The Top Credit Cards With Annual Travel Credits
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Update: The Hilton American Express Ascend Card is now the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and is offering a bonus of 125,000 Hilton Honors Points after you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months.
Premium credit cards are benefit-laden hunks of plastic (or metal) that generally follow a similar script: an annual fee in the $400+ range, hundreds of dollars of annual travel credits and other luxury perks like elite status and lounge access. Most of these credits reset at the beginning of the calendar year, not the card member year, so today we’ll take a look at some of the top cards offering annual travel credits. If you have any of these in your wallet, make sure to use them up in the new year.
You can’t utter the phrase “premium credit card” without talking about American Express, the inventor of premium card offerings. Amex offers a number of both core and cobranded premium cards, but there are the ones that offer annual travel credits.
Amex Platinum and the Amex Business Platinum
Despite their differences, The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express have a number of things in common. Both cards carry an up to $200 annual airline incidental credit which can be used for things like lounge access, bag fees and seat selection. Many TPG readers have even had success getting reimbursed for the purchase of airline gift cards, but your mileage may vary. Both cards also include access to Amex’s exclusive and ever-growing global collection of Centurion lounges, Gold elite status with both Marriott and Hilton and an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
The Platinum Card has a $550 annual fee (See Rates & Fees), which (in addition to the $200 airline credit) is further offset by a $200 annual Uber credit ($15 each month with a $20 bonus in December) and a $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit ($50 for the first 6 months of the year and another $50 for the last 6 months). Perhaps most importantly, it also earns 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchased directly with the airline and airfare and prepaid hotels booked with Amex Travel. The card has a 60,000-point welcome bonus which you’ll earn after spending $5,000 in the first three months.
The Business Platinum Card currently has a $595 annual fee(See Rates & Fees). The card also offers one complimentary year of WeWork access and a $200 annual statement credit for Dell technology purchases. There are two main features that set the Business Platinum card apart from the personal version: Card holders enjoy a 50% points bonus (1.5x) on purchases over $5,000, up to 1 million bonus points a year, as well as a 35% rebate when redeeming points for airfare on your selected airline or in business or first class on any airline. This gives you a redemption value of about ~1.53 cents per point, in line with the redemption bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The card has a two-tier welcome bonus: 50,000 points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 50,000 points after you spend an additional $15,000 all on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
Amex Gold Card
The recently refreshed American Express® Gold Card also offers up to a $100 annual airline incidental credit. Similar to the credits on the Platinum card(s), this can’t be used directly for airfare and only for incidental charges. In exchange for a $250 annual fee (See Rates & Fees), the Gold card also offers a $120 annual dining credit, which breaks down to $10 a month at the following merchants: Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and participating Shake Shack locations.
One of the other biggest perks of the card’s redesign was the addition of high-value 4x bonus categories on dining and at US supermarkets (up to $25,000 a year; then 1x). Based on TPG’s valuation of Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each, that works out to a nice 8% return.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and Hilton Aspire
Amex issues a number of cobranded hotel and airline credit cards, but only two offer statement credits: the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Obviously which card you pick depends on the hotels you frequent most, but if you’re starting from scratch here’s a quick overview:
The Bonvoy Brilliant carries a $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees), offset by an up to $300 Marriott property credit. This credit is tied to your account anniversary, not the calendar year, so it doesn’t automatically reset in January. The good news is that it’s valid for room rates, in addition to miscellaneous property charges. The card earns 6x points on Marriott purchases, 3x at US restaurants and flights booked directly with the airline, and 2x on everyday spending. It’s currently offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
Card holders receive complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold elite status and the ability to earn Platinum by spending $75,000 a year, though that comes with quite an opportunity cost. One of the best perks of this card is the annual free night certificate, worth up to 50,000 points a night. You can use this at a number of high-end Ritz Carlton and St. Regis properties, and it shouldn’t be hard to get several hundred dollars in value from it.
Despite my loyalty to Marriott, I have to admit that the Hilton Aspire is one of the most compelling premium credit cards on the market. Card holders enjoy automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond status, a $250 annual airline incidental credit, $250 annual Hilton statement credit and a $100 statement credit on qualifying stays of two nights or more at Conrad and Waldorf Astoria properties. That’s up to $600 a year in statement credits for a card that cost $450. The card’s currently offering a 150,000-point welcome bonus after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
The Hilton Aspire more than pays for itself, and is a no-brainer when compared to the entry level Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card. In case you weren’t convinced, it also offers a free weekend night certificate when you open your card another each year you renew. These certificates are valid at just about every property in the Hilton portfolio and can represent a tremendous value.
While the Chase Sapphire Reserve has lost some of its star status due to increased competition in the premium card market, it still has a couple of great things going for it. The current 50,000-point welcome offer after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months isn’t as attractive as the 100,000-point bonus the card launched with, but it’s still worth $1,000 based on TPG’s valuations. The Reserve’s $450 annual fee is mostly offset by a $300 annual travel credit that’s very broadly defined. You’ll automatically be credited for purchases ranging from airfare and hotels to Uber, public transit, parking fees and plenty of other charges you wouldn’t necessarily expect to code as travel.
I think the Sapphire Reserve has aged pretty well. With 3x points on dining and travel (again, very broadly defined), it’s one of my most-used cards. I’m also a huge fan of the 50% bonus when redeeming through the Chase portal (making your points worth at least 1.5 cents each), and some of the other premium perks like the Priority Pass Select membership and complimentary concierge services. There really is something to be said for the simplicity of this card. While it’s not the most rewarding on the market, I can use it anywhere in the world without worrying too much about whether my purchases are going to code correctly.
Citi has struggled to carve out a niche for the Citi Prestige card, repeatedly closing it to new applicants to tinker with some of the benefits and rewards. The most recent iteration of these changes saw the valuable 4th Night Free benefit get significantly devalued (capped at 2 uses a year), but the card’s bonus categories have been bumped up to 5x on dining and air travel and 3x on cruise lines.
The annual fee is also being raised to $495 when these negative changes take effect in September 2019. While it used to be possible to recoup the entire annual fee and then some with repeated uses of the 4th Night Free benefit, moving forward, travelers will have to rely more on the $250 annual travel credit. While this used to be limited to airfare purchases only, Citi is expanding it to a more general travel credit like the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s.
Bank of America
The Bank of America®️ Premium Rewards®️ Visa®️ credit card is unique in that it’s one of the only credit cards on the market that will actually pay you to keep it open. While the card has a $95 annual fee, it also has a $100 annual airline incidental credit. Assuming you can max this out, you’ll pocket the $5 difference every year.
As it’s a fixed-value/cash-back card, you’re not going to find an endless list of benefits here. What you will find is a very solid value proposition at an attractive price. The current welcome bonus is 50,000 points (worth $500) after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. If you’re looking to diversify away from transferable points or add some cash back to your credit card strategy, this might just be the card for you. Bank of America customers have even more to gain, thanks to the BoA Preferred Rewards program. To enroll in this you’ll need:
An eligible Bank of America personal checking account AND a 3-month average combined balance of $20,000 or more in a Bank of America account and/or Merrill investment accounts.
Then, based on your membership in the Preferred Rewards program and your eligible account balances, the Premium Rewards card earns at the following rates:
|Spend Categories||Regular Card Holder||Tier 1 – Gold ($20,000 – $50,000)||Tier 2 – Platinum ($50,000 – $100,000)||Tier 3 – Platinum Honors ($100,000+)|
|Travel/Dining Earnings||2x points||2.5x points||3x points||3.5x points|
|Other Earnings||1.5x points||1.875x points||2.25x points||2.625x points|
2.6% on everyday spending is an incredible return, especially if you already have a banking relationship with BoA. If you don’t, it might be worth transferring some of your business over in order to use this card to the fullest.
You can redeem points for cash back (or have them deposited to an eligible BoA or Merrill account), gift cards, or to erase travel purchases. While we like to book everything we possibly can with points and miles, there are some fees you just can’t avoid while traveling. If you’re heading to the Maldives to enjoy the St. Regis Maldives at the lowest award rate it’s ever had or to check out the newly opened Westin Maldives, fixed-value rewards like this can help you erase the expensive seaplane transfer costs.
Annual travel credits are a great incentive to keep cards open long term, even after you’ve earned and redeemed the points from the welcome bonus. Many of the best credits recently reset when the calendar turned to January, so if you have these cards in you wallet it might be time to take them out and book another year’s serving of free flights and hotels.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Bonvoy Brilliant Card, please click here.