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Keeping your distance from credit cards with an annual fee of $100 or more? Don’t let them scare you off.
Once you learn how to make the card work for you, you might find that the rewards and perks more than make up for what you spend on an annual fee each year. Here’s our pick of the best annual fee credit cards.
- Best for travelers looking for luxury: Platinum Card® from American Express
- Best for versatile globetrotters: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Best for foodies and home chefs: American Express® Gold Card
- Best for infrequent travelers who want perks: U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card
Here’s why: You’ll be traveling in style with elite status in two hotel programs and access to hundreds of airport lounges.
The Platinum Card® from American Express has a heart-stopping $550 annual fee. But the card also offers plenty of cardholder perks and benefits that could make the cost a worthwhile investment. To start, you’ll get access to the Global Lounge Collection, which includes access to the American Express Centurion Lounge network along with lounges that are part of the Delta Sky Club, Priority Pass Select, Airspace Lounge and Escape Lounge networks.
Cardholders can also receive Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status and Hilton Honors Gold status. The Hilton Honors Gold status, in particular, includes perks like room upgrades, later checkouts, extra points on paid stays, and free breakfast for you and up to one guest at certain Hilton brand hotels, depending on availability.
Additionally, the Platinum Card® from American Express offers several statement credits, which can help offset the card’s annual fee. Here’s what you could earn.
- $15 in monthly Uber Cash (with a bonus $20 in December), which adds up to a total of $200 a year
- Up to $200 airline fee credit from one qualifying airline of your choice each year to cover incidental airline fees, such as checked bags
- Twice-a-year, $50 statement credits for purchases from Saks Fifth Avenue
- Up to $100 every four years for a TSA PreCheck, or every four and a half years for a Global Entry, application fee
One thing to note: The rewards-earning system for this card is restrictive. You’ll earn five points for every $1 spent on flights booked directly with airlines or Amex Travel and for each $1 spent on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com. You’ll also earn one point per $1 spent on purchases everywhere else. This is pretty inflexible compared to some other premium cards, so you should consider whether that’s something you’re willing to do.
Like a lot of American Express cards, the Platinum Card® from American Express is a charge card, which means you must pay the balance in full every month. On the bright side, that means no interest payments for purchases! Unfortunately, that also means you can’t spread your payments out to make bigger purchases more manageable.
Learn more about the ins and outs of the Platinum Card® from American Express in our full review.
Here’s why: The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a fantastic travel rewards card that makes earning and redeeming points easy.
Using the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you’ll earn three points for every $1 you spend on eligible dining and travel worldwide, and one point for every $1 spent on other purchases. You can then choose to redeem your points in a variety of ways. But the best redemption options are generally booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards (where each point is worth 1.5 cents), or transferring your points to a partner’s travel loyalty program and then redeeming the miles or points for flights or hotel stays.
While the card has a $550 annual fee, you also receive a $300 annual travel credit that automatically offsets common travel purchases — everything from bus passes to airfare. Additionally, you get up to a $100 statement credit every four years, which covers the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee.
Cardholders also get a Priority Pass Select membership for free, which gives you and up to two guests access to more than 1,300 airport lounges. You can also use the membership to receive a $28 voucher (plus a second $28 voucher for one guest) at participating airport restaurants — a benefit that doesn’t come with the Priority Pass membership from American Express cards.
There’s more to the card as well, which you can read about in our in-depth review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
Here’s why: You can earn big rewards whether you’re dining out or buying groceries for a meal at home.
Using the American Express® Gold Card, you can earn four Membership Rewards® points for every $1 you spend at restaurants worldwide and on the first $25,000 you spend on purchases at U.S. supermarkets annually. You also earn three points for every $1 spent on flights booked directly with an airline or on amextravel.com, and one point per $1 on other purchases.
Credit Karma gives Membership Rewards points an estimated value of 1.32 cents each, meaning you can earn the equivalent of 5.28% back per $1 on your food purchases — a great rate for a necessary expense. But to get this value, you’ll want to either use your points to book travel through American Express Travel or transfer them to a partner travel loyalty program.
The card’s $250 annual fee may be too high to justify based on the rewards potential alone. But cardholders also receive a $100 airline fee credit on one qualifying airline that they pick every year for incidentals fees charged by the airline and $120 in dining credits each year.
Unfortunately, the credits can be a little difficult to use. For example, you need to enroll in the dining credit benefit and you can only receive $10 per month for select purchases, like on an order through GrubHub or when dining at The Cheesecake Factory.
One thing to note: The American Express® Gold Card, like the other American Express card on this list, is a charge card.
Learn more about the pros and cons, and find out how you can make the most of the American Express® Gold Card.
Here’s why: The U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card — which isn’t as well-known as other premium travel credit cards — shouldn’t be passed up if you’re looking for a taste of the good life without a big expense.
While the card has a $400 annual fee, you may also receive up to $325 in automatic travel statement credits each cardholder year. These credits will be applied to your account when your card is used for purchases made directly with participating airlines, hotels, car rentals, taxis, limos, trains and cruise lines. If you spend money on these categories anyway, you may only be looking at a difference of $75 for the annual fee — and then there are the perks.
Cardholders also receive …
- Up to $100 in statement credit every four years for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
- Four passes for you and up to one guest to Priority Pass lounges
- 12 free Gogo inflight Wi-Fi passes that are good for a year after you register for the benefit (a one-time deal)
You can earn three points for every $1 spent on travel or through eligible mobile wallet purchases. These points are worth 1.5 cents each when you redeem them for travel. Since many merchants accept mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay or Android Pay, you can earn the equivalent of 4.5% back on many everyday purchases as long as you redeem for travel. You’ll also earn one point per $1 on all other purchases.
Just a heads-up: You’ll need to open an eligible account with U.S. Bank before you can qualify for the credit card.
There’s more to consider before signing up — read all about the U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card.
How we picked these cards
We started our search by limiting our list to credit cards that have an annual fee of $100 or higher. Many midrange cards have an annual fee of $90 or $95, so we ended up with several premium cards and went from there. By focusing on potential cardholders and their needs, we were able to highlight a few cards that could be more than worth the cost of keeping the card open if you can take advantage of the perks.
We also avoided co-branded travel cards, such as an airline or hotel card. While those can offer great rewards for certain people, it’s generally a straightforward decision. For example, if you stay at Hilton Hotels often, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card — which has a $450 annual fee — might make sense. Or, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® (with a $450 annual fee) could be a good option if you live near an American Airlines hub or frequently fly with the airline.
How to make the most of cards that have annual fees
Cards that have annual fees tend to offer something extra as well, like statement credits or perks for being a cardholder. The perks can be nice, but you’ll want to re-examine your circumstances every year to make sure you’re still getting enough value to justify the cost.
If you’re not getting enough bang for your buck though, you can try to downgrade your card — keeping the account open and active, but changing to a card from the same issuer that doesn’t have an annual fee. This has the added benefit of maintaining your average account age and potentially keeping your overall available credit higher.
Or you might decide to cancel your credit card so that you can stop paying the annual fee. But closing your card can affect your credit scores by decreasing how much available credit you have or by lowering your average account age, so think carefully before you choose this option.