Why a $500+ Per Year Credit Card Isn’t Crazy — At All
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It had only been a couple of nights away from home, but it had been a long, busy week of work in New York. My much-anticipated flight home to Houston from LaGuardia first showed a 30-minute delay, then an hour, then two and it eventually departed after about three and a half delayed hours in the old part of New York’s LaGuardia airport (not the fancy new side).
I was tired, missed my family and just wanted to be home in my bed. (Spoiler alert: That didn’t happen until well after 1am.) But here’s the thing, my delay wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been thanks to a shiny silver card in my wallet.
Instead of waiting with a midsized crush of humanity in the part of the airport where the low ceilings permanently leak, seats are at a premium, power outlets are an afterthought and Auntie Anne’s pretzels are the epitome of well-balanced dinner options, I had included drinks, a good included meal, a comfy chair, plenty of power outlets and there was no crush of humanity to be seen. If I didn’t love my Amex Platinum before that fateful Thursday night, I definitely loved it after those extra 210 delayed minutes in LaGuardia. Had my family been with me on the trip, that would have been at least 4x as true.
The Platinum Card® from American Express is most assuredly a very premium credit card that comes with a premium $550 per year annual fee (See Rates & Fees). At that rate, it’s not going to be the right card for everyone (here’s my rec for a good first card), but last week’s delay reminded me as clear as the holes in the airport’s ceiling that having a premium credit card is not crazy. In fact, if you travel regularly, it is almost crazy not to have one. Here’s four reasons why having a premium credit card that costs at or around $500 per year may not be crazy at all.
I get it, airport lounge access may sound like something just for fancy spoiled people who can’t be bothered to sit at the gate with everyone else — and that’s not entirely wrong, but it isn’t the full story either. Lounges can be pretty darn practical. I don’t know exactly what the monetary value is for being comfortable, getting three hours of work done and eating a surprisingly good dinner, but there is certainly value there.
If I had to pick a number in that exact scenario, I probably would have paid between $50–$100 cash for the lounge respite since it led to getting more work done (and thus relaxing a bit more with the family the next day). Repeat this scenario multiple times per year, and with some friends or family members along for the ride, and the value ticks upward.
Lounges like the Amex Centurion Lounge are for real people who need to keep their sanity, work, keep the kids happy or maybe just enjoy a drink (or two) along with a hot meal.
Not to harp too much specifically on the Amex Platinum as that’s not the point, but the NYC delay was not the only time this week I’ve sung its praises in this house — literally. We have a big family trip to Hawaii coming up, and the first night is to be spent on Oahu. Given our agenda, a rental car makes sense, but since we are on the island a little more than 24 hours, we’d have to pay for two rental car days, which makes the financial equation less attractive. However, with the Amex Platinum, you can use a special CDP code (211762) to get an extra four-hour grace period with Hertz, thus allowing us to pick the rental car up at say 1pm and not have to return it until 5pm — 28 hours later for the same price as 24 hours. That savings is easy to quantify at $40 that will stay in our wallets by not paying for that second rental car day on this trip.
Moving on to a different premium credit card, the Citi Prestige Card has a 4th Night Free hotel benefit. The way the benefit works is changing later this year, but you can get your 4th hotel night for free, which makes for a very easy way to save on vacations everywhere from Disney World to the other side of the world. That could save you anywhere from $100 per trip at a relatively budget hotel to $500–$1,000+ somewhere super fancy.
Money-saving perks and lounge access are real, practical reasons that help justify having a premium credit card, but they don’t get us all the way there. The built-in annual credits on premium cards that cost $450 to $550 per year are what takes them from an extravagance to not at all crazy.
For example, the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express has a $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees), but the annual credits alone sort of make up for it all by themselves. First, there’s an up to $250 airline incidental fee credit each calendar year. There’s also an up to $250 Hilton resort credit each year of card membership — and I have some grand plans for that credit. (This doesn’t even touch on the Hilton Diamond elite status or the 150,000 welcome bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first three months.)
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $550 annual fee, but provides up to $300 each year in travel credits. Immediately that knocks my real out of pocket to hold the card down by a wide margin. Then there’s also the Global Entry/PreCheck statement credit (up to $100), which is additional real savings in my wallet.
I know what you’re thinking — lots of credit cards these days provide TSA PreCheck/Global Entry fee credits, and that’s true. But now that the Global Entry program is more than five years old, I have multiple family members who need their memberships renewed. I’m pretty thrilled with each and every card that offers that $100 credit.
When looking at the Amex Platinum, the credits just keep coming. There’s up to $200 in annual airline incidental fee credits, up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits (here are some ideas of what to buy) and up to $200 in annual Uber credits. If you use all of those credits, all of a sudden the $550 annual fee doesn’t look crazy at all.
Reduce Travel Stress
This week I have heard multiple stories from families who have had flights severed delayed or canceled, thus resulting in getting stuck at various airports overnight — with kids. In some cases, these families just literally slept in the airport. In others, they waited in two-hour lines for help getting a hotel voucher from airline staff. Both of those are bad options, and with the right credit card you don’t have to do that. If you get stuck overnight along your travels due to delays and cancellations, you can immediately just book your own hotel knowing that if the airline doesn’t reimburse you in the end, your credit card will (even if it is a weather-related delay).
For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve provides up to $500 in delayed trip coverage per eligible ticket (aka use the card or points from the card to book the tickets) if your delay is six or more hours, or you get stuck overnight. That amount can be used toward meals, lodging, toiletries, medication and other personal use items, but generally not on a brand-new flight home. (So book yourself one of these best hotels in airports!)
The same principle holds true if your checked bags get lost or delayed. You don’t need to stress about whether the airline will cover your needed outfits or toiletries if you use the right premium card to book your tickets — you know for sure your card has your back.
Rereading this article, it probably sounds a little like an infomercial, but it’s not meant to be. Please don’t get one of these cards if they aren’t right for you and your situation. But, just as I would do my darnedest to try and help a friend in the real world have the right tools to make their travels easier, I want that for you, too. It was crummy to miss bedtime with my family back home last week because of a 3+ hour delay, but it would have been exponentially more unpleasant without a nice place to sit, work and eat during that time. My credit card did that for me — and when I was playing with the girls the next day, I was grateful for the space that allowed me to make the best use of that unexpected time.
Featured image by Scott Olson/Getty Images
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