Some of the most highly touted travel credit cards come with big sign-up bonuses and high rewards rates for travel purchases. But what if you want more than rewards points?
Credit cards with prestigious perks typically come at a premium — an annual fee in the hundreds of dollars. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth it. Let’s dig into the details of the Nerds’ favorite premium cards to determine when (and for whom) they’re a good choice.
NerdWallet’s best premium credit cards
|Best for …||Card|
|The whole package||Chase Sapphire Reserve℠|
|Elite status||The Platinum Card® from American Express|
|Flights||Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®|
Best for the full package:
Chase Sapphire Reserve℠
Earn 50K 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®. Earn 3 points per $1 spent on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. Perks include $300 per year in annual travel credit, plus reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees once every four years. Annual fee of $450.
- One of the most valuable bonuses we’ve seen on any card.
- High rewards on travel and dining: Although premium credit cards have long prioritized perks over rewards, the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ doesn’t skimp on either. Earning 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel is great, but even better, cardholders can earn this rate even when they’re not on the road by using their card at restaurants. Other purchases earn 1 point per dollar spent.
- Astronomical redemption rates: Most credit card points are worth a penny each, including Chase Ultimate Rewards points. But Chase makes higher redemption rates available on specific credit cards. Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ cardholders can redeem points for travel through Chase at a rate of 1.5 cents each. That means the 3 points per dollar you’re earning on travel and dining equates to a 4.5% rewards rate.
- The $300 annual credit for travel purchases can be used not just on flights, but on any travel spending. That covers two-thirds of the $450 annual fee.
- Cardholders can access more than 900 airport lounges around the world with a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to several airline and hotel loyalty programs, usually at a 1:1 ratio.
Drawbacks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠
- The annual fee of $450 is comparable to what you’d pay for other premium travel credit cards. But it’s still a big expense, and it’s not waived the first year. If you have a slow travel year, it might be hard to recoup that cost. For people who don’t want to shell out that much, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card might be better.
- To get the highest redemption value out of your points, you have to redeem them for travel via Chase’s portal. That’s worth it for the 3 points per dollar (working out to 4.5 cents on the dollar) on travel and dining purchases. But you can do better than the 1 point (1.5 cents per dollar) flat rewards rate on general spending.
The bottom line
The high rewards rate and valuable perks make this card one of the best available for people who spend thousands of dollars a year on travel. Even the annual fee doesn’t seem so high when you look at what you get in return.
Best for elite status: 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. Earn 5 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on flights and hotel stays booked through the American Express travel website; 2 points per dollar on other travel booked through AmEx; and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. Travel perks include elite hotel status and a $200 airline fee credit every year. No foreign transaction fees. $550 annual fee.
Benefits of The Platinum Card® from American Express:
- With The Platinum Card® from American Express, you’ll get automatic Hilton Honors Gold and Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status, both of which offer point bonuses for stays, upgrades, late checkout, complimentary in-room Wi-Fi and more.
- Other great travel perks include an annual $200 airline fee credit (per calendar year); up to an additional $200 in credits for using Uber; a fee credit for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) every five years; complimentary access to Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs, Airspace Lounges and Priority Pass Select lounges; free Boingo Wi-Fi access; and a free room upgrade and $75 hotel credit on qualifying activities when you book a hotel stay of at least two nights with your card.
Drawbacks of The Platinum Card® from American Express:
- Although The Platinum Card® from American Express doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, keep in mind that American Express is less widely accepted overseas than Visa and MasterCard.
- The $550 annual fee may not be worth it if you don’t take advantage of all the perks.
- It charges an extra annual fee of $175 for up to three authorized user cards.
- It’s a poor choice if you’re in it for the rewards.
The bottom line:
The Platinum Card® from American Express is a great option for domestic travel, especially if you stay at SPG and Hilton hotels frequently. But if you do a lot of international traveling or you want better rewards, this may not be the best choice.
Best for flights: Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*. Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases. First checked bag free for you and up to eight companions. Admirals Club membership for you and guest privileges. No foreign transaction fees. The annual fee is $450.
Benefits of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®:
- It has a stellar sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*. With the Nerds valuing AAdvantage miles at 1.2 cents apiece, that’s worth $600 in free flights.
- Travel perks include a credit of up to $100 for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every five years; Admirals Club membership (you’re allowed to bring in immediate family members or up to two traveling guests free); 10,000 elite qualifying miles when you spend at least $40,000 per calendar year; early boarding; a 25% discount on in-flight purchases when flying American; and the first checked bag free for you and up to eight traveling companions
- The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® doesn’t charge an extra annual fee for authorized user cards.
- American Airlines belongs to the Oneworld Alliance, giving you flexibility to use your miles to travel virtually anywhere in the world.
Drawbacks of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®:
- It doesn’t offer automatic elite status with American Airlines.
- It offers the same rewards on American Airlines flights as other American Airlines-branded credit cards that have much lower annual fees.
- The annual fee is $450, which may not be a good value if you don’t travel often.
The bottom line:
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® isn’t bad as premium cards go, but you can get many of the same benefits with a cheaper American Airlines card.
This article has been updated. It was originally published Dec. 9, 2015.
Image via iStock.