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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.
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.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express – Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® – Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Citi Prestige® Card – Earn 50,000 Bonus Points after spending $4,000 within 3 months of account opening.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® – Earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $6,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- United MileagePlus® Club Card – 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
- Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express – Earn 40,000 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. Terms Apply.
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card – No longer accepting applications
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card – Earn 150,000 Bonus Points after you spend $4,000 in eligible purchases on the Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership
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.
|Benefits||The Platinum Card® from American Express||Chase 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 Bonus||60,000 Membership Rewards® Points (Terms Apply)||Earn 50,000 bonus points||50,000 ThankYou Points|
|Travel Credit||$200 Airline credit (incidentals only)||$300 Travel credit||$250 Airline credit (includes airfare)|
|Category Bonus||5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, and on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com||3x on travel and dining||5X 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 Pass||2 guests||2 guests or immediate family||2 guests or immediate family|
|Other Lounges||Centurion Lounges|
Lufthansa Lounges (Munich)
Airspace & Escape Lounges
Plaza Premium Lounges
(Guest policy varies)
|Elite Status||Hilton Honors & Marriott Gold|
Hertz Gold Plus Rewards®
National Emerald Club Executive
|National Emerald Club Executive||National Emerald Club Executive, Sixt Platinum|
|Global Entry/TSA PreCheck Credit||Every 4 years||Every 4 years||Every 5 years|
|Trip Delay||N/A||6 hours|
|As of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit|
|Baggage Delay||N/A||6 hours|
|As of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit
|Auto Rental CDW||Secondary up to $75K||Primary up to $75K||As of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit|
|Additional Perks & Benefits||Up to $200 annual Uber credit |
Free Boingo Wi-Fi
|1.5¢ per point redemption through Chase Travel Portal||Free night on hotel bookings of 4 nights booked through ThankYou.com - 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.
|Benefits||Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®||United MileagePlus® Club Card||Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express|
|Annual Fee||$450||$450||$450 Annual Fee ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020)|
|Authorized User Fee||$0||$0||$175|
|Welcome Bonus||Earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $6,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening||Earn 50,000 bonus miles||Earn 40,000 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. (Terms Apply)|
|EQD/EQM Waiver||10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after spending $40,000 per calendar year||N/A||15,000 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 Bonus||2x 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 Access||Admirals 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 Status||N/A||World of Hyatt Discoverist|
Hertz President's Circle® Membership
|Global Entry/TSA PreCheck Credit||Every 5 years||N/A||N/A|
|Trip Delay||As of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit||12 hours|
|Baggage Delay||As of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit||6 hours|
$100 day up to 3 days
|Auto Rental CDW||As of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit||Primary coverage up to retail value of vehicle||Secondary up to $75K|
|Additional Perks & Benefits||Free 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
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 a yearly annual fee of $450 ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020) 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.
|Benefits||The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card||Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card|
|Authorized User Fee||$0||$0|
|Welcome Bonus||No 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 Bonus||5x at Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, and SPG|
2x on dining and travel
|14x on Hilton purchases
7x on flights booked direct with airlines or AmexTravel.com, car rentals booked direct with select rental agencies, and U.S. restaurants
3x on all other purchases
|Lounge Access||Priority Pass Select (unlimited guests + AU cardholders also get free access)||Priority Pass Select (+ 2x guests)|
|Elite Status||Complimentary Gold Elite for first year and spend $10K per calendar year to retain. Spend $75K for Platinum Elite and United Premier Silver status||Hilton 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 Credit||Every 5 years||N/A|
|Trip Delay||6 hours|
|Additional Perks & Benefits||10% 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.
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)
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