Battle of the premium travel rewards cards — which is best for you?

Dec 20, 2021

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Picking the best travel rewards credit cards can be challenging. Each one offers different perks, and this is especially true for premium cards. And because issuers keep upping the ante by launching new cards, adding benefits and sometimes hiking annual fees, there’s more competition in this space than ever.

Today, we’re going to look at some of the best premium travel rewards cards currently available and compare their various benefits and value propositions. Here are the eight we’ll focus on:

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

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In This Post

Methodology

While this list of cards has remained relatively stable lately, there have been some massive shake-ups in the past year.

The most significant new addition to the premium card marketplace is the Capital One Venture X card, which debuted in November 2021 with myriad excellent travel perks for an annual fee of $395 — the lowest of any card on this list.

Meanwhile, American Express increased the annual fee on the Amex Platinum Card from $550 to $695 (see rates and fees) this past July. While the issuer added several new annual statement credits to offset this higher annual fee, many consumers were disgruntled by these changes. Meanwhile, Citi discontinued applications for its Citi Prestige® Card, throwing in the towel on its once-popular travel rewards card for the foreseeable future.

The information for the Citi Prestige 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.          

For its part, Chase raised the annual fee on the Sapphire Reserve by $100 in January 2020, but has also added limited-time partner benefits with Lyft, DoorDash and Peloton. Of course, many other premium cards added new perks in response to the pandemic, too.

With all that in mind, we’ll compare these cards across seven categories:

  • Annual fee.
  • Current welcome offer.
  • Point-earning potential.
  • Redemption options.
  • Travel credits.
  • Lounge access.
  • Travel and purchase protections.

This analysis is based on a generic traveler trying to decide which one of these eight cards should go in their wallet. Which card is best for you will depend on your specific needs and wants.

Annual fee

Card Annual fee Additional cardholder fee
Amex Platinum $695 (see rates & fees) $175 for up to three additional cardholders (see rates & fees)
Capital One Venture X $395 $0 for up to four authorized users
Chase Sapphire Reserve $550 $75 for each additional cardholder
Hilton Amex Aspire $450 (see rates & fees) $0 for each additional cardholder (see rates & fees)
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant $450 (see rates & fees) $0 for each additional cardholder (see rates & fees)
Delta Reserve $550 (see rates & fees) $175 per additional cardholder (see rates & fees)
United Club Infinite $525 $0 for each additional cardholder
Citi / AAdvantage Executive $450 $0 for up to 10 authorized users

Analysis

It would be easiest to pick the cards with the lowest annual fees, but that doesn’t tell the full story.

Whether or not a card charges for additional cardholders also makes a difference. The Hilton Amex Aspire, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, United Club Infinite Card, Citi / AAdvantage Executive (up to 10 authorized users) and Capital One Venture X (up to four authorized users) don’t charge a fee for additional cardholders.

The Hilton Amex Aspire allows authorized users to enjoy an up-to-$100 property credit for eligible two-night stays at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad properties. Meanwhile, authorized users on the Citi / AAdvantage Executive card receive Admirals Club access for themselves and up to two traveling companions.

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Ultimately, however, the winner of this category goes to the new Capital One Venture X. First and foremost, the $395 annual fee is much lower than the rest of the crowd. Then, you can add up to four authorized users for no additional charge, and they’ll get benefits such as unlimited Capital One Lounge and Priority Pass lounge access for themselves and up to two guests, which might come in handier than Admirals Club access for many flyers, especially those who travel internationally where the Admirals Club might not have many locations.

Related: Credit cards with the greatest value for authorized users

Current sign-up bonus/welcome offer

Card Sign-up bonus/welcome offer TPG valuation*
Amex Platinum Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $6,000 in purchases in the first six months of card membership.

Earn 10 points per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide and when you “Shop Small” in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined eligible purchases, during your first six months. Terms apply.

$2,000
Capital One Venture X Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. $1,388
Chase Sapphire Reserve Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. $1,000
Hilton Amex Aspire Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of card membership. $900
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant  Earn a 100,000 welcome bonus and one free night award after you use your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. Certain hotels have resort fees. $800
Delta Reserve Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first three months. $705
United Club Infinite Card Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. $1,210
Citi / AAdvantage Executive Earn 50,000 miles after you make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. $850

* Based on TPG valuations and not provided by the issuer.

Analysis

The top spot in this category goes to the Amex Platinum. The potential to earn 10x at restaurants and small businesses in the first six months of account opening is a humongous value proposition. Plus, some folks might find an even higher welcome offer by checking the CardMatch tool (offers are subject to change at any time).

Related: The best limited-time offers and promotions for credit cards

Points-earning potential

 

Card Earning rates
Amex Platinum 5 points per dollar spent on airfare purchases booked through the airline or through Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year).

5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with Amex Travel.

1 point per dollar spent on other eligible purchases.

Capital One Venture X 10 miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel.

5 miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel.

2 miles per dollar on other purchases.

Chase Sapphire Reserve 10 points per dollar on Lyft rides (until March 2022).

10 points per dollar on Chase Dining booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

10 points per dollar on hotel and car rental purchases booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

5 points per dollar on airline travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases.

1 point per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Hilton Amex Aspire 14 points per dollar spent at Hilton portfolio properties worldwide.

7 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel.

7 points per dollar on car rentals booked directly from select companies.

7 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants.

3 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant 6 points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program.

3 points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants.

3 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly with the airline.

2 points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Delta Reserve 3 miles per dollar spent on eligible Delta purchases.

1 mile per dollar spent on other eligible purchases.

United Club Infinite 4 miles per dollar spent on United purchases.

2 miles per dollar spent on all other travel and dining purchases.

1 mile per dollar everywhere else.

Citi / AAdvantage Executive 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.

1 mile per dollar on other purchases.

Analysis

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes out on top due to the fact that it earns valuable Ultimate Rewards bonus points on a wide variety of purchases.

Like the Venture X, the Chase Sapphire Reserve racks up more bonus points on various types of travel booked through Chase’s own travel portal. However, the card pulls ahead of the Venture X due to the fact that general dining and travel purchases earn more bonus points than with the Venture X. That said, the Venture X earns a solid 2 miles per dollar on everyday spending, which is pretty easy to maximize without having to carefully keep track.

The Hilton Amex Aspire takes the third spot thanks to an incredible 14 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties and 7 points per dollar spent on airfare, car rentals and U.S. restaurants. These bonuses represent a return of 8.4% and 4.2% (respectively), based on TPG’s most recent valuations.

Redemptions

Card Redemption options
Amex Platinum Numerous direct redemptions such as gift cards, Uber rides and travel; transfer points to more than 20 airline partners (including Etihad and Singapore Airlines) or three hotel partners (Choice, Hilton and Marriott).
Capital One Venture X Transfer miles to 14 airline or three hotel loyalty partners (including Air Canada and Wyndham); redeem for travel purchases on your statement at 1 cent per mile.
Chase Sapphire Reserve Redeem points at a rate of 1.5 cents each toward travel via the Ultimate Rewards portal, or offset a variety of everyday purchases through Chase’s Pay Yourself Back; transfer points to one of 11 airline partners (such as British Airways or Southwest) and three hotel partners (such as Hyatt).
Hilton Amex Aspire Redeem points for stays at hotels in the Hilton Honors portfolio of brands.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Redeem points for stays at hotels in the Marriott Bonvoy program, along with useful airline transfers.
Delta Reserve Redeem miles for flights on Delta and its various SkyTeam or non-alliance partners (such as Virgin Atlantic).
United Club Infinite Card Redeem miles for flights on United and its various Star Alliance partners (such as Lufthansa).
Citi / AAdvantage Executive Redeem miles for flights on American and its various Oneworld alliance partners.

Analysis

(Photo by Ryan Patterson for The Points Guy)

The top three cards on this list – the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Amex Platinum and the Capital One Venture X — earned their spots thanks to the flexibility of transferable points that won’t lock you into a specific set of airlines or hotels.

Even though the Chase Sapphire Reserve only has 11 airline and three hotel transfer partners, it also allows cardmembers to redeem points for travel directly through Chase’s portal at an elevated rate of 1.5 cents each. Meanwhile, the Amex Platinum has more than 20 airline and hotel transfer partners and varied redemption options.

The Capital One Venture X takes third place since it offers 14 airline and three hotel transfer partners. While you can transfer to most programs at a 1:1 ratio, there are a couple of exceptions: ALL Accor Live Limitless (2:1) and EVA Air Infinity MileageLands (2:1.5).

Statement credits

Card Statement credits
Amex Platinum More than $1,700 in annual statement credits, including:

Up to $200 in airline fee statement credit.

Up to $200 in Uber Cash annually.

Up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue statement credit.

Up to $200 in annual prepaid hotel statement credit.

Up to $179 in Clear membership statement credit.

Up to $240 in digital entertainment statement credit.

Up to $300 in Equinox statement credit.

Up to $155 in Walmart+ statement credit.

Up to $300 in SoulCycle statement credit.

Enrollment is required for select benefits.

Capital One Venture X Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits for bookings made through the Capital One Travel portal.
Chase Sapphire Reserve Up to $300 in travel credits each account anniversary.
Hilton Amex Aspire Up to $250 in airline fee statement credit each calendar year.

Up to $250 in Hilton resort statement credit each year of card membership.

Up to $100 in on-property credit for two-night Waldorf Astoria or Conrad stays.

Terms apply. Enrollment is required.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Up to $300 in credit for eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program each year of card membership.

Up to $100 in on-property credit for two-night St. Regis or Ritz-Carlton stays.

Terms apply.

Delta Reserve None.
United Club Infinite Card None.
Citi / AAdvantage Executive None.

Analysis

Amex added a plethora of new lifestyle- and travel-focused credits to the Platinum in the past few months, which easily take the cake in this category. Even if you don’t maximize every single credit each year, you’re still looking at a ton of potential value from the statement credits alone.

The Sapphire Reserve comes close behind. For starters, the $300 travel credit is a relatively high 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, while others require you to wait an entire statement period or even force you to call and have customer service manually issue you a credit.

The Venture X takes third place with its (similar) $300 travel credit, though it’s more limited since you’ll only receive reimbursement for bookings made through the Capital One Travel portal.

We’ll award fourth place to the Hilton Aspire because of the potential to get more than $500 in travel credits each year. Although the Aspire’s airline fee credit requires you to designate a single airline and technically only applies to incidental charges like checked bags, the up-to-$250 resort credit is easy to use if you visit an eligible resort.

Fifth place goes to the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, since its $300 credit will apply automatically when you stay at any property that participates in Marriott Bonvoy.

Lounge access

Card Lounge access
Amex Platinum Centurion Lounges (two free guests).

Priority Pass Select (two free guests), not including restaurants.

Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta (guests are $29 each).

Airspace lounges (two free guests or immediate family).

Escape lounges (two free guests or immediate family).

Enrollment is required for select benefits.

Capital One Venture X Capital One Lounges (two guests, then $45 each).

Priority Pass Select (two guests).

Chase Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass Select (two guests).
Hilton Amex Aspire Priority Pass Select (two guests).
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Priority Pass Select (two guests).
Delta Reserve Sky Club access when traveling on a Delta-coded or Delta-operated flight (guests are $39 each) and two one-time SkyClub passes each year.

Access to Amex Centurion Lounges when flying Delta.

United Club Infinite Card Full United Club membership (two free guests or immediate family).
Citi / AAdvantage Executive Full Admirals Club membership (two free guests or immediate family).

Each authorized user receives Admirals Club access for themselves and up to two traveling companions.

Analysis

Amex Platinum cardholders are able to access Centurion Lounges worldwide. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

This category is much tougher to rank, given that the true value of lounge access is based on so many factors, from your typical departure airport(s) and your preferred airline(s) to how frequently you travel with guests. The Amex Platinum gives you the most flexibility, and being able to bring two guests for free to most lounges is a huge perk (although the guest benefit is going away in February 2023 at Centurion Lounges, specifically).

The Venture X comes in a close second with Priority Pass and Capital One Lounge access. The issuer debuted its first lounge at Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport (DFW) in October, and there are plans for two more lounges at Denver International Airport (DEN) and Washington Dulles Airport (IAD) in 2022.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve and the two hotel cards offer fairly standard Priority Pass membership while the three airline cards will come in handiest for folks who fly one carrier most often and can take advantage of lounges in the airports they pass through the most. Chase has announced it will open Chase Sapphire Lounge by The Club in three locations: Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) and New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in 2022.

Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access

Travel and purchase protections

All of these cards also provide various coverages and protections when you’re traveling or making purchases. This is probably best visualized in a table:

Benefit Amex Platinum Capital One Venture X* Chase Sapphire Reserve Hilton Amex Aspire Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Delta Reserve United Club Infinite Citi / AAdvantage Executive
Car rental coverage Yes (secondary). Yes (primary). Yes (primary). Yes (secondary). Yes (secondary). Yes (secondary). Yes (primary). No.
Travel emergency assistance Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. No.
Baggage loss or damage Yes (up to $2,000 for checked bags and $3,000 for carry-on bags, capped at $3,000 for all luggage). Yes (up to $3,000 per covered trip). Yes (up to $3,000 per passenger). Yes (up to $2,000 for checked bags and $3,000 for carry-on bags, capped at $3,000 for all luggage). Yes (up to $2,000 for checked bags and $3,000 for carry-on bags, capped at $3,000 for all luggage). Yes (up to $500 for checked bags and $1,250 for carry-on bags, capped at $1,250 for all luggage). Yes (up to $3,000 per passenger). No.
Baggage delay No. 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). No.
Trip delay Yes (up to $500 per ticket for delays of more than six hours). Yes (up to $500 per ticket for delays of more than six hours). Yes (up to $500 per ticket for delays of more than six hours). No. No. No. Yes (up to $500 per ticket for delays of more than 12 hours or overnight). No.
Trip cancellation/interruption Yes (up to $10,000 per trip and $20,000 every 12 months). Yes (up to $2,000 per person). Yes (up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip). No. No. No. Yes (up to $10,000 per trip). No.
Travel accident insurance No. Yes. Yes. No. No. No. No. No.
Emergency evacuation and transportation Yes (up to $100,000 per trip). No. Yes (up to $100,000). No. No. No. No. No.
Purchase protection Yes (within 120 days, up to $10,000 per occurrence and $50,000 per year). Yes (within 90 days, up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account). Yes (within 120 days, up to $10,000 per claim 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 claim and $50,000 per year). No.
Extended warranty Yes (up to an additional year on warranties of five years or less). Yes (additional year on warranties of three years or less). Yes (additional year on warranties of three years or less). Yes (up to an additional year on warranties of five years or less). Yes (up to an additional year on warranties of five years or less). Yes (up to an additional year on warranties of five years or less). Yes (additional year on warranties of three years or less). No.
Return protection Yes (90 days, up to $300 per item and $1,000 per year). Yes (90 days, up to $300 per item and $1,000 per year). Yes (90 days, up to $500 per item and $1,000 per year). Yes (90 days, up to $300 per item and $1,000 per year). Yes (90 days, up to $300 per item and $1,000 per year). Yes (90 days, up to $300 per item and $1,000 per year). Yes (90 days, up to $500 per item and $1,000 year). No.
Cellphone protection Yes (up to $800 per claim or $1,600 per 12-month period; a $50 deductible applies.) Yes (up to $800 per claim or $1,600 per 12-month period; a $50 deductible applies.) No. No. No. Yes. No. No.

* Benefits available on Visa Infinite cards.

Analysis

The Sapphire Reserve takes the cake here, with primary car rental insurance and a high limit for trip cancellation and interruption coverage. The Venture X comes in second thanks to fairly comprehensive protections that even include cellphone coverage. The Amex Platinum offers significant travel insurance coverage, too. If you’re a United flyer, the United Club Infinite also offers a robust slate of protections that you may want to consider.

Bottom line

You may think that it’s crazy to pay $395 or more for a card’s annual fee, 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 tailor your choice 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 our best credit cards should earn a spot in your wallet.

Official application link: Amex Platinum.
Official application link: Capital One Venture X.
Official application link: Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Official application link: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant.
Official application link: United Club Infinite.
Official application link: Delta SkyMiles Reserve.
Official application link: Citi / AAdvantage Executive.

Additional reporting by Stella Shon, Chris Dong and Ethan Steinberg.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, please click here.

Featured photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy. 

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.