar year, which can be a huge boost to Delta customers who won’t log enough time in the air to hit their desired elite-status tier. That said, this isn’t a great choice for the general public since the most valuable benefits are Delta-specific.

The new clubs will be similar in style to the newly renovated Chicago O'Hare club
The United MileagePlus Club Card offers cardholders club membership, but a few other benefits as well.

6. United MileagePlus Club Card
Annual Fee: $450

Current Bonus: 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. Earn 2 miles per dollar on United purchases and 1.5 miles per dollar on all other purchases. 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. Automatic Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum elite status.

What sets it apart: For United flyers who spend a lot on airfare with the carrier, this card can be a good choice. It offers club access you might not otherwise get, a very decent 1.5-mile-per-dollar earning rate on non-United purchases, enhanced award availability and the perks of elite status without having to do all the flying. That said, it’s less compelling than some of the other cards on here due to limited benefits for those not flying United.

centurion1
Anyone who’s anyone seems to want the Centurion Card…but it comes with a $2,500 annual fee!

7. The Centurion Card from American Express
Annual Fee:
$2,500 plus a $5,000 initiation fee.

Current Bonus: None

Benefits: This card’s benefits are like those of the Platinum Card, but taken to the next level. It earns one Membership Rewards point per dollar on all purchases. It also comes with automatic Starwood Preferred Guest Gold, Hilton HHonors Diamond and IHG Rewards Club Platinum status. It has its own hotel program called the Centurion Hotel Program in addition to Fine Hotels & Resorts but at five luxury brands — Aman, Belmond, Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula Hotels and St. Regis — with guaranteed perks like special amenities, airport transfers and on-property credits. Automatic Delta Platinum Medallion status, complimentary GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi, complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices. Receive 30% of your Membership Rewards back as a statement credit when you redeem points for all or a portion of any flight through American Express Travel. Amex Centurion and Priority Pass lounge access, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application-fee reimbursement, $200 annual airline fee credit, premium private jet program and more.

What sets it apart: To be honest, the main thing this card has going for it is the caché of having it, and being able to buy pretty much anything you want. There are no published requirements to apply (or to be invited to apply) for this card, but word has it that you need to spend (and pay off) at least a half-million dollars on your Amex accounts in a calendar year in order even to be considered. Its benefits are very similar to those of the Platinum Card, with a few more hotel and airline elite-status perks thrown in.

BOTTOM LINE

As you can see, the top premium travel credit cards offer benefits packages meant to entice hardcore frequent travelers who will be able to take full advantage of their perks. Since the annual fees are almost all $395 to $450, which one is right for you will depend on your own personal travel habits and which of the benefits make the most sense for your needs.

What’s your favorite travel card with a premium-level annual fee? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Citi Prestige® Card

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  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year, and receive a statement credit, up to $100 every 5 years, as reimbursement for your application fee for Global Entry or TSA Pre √®
  • 4th night hotel benefit for any hotel stay at hotels booked through the Citi Prestige® Concierge.
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Points are redeemable for a $532 flight on any airline or $400 in gift cards.
  • Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 15.49%* (Variable) $450 0% Excellent Credit