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Premium credit cards may scare many people away with their $400+ annual fees, but travel rewards enthusiasts know that despite the high price tag, these cards can offer exceptional value. In this post I want to examine which premium travel rewards cards are currently available, whether the perks they offer are worth paying for and more.
What These Premium Cards Have in Common
All of these cards feature some sort of airport lounge access, which by itself tends to cost as much or more than the respective annual fees. In addition, all of these cards offer numerous travel insurance and purchase protection policies, as well as some sort of concierge service that offers personalized assistance for booking travel, making dining reservations, buying gifts or completing virtually any other task you could ask someone to do over the phone. Finally, I would expect premium service with regard to your account and no foreign transaction fees.
What to Look for in a Premium Credit Card
Since all of these credit cards offer lounge access, you need to investigate which lounges are in each network to find the ones that suit your travel needs. These might include the primarily domestic lounge networks of American, Delta and United, the mostly international lounges of Priority Pass, or both.
You’ll also want to see whether the card has a competitive rewards program. Ironically, some of these cards offer fewer bonus point categories than other, less expensive cards offered by the same issuer. Generally, the main reason to get a premium card is for the perks and not the points, though though are some notable exceptions. Either way, you should still aim to collect points that are valuable to you, even if you won’t be earning at a high rate.
Speaking of perks, you should closely examine all of the benefits offered by each card, and evaluate how useful they may be to you. For example, the upgrade priority on the Delta Reserve Card is only useful if you actually hold Delta Medallion status. Finally, many of these cards come with credits toward airline fees and/or the $100 application fee for the Global Entry program, so be sure to consider those savings when evaluating whether paying the annual fee is justified.
I’ve listed what I think are the top seven premium cards on the market right now. Here’s the short list, but below you’ll find more details about each.
1. Chase Sapphire Reserve
2. Citi Prestige Card
3. The Platinum Card from American Express
4. Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
5. United MileagePlus Club Card
6. Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
7. Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express
Here’s a detailed look at each of the cards listed above, including their benefits, sign-up bonuses and other factors to consider.
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: Receive a $300 annual credit that covers virtually all travel expenses. You also earn 3x points on all travel and dining purchases, equal to a 6.6% return based on TPG’s valuations. Plus, get a value of 1.5 cents per point when you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal (compared to 1.25 cents per point when you hold other UR-earning cards). Get up to $100 in credit toward a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four years. Cardholders also get Priority Pass Select lounge membership and hotel perks via the Luxury Hotel & Resort collection. No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $450
Is it worth getting? Thanks to the 3x bonus categories, the Sapphire Reserve is a no-brainer for those who spend a lot on travel and dining. Plus, the incredibly generous $300 annual travel credit effectively lowers the annual fee to $150 if you spend at least $300 on airfare, parking, hotels, taxis or many other eligible purchases in a calendar year. If you can maximize the Ultimate Rewards program’s selection of transfer partners, this card is a very solid choice.
2. Citi Prestige Card
Current Bonus: None.
Benefits: Receive a $250 air travel credit each year for airfare, baggage fees, lounge access and some in-flight purchases. You get Priority Pass Select lounge membership, which is good for both you and a guest. Get your fourth night free at hotels with no black-out dates when you book four consecutive nights at any hotel via a personal travel adviser designated by Mastercard. $100 Global Entry application fee credit. No foreign transaction fees.
Earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent on air travel and hotel purchases, 2 points per dollar on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Redeem your points for air travel at a rate of 1.33 cents apiece, or 1.6 cents apiece on American Airlines (though unfortunately both of these redemption rates are only good through July 23, 2017). Citi ThankYou Rewards also now has 14 travel transfer partners, including Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Virgin Atlantic and Hilton Honors.
Annual Fee: $450
Is it worth getting? As the ThankYou Rewards program becomes increasingly valuable by adding more transfer partners, this card has become a great way to earn points, especially when you can take advantage of bonus spending categories. Other perks such as the 4th Night Free hotel benefit really stand out as well. For someone who wants extensive lounge access and isn’t married to a single frequent flyer program, this card offers exceptional value.
Current Bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months (although you might receive a targeted offer with a larger bonus).
Benefits: $200 annual air travel credit with one airline to cover incidentals. Up to $200 in annual Uber credits. $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Access to Delta Sky Club, Priority Pass and Amex Centurion lounges. This card earns 5 Membership Rewards point per dollar spent on airfare booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel and on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Those points transfer to 17 different airlines and three hotel partners.
Annual Fee: $550
Is it worth getting? Longtime cardholders swear by this card, which was one of the first premium cards offered. Like the Citi Prestige, this card offers multiple lounge network options, including the small but growing list of Amex Centurion Lounges. One of the best benefits of this card is that you can add up to three authorized users for $175 total, and each of those authorized users gets most of the same benefits as the primary cardholder.
When it comes to earning bonus points, this card used to come up short, but it now offers an outstanding 5x points on airfare — equal to a 10% return based on TPG’s valuations. The 5x on hotels is less impressive, since you’re limited to prepaid bookings made through Amex Travel, but it’s still a huge improvement over the card’s previous earning rates. Especially if you can maximize other benefits like the Uber credits and lounge access, this card is a no-brainer.
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $5,000 in the first three months, although you might receive a targeted offer for more.
Benefits: Full Admirals Club membership, which allows you (and immediate family or up to two guests) to access lounges even when you’re not flying on American Airlines. $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Priority check-in, security and boarding on American Airlines. One free checked bag for you and up to eight companions. 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases.
Earn 2 points per dollar on American Airlines purchases, and one point per dollar elsewhere. Also, earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles when you spend $40,000 in a year.
Annual Fee: $450
Is it worth getting? While this card may not offer the same value as the two listed above, overall it’s a good option for those who fly American Airlines regularly. It offers one of the few ways to earn additional EQMs without flying, and it’s an easy way for occasional AAdvantage flyers to enjoy nearly all of the perks of elite status from day one.
Current Bonus: 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months of account opening.
Benefits: Full United Club membership. First and second bag fee waivers for you and one companion. Premier Access travel services including priority check-in, boarding, security and baggage handling. No fee on close-in award booking and expanded access to saver award seats. Earn 2 miles per dollar on United purchases and 1.5 miles per dollar on all other purchases.
Annual Fee: $450
Is it worth getting? Like the AAdvantage Executive card, this card makes sense for frequent United travelers and those who want elite status perks before attaining elite status. United Club access isn’t offered by any other credit card, so if you would consider getting a membership anyway, this card is a good option. Finally, this is one of the few premium credit cards that truly offers more rewards from spending than similar, less expensive cards.
Current Bonus: Earn 2 complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Benefits: Earn 5 points per dollar at Ritz-Carlton, Marriott and Starwood properties; 2 points per dollar on airline, car rental and restaurant purchases; and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Get three annual upgrades to Club Level on stays of up to 7 nights. Receive a $300 annual travel credit, plus a $100 hotel credit on paid stays of two nights or more. Automatic Gold Elite status for your first year (valid at Marriott properties as well, and you can extend your status by spending $10,000 each account year). Priority Pass membership.
Annual Fee: $450
Is it worth getting? When you factor in the $300 annual air travel credit, you’re essentially left with a $150 card that offers some pretty lucrative benefits. It really takes just a single paid stay with Ritz-Carlton to make this card easily worthwhile, especially with the Club Level upgrades. If you stay at Ritz-Carlton properties regularly, it’s a no-brainer.
Current Bonus: 40,000 SkyMiles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 within the first three months.
Benefits: Delta Sky Club lounge access for the cardholder only (discounted rates for up to two guests). Flight benefits like one free checked bag, priority security and boarding, upgrade priority over those in the same elite status level and discounts on in-flight purchases. Get an annual companion certificate in economy or first class on domestic flights. Earn 15,000 MQMs when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year, plus another 15,000 MQMs when you spend $60,000.
Annual Fee: $450
Is it worth getting? For Delta flyers, this card could be well worth getting for the companion pass alone. It’s disappointing that the card only offers Sky Club access to the cardholder, but it’s also the most generous of these premium cards when it comes to handing out elite-qualifying miles. If you don’t fly Delta regularly, though, there’s little reason to consider this card.
As you can see, a card’s annual fee doesn’t always correspond to its value. While the cards above all come at roughly the same price point, some are clearly only a fit for select travelers. If you’re looking for a card that offers a diverse array of useful perks, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige and the Amex Platinum are probably your best bets, though the airline and hotel cards on this list can be a good fit if you’re loyal to those brands.
Featured image courtesy of The Mashonzha Lounge at JNB.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Up to $200 for Uber rides annually. Credit and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member only.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- As a Platinum Card Member, you can enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees