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How I justify paying almost $4,000 a year in credit card fees

Nov. 21, 2019
10 min read
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Like many TPG readers and staffers, I have a lot of credit cards. I travel nearly full time and can easily take advantage of great travel-related perks, so I find it hard to say no to a new card that offers amazing benefits.

Over the last eight years, I've picked up quite a few cards that I use regularly and therefore want to keep. But many of them have high annual fees. I recently added up the annual fees of all of my credit cards and found that I pay around $4,000 a year! That sounds like a lot of money (and it is), but the benefits I get through my credit cards make the cost worth it.

Here are the top cards I own and how I justify paying $4,000 per year in credit card annual fees. My most-used credit cards typically come with high annual fees, but these are also the cards that I get the most value from. I use these cards to book my travel, earn rewards on everyday purchases and upgrade my overall travel experiences.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Annual fee: $550

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is my number one credit card. I use it on a regular basis because of how great it is for travel. Not only do you get 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on a broad definition of travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining purchases, but it also offers a $300 annual travel credit, amazing travel insurance that has saved me thousands of dollars, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit and Priority Pass lounge membership.
I had the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card before this card was available, but the Sapphire Reserve took all of the great benefits of the Preferred to the next level. The Reserve is well worth the fee because I know I would not be able to travel as I do without it.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

Annual fee: $695 (see rates and fees)

The Amex Platinum is one of the most coveted luxury travel cards on the market, and with good reason. First off, this card offers up to $200 in annual airline fee credits and up to $200 in annual Uber credits. These two benefits alone (which I take full advantage of each year), effectively bring the annual fee down to $150. This card also gives me access to the American Express Centurion Lounges, which is only available through it and the Business Platinum Card. Enrollment required for select benefits.

I also often use this card to book flights for 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent. Although my Citi Prestige® earns the same number of points on flights, TPG places a higher value on Amex Membership Rewards points (2 cents) than Citi ThankYou Points (1.7 cents each).

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The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $595 ($695 if application is received on or after 1/13/2022) (see rates and fees)

Ideally, I would choose just one card between Amex Platinum Card and the Business Platinum Card (though there are plenty of advantages to having both), but I've found it hard to decide which one is the best for me with the benefits of each changing ever so often. With the Amex Business Platinum card removing some valuable benefits with no information on what (if anything) is going to replace them, I don't know that this card will continue to be worth the $695 annual fee. But as of right now, the WeWork Membership alone has made this card well worth it for me (currently no longer available). I work online and travel and at the same time, so being able to access co-working spaces almost anywhere in the world has been an incredibly valuable perk. If Amex renews that benefit (or adds something equally beneficial in its place), they may convince me to remain a cardmember. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Citi Prestige® Card

The Citi Prestige Card is another credit card that has made some pretty big benefits cuts over the past year while keeping its high annual fee. I'm still planning to keep it in my wallet, but only to use in specific circumstances.

The card does still offer a $250 annual travel credit similar to the Chase Sapphire Reserve that essentially lowers the annual fee down to $245. I can easily get $245 in value from two other main benefits of the card: 4th Night Free and bonus points on dining.

Citi's 4th Night Free benefit was recently devalued, but I can still use this benefit twice a year to save 25% on the base rate of the room (excluding taxes and fees) when booking a four-night stay. This year, I used this benefit at one hotel with a base rate of $185 per night and a second hotel with a base rate of $162 per night, meaning I saved a total of $347.

The Citi Prestige also earns 5x points per dollar on dining purchases, which is my second-largest spending category. That’s an 8.5% return on dining, which is even higher than the 6% return I get with my Chase Sapphire Reserve.

My cobranded cards

I've cut back on airline credit cards over the past few years because I'm not loyal to a specific airline, don't often check bags domestically and travel internationally on a huge variety of carriers. Nevertheless, I do still swear by one airline card. My main goal for having hotel credit cards, on the other hand, is to utilize the free night certificates and elite status benefits that most top cards offer.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

Annual fee: $149

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card is one of my favorite airline credit cards, primarily because it gives you four upgraded boarding passes a year. Plus,the $75 annual Southwest credit and the 7,500 annual bonus points (worth $112.50 according to TPG valuations) more than offset the cost of the annual fee.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.)

Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has a relatively high annual fee for a hotel credit card, but a couple of main benefits make this card worth it for me.

First of all, this card offers a $250 Hilton resort fee credit and a $250 airline fee credit annually. These two benefits alone more than offset the cost of the annual fee. The Hilton Aspire card also offers an annual weekend free night certificate, though I do sometimes have a bit of trouble finding a good use for this since the benefit is limited to weekend stays. This card also offers complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status, which comes with room upgrades, free breakfast, Executive Lounge access, opportunities to earn bonus points and more. Enrollment required for select benefits.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

(Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eden Batki/The Points Guy.)

Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)

The Bonvoy Brilliant Amex is another hotel credit card with a high annual fee, but I still get a ton of value from this card. Each year, I receive an up to $300 statement credit on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program. Marriott is currently my hotel chain of choice (I usually spend 25 to 35 nights per year at Marriott hotels), so it's a no-brainer that I will use the credit. That effectively brings the annual fee down to $150.

This hotel also offers an annual free night certificate, valid at hotels that cost up to 50,000 points per night. To offset the cost of the rest of the annual fee, I have to use this benefit on a hotel that would otherwise cost $150 a night. I typically end up booking at least one stay per year that costs that much without going out of my way. This year, for example, I used my certificate at a hotel that cost more than $400 per night.

The other hotel credit cards I have

The rest of the hotel credit cards I have all offer either a free night certificate or bonus points each year on the cardmember anniversary. The hotel certificate or points can easily be used to offset the costs of each annual fee. . Because I travel nearly full time, I have no problem using these hotel certificates without having to go out of my way or change my plans.

  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card - $95 annual fee
  • IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card - $89 annual fee
  • World of Hyatt Credit Card - $95 annual fee
  • Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card - $75 annual fee

The information for the Citi Prestige, Radisson Rewards Premier cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

Yes, $4,000 per year is a lot to spend on credit card annual fees. But as someone who travels constantly throughout the year, I'm easily able to get over $4,000 in value out of my credit cards to offset the cost. That said, I'm constantly evaluating the cards I have, the new card offers that are available and my use of benefits to make sure I am maximizing my credit card line up based on my travel needs and spending habits.

Don’t let the high annual fees on top travel credit cards stop you from applying. If you’re taking advantage of the card and its benefits, the cost is almost always worth it in the end.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex card, please click here.

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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