When it comes to travel rewards credit cards, a higher annual fee generally means you’ll get more back in rewards and perks. The trick is figuring out whether your spending and travel habits will generate rewards that exceed the annual fee.
Consider two high-end products, the American Express® Gold Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express. For folks who spend plenty on dining and groceries, the former is a clear winner. But for those who frequently travel in luxury, the latter comes out ahead.
Which type of spender are you?
If you spend plenty on dining and groceriesAmerican Express® Gold Card is all about earning Membership Rewards points, which you can transfer to other rewards programs and use toward flights and hotel stays. You’ll earn
- 4 points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases per year).
- 4 points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants.
- 3 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
- Terms apply.
The card has an annual fee of $250. But a sizable chunk of the fee each year will be offset by a $100 credit to reimburse you for airline fees — including checked bags, in-flight purchases and airport lounge day passes — and a $120 annual dining credit, which is awarded in monthly $10 credits and can be used at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and participating Shake Shack locations. Terms apply.
The card also has a generous welcome offer: Earn 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply.
If you prefer luxury travel perksThe Platinum Card® from American Express offers less in the way of Membership Rewards points, but it’s a great way to get access to luxury travel services. If you’re a frequent traveler, and especially if you take a lot of long international trips, this card can help make your journeys more comfortable.
At first glance, the annual fee of $550 looks pretty steep, especially for a card with a so-so rewards structure. You can earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines and with AmEx Travel, and on prepaid hotels booked on AmEx Travel. Other eligible travel booked through AmEx earns 2 points per dollar, and you get 1 point per dollar on everything else. Terms apply.
But the benefits that come with the card are worth quite a bit more than $550.
Like the American Express® Gold Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers cardholders an annual credit to help cover the cost of travel incidentals such as baggage fees. But on this card, the credit is $200 a year, which takes a big bite out of the annual fee on the The Platinum Card® from American Express. Terms apply.
You’ll also earn a bigger welcome offer: 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.
But the real value of The Platinum Card® from American Express is the other luxury benefits you’ll have access to, including:
- Elite status in certain hotel programs. The card gets you Hilton Honors Gold status and Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Elite status, which translates to extra perks during your stays.
- Airport lounge access. You’ll get Priority Pass Select membership, as well as access to American Express Centurion lounges, International American Express lounges, Delta Sky Clubs, Airspace Lounges and Escape Lounges.
- Uber VIP and monthly ride credits. In select cities, you’ll get access to more highly rated Uber drivers through the VIP program. You’ll also get $200 in Uber ride credits each year, or up to $15 in credits each month and a bonus $20 in December (for a total of $35 that month).
- Reimbursement for TSA Precheck or Global Entry applications. You’ll get a credit toward the cost of TSA Precheck, which allows you to go through expedited security lines at the airport, or for U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry Program, which allows “expedited clearance for preapproved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States,” according to the program’s website. The credit — $85 for TSA Precheck alone, or $100 for Global Entry, which includes Precheck — is available once every four years. (There’s no guarantee you’ll be approved for either program; the credit goes toward the application fee.)
- Terms apply.
Which card is right for you?
If you’re interested in getting big rewards on dining and groceries, the American Express® Gold Card is probably the better choice.
If you travel frequently for business or pleasure and want a little luxury to smooth your way, The Platinum Card® from American Express will leave a rose on your pillow. OK, probably not. But if we find a credit card that will do that for you, we’ll let you know.