Are premium credit cards worth the annual fee?
I remember the first time I heard about a credit card with an annual fee of over $400. I scoffed. "No way I'll ever sign up for one of those."
Years later, I now hold multiple premium credit cards. This can present some sticker shock to my relatives and to people who are new to the points and miles hobby. "Are those premium credit cards really worth the high annual fees?" they ask.
On the one side, you will find many people who say premium credit cards are worth it because of the numerous perks they offer. On the other side, you will find many people who want to keep their expenses low and can't justify the high price tag associated with these luxury-focused credit cards.
Let's take a look at what premium credit cards can offer so you can decide for yourself whether one of them might fit your lifestyle.
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Popular premium credit cards
Before we talk about what premium credit cards can offer, let's first look at some examples.
Possibly the most popular example is The Platinum Card® from American Express, with an eye-watering annual fee of $695 (see rates and fees). Slightly less expensive, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card card confers automatic Platinum Elite status in Marriott Bonvoy but comes with an annual fee of $650 (see rates and fees).
Moving further down the pricing scale, you'll see premium credit cards like the all-around travel card in Chase Sapphire Reserve ($550 annual fee) or Hilton's premium credit card, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, which offers top-tier Diamond status for a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).
The information for the Hilton Aspire 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.
There are also premium credit cards from the major U.S. airlines, offering lounge access as a cardmember perk. These include the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card with a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees), United Club Infinite Card with a $525 annual fee and the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® with an annual fee of $450.
The relative newcomer in the premium credit card realm is the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. It also has the lowest annual fee: $395. And while it's no longer available to new applicants, the Citi Prestige® Card deserves a place in this discussion, with its annual fee at $495.
The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Now that we know what some common premium credit cards are — and what it costs to keep them in your wallet — let's look at what they offer to see whether these high annual fees are worth it.
This may be the most obvious perk of these cards and the one most likely to catch the attention of your friends and family. Premium credit cards will provide lounge access of some type, but what it is and how easily you can access it varies by card.
On one end of the spectrum, you have cards that provide access to multiple lounges, allow you to bring guests and don't have restrictions based on which airline you're flying that day.
Those with the Amex Platinum Card, Amex Hilton Aspire card, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige and Venture X cards can take advantage of Priority Pass Select membership with unlimited visits to Priority Pass lounges, including the ability to bring guests into the lounge with you. Enrollment is required.
If you have the Platinum Card, you'll also have access to American Express Centurion lounges, Delta Sky Club lounges, Escape Lounges - The Centurion Studio Partner, Airspace lounges, Plaza Premium lounges, Lufthansa lounges and other Global Lounge Collection partner lounges. Note that enrollment is required in advance for some benefits, and access to Delta lounges is limited to when you're flying on Delta that day.
One downside of having a Platinum Card issued in the U.S. is that you won't have access to Priority Pass-affiliated restaurants available at some airports. However, if you have Priority Pass membership via another card, you can visit these restaurants for free or heavily-discounted meals.
Venture X cardholders also have access to Plaza Premium lounges and Capital One lounges, the first of which is already open at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), with more lounges set to open in 2023.
Sapphire Reserve cardholders receive access to Chase lounges, set to open in nine locations in 2023 and 2024.
On the other side, there are credit cards that provide access to airline-affiliated lounges. You'll have access to these lounges only when flying on that airline and won't have access to other lounges through these credit cards. This includes access to Admirals Club lounges with the AAdvantage Executive Mastercard, United Club lounges with the Club Infinite card and Delta Sky Club lounges with the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card.
Depending on your home airport and your travel style, having access to one brand of lounges may be sufficient because you always fly on that airline. For others, having a wide range of options for airport lounge access will be better.
If you consider the exorbitant costs of drinks and food at airports, having freebies in an airport lounge could add up to hundreds of dollars in savings per year, depending on how often you travel and who travels with you.
Each of these programs offers targeted discounts or bonus points-earning offers with relevant merchants where you can earn extra points or receive a statement credit after adding an offer to your card and then making an eligible purchase. An example would be something like this: Spend $300 or more at Walmart and receive $50 back. You would need to add this offer to your credit card and then make an eligible purchase, then you'll receive a statement credit on your account. Others are more general, offering a flat discount or bonus points amount with no minimum spending requirement involved.
It's worth noting that not everyone sees the same offers, as these are targeted to specific cardholders. Additionally, offers do expire and rotate, so it's worth checking your accounts regularly to see what offers are available to you. Using these offers on your card can lead to hundreds of dollars in savings per year on purchases you would be making anyway.
Out of the many benefits offered by premium credit cards, these will be the easiest to quantify since they have monetary values assigned to them.
Consider the Amex Platinum Card, which offers over $1,400 in annual statement credits if you enroll for and use the benefits. This includes everything from reimbursing your Clear membership fee and up to $200 in airline incident credits per year. You'll also have access to up to $200 in hotel credits per year and reimbursement for your monthly Walmart+ membership, which offers fee-free grocery delivery and gas discounts.
For its part, the Venture X offers cardholders up to $300 in travel credits per year on bookings made in the Capital One Travel portal and 10,000 bonus miles on each account anniversary. TPG values those bonus miles at $185.
Sapphire Reserve cardholders also enjoy up to $300 in annual travel credits, and these are easier to use because they apply broadly to anything considered "travel" and apply automatically to the first $300 of these purchases in a year. There's no requirement to book using a certain website. Cardholders also have access to up to $15 per month in Instacart purchase credits and up to $10 per month in Gopuff purchase credits. This is an annual total of up to $600 in credits.
United Club Infinite cardholders also have access to up to $75 in statement credits for spending at IHG Hotels and Resorts and the Gopuff credits. (These end on Dec. 31, 2022 and Dec. 31, 2023, respectively.)
Delta Reserve cardmembers receive 20% back on inflight purchases of food, alcoholic beverages and audio headsets on Delta-operated flights. AAdvantage Executive cardholders receive 25% off inflight food and beverage purchases using their card on American Airlines flights, but this doesn't apply to inflight Wi-Fi purchases. Both of these discounts come as a statement credit after using your eligible card.
Hilton Aspire cardmembers have access to up to $250 in Hilton resort credits per year and up to $250 in airline incidental credits per year. Cardholders also have access to up to $100 in on-property credits when staying at Waldorf Astoria or Conrad properties booked using a special website for cardholders and booking a stay of at least two nights.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant cardholders receive up to $300 in dining credits per year on their card. This comes in the form of statement credits, available as up to $25 in credits for restaurant purchases each month. Takeout and delivery are included. Enrollment is required.
Hilton Aspire cardholders automatically receive top-tier Diamond status with Hilton Honors for as long as their account is open. TPG values this status at over $3,000 per year, due to providing suite upgrades, bonus points earning and free breakfast or food and beverage credits during your stay.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant cardholders receive automatic Platinum Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy. TPG values this status at nearly $2,500 per year. It offers perks like welcome gifts of bonus points, free breakfast, upgrades to suites when available at check-in and accelerated points-earning rates.
Amex Platinum cardmembers can enroll for Gold Elite status with both Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy. These status levels can provide bonus points on each stay, higher points-earning rates when paying for hotel rooms and upgrades to preferred rooms — though not to suites.
On the other hand, while these aren't elite status tiers, you can receive status-like benefits from the United Club Infinite, Delta SkyMiles Reserve and AAdvantage Executive cards.
With the Club Infinite card, you'll get two free checked bags for you and one companion on your same reservation when flying with United, plus priority access at check-in, boarding and baggage handling, plus priority access at airport screening where available. Delta Reserve cardmembers can enjoy a free first checked bag on Delta-operated flights for the cardholder and up to eight companions on the same reservation. For AAdvantage Executive cardholders, you and up to eight companions on the same reservation get a free first checked bag on American Airlines flights, as well as priority check-in, priority boarding and priority airport screening where available.
And while the Delta Reserve Amex, Citi AAdvantage Executive and United Club Infinite cards don't provide elite status, they do allow you to spend your way toward elite status (or spend your way to a boost on the progress you've made toward elite status already). With the Delta Reserve card, you can unlock a Mileage Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver after spending $25,000 per calendar year on your card, and you can also earn 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) for each $30,000 spent on the card in a calendar year — up to four times.
AAdvantage Executive cardholders can earn 1 Loyalty Point toward American Airlines AAdvantage status for each dollar spent on the card. United Club Infinite cardholders can earn 500 Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) for each $12,000 spent on the card. There is a maximum of 4,000 PQPs per year that can be earned this way, and PQPs earned this way can only be used to help you up to the Premier 1K status level.
The Citi Prestige, Venture X and Sapphire Reserve cards don't offer any type of elite status on a permanent basis.
Reduce travel stress
Travel can be stressful — even when everything goes according to plan. The crowds, the lines...it can be a lot to deal with.
This stress can be multiplied when things don't go according to plan, such as delays, missed connections or canceled flights. Premium credit cards can help you to reduce stress by getting through the crowds quickly and helping you when things go wrong during a trip.
Looking at the first option (the crowds and the lines), premium credit cards can help you here by offering reimbursement for your application fee to Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Additionally, the United Club Infinite and Sapphire Reserve cards will reimburse your application fee for Nexus, which is a cross-border program between the U.S. and Canada. To receive reimbursement for these programs, you'll need to pay with your eligible card. With American Express cards, you may also need to enroll for the benefit in advance before making your payment.
Clear is another program helping to expedite your path through airport security. Your annual membership fee can be reimbursed if you pay for it with your Amex Platinum Card. You must enroll for this benefit in advance before making your payment, however.
You can also move through airport security faster when flying out of an airport that has expedited security lanes for those with elite status on particular airlines. You can gain access to these expedited lanes if you have the AAdvantage Executive, Delta Reserve or United Club Infinite card and are flying from an airport that has expedited lanes for American Airlines, Delta Air Lines or United Airlines, respectively.
In terms of reducing stress and helping you when problems arise during a trip, premium credit cards should offer benefits like trip cancellation insurance, trip delay insurance, lost or delayed baggage coverage and emergency insurance in case of injuries or emergencies that happen along the way.
Trip cancellation protection will reimburse you for lost money when you must cancel a trip for a covered reason, and these reasons can vary across insurance providers. They'll generally cover things like being called into work or a sickness in your family that prevents you from traveling. Trip delay protection will reimburse you for extra expenses you incur during a delay, such as needing to purchase meals or pay for a hotel because your flight is departing later than expected.
When your luggage is lost or delayed, you can be reimbursed for necessary expenses you incur while waiting — think of clean underwear and toiletries, for example — or the value of your belongings if the suitcase is permanently lost. Emergency travel protection will reimburse you for medical costs you incur during a trip due to an unforeseen accident. It's worth noting here that only the United Club Infinite and Sapphire Reserve cards provide benefits for delayed baggage.
Premium credit cards also can protect your rental car on an upcoming trip. It's worth distinguishing whether your card provides primary coverage or secondary coverage (coverage that kicks in after any other coverage you may have, such as another travel insurance policy or your own auto insurance policy). The Venture X and Sapphire Reserve provide primary rental car insurance. Cards from American Express (including the Delta Reserve, Platinum Card, Hilton Aspire and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant) provide secondary coverage.*
*Eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Not all vehicle types or rentals are covered, and geographic restrictions apply. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company. Coverage is offered through American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc.
The exceptions to this information are the Citi AAdvantage Executive card and Citi Prestige. Citi eliminated travel and purchase protections from most of its credit cards back in 2019.
Protect your purchases
Premium credit cards can also protect you and your belongings while at home. These protections come in the form of benefits like purchase protection, extended warranty, return protection and cellphone protection.
Purchase protection can protect items purchased with your card that have been accidentally damaged, stolen or lost during a period extending for up to 90 days (or 120 days on the Sapphire Reserve and United Club Infinite cards) from the purchase date. Typically, coverage is limited to $10,000 per incident and $50,000 per year.*
The extended warranty benefit can add an extra year of warranty protection to a manufacturer's warranty when making a purchase with an eligible credit card. This applies to warranties of up to three years on the United Club Infinite and Sapphire Reserve cards from Chase and the Venture X from Capital One. This benefit applies to warranties of up to five years on American Express cards, including the Platinum Card, Hilton Aspire, Delta Reserve and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant.*
*With American Express cards, eligibility and benefit levels vary by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.
Return protection covers you for items purchased on your card within the last 90 days but which the store won't accept for return. You can be reimbursed for the purchase price of these items but typically encounter limits of $300 to $500 per item and will have the cost of shipping and handling subtracted from what your credit card company pays out after you send the item(s) to them.*
*For American Express cards, eligibility and benefit levels vary by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details.
Cellphone protection provides coverage for a stolen or damaged phone that you purchased using an eligible credit card or a phone associated with a mobile phone plan for which you paid the bill on your eligible card during the previous billing cycle. Note that cosmetic damage and phones that are lost (even during shipping) are not covered. This benefit is available on the Venture X, the Amex Platinum Card and the Delta SkyMiles Reserve.*
*For American Express cards, eligibility and benefit levels vary by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company.
Again, Citi credit cards lack these protections.
To be clear, premium credit cars are not always your best credit card for every purchase. They likely aren't your best credit card for everyday spending, either.
That being said, there are some categories where you can really rack up extra points and miles by making purchases with a premium credit card.
For example, the Amex Platinum Card is the best credit card for purchasing airfare. Platinum cardmembers earn 5 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly from airlines or from Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 of these purchases per year, then 1 point per dollar). You can also earn 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotel bookings made with Amex Travel. However, cardmembers earn just 1 point per dollar on purchases in other categories.
Delta Reserve cardmembers earn 3 points per dollar on purchases with Delta but just 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. Typically, AAdvantage Executive cardholders earn 2 miles per dollar on purchases from American Airlines, but that is increased to 4 miles per dollar through Dec. 31, 2022. However, you'll earn just 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. The United Club Infinite does slightly better, as cardholders earn 4 miles per dollar on United purchases, 2 miles per dollar on other travel, 2 miles per dollar on dining purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.
On the hotel cards, Hilton Aspire cardholders can earn 14 points per dollar at hotels in the Hilton portfolio, 7 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or with Amex Travel, 7 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants or select car rental companies and 3 points per dollar on other purchases. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant cardholders earn 6 points per dollar at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy, 3 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide and on flights booked directly with airlines. Cardholders earn 2 points per dollar on other purchases.
However, it is possible to earn a decent amount of points on some premium credit cards.
Citi Prestige cardholders earn 5 Citi ThankYou Points per dollar spent at restaurants, airlines and travel agencies, 3 points per dollar spent at hotels and cruise lines and 1 point per dollar on other purchases.
Venture X cardholders earn 10 miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals paid for through Capital One Travel, 10 miles per dollar on car rental bookings from Turo (through May 16, 2023), 5 miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel and 2 miles per dollar on all other purchases.
Sapphire Reserve cardholders earn 10 points per dollar on hotels and car rentals paid for through Chase Travel, 10 points per dollar on dining purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards' dining platform, 5 points per dollar on flights purchased through Chase Travel, 3 points per dollar on all other travel (excluding the $300 travel credit) and dining purchases worldwide and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
Some credit cards offer companion passes, but only one premium credit card makes that list. A companion pass or companion certificate allows you to bring a friend with you on a flight, subject to paying taxes and fees, possibly a small ticketing price and then following the restrictions of that particular companion fare program.
For example, Delta SkyMiles Reserve cardholders can bring a companion on a round-trip ticket in first class, Delta Comfort+ or Main Cabin when you purchase an adult round-trip ticket in the same cabin. Taxes and fees for the companion fare will be less than $75. Note that there are restrictions on destination and fare class.
Reduced award pricing and more award seats
These perks are unique to the United Club Infinite card but show that having a premium credit can also help you stretch the points and miles you've already earned.
Firstly, cardholders pay 10% fewer miles on awards than pricing available to the general public. This applies to economy Saver Awards on United flights booked within the continental U.S. and Canada.
Another benefit available to those who have a United Airlines credit card is expanded access to award availability. When logged into your MileagePlus account, you'll see available seats for award bookings that other people can't find. Thus, you're able to use your miles on more seats than those without a United credit card.
As you can see, premium cards offer a lot, but what they offer isn't always the same. The annual fees also range from $395 to $695 — a difference of $300 per year. Determining whether premium credit cards are worth their annual fees will depend on which perks you're able to use and how much value they provide for you.
If the value provided by the card is close to the cost of the annual fee, you'll probably consider it worthwhile. Those who are able to maximize the benefits of their premium credit cards may have it even better: You may find that the bank is essentially paying you to keep the card each year because you're unlocking more value than what you pay for the annual fee.
For more details about the cards we discussed, read our reviews of each:
- Amex Platinum Card review
- Capital One Venture X review
- Chase Sapphire Reserve review
- Citi Prestige Card review
- Delta SkyMiles Reserve card review
- Hilton Aspire Amex review
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex review
Official application link: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
Official application link: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Official application link: Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
Official application link: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
Official application link: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card
Official application link: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Official application link: United Club Infinite Card
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card, click here.