I’ve long been on record as saying many credit cards are worth the annual fees because of the ongoing value they can provide. In general, I tend to look at three factors when evaluating a credit card:
- The welcome bonus
- The value the card gives you for everyday spend
- Any bonuses you may get for having the card long term
If there is marginal “value” in the last two categories that offsets the credit card annual fee, then I’ll keep the card year after year. For some cards, the annual fee is low enough to be a no-brainer. I get far more than $75 of value out of the companion certificates on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card, for example.
But what about the credit cards with high annual fees? Do the perks and benefits offset spending $300-$595 per year?
I’ll share my thoughts on a handful of the top travel-related cards, and discuss whether or not I think the card is worthwhile.
American Express Platinum Cards
The American Express Platinum cards set the standard for “elite” cards, in my opinion. There are a few varieties of cards, each of which offer waived foreign transaction fees and the ability to earn Membership Rewards points.
- Lounge access with Delta when traveling on Delta-operated flights, Priority Pass (enrollment required), and others, including Centurion Lounges
- Access to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts
- $200 a year in statement credits for airline incidental fees like checked bags fees, flight-change fees, and snacks (you need to enroll and select a qualifying airline)
- Access to the Platinum Card Concierge for assistance with travel and dining
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓
- up to $179 back on a CLEAR membership every year
I always have either a personal or business version of the Platinum Card. The lounge access and Amex FHR benefits more than make up for the annual fee in my case, so the other perks are just icing on the cake.
American Express Centurion Lounge at New York La Guardia
It’s also worth noting that none of these cards are particularly lucrative for everyday spend, with the exception of earning 5x points on airfare purchased directly with the airline. If you want to accrue Membership Rewards points more quickly, look at a card that offers bonus points on certain categories, like the American Express® Gold Card and American Express EveryDay® Cards.
Citi ThankYou Prestige
The Citi Prestige® Card has a $450 annual fee, and does offer bonus points on certain categories:
- 3x points on air travel and hotels
- 2x points on dining at restaurants and entertainment
- 1x point for everything else
In terms of benefits, the Citi Prestige Card has no foreign transaction fees. It also comes with the following perks:
- Priority Pass Select membership
- $250 annual airline fee credit
- A $100 statement credit as reimbursement for your Global Entry fee
Most importantly, Citi Prestige® Card holders can transfer their ThankYou points to airline partners. So if you have other ThankYou cards like the Citi Premier® Card (review) or the Citi Rewards+® Card you can combine your points prior to transferring to an airline partner.
Citi Executive Mastercard
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® is probably the most notorious credit card of 2014, given the insanely lucrative offers from earlier this year.
In terms of keeping the card long term, the $450 annual fee also comes with the following perks:
- First Checked Bag Free
- American Airlines Admirals Club® Membership
- 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines and US Airways flights
- Priority check-in and boarding
- 10,000 AAdvantage® elite qualifying miles when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year
The card also offers 2x AAdvantage miles on eligible American Airlines and US Airways purchases, and no foreign transaction fees.
This honestly isn’t a card that I think it makes sense to keep long term. Unless you’re desperate for the Elite Qualifying Miles you’re probably better off with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®.
United Club Card
United and Chase recently launched the new United Club Infinite Card, which has a $525 annual fee (waived the first year), no foreign transaction fees and offers the following perks:
- United Club Membership
- Earn 4 miles per $1 spent on United purchases
- Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining and all other travel
- Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee credit
- First and second check bags free
- 25% off onboard purchases
Longtime cardholders may also have the older United MileagePlus® Club Card or United MileagePlus® Club Business Card. Both cards have a $450 annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, and the following perks:
- United Club membership
- Premier Access travel services
- Free first and second checked bags
- 2x per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United
- 1.5x per dollar spent on all other purchases
By having either of these cards, you have a shortcut to earning elite status and bonus PQPs. Cardholders can earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 in spending, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQP in a calendar year, which can be applied up to Platinum elite status.
In general though, I don’t think these cards are especially compelling outside of the lounge access.
Delta Reserve Cards
Delta offers an astonishing assortment of co-branded cards, with the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card being the “premium” cards.
- 24/7 Delta Reserve Concierge
- Delta Sky Club lounge access
- 20% In-Flight Savings in the form of a statement credit on food, beverages, and entertainment when you fly Delta
- First checked bag free on every Delta flight
The major value from these cards comes in earning Medallion Qualifying Miles based on your credit card spend. Both the personal and business versions offer a total of 60,000 bonus MQMs after spending $120,000 in a calendar year. So with some strategic spending you can actually earn Delta elite status just through credit cards.
The Ritz-Carlton™ Card
The Ritz-Carlton™ Card is a bit of an outlier, as most hotel credit cards don’t have such high fees (or the associated benefits). The annual fee is $395, and along with waived foreign transaction fees you receive the following perks:
- $300 airline fee credit
- Three upgrades to the Ritz-Carlton club level annually
- $100 hotel credit for stays of two or more nights.
It’s also easy to accrue elite status in the Ritz-Carlton program with this card:
- You receive Gold Elite status for the first year of membership
- You receive Gold Elite status for any subsequent year in which you spend at least $10,000 on the card
- You receive Platinum Elite status for any year in which you spend $75,000 on the card (this is probably not worth it)
Views from Ritz Carlton Hong Kong
The fact that the card has a $395 annual fee and comes with a $300 airline fee credit is awesome, and when you add in all the other benefits this is a pretty compelling card, especially for the first year. If you frequent Ritz-Carlton properties the annual fee is probably justified.
Unlike cards such as the American Express Centurion or Visa Black Card, I think the high annual fees are justified in most of these cases, and some of these cards can certainly be worthwhile depending on your personal situation.
Do you have any cards with a high annual fee? Are the benefits worth the cost?
The following links will direct you to the rates and fees for mentioned American Express Cards. These include: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card (Rates & Fees), The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (Rates & Fees), The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees), and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (Rates & Fees).