Comparison of Premium Travel Rewards Credit Cards

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Offers for the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire, The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card and United MileagePlus® Club Card are not available through this site. All information has been independently collected by AwardWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer. Some offers may have expired. Please see our card marketplace for available offers.

At first glance, credit card fees north of $400 don’t make sense to a lot of points and miles fans. Why would you pay $400+ per year for a card that's likely to earn fewer points per dollar than low or no annual fee cards from the same rewards family? It’s not until you look past the simple points per dollar equation that the value of a premium travel rewards card comes into focus.

Premium travel cards offer a host of benefits beyond category bonuses and the number of points earned. Perks such as lounge access, elite status, best in class travel insurance, travel and airline credits, free nights or companion passes, and other travel perks and services that not only help offset the cost of holding the card but can enhance the way you travel, providing added luxury and security.

Centurion Lounge
Premium rewards credit cards like [CC_AW_PrettyLink_FullName slug=PlatinumCard] offer complimentary lounge access.

What Makes a Travel Focused Rewards Card ‘Premium’?

No precise recipe makes a travel rewards card a ‘premium’ product, with the term often hijacked by new cards that don’t fall into the premium category. To make the cut as a premium travel rewards card, the card needs to provide a combination of lounge access, noteworthy travel and auto-rental insurance, some form of elite status with a hotel rewards, car rental, or frequent flyer program, Global Entry/TSA credit, a concierge service, sport a high annual fee, and feature some form of standout, high-ticket perk like the 4th Night Free on the Citi Prestige® Card.

In this post, we’ve focused on the following cards we think fit the premium description, splitting them into three tables. One table covers cards earning flexible or transferable points, and one each covering premium co-brand airline and hotel credit cards that earn miles in a single program.

Premium Rewards Credit Cards Earning Flexible Points

The most popular premium cards on the market, these three travel cards earn transferable points not tied to a particular hotel or airline program. They all offer lounge access in some form, a range of travel insurance and purchase protection options, travel credits, and Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit.

BenefitsThe Platinum Card® from American ExpressChase Sapphire Reserve®Citi Prestige® Card
Annual Fee$550 - Rates & Fees$450$495
Authorized User Fee$175 (for up to 3 AU's) - Rates & Fees$75$50
Weclome Bonus60,000 Membership Rewards® Points (Terms Apply)Earn 50,000 bonus points50,000 ThankYou Points
Travel Credit$200 Airline credit (incidentals only)$300 Travel credit$250 Airline credit (includes airfare)
Category Bonus5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, and on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com3x on travel and dining5X points on air travel and at restaurants
3X points at hotels and on cruise line purchases
1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Priority Pass2 guests2 guests or immediate family2 guests or immediate family
Other LoungesCenturion Lounges
Delta SkyClub
Lufthansa Lounges (Munich)
Airspace & Escape Lounges
Plaza Premium Lounges
(Guest policy varies)
Elite StatusHilton Honors & Marriott Gold
Avis Preferred®
Hertz Gold Plus Rewards®
National Emerald Club Executive
National Emerald Club ExecutiveNational Emerald Club Executive, Sixt Platinum
Global Entry/TSA PreCheck CreditEvery 4 yearsEvery 4 yearsEvery 5 years
Trip DelayN/A6 hours
As of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit
Baggage DelayN/A6 hours
As of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit
Auto Rental CDWSecondary up to $75KPrimary up to $75KAs of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit
Additional Perks & BenefitsUp to $200 annual Uber credit
Free Boingo Wi-Fi
1.5¢ per point redemption through Chase Travel PortalFree night on hotel bookings of 4 nights booked through - up to twice per year.

Premium Rewards Credit Cards Earning Miles

Unfortunately, many of our favorite frequent flyer programs don’t offer a top-tier rewards card. Alaska Mileage Plan would have an instant fan club were they to launch a premium card but, at this stage, it’s just the legacy carriers putting up the big annual fee co-brand cards.

BenefitsCiti® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®United MileagePlus® Club CardDelta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express
Annual Fee$450$450$450
Authorized User Fee$0$0$175
Welcome BonusEarn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account openingEarn 50,000 bonus milesEarn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. (Terms Apply)
EQD/EQM Waiver10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after spending $40,000 per calendar yearN/A15,000 MQMs when you spend $30,000 per calendar year
Plus 15,000 MQMs when you spend $60,000
Eligible for MQD waiver based on spend.
Category Bonus2x on American flights
1x on all other purchases
2x on flights purchased through United
1.5x on all other purchase
2x on Delta purchases
1x on everything else
Lounge AccessAdmirals Club (+ 2 guests or immediate family) (AU cardholders also get free access)United Club (+ 2 guests)
Star Alliance Lounges when travelling same day on Star Alliance ticket
Delta Sky Club ($29 per guest - max 2 guests)
Elite StatusN/AWorld of Hyatt Discoverist
Hertz President's Circle® Membership
Global Entry/TSA PreCheck CreditEvery 5 yearsN/AN/A
Trip DelayAs of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit12 hours
Baggage DelayAs of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit6 hours
$100 day up to 3 days
Auto Rental CDWAs of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefitPrimary coverage up to retail value of vehicleSecondary up to $75K
Additional Perks & BenefitsFree first checked bag for cardholder and up to 8 companions
25% off in-flight purchases on AA
Access to Reduced Mileage Awards
Priority check-in, airport screening, and early boarding
1st and 2nd bag free for primary cardholder and 1 companion
Close in award fees waived
Complimentary Premier Upgrades on award tickets
Domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+® or Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card
First checked bag free for cardholder and up to 8 companions
Priority boarding

NOTE: A significant and important differentiator to know about with the Delta Reserve is that it only provides access to a Delta Sky Club when traveling on Delta. 

The primary difference between the airline cards and those listed in the flexible points table is that you should only get a premium co-brand airline card if you regularly fly that airline. Paying $450 a year for the Delta Reserve with all its Delta perks makes no sense if your primary carrier is American or United.

Premium Rewards Credit Cards Earning Hotel Points

There are currently just two co-brand hotel cards we would consider premium rewards cards. The Hilton Aspire the Ritz-Carlton Card. Believe it or not, the Ritz-Carlton Card can get you better airline elite status than the co-brand airline cards above, potentially providing United Premier Silver Status through RewardsPlus, a reciprocal agreement between Marriott and United when you spend $75k in a calendar year. The Hilton Aspire is the latest premium rewards card to enter the market and sports a unique combination of top-tier elite status and airline and hotel credits, supported by complimentary Weekend Night Rewards and lounge access.

BenefitsThe Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit CardHilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Annual Fee$450$450
Authorized User Fee$0$0
Welcome BonusNo longer open to applications.Earn 150,000 Bonus Points after you spend $4,000 in eligible purchases on the Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership
Category Bonus5x at Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, and SPG
2x on dining and travel
14x on Hilton purchases
7x on flights booked direct with airlines or, car rentals booked direct with select rental agencies, and U.S. restaurants
3x on all other purchases
Lounge AccessPriority Pass Select (unlimited guests + AU cardholders also get free access)Priority Pass Select (+ 2x guests)
Elite StatusComplimentary Gold Elite for first year and spend $10K per calendar year to retain. Spend $75K for Platinum Elite and United Premier Silver statusHilton Honors Diamond
Travel Credits$300 airline incidental credit (based on a calendar year)
$100 credit on roundtrip U.S. domestic coach airline tickets for 2–5 people
$100 hotel credit on paid Ritz-Carlton stays
$250 Airline incidental fee statement credit
$250 Hilton resort statement credit
$100 Waldorf Astoria and Conrad credit when booking Aspire Card package
Global Entry/TSA PreCheck CreditEvery 5 yearsN/A
Trip Delay6 hours
Additional Perks & Benefits10% annual bonus on points earned with the card
3 Club Level upgrades each year on paid stays of up to seven nights
Visa Infinite benefits
Annual Weekend Night Reward on account anniversary
Second Weekend Night Reward after $60K spend per calendar year
24/7 access to Amex Concierge

The Ritz-Carlton Card charges a $450 annual fee, the same as the Sapphire Reserve; however, you aren't charged for authorized users. Those authorized users still qualify for lounge access making the Ritz-Carlton Card the least expensive option for authorized user Priority Pass lounge access.

Final Thoughts

What’s the best premium travel rewards card? That depends on a number of factors. Before pulling the trigger on a premium rewards card, think about where you live and how you travel. If you’re considering the Amex Platinum, is there a Centurion Lounge at your local airport? Will you max out the Uber credits? Do you want Trip and Baggage Delay coverage?

Each card offers some unique value points while typically falling short in another area. First, determine how you would use the card, and whether it will provide enough value to warrant paying the higher annual fee. If the numbers stack up, you may be onto a winner.

If you have any questions about the cards or benefits listed, please get in touch in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to answer.

For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees)

Comparison of Premium Travel Rewards Credit Cards
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