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

Oct 12, 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 credit cards. And because issuers keep upping the ante, adding benefits (and sometimes hiking annual fees), there’s more competition than ever.

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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 seven 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. 

While this list of cards has remained relatively stable over the last few years, there have been some massive shake-ups in the past year, especially as the pandemic has disrupted much of what we took for granted about travel.

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

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

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 seven cards should go in their wallet. Which card is best for you will depend on your specific needs and wants.

Let’s get started.

In This Post

Annual fee

Card Annual fee Additional cardholder fee
Amex Platinum $695 (see rates & fees) $175 for up to three additional cardholders (see rates & fees)
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 10 authorized users to your account for no additional cost

Analysis

The Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® is an example of a World Elite Mastercard. (Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

It would be easiest to pick the cards with the lowest annual fees at $450, 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 and Citi / AAdvantage Executive cards don’t charge a fee for additional cardholders.

However, 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, the Citi / AAdvantage Executive card is perhaps the most impressive of the bunch — you can add up to 10 authorized users to your account for no additional cost. Each authorized user receives Admirals Club access for themselves and up to two traveling companions.

Related: Credit cards with the greatest value for authorized users

Current welcome offer

Card 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
Chase Sapphire Reserve 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. $1,200
Hilton Amex Aspire 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 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points and a bonus free night award (redemption level worth up to 85,000 Marriott points) after you use your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. Resort fees may apply. Offer expires 11/3/2021. $1,880
Delta Reserve 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. Offer expires 11/10/2021. $880
United Club Infinite Card 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. $975
Citi / AAdvantage Executive 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, although it carries the potential of an even bigger payday through the CardMatch Tool.

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 all other eligible purchases.

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

10 points per dollar on Chase Dining booked through Ultimate Rewards

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

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

3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases

1 point per dollar spent on all other eligible 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 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 on each 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, with the addition of a 10x bonus category for Lyft rides as well as many other category bonuses on various travel and dining expenditures.

The Sapphire Reserve has a broad definition of what constitutes travel, including many of your everyday expenses such as public transit and taxis. These widely defined bonus categories help make up for the slightly lower 3x bonus multiplier. It also doesn’t hurt that you’re earning valuable Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases, meaning you’ll get a 6% return on all travel and dining expenses (calculated by TPG’s valuations). The Lyft category is also huge for anyone living in a big city who frequently uses the ride-hailing service.

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 U.S. 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 fourth with its 5x earnings on airfare and prepaid hotels via Amex Travel, which is less appealing because of stringent booking requirements and subpar returns on everyday spend.

Redemptions

Card Redemption options
Amex Platinum Numerous direct redemptions such as gift cards, Uber rides and travel; transfer points to 20+ airline partners (including Etihad and Singapore Airlines) or three hotel partners (Choice, Hilton and Marriott).
Chase Sapphire Reserve Redeem points at a rate of 1.5 cents each toward travel via the Ultimate Rewards portal, or for offsetting a variety of everyday purchases through Chase’s Pay Yourself Back; or transfer points to one of 11 airline partners (such as British Airways and Southwest) or 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 two cards on this list are thanks to the flexibility of transferable points that won’t lock you into a specific set of airlines or hotels: the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Amex Platinum.

Even though the Reserve only has 11 airline and three hotel transfer partners, it also allows cardmembers to redeem points for travel at an elevated rate of 1.5 cents each. Meanwhile, the Amex Platinum has 20+ airline and hotel transfer partners and varied redemption options.

Statement credits

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

Up to $200 airline fee statement credit

Up to $200 Uber Cash annually

Up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue statement credit

Up to $200 annual prepaid hotel statement credit

Up to $179 Clear membership statement credit

Up to $240 digital entertainment statement credit,

Up to $300 Equinox statement credit

Up to $155 in Walmart+ statement credit

Up to $300 in SoulCycle statement credit.

Enrollment required for select benefits.

Chase Sapphire Reserve $300 travel credit each account anniversary.
Hilton Amex Aspire Up to $250 airline fee statement credit each calendar year

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

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

Terms apply. Enrollment required.

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

Up to $100 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, which easily takes 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.

We’ll award third place to the Hilton Aspire because of the potential to get $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.

Fourth 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 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)

Centurion Lounges (two free guests)

Enrollment required for select benefits.

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

Access to Amex Centurion lounges when flying Delta and two one-time SkyClub passes each year

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), your preferred airline(s) and 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 this benefit is going away in February 2023 at Centurion Lounges, specifically).

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 Sapphire Reserve Hilton Amex Aspire Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Delta Reserve United Club Infinite Citi / AAdvantage Executive
Car rental coverage Yes (secondary). Yes (primary). Yes (secondary). Yes (secondary). Yes (secondary). Yes (primary). No.
Travel emergency assistance 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 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. 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). 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 $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. No. No. No. No. No.
Emergency evacuation and transportation Yes (up to $100,000 per trip). 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 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 (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 $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.

Analysis

The Sapphire Reserve takes the cake here, with primary car rental insurance and a high limit for trip cancellation and interruption coverage. The Amex Platinum recently plugged a huge hole in its benefits by adding significant travel insurance coverage. The United Club Infinite Card finishes third with its surprisingly comprehensive policies.

Bottom line

You may think that it’s crazy to pay $450 — or more — for a 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 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: 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 Chris Dong, Stella Shon 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. 

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.