Which travel credits are the easiest to redeem?
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
It’s getting more and more common these days to see cards charging annual fees in the range of $450 (or more). In many ways, premium is the new normal. In order to convince customers to shell out hundreds of dollars a year, most of these cards offer some type of annual travel statement credit. They’re certainly not created equal and will range from automatic and easy to use to much more restricted.
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Today, we’re going to take a look at which cards offer the easiest travel credits to use.
|Card||Sign-up bonus/welcome offer||Travel credit||Annual fee|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of account opening.||$300 annual travel credit||$550|
|Citi Prestige® Card||Earn 50,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.||$250 annual travel credit||$495|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card||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.||Up-to-$300 annual in statement credits (valid on room rates) at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
Up-to-$100 luxury property credit on select stays of two nights or longer at Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis hotels
Enrollment required for select benefits.
|$450 (see rates & fees)|
|Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card||Earn 150,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Terms apply.||Up to $250 annual credit for airline incidental fees
Up to $250 annual Hilton resort statement credit valid at participating resorts
Up to $100 property credit on eligible stays of two or more nights at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels
Enrollment required for select benefits.
|$450 (see rates & fees)|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the card in the first six months of card membership. Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the card at restaurants worldwide and when you “Shop Small” in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during the first six months of card membership.||Up-to-$200 annual credit for airline incidental fees
Up-to-$200 annual Uber Cash ($15 a month and a $20 bonus in December)
Up-to-$100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit ($50 biannually)
Enrollment required for select benefits.
|$695 (see rates & fees)|
|Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card||Earn 50,000 points (worth $500) after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days of account opening.||Up-to-$100 annual statement credit for airline incidental fees||$95|
The information for the Citi Prestige and the Hilton Aspire Amex cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Annual travel credit: $300 annual travel credit.
Standout perks: The Chase Sapphire Reserve has been one of the most popular all-around credit cards — in fact, it has won TPG’s best premium travel card for three years in a row. Despite its $550 annual fee, the $300 annual travel credit is incredibly convincing to get people to apply. This credit is also by far the easiest to use, since Chase will automatically apply this credit to your first $300 in annual travel purchases, with eligible charges ranging from flights and hotels to less obvious things like parking fees, tolls, ride-sharing and even some food delivery services. Note that you must spend the $300 travel credit before you start earning 3x points on travel spending.
Even if you’re not traveling much this year, Chase is letting Reserve cardholders use their travel credits for grocery and gas station purchases until Dec. 31. Therefore, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be taking advantage of the full $300 credit.
Related: Chase Sapphire Reserve review
Annual travel credit: $250 annual travel credit.
Standout perks: The Citi Prestige card has lost a lot of appeal in recent years, from adding restrictions to the fourth night free benefit at hotels and removing access to American Airlines’ Admirals Clubs. Still, it’s one of the only cards to offer a broad and comprehensive travel credit that’s applied automatically to your statement credit for a far-reaching number of travel purchases. In response to the pandemic, Citi is allowing cardholders to use their $250 travel credit on groceries and restaurants through the end of 2021, making it quite effortless to use.
The Prestige does offer a fantastic rewards rate, with 5x points on air travel and restaurants, 3x on hotels and cruise lines and 1x on all other purchases.
Related: Citi Prestige review
Annual travel credit: Up-to-$300 Marriott property credit (valid on room rates) at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program and up-to-$100 luxury property credit on two nights or more at St. Regis or Ritz-Carlton hotels.
Standout perks: While the $300 annual credit is only valid at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, there aren’t many restrictions beyond that. You can use this credit for room rates at Marriott hotels (which makes it almost as good as cash in my eyes), or for incidental property charges like dining, drinks or spa treatments. Cardholders will also receive an up-to-$100 luxury property credit on eligible stays of two nights or more at St. Regis or Ritz-Carlton hotels, but you must book a specific (and occasionally more expensive) rate in order to qualify.
In addition to these credits, the card offers automatic Marriott Gold Elite status (and the ability to upgrade to Platinum by spending $75,000 a calendar year thereafter) and a valuable anniversary free night certificate worth up to 50,000 points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program (certain hotels have resort fees).These perks together are more than enough to offset the $450 annual fee (see rates and fees), making the Bonvoy Brilliant one of my favorite cards in my wallet.
Related: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant review
Annual travel credit: Up-to-$250 annual credit for airline incidental fees, up-to-$250 annual Hilton resort statement credit valid at participating resorts and up to a $100 property credit on two nights or more at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels.
Standout perks: The premium Hilton Aspire offers a multitude of statement credits, and is currently offering an all-time high welcome bonus of 150,000 Hilton points (worth $900 based on TPG’s valuations) after spending $4,000 in the first three months. The Aspire offers up to a $250 annual credit for airline incidental fees (which functions similarly to the credit on the Amex Platinum), up to a $250 annual Hilton resort statement credit and up to a $100 property credit on eligible stays of two or more nights at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels.
Aspire cardholders will also enjoy a free weekend night certificate upon account opening and each year on their account anniversary, automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond elite status and a whopping 14x points per dollar on eligible Hilton purchases. All of this comes with a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Related: Hilton Honors Aspire review
Annual travel credit: Up-to-$200 annual airline incidental fee statement credit.
Standout perks: The Amex Platinum airline fee credit gets a lot of attention, but not necessarily for good reasons. Amex doesn’t actually list what charges are eligible, only offering the following exclusions: “Airline tickets, upgrades, mileage points purchases, mileage points transfer fees, gift cards, duty free purchases, and award tickets are not deemed to be incidental fees.” Amex has closed the gift card purchase loophole, severely limiting the ways to use this perk. What has been reported to trigger the airline fee credit includes (but isn’t limited to) checked baggage fees, change fees, airline lounge day passes, seat assignment fees and inflight purchases.
If you’ve decided to apply for or keep your Platinum card open even after these changes — plus its $695 annual fee (see rates and fees) — you can look forward to the following perks: up to $200 in annual Uber Cash ($15 a month with a $20 bonus in December), up to $100 in annual Saks Fifth Avenue credits ($50 every six months), Marriott and Hilton Gold elite status, access to Amex’s growing collection of Centurion lounges, access to Delta Sky Clubs when traveling on same-day Delta flights and a whole host of other perks. Enrollment required for select benefits.
Related: Amex Platinum review
Annual travel credit: Up-to-$100 annual airline incidental fee statement credit; also up-to-$100 enrollment fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every four years.
Standout perks: While the Bank of America Premium Rewards card travel credit can be as restrictive as the Amex credits, there’s one huge difference. The Premium Rewards Card only has a $95 annual fee, so if you max out the airline incidental fee credit, you’ll actually come out $5 ahead every year you keep the card open. That’s before factoring in other benefits of the card, such as the great earning rate on everyday spending and travel bonus categories and the enhanced earning rates available to members of Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program.
For a long time it’s been easy to brush over the annual fee on the Amex Platinum and other premium cards because the plethora of annual statement credits easily offsets your upfront cost. However, recent changes and restrictions in how this credit is used have changed the math. Whether you currently hold any of the cards on this list or are considering applying for them in the future, now is a good time to sit down and look at your own financial situation. It’s important to have an idea of how you plan to use these credits before you open a card in order to make sure you can recoup your annual fee.
Additional reporting by Stella Shon.
Featured photo by PhotoAlto/Ale Ventura for Getty Images.
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