Premium credit cards are generally geared toward frequent travelers. So, those who travel several times a year should consider paying the $450 annual fee for some of the additional benefits. While $450 may seem like a lot at first, once you add up the value of those benefits, and factor in the travel statement credits often offered with a premium credit card, you’ll find the annual fee drops significantly — often below the $95 annual fee required for a general travel rewards card. Better rewards and statement credits for less than what you’d spend for a general travel rewards card: that’s money well spent in my book.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve℠
Best for Earning Rewards From Spending
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
Best for Airport Lounge Memberships
- United MileagePlus® Club Card (currently unavailable)
Best for Premium Airline Miles
- Citi Prestige® Card
Best for Hotel Discounts
All premium credit cards at the $450 to $550 price point feature a membership in one or more airport business lounge programs — this is standard. These lounges offer travelers a refuge from crowded terminals, where they can enjoy free food, drinks, and internet service. Premium credit cards also come with damage and theft protection, extended warranty coverage, and numerous travel insurance policies that go far beyond what you can find on a card that costs $100 per year or less. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ card and Citi Prestige® Card both offer $100,000 of medical evacuation insurance that will pay for you to be transported home from overseas for medical care.
Another benefit you often see is an annual statement credit toward airline charges. These credits usually range between $200 and $300, and many also offer a one-time, $100 credit toward the $100 application fee for the Global Entry program. The Global Entry program offers you expedited entry when arriving in the United States, and also includes access to the TSA PreCheck program for faster and less-invasive security screening.
Finally, premium credit cards offer some form of access to special entertainment, sports, and dining events. For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers preferred seating at many events, as well as By Invitation Only events that are exclusive to cardmembers.
But, are these features and benefits worth $450?
If you travel more than a few times a year, it’s likely that you will easily be able to justify paying the $450 annual fee associated with these cards. You have to consider the cost difference between a $95 travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the $450 Chase Sapphire Reserve℠. For the additional $355, you will receive a $300 annual travel statement credit, bringing the net difference to just $55. For that additional price, you can enjoy all the premium cardholder benefits such as airport lounge access, increased rewards per dollar spent, and the numerous purchase protection and travel insurance benefits provided.
Best for Earning Travel Rewards
When the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ card was released in August, it generated such great demand that Chase actually ran out of cards. And, it’s easy to see why — if you’re looking to earn the most valuable travel rewards possible for your travel and dining expenses, then the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card is the premium reward card you want. It offers 3x rewards on all travel and dining expenses (Chase broadly defines travel spending to include such things as taxis, trains, parking, and tolls). Points are earned in the Ultimate Rewards program and can be transferred to eight airline and four hotel partners, or redeemed for 1.5 cents each toward travel reservations booked through Chase. In contrast, The Platinum Card® from American Express and Citi Prestige® Card only offer one point per dollar spent on most purchases. Although the Citi Prestige® Card offers 3x points for air travel and at hotels, it only offers 2x points for dining and entertainment charges. And with both American Express and Citi, points are worth less than 1.5 cents each when redeemed toward travel reservations.
Benefits include a $300 annual travel statement credit, a $100 credit toward the $100 Global Entry or $85 PreCheck application fee, and membership in the Priority Pass Select lounge network. (The Priority Pass Select network has over 1,000 locations, but since it has relatively few choices in the United States, it’s best for international travelers.) If you used both of these credits in your first year, the net cost of the card’s annual fee would be a mere $50.
Best for Airport Lounge Memberships
The Platinum Card® from American Express was introduced decades ago, and it still retains a loyal following today. Among all of the premium credit cards, it’s ideal for those who prize airport business lounge access above other benefits. While most premium credit cards offer just a single lounge membership, The Platinum Card® from American Express users actually receive memberships in three different airport lounge programs: the Delta Sky Clubs, the Priority Pass Select network, and American Express’ luxurious Centurion Club lounges.
If you travel frequently, then you know the reprieve an airport lounge is from crowded airports. On a recent visit to the American Express Centurion Club at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, I was treated to food and service that was far beyond what you would expect from most airport lounges, and was even able to schedule complimentary massage and spa treatments. Other cardmember benefits include elite status with Starwood and Hilton hotels, as well as Avis, Hertz, and National car rentals.
This card offers 1 point per dollar spent on most purchases, but it recently began offering 5x points for airfares purchased directly from the airlines. Points are earned in the American Express Membership Rewards program, which offers 17 airline and three hotel partners. Other benefits include a $200 annual air travel statement credit and a $100 credit toward a Global Entry or $85 PreCheck application fee. With both of these fee credits, the net cost of the annual fee would be $250. You can add up to three additional cardmembers for a flat fee of $175 per year.
Some premium credit cards are offered by specific airlines, which feature special perks when traveling on their flights. The United MileagePlus® Club Card has the best perks and most valuable rewards per dollar spent of any of the premium cards offered by the three major airlines. You do need to be loyal to United and its partners to get the most from the travel benefits offered by this card, so if you don’t fly United, look into one of the other available cards.
This card offers 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases, 50% more than other premium airline mileage cards. You also earn 2x miles for purchases direct from United. There’s no charge to add authorized cardholders, but only the primary cardholder will receive the travel benefits, including airport lounge access.
In addition to United Club access, cardholders enjoy two free checked bags for themselves and a companion when they use their card to pay for their ticket. You also receive United’s Premium Access travel services, which includes priority check-in, security screening (where available), boarding, and baggage-handling privileges. Basically, it gives you all of the priority services you get when you purchase a first-class seat, even if you just paid for an economy-class seat.
Best for Hotel Discounts
The Citi Prestige® Card is a solid premium card — with a specific standout benefit. When you use Citi’s travel agency to book four or more consecutive hotel nights, you’ll receive your fourth night free. You do have to call Citi’s travel concierge to make your hotel reservations, but if you are willing to work with its travel agency, this benefit can pay off for frequent business travelers who are typically on the road for three-plus nights a week.
This card also offers a Priority Pass Select lounge membership, along with a $250 annual air travel credit, and a $100 credit toward the $100 application fee for the Global Entry program. For rewards, this card features 3x points for air travel and at hotels, 2x points for dining and entertainment charges, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Points are earned in Citi’s ThankYou rewards program and can be transferred to its airline and hotel partners.
With all of the best premium rewards cards charging an identical annual fee, your choice should depend on which travel benefits you value most. If earning the most valuable rewards for your spending is a priority, then you should consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠. The Platinum Card® from American Express is the best choice if you are interested in enjoying the best airport lounges, while the Citi Prestige® Card offers an unbeatable hotel discount program. Finally, United loyalists can enjoy more airline benefits with the United MileagePlus® Club Card than you could receive from any other airline card.
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