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.

Picking the best travel rewards credit cards to carry in your wallet and use on a regular basis can be quite challenging. Each one offers a different combination of perks, and this is especially applicable when it comes to premium credit cards. Thanks to issuers upping the ante with new releases and enhanced benefits, there’s more competition than ever in this segment, but which premium travel rewards credit cards is the best? In this guide, I’ll attempt to answer that very question.

For starters, this analysis focuses on seven popular premium cards:

(Note that the Citi Prestige and Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card have both been removed from this analysis, since they’re not open to new applicants at this time.)

I’ll compare each of these cards across eight categories: annual fee, current intro. bonus, point earning, redemptions, travel credits, lounge access, additional travel perks and coverage. For each category, I’ll rank the cards from best to worst and award points accordingly (7 points to the best card in the category, 6 points to the second best card in the category, etc., though I’ll award 0 points to a card that has nothing in a particular category). At the end, I’ll tally up the results and crown a champion!

As always, feel free to adjust (or even weight) the categories as needed based on your own travel patterns. The United Club Card could be preferred if you’re a Chicago-based traveler, while others might live in New York and value the access you’ll get to both the Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia and Delta Sky Clubs across the globe with the Amex Platinum. This analysis is based on a generic traveler trying to decide which one of these seven cards should go in his/her wallet.

Let’s get started!

1. Annual Fee

Amex Platinum: $550 (plus $175 for up to three additional cardholders)
Chase Sapphire Reserve: $450 ($75 for each additional cardholder)
Hilton Amex Aspire: $450 ($0 for each additional cardholder)
SPG Luxury: $450 ($0 for each additional cardholder)
Delta Reserve: $450 ($0 for each additional cardholder)
United Club: $450 ($0 for each additional cardholder)

Analysis

On the surface, this seems like a tie, since all but one of the seven cards have a $450 annual fee. However, the cost (or lack thereof) of additional cardholders provides some separation. While the Hilton Amex Aspire, SPG Luxury Card, Delta Reserve Card and United Club Card also don’t charge a fee for additional cardholders, the Hilton Amex Aspire allows AUs to enjoy a $100 property credit for eligible two-night stays at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad properties — while the SPG Luxury Card, Delta Reserve Card and United Club Card don’t offer any additional perks.

The competition between the other two is a bit closer. On both the Amex Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve, additional cardholders can enjoy access to Priority Pass lounges, even when not traveling with the primary cardholders. These benefits also include Centurion Lounges and Sky Clubs on the Amex Platinum. Since the fee is lower on the Sapphire Reserve, I’ll rank that in second place. The Hilton Aspire takes third place in my book, since AUs get added perks for no fee, and the SPG Luxury Card, Delta Reserve and United Club Card come in tied at fourth. Last place goes to the Amex Platinum thanks to its high fee in comparison to the others, though you can add three AUs for a total of $175, and each cardholder gets Delta Sky Club access (when flying Delta) and full Centurion Lounge access with two guests.

Ranking

Chase Sapphire Reserve (6 points)
Hilton Aspire (5 points)
SPG Luxury, Delta Reserve and United Club (4 points)
Amex Platinum (1 point)

2. Current Intro. Bonus

The Amex Platinum come with a hefty welcome bonus worth over $1,000.

Amex Platinum: 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in the first three months (worth $1,140 based on TPG’s most recent valuations), though be sure to check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’re targeted for a 100,000-point offer.
Chase Sapphire Reserve: 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening (worth $1,050)
Hilton Amex Aspire: 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of cardmembership (worth $900)
SPG Luxury: 75,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months (worth $675).
Delta Reserve: 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months (worth $480, not including the MQMs)
United Club: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening (worth $700)

Analysis

The top spot in this category goes to the Amex Platinum, which edges out the Sapphire Reserve by just under $100 (though it carries the potential of an even bigger payday through the CardMatch tool). I’ll place the SPG Luxury Card into fourth thanks to its 75,000-point bonus, a haul of points worth $675. The fifth spot goes to the United Club Card, though you may find a superior offer in Chase branches. Sixth place goes to the Hilton Amex Aspire, and last place goes to the Delta Reserve Card thanks to its comparatively small bonus, though you might bump this up a spot or two if you could really use the 10,000 MQMs.

Ranking

Amex Platinum (7 points)
Chase Sapphire Reserve
SPG Luxury (4 points)
United Club (3 points)
Hilton Amex Aspire (2 points)
Delta Reserve (1 point)

3. Point Earning

The Sapphire Reserve earns triple points on travel and dining purchases, making it a great option to boost your Ultimate Rewards account.

Amex Platinum: 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on airfare purchases booked through the airline or though Amex and on prepaid hotels booked directly through Amex; 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases; 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Hilton Amex Aspire: 14 Hilton Honors points per dollar spent at Hilton portfolio properties worldwide; 7 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with the airline or at amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select companies, and from US restaurants; 3 points per dollar spent on all other purchases
SPG Luxury: 6 Marriott points per dollar spent at any Marriott, Starwood or Ritz-Carlton hotel; 3 points per dollar spent at US restaurants and airfare purchased directly with the airline; 2 points per dollar spent on all other purchases
Delta Reserve: 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases; 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases
United Club: 2 miles per dollar spent on United ticket purchases; 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all other purchases

Analysis

Once again, there’s a clear winner in this category, and it’s a familiar one: the Sapphire Reserve. Having any type of triple points category is nice by itself, but when it applies to travel and dining purchases, that’s a powerful combination. The card has a very broad definition of what constitutes travel, and I’ve even had Chase count numerous bars under the “dining” category, even when they don’t serve food at all. It also doesn’t hurt that you’re earning valuable Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases.

The Hilton Amex Aspire takes the second spot thanks to an incredible 14 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties and 7 points per dollar spent on airfare, car rentals and restaurants; these bonuses represent a return of 8.4% and 4.2% (respectively) based on TPG’s most recent valuations. The Amex Platinum card comes in at #3 thanks to its very generous 5x earnings on airfare and hotels. I’ll then slot the SPG Luxury Card into fourth thanks to the additional bonus category aside from its own program’s hotels, the United Card in fifth thanks to the 1.5 miles per dollar on everyday purchases, and the Delta Reserve for sixth.

Ranking

Chase Sapphire Reserve (7 points)
Hilton Amex Aspire (6 points)
Amex Platinum (5 points)
SPG Luxury (4 points)
United Club (3 points)
Delta Reserve (2 points)

4. Redemptions

Amex Platinum: Numerous direct redemptions like gift cards, Uber rides and travel; transfer points to one of 18 airline partners (like Etihad and Singapore) or three hotel partners
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Redeem points directly for travel at a rate of 1.5 cents per point; transfer points to one of nine airline partners (like British Airways and Southwest) or four hotel partners (like Hyatt)
Hilton Amex Aspire: Redeem points for stays at hotels in the Hilton Honors portfolio of brands
SPG Luxury: Redeem points for stays at hotels under the Marriott, Starwood and Ritz-Carlton umbrellas along with lucrative airline transfers
Delta Reserve: Redeem miles for flights on Delta and its various partners (like Virgin Atlantic)
United Club: Redeem miles for flights on United and its various partners (like Lufthansa)

Analysis

This category is a bit closer, as each card has its own appealing redemptions. However, I’d group the top two cards together thanks to the flexibility of transferable points that won’t lock you into a specific set of airlines. Of those three, I’d give the nod to the Sapphire Reserve. Even though the Amex Platinum has more transfer partners, the Reserve also has the ability to redeem points for travel at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece, guaranteeing that you can get some great value out of the program. However, the gap was closed in August 2018 with Chase’s loss of Korean as a transfer partner.

For the latter part of the list, I’ll place the United Club card in for third, as they both can get you some pretty terrific flight redemptions and are especially valuable for first or business class (feel free to move one of these down to fifth place in your own analysis if you’re loyal to either airline). I’ll then slot the SPG Luxury Card into fifth place thanks to some terrific values in the program’s new award chart as well as the ability to transfer points to over 40 airline partners. Finally, I’ll award sixth place to both the Hilton Amex Aspire and the Delta Reserve, as both programs tend to require a lot of points or miles for redemptions and no longer formally publish award charts. However, feel free to bump one of these up if you have a definitive loyalty and are well-versed in maximizing either program.

Ranking

Chase Sapphire Reserve (7 points)
Amex Platinum (6 points)
SPG Luxury (3 points)
Hilton Amex Aspire and Delta Reserve (2 points)

5. Travel Credits

Delta Sky Club Seattle
Some travel credits are restricted to incidental fees, like day passes or guest access to Delta SkyClubs, such as the Delta Sky Club Seattle.(Photo by Peter Rothbart)

Amex Platinum: $200 airline fee credit toward incidentals like baggage fees and lounge passes, plus up to $200 in annual Uber credits
Chase Sapphire Reserve: $300 travel credit each year
Hilton Amex Aspire: $250 airline fee credit; $250 Hilton resort credit; $100 on-property credit for two-night Waldorf-Astoria or Conrad stays
SPG Luxury: $300 Marriott credit
Delta Reserve: None
United Club: None

Analysis

As with some of the earlier categories, the Sapphire Reserve is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the cards. For starters, the credit is a higher dollar amount and also applies to any travel purchase (as opposed to just fees or airfare like some of its competition). In addition, the credits post instantly; others require you to wait an entire statement or even force you to call and have customer service manually issue you a credit.

I’ll award second place to the SPG Luxury Card. This may be surprising, given that the dollar amount is lower than that of the Hilton Amex Aspire ($500 in total) and Amex Platinum ($400). However, the $300 credit is automatic and applies across the entire Marriott portfolio, which currently includes over 6,800 properties worldwide. The other two are more restrictive: You must designate a single airline on either card, and the Uber credit on the Amex Platinum is spread out over the year. Meanwhile the Hilton credits are limited to roughly 200 resorts and the Waldorf-Astoria/Conrad brands. In this case, simplicity wins out over magnitude.

Given all of these details, I’ll slot the Amex Platinum into third place, as Uber is becoming more and more prevalent in the US and around the world, so it’s pretty easy to get near face value from those credits. I’ll then give fourth place to the Hilton Amex Aspire. Since none of the three airline cards offer a comparable perk, I’ll award all of them zero points in this category.

Ranking

Chase Sapphire Reserve (7 points)
SPG Luxury (6 points)
Amex Platinum (5 points)
Hilton Amex Aspire (4 points)
Delta Reserve and United Club (0 points)

6. Lounge Access

Alaska Airlines Lounge, JFK. (Photo Brendan Dorsey)
Alaska Airlines Lounge, JFK. (Photo Brendan Dorsey)

Amex Platinum: Priority Pass Select (two free guests), Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta (guests are $29 each), Airspace lounges (two free guests or immediate family) and Centurion Lounges (two free guests)
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Priority Pass Select (two guests)
Hilton Amex Aspire: Priority Pass Select (two free guests)
SPG Luxury: Priority Pass Select (two free guests)
Delta Reserve: Sky Club access when traveling on a Delta-coded or Delta-operated flight (guests are $29 each)
United Club: Full United Club membership (two free guests or immediate family)

Analysis

This category is much tougher to rank, given that the true value of lounge access is based on so many factors: your typical departure airport(s), your preferred airline(s) and how frequently you travel with guests, to name a few. The Amex Platinum gives you great flexibility, and being able to bring two guests for free to most lounges is a huge perk. The Sapphire Reserve used to stand ahead of the others with unlimited guests for Priority Pass lounges, but that was dropped to two guests in August 2018.

Given all of that, I’ll slot the Amex Platinum in first thanks to the fantastic Centurion Lounges. I’ll then place the remaining Priority Pass eligible cards in a tie for third, followed by the United Club card in sixth and the Delta Reserve Card bringing up the rear thanks to its very restrictive access policies for cardholders.

Ranking

Amex Platinum (7 points)
Chase Sapphire Reserve, Hilton Amex Aspire and SPG Luxury (5 points)
United Club (2 points)
Delta Reserve (1 point)

7. Additional Perks

While the previous two benefits deserved their own category (in my opinion), these cards also provide a host of other travel and entertainment-related benefits that are probably best expressed in a table format. Here’s a snapshot, though note that I focused on perks that I considered most likely to be used by a broad audience:

Benefit Amex Platinum Sapphire Reserve
Hilton Amex Aspire
SPG Luxury
Delta Reserve United Club
Airline Perks International Airline Program provides discounts on first, business and premium economy tickets None None None Free checked bag on domestic Delta flights; priority boarding; 20% savings on in-flight purchases; 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles after spending $30,000; another 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles after spending $60,000; annual companion certificate Two free checked bags; Premier Access; waived close-in award-booking fees; Premier upgrades on award tickets for elite members
Hotel Perks American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection One weekend night per year (plus another after spending $60,000) One free night award per year (valid for nights up to 50,000 points); Premium in-room internet None Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
Hotel Elite Status Marriott Rewards Gold and Hilton Honors Gold None Hilton Honors Diamond status Marriott Rewards Gold status; Platinum status after spending $75,000 in a year None World of Hyatt Discoverist status
Global Entry/TSA PreCheck Credit One credit every 4 years One credit every 4 years None One credit every 4 years None None
Other Perks Complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi access; $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit None Complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi access None None Hertz President’s Circle status

Analysis

This category also makes it a bit challenging to compare cards given the different benefits offered on each and how those benefits are valued by different travelers. However, I’d say the Amex Platinum occupies the top spot given the hotel elite status plus the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, the $100 credit at Saks Fifth Avenue every year and the International Airfare Program. Second place is a bit tougher, but I’ll give the nod to the Hilton Amex Aspire thanks to the automatic top-tier status, free weekend night and ability to earn a second free weekend night, both of which are valid at virtually all properties in the Hilton Honors worldwide portfolio.

The third spot is a bit of a toss-up, so I’ll call it a three-way tie between the SPG Luxury Card, the Delta Reserve Card and the United Club Card. All three have their positive attributes; the SPG card includes benefits for Marriott stays like elite status and premium internet, while the United and Delta cards confer perks for flying each carrier. The United Club card offers some added diversity with hotel and rental car status, while the Delta card’s annual companion certificate can be quite valuable. As always, feel free to break this tie if you’re loyal to one of the associated programs.

I’ll place the final two card the Sapphire Reserve in for sixth place. While it offers a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit, the rest of the perks are underwhelming.

Ranking

Amex Platinum (7 points)
Hilton Amex Aspire (6 points)
SPG Luxury, Delta Reserve and United Club (5 points)
Sapphire Reserve (2 points)

8. Coverage

All of these cards also provide various coverages and protections when you’re traveling or making purchases, and again this is probably best visualized using a table:

Benefit Amex Platinum Sapphire Reserve Hilton Amex Aspire SPG Luxury Delta Reserve United Club
Car Rental Coverage Yes (secondary) Yes (primary) Yes (secondary) Yes (secondary) Yes (secondary) Yes (primary)
Travel Assistance Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Baggage Loss or Damage Yes (up to $2,000 for checked bags and $3,000 for all luggage) Yes (up to $3,000 per passenger) Yes (up to $2,000 for checked bags and $3,000 for all luggage) Yes (up to $2,000 for checked bags and $3,000 for all luggage) Yes (up to $1,250 for carry-on bags and $500 for checked bags) Yes (up to $3,000 per passenger)
Baggage Delay No Yes ($100 per day for up to five days if bags are more than six hours late) No No No Yes (up to $100 per day for three days if bags are more than six hours late)
Trip Delay No Yes (up to $500 per ticket for delays of more than 6 hours) No No No Yes (up to $500 per ticket for delays of more than 12 hours)
Trip Cancellation / Interruption No Yes (up to $10,000 per trip) No No No Yes (up to $10,000 per trip)
Travel Accident Insurance Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Emergency Evacuation & Transportation Yes Yes (up to $100,000) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Roadside Assistance Yes (up to four times per year at no cost) Yes (up to $50 per incident, four times per year) Yes (up to four times per year at no cost) Yes (up to four times per year at no cost) Yes (up to four times per year at no cost) Yes (up to $50 per incident, four times per year)
Purchase Protection Yes (within 90 days, up to $10,000 per occurrence and $50,000 per year) Yes (within 120 days, up to $10,000 per item and $50,000 per year) Yes (within 120 days, up to $10,000 per occurrence and $50,000 per year) Yes (within 120 days, up to $10,000 per occurrence and $50,000 per year) Yes (within 120 days, up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year) Yes (within 120 days, up to $10,000 per item or $50,000 per year)
Extended Warranty Yes (additional year) Yes (additional year) Yes (up to 2 additional years) Yes (up to 2 additional years) Yes (up to 2 additional years) Yes (additional year)
Return Protection Yes (up to $300 per item and $1,000 per year) Yes (up to $500 per item and $1,000 per year) Yes (up to $300 per item and $1,000 per year) Yes (up to $300 per item and $1,000 per year) Yes (up to $300 per item and $1,000 per year) Yes (up to $500 per item and $1,000 year year)
Price Protection No No No No No No
Missed Event Ticket Protection No No No No No No

Analysis

First place goes to the Sapphire Reserve, just edging out the United card thanks to a trip delay benefit that kicks in after 6 hours (not twelve) and the three-day window of baggage delay payments. The final four spots are all occupied by Amex cards: the Hilton Amex Aspire and SPG Luxury Card tie for fourth, squeaking by the Amex Platinum thanks to an additional year of extended warranty coverage, while last place is the Delta Reserve for a strangely minimal baggage insurance perk.

Get complimentary Avis Preferred status in time for your next car rental. (Photo by Austin Neill via Unsplash)

Ranking

Sapphire Reserve (6 points)
United Club (5 points)
Hilton Amex Aspire and SPG Luxury (4 points)
Amex Platinum (2 points)
Delta Reserve (1 point)

Final Analysis

Chase-Sapphire-Reserve-Brian
Not surprisingly, the Sapphire Reserve emerges at the head of the pack of these premium travel rewards credit cards.

So…where do the numbers shake out? Following the formula I mention above and the individual rankings I’ve laid out, here are the final tallies:

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve: 46 points
2. The Platinum Card from American Express: 40 points
3. Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card 35 points
5. Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: 34 points
6. United MileagePlus Club Card: 27 points
7. Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express: 16 points

As you can see, the clear winner is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, with the Amex Platinum in a solid second place. The SPG Luxury cards are tie for third, edging out the Hilton Amex Aspire by a single point. The United Club card comes in sixth, and the Delta Reserve takes last place (by a wide margin) .

That being said, all it would take to change this order is a shift of one or two rankings above based on your personal preference, so be sure to consider your own situation before applying for a new card, especially one with such a high annual fee!

Bottom Line

You may think that it’s crazy to pay $450 (and up) for a credit card, but as you can see, all of these premium travel rewards cards carry a host of benefits that can easily cover that fee (and then some). As always, you should definitely adjust the rankings I use above based on what’s most important to you, but hopefully this post has given you a framework to use as you try to decide which of these terrific cards should earn a spot in your wallet!

This is The Points Guy’s permanent page on premium travel rewards credit cards. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to old cards or sign-up bonuses that are no longer available.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

This is one of the top premium cards out there since you earn 3x on all travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining and have access to great perks like a $300 travel credit each cardmember year, 50% more value when you redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards and you get elite travel benefits like Global Entry application fee rebate, Priority Pass Select and special rental car privileges.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.99% - 24.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$450
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.