7 premium travel cards that are worth the high annual fee

Aug 20, 2021

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Premium credit cards may scare many people away with their $400+ annual fees. Still, travel rewards enthusiasts know that despite the high price tag, these cards can offer exceptional value — and in many cases, their benefits can offset those expensive fees.

With many premium travel credit cards available, we’ve gone through the perks for some of the best to see if paying their annual fees makes sense. And depending on your particular travel needs, you’ll probably find that having at least one of these cards in your wallet is well worth the high cost.

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In This Post

What These Premium Cards Have in Common

These cards feature some sort of airport lounge access, which by itself tends to cost as much as, or more than, the cards’ 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. They all waive foreign transaction fees, which means they are great to use while traveling overseas.

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 lounges that are part of Priority Pass, American Express’s Centurion lounges, or a combination of the three.

You’ll also want to see whether the card has a competitive rewards program. Ironically, some of these cards offer fewer bonus earning categories than other, less expensive cards from the same issuer. Generally, the main reason to get a premium card is for the perks and not the points, though some notable exceptions exist. Either way, you should still aim to collect points that you will eventually use, even if you won’t be earning at a lucrative 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 flights with the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express 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 shortlist, but below you’ll find more details about each.

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve
2. The Platinum Card® from American Express
3. Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
4. United Club Infinite Card
5. Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
6. Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card
7. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

The information for the Hilton Aspire 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.

The Details

Here’s a detailed look at each of the cards listed above, including their benefits, welcome bonuses and other factors to consider.

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Current welcome offer: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Benefits: Receive a $300 annual credit that covers virtually all travel expenses — and can even be used towards gas stations and grocery store purchases through the end of 2021. The card earns 10x points on Chase Dining reservations and hotel stays and car rentals purchased through Ultimate Rewards. It accrues 5x total points on air travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on other travel and dining purchases and 1x on other eligible purchases. Through March 2022, you’ll also earn 10x points on Lyft rides and Peloton purchases (of over $1,800).

Cardholders get a value of 1.5 cents per point when they redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal (compared to 1.25 cents per point when you hold other Ultimate Reward-earning cards). Get up to $100 statement credit toward a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee once every four years. Cardholders can register for Priority Pass Select lounge membership and make hotel bookings with extra perks available via the Luxury Hotel & Resort collection.

For a limited time — through Dec. 31, 2021 — cardholders also receive up to $60 in statement credits on DoorDash purchases (as well as a complimentary one-year DashPass membership, which must be activated by the end of the year) and up to $120 on eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Memberships.

Annual fee: $550

Is it worth getting? Thanks to those bonus categories, the Sapphire Reserve is a no-brainer for those who spend a lot on travel and dining — especially for those who are able to book through Ultimate Rewards. The incredibly generous $300 annual travel credit effectively lowers the annual fee to $250. And for 2021 only, if you’re able to meet the cap on the Peloton and DoorDash credit, that’s worth another $180, bringing your fee down to an incredibly reasonable $70. On top of the lounge access and the valuable Ultimate Rewards transfer partners, this card is an excellent choice for many travelers.

Related: Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review

Utilize your DoorDash and Peloton credit to help offset the annual fee in 2021. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

2. The Platinum Card® from American Express

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Current welcome offer: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $6,000 in the first six months of card membership (although you might receive a targeted offer with a higher bonus), plus earn 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. on up to $25,000 in combined purchases during your first six months.

Benefits: Up to $200 annual airline incidental fee statement credits with one U.S. airline the cardmember selects. Up to $200 in annual Uber Cash ($15 per month and $35 in December). Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. Up to $200 in hotel statement credits on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts or the Hotel Collection bookings each year. Up to $300 in Equinox statement credits (up to $25 per month). Up to $240 in digital entertainment statement credits (up to $20 per month for Peacock, The New York Times, Audible and SiriusXM purchases). Up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits (split into $50 semi-annually). Up to $179 back via statement credit each calendar year on CLEAR membership. Access to Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta, Priority Pass lounges and Amex Centurion Lounges. Enrollment required for select benefits.

This card earns 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on airfare booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel (up to $500,000 on purchases per calendar year) and 5x points on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com and 1x points on other eligible purchases. Those points transfer to 18 different airlines and three hotel partners.

Annual fee: $695 (see rates and fees)

Is it worth getting? Longtime cardholders swear by this card, which was one of the first premium cards offered. This card partners with multiple lounge networks, including the small but growing list of Amex Centurion Lounges.

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. Of course, you’ll now need to see if the new annual fee is worth it for you. Still, this card is a no-brainer if you can maximize the many other benefits like Uber credits, hotel credits, Equinox credits, digital entertainment credits, and lounge access.

Related: The Platinum Card from American Express review

The Amex Platinum card will make your airport experience much better, along with many other perks. (Photo by Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

3. Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

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

Current welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $5,000 in the first three months of account opening, 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. Up to a $100 Global Entry application fee credit once every five years. Priority check-in, security screening and boarding on American Airlines flights. One free checked bag for the cardholder and up to eight companions on the same reservation. A 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases.

Earn 2 points per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Also, earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles when you spend $40,000 on purchases in a calendar year.

For a limited time, American is also offering a few more ways to earn status for those with AAdvantage co-branded credit cards. If you spend $15,000 or more on eligible purchases on this card (or between multiple AA co-branded cards) between July 15 and Nov. 15, 2021, you’ll re-qualify for status through Jan. 31, 2023. Although this only makes sense for those who previously held status, as you’ll receive the same status level as you had on Jan. 1, 2021.

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. Or, if you are looking for a way to maintain status until early 2023, this card could be the perfect opportunity.

Related: Admirals Club membership — Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard review

Use your AAdvantage miles to book a seat in business class. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

4. United Club Infinite Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Current welcome offer: Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months of account opening.

Benefits: The main perk of this card is that you’ll receive full United Club membership. Your first and second bag fee is waived for you and one companion on the same reservation flying United, and you’ll receive Premier Access travel services, including priority check-in, boarding, security and baggage handling. Similar to many other premium cards, you’ll also receive up to $100 towards Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees once every four years. Cardmembers receive 25% back on United inflight purchases and expanded access to saver award seats.

The card accrues 4 miles per dollar on United purchases, 2 miles per dollar on all other travel purchases, 2 miles per dollar on dining and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. This card also offers the opportunity to earn Premier-qualifying points if you are chasing elite status. You’ll earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 you spend on purchases, up to 3,000 PQPs in a calendar year.

Annual fee: $525

Is it worth getting? This card makes sense for frequent United travelers and those who want elite status perks before attaining elite status. No other credit card offers unlimited United Club access, so this card is a good option if you consider getting a membership anyway. Finally, this is one of the few premium credit cards that truly offers more rewards from spending than similar, less expensive cards.

Related: Best for loyal flyers — United Club Infinite Card review

United Club Lounge. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

5. Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Current welcome offer: Earn 80,000 SkyMiles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $5,000 in purchase within the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021

Benefits: Access for the cardmember only to American Express’s Centurion Lounge and Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta (plus two one-time Delta Sky Club guest passes each year). Flight benefits like one free checked bag for the cardholder and up to eight travel companions booked on the same reservation, priority security screening and boarding, upgrade priority over those in the same elite status level and discounts on in-flight purchases. Up to $100 statement credit toward a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application once every four years (4.5 for PreCheck). The absolute best perk — which can truly make this card significantly better than any of the other premium airline credit cards — is the annual companion certificate which is good for one round-trip itinerary within the 48 contiguous United States (except for folks who live in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands) in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+ or first class. You’re only responsible for taxes and fees on the second ticket, up to $75.

Additionally, the card can help you earn status quicker. Typically, you’ll earn 15,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year, up to four times per year. But, for 2021, you’ll receive a 25% bonus on MQMs earned. This means you’ll earn an additional 3,750 MQMs on top of the 15,000 MQMs you’ll already earn per $30,000 spent on the card.

If you can spend $25,000 on the card in the calendar year, it’ll also waive your Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) requirement towards Platinum, Gold, or Silver Medallion Status.

Annual fee: $550 (see rates and fees)

Is it worth getting? For Delta flyers, this card could be well worth getting for the companion ticket alone. It’s also nice that the card offers access not only to its own Sky Clubs but also to Centurion Lounges. It is also the most generous of the premium airline credit cards when it comes to handing out elite-qualifying miles based on spending. However, if you don’t fly Delta regularly, there’s little reason to consider this card.

Related: Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card review

Delta Sky Club Austin. (Photo by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy)

6. Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card
(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Current welcome offer: Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within your first three months of card membership.

The information for the Hilton Aspire 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.

Benefits: Automatic Diamond elite status, which confers space-available upgrades, 100% bonus on points earned for stays, executive floor lounge access, welcome amenities, fifth night free on award stays and a daily food and beverage credit. Priority pass lounge access for you and two guests. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Cardholders can also receive up to $500 in statement credits each year to help offset the fee: up to $250 in statement credits toward eligible purchases at participating Hilton Resorts each cardmember year and up to $250 in airline fee credits with your U.S. airline of choice per calendar year. But, the best benefit for many is the opportunity to earn up to two free weekend reward nights. You’ll receive one weekend night redeemable at almost any Hilton property worldwide after opening your account and on your cardmember anniversary each year. Earn a second weekend night when you spend $60,000 on the card in a calendar year. And due to the pandemic, many certificates have been extended and are currently not limited to just weekends.

All points earned through eligible purchases will be counted through Dec. 31, 2021, and posted to the Hilton account between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2021 — will count toward elite tier qualification and lifetime Diamond status.

Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)

Is it worth getting? If you are looking for instant top-tier hotel status, then the Hilton Honors Aspire card is the best option — with Diamond status automatically granted, there’s no need to spend any time or money chasing status. Then, if you know you’ll be able to use both $250 statement credit opportunities, this effectively outweighs the annual fee. If you stay at Hilton properties even just a few times a year, this is a card that should absolutely make its way into your wallet.

Related: Hilton Honors American Express Aspire credit card review

(Photo courtesy of Embassy Suites by Hilton Napa Valley/Facebook)

7. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Current welcome offer: 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.

Benefits: Annually, cardmembers will receive an award night certificate that can be redeemed at any participating Marriott property costing up to 50,000 points for the night. Based on TPG’s current valuations, this alone is worth $400. You’ll also receive up to a total of $300 in statement credits on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program each account year. This includes anything from room rates to incidentals charged to the room, which immediately allows you to think about the annual fee at just $150 for the year. You’ll also receive automatic Gold elite status (which gives space-available room upgrades and a 25% point-earning bonus) and 15 qualifying nights towards status each year.

Other perks include a Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you and two guests unlimited access to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide, as well as up to $100 toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees once every four years (4.5 for PreCheck). Enrollment required for select benefits.

Annual fee: $450 (see rates & fees)

Is it worth getting? You can easily receive a more significant value than the card’s annual fee with the statement credit and annual night certificate. Add on the airport lounge access and Global Entry credit, along with the other benefits; this is a great card to have if you are loyal to Marriott. Or, even if you just stay at Marriott properties a few times a year, as long as you can max out your annual night certificate, this card is still worth it.

Related: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card review

Kane Tiki Bar & Grill at JW Marriott Marco Island
Kane Tiki Bar & Grill (Photo courtesy of JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort)

Bottom Line

As you can see, a card’s annual fee doesn’t always correspond to its value. While the cards above offer many benefits to help offset the annual fee, some are clearly only a fit for select travelers. If you’re looking for a card that offers a diverse array of useful perks, the Chase Sapphire Reserve or 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.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Aspire, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex, click here.

Additional reporting by Jennifer Yellin.

Featured photo courtesy of The Mashonzha Lounge at JNB. 

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.