Anyone that travels often knows that having a premium credit card can make a huge difference in your travel experience. These cards often include things like lounge access, rental car status, fee reimbursements, and more — all of which can save headaches, and generally give you a more relaxed experience at the airport.
Nowadays though, there are a number of these credit cards on the market. Each of them has varying benefits, annual fees, and other discrepancies, so it can be hard for you, the frequent traveler, to pick the card that’s really right for you.
But don’t worry — at Upgraded Points, it’s our job to stay on top of the premium credit card world, so we know a thing or 2 about these cards and their respective benefits. With that in mind, we’ll take a look at all of the best premium credit cards on the market in this article, helping you find which is best for your wallet.
We’ll start the article by going through each of these card’s benefits, and then move onto a quick comparison of all the cards on this list. We’ve split the cards up by general travel cards, premium airline cards, and premium hotel cards.
Sound good with you? Let’s get started!
Table of contents
- Premium General Travel Cards
- Premium Airline Cards
- Premium Hotel Cards
- What Type of Premium Travel Card is Right For You?
- Final Thoughts
Table of Contents
- Premium General Travel Cards
- Premium Airline Cards
- Premium Hotel Cards
- What Type of Premium Travel Card is Right For You?
- Final Thoughts
Premium General Travel Cards
American Express, Chase, and Citi all offer their own premium credit cards that offer various benefits like lounge access, elevated points earning, and other various benefits. These benefits aren’t specific to 1 airline in most cases, so travelers that frequently travel on award tickets or switch airlines frequently will get the most use from the perks of these credit cards.
Here’s a look at the 3 most popular premium general travel credit cards:
The Amex Platinum card is one of the most well-known travel credit cards on the market. It’s long been seen as a staple of luxury in the travel space due to its huge list of benefits.
Most travelers get an Amex Platinum card to take advantage of the card’s huge network of lounges. This card offers access to American Express’ in-house Centurion lounge network, Priority Pass, Delta Sky Clubs (when flying Delta), Plaza Premium, Airspace, Escape, and Lufthansa lounges (at Munich and Frankfurt when flying on Lufthansa Group airlines).
This means that you should be able to access an airport lounge at just about any airport in the world. While its U.S. offerings are slim, lounge access in Asia, Europe, and South America are second-to-none with this credit card.
Further, the card has a $200 airline incidental fee credit that can be used to cover incidental fees — think baggage fees, priority boarding, and seat selection — incurred from 1 airline of your choice.
The card also has an assortment of other perks, too. Some of these include a Global Entry fee reimbursement, a $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit, access to the International Airline Program, and complimentary Gold Elite status with Marriott and Hilton.
The card falls short when it comes to points earning, though. It offers 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on airfare booked through Amex Travel or directly through the airline, but offers a mere 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. These points can be used for tons of high-end redemptions like first and business class travel.
Here’s a look at the card’s current welcome bonus:
|Credit Card||Benefits & Info|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express|
Hot Tip: Check our full guide to the Amex Platinum’s benefits for more info. We show you all of the card’s benefits and assign each a value so you can make sure you’re getting the most value back with the card.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is Chase’s answer to the Amex Platinum. However, this card replaces flashy benefits with elevated points earning, making it better for customers that need a card that both offers some benefits and great points earning.
On the benefits side, some of the card’s most notable include Priority Pass lounge access, a $300 annual travel credit that can be applied to any travel purchase, a $60 DoorDash statement credit, primary rental car insurance, and a Global Entry fee reimbursement.
Plus, the card recently added complimentary subscriptions to Lyft Pink and DoorDash DashPass for the card’s primary cardholder.
Both of these benefits provide discounts for their respective service, with Lyft Pink offering 15% off Lyft rides and DoorDash DashPass offering free delivery on orders of $12 or more.
Hot Tip: The Chase Sapphire Reserve card’s Lyft Pink membership is limited to a single 12 month period, so only enroll when you’re sure that you’ll use Lyft.
Points earning is where the card really shines, though. The card earns 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all travel and dining purchases — this includes things like fast food, cafes, Ubers, taxis, airfare, and much more. These points can then be transferred to one of Chase’s many transfer partners to book award travel.
Plus, the card now earns 10 points per dollar on Lyft purchases, meaning that you can earn some serious extra points on your rideshare rides. For example, a $75 Lyft ride to the airport would earn a whopping 750 Ultimate Rewards points!
You can redeem your Ultimate Rewards points towards paid flights through the Chase Travel Portal at 1.5 cents per point. This means you can redeem a $150 flight for just 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points, and still earn frequent flyer points in the process.
Here’s a look at the card’s welcome bonus:
|Credit Card||Benefits & Info|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®|
The Citi Prestige card is Citi’s flagship ThankYou Points credit card. Like the Sapphire Reserve card, this card largely promotes points earning over flashy benefits, but it has a few interesting tricks up its sleeve.
Some of the card’s other benefits include a Priority Pass lounge membership, fourth-night free at select hotels, a Global Entry fee reimbursement, and extensive cell phone insurance. Just maximizing the fourth-night free benefit and annual $300 airline purchase credit can entirely offset the card’s hefty annual fee.
On the points earning side, this card is second-to-none. It has a variety of bonus categories including:
- Air Travel: 5 points per dollar
- Restaurants: 5 points per dollar
- Hotels: 3 points per dollar
- Cruise Lines: 3 points per dollar
These awesome bonus categories — mixed with a generous welcome bonus — means that you can rack up ThankYou Points relatively quickly. Then, you can transfer these points to 1 of Citi’s numerous transfer partners to redeem for high-end tickets like Singapore Suites first class, ANA first class, and more.
Here’s a look at the card’s specifics, including its welcome bonus:
|CREDIT CARD||CARD INFO|
|Citi Prestige® Card|
U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card
Lastly, we have the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card. This card has weaker benefits than the other cards in this section, but its lower annual fee and high annual travel credit makes the card one of the cheapest ways to get a Priority Pass lounge membership.
The card’s various benefits include a full-fledged Priority Pass membership, a $325 annual travel credit that can be used on all travel purchases, 12 free Gogo in-flight internet passes, a Global Entry fee reimbursement, and more.
Plus, the card has an interesting points-earning structure not seen by other cards. It earns points in the following categories:
- Travel purchases: 3 points per dollar
- Mobile wallet purchases (Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc.): 3 points per dollar
As you’d expect, all other purchases earn 1 point per dollar spent. However, with so many merchants now accepting mobile wallets like Apple Pay both online and in-store, you may find yourself earning 3 points per dollar spent more often than not.
Unfortunately, U.S. Bank doesn’t have any transfer partners. However, you can use your points at 1.5 cents per point in value towards any travel purchase. You can redeem these points by charging travel purchases to your card and “erasing” the charges through the U.S. Bank website or via an automated text message service.
Which General Travel Card is Right For You?
All 4 cards in this category have different benefits, with only 2 common denominators: an annual airline/travel credit and a Priority Pass membership.
With that in mind, you should look at whether you value points earning or travel benefits more when picking a card from this list.
Those who want access to more lounges and travel perks like hotel status should stick with the Amex Platinum card, while those that value points earning should compare the other 3 cards and pick the card that has bonus categories that best match your everyday spend habits.
One word of caution though: the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card doesn’t have transfer partners, so you should only consider this card if you plan on redeeming for paid airfare or other general travel purchases. Those looking for luxury points redemptions should look at other options.
Premium Airline Cards
Nowadays, the “big 3” U.S. airlines — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines — each have premium co-branded credit cards. These usually include access to all of the airline’s lounges, a Global Entry credit, and other various benefits. Likewise, these cards usually have high annual fees.
Let’s take a look at all 3 of the major premium airline credit cards:
The AAdvantage Executive World Elite card is the highest-end American Airlines credit card on the market.
The card offers Admirals Club lounge access worldwide when flying on American Airlines, includes a Global Entry credit, gives you a free checked bag on American flights, and offers priority security screening, flight check-in, and boarding for you and up to 8 travel companions.
Even cooler, you can earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles when you spend $40,000 on the card in a given calendar year. This makes American Airlines elite status just a bit easier to obtain, and can possibly move you up by a status tier if you’re short on qualifying miles for a year.
Unfortunately, though, the card has lackluster points-earning: it earns 2 American miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases, and 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else. Note that you’ll get a 25% rebate on American Airlines food and beverage purchases, too, making it just a bit cheaper to dine onboard.
United Airlines’ top-tier credit card — the United Club card from Chase — has similar benefits to the American credit card we outlined earlier. This card gives you access to United Clubs and select Star Alliance lounges, 2 checked bags, and access to Premier Access check-in, security, and boarding when flying with United.
This card also gives you Hertz President’s Circle status, so you’ll get perks like car class upgrades, dedicated parking lanes, and a 50% points-earning bonus when you rent cars with Hertz. Depending on how often you rent, these benefits can be extremely valuable.
On the points-earning side, you’ll earn 2 United miles per dollar spent on United purchases and 1.5 United miles per dollar spent on all other purchases. This is a step up from other cards on this list and makes the card a good fall-back for purchases that don’t earn bonus points on another credit card.
You can also earn 500 Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) per $12,000 spent on the card, with a 1,000 PQP maximum per year. This will inch you closer to United Airlines elite status.
Unfortunately, though, these PQPs only apply to Silver, Gold, and Platinum status qualification; these PQPs won’t help you reach top-tier 1K status.
The Delta Reserve card is by far the most valuable premium airline credit card.
As you’d expect, the card includes Delta SkyClub access when flying on Delta Air Lines, a free checked bag, priority boarding, and a Global Entry credit. And starting January 30, 2020, the card will also be receiving a slew of new benefits that make the card even more lucrative.
Starting on this date, Delta Reserve cardholders will also be able to access American Express Centurion lounges when flying on Delta Air Lines, and non-elite members will be eligible for flight upgrades. These upgrades are space available, and non-elites will be the last on the upgrade list. However, you may clear on flights with light passenger loads.
Cardmembers will earn 3 Delta miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases starting on January 30, 2020, and all other purchases will earn a standard 1 point per dollar spent. Further, you’ll earn a cool 15,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM) per $30,000 charged on the card, up to 60,000 MQMs per year.
Which Premium Airline Card is Right For You?
Picking a premium airline credit card largely boils down to which airline you fly the most. So if you fly Delta on a weekly basis for work, applying for a United Club card probably doesn’t make sense. This is because you’ll only use the benefits when flying a specific airline.
On a similar note, these cards are only really worthwhile for someone that’s loyal to a specific airline. We don’t recommend signing up for one of these cards if you fly different airlines every time you fly, or if you only fly a few times a year.
More often than not, these cards aren’t worth putting your everyday spend on. None of the cards on this list earn bonus points for dining, groceries, or other common categories, so you should only put everyday spend on these cards when working to meet bonus qualifying point thresholds.
Premium Hotel Cards
Over the past 2 years, we’ve seen a wave of premium hotel credit cards enter the premium credit card scene. These cards offer benefits like complimentary hotel elite status, qualifying nights, and other interesting perks. Both Hilton and Marriott offer premium credit cards at this time, so we’ll run you through each of their quirks and features below.
The Hilton Aspire card is an enticing choice for frequent Hilton guests.
This card offers a slew of different benefits, including top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond status, a Priority Pass lounge membership, Global Entry reimbursement, an annual $250 airline incidental fee credit, and even an annual $250 Hilton resort credit.
Hilton Diamond status offers a slew of ultra-premium benefits like lounge access at select Hilton hotels, free breakfast, and top priority for upgrades when staying at Hilton hotels. Plus, the $250 credit can be used for charges like dining, room rates, and more when staying at select Hilton resorts worldwide.
But the benefits don’t stop there.
The card also has an annual free weekend night certificate that’s issued shortly after you pay your card’s annual fee — including the first year. This free weekend night can be redeemed at any Hilton property worldwide, letting you experience 5-star luxury on a budget. You can earn a second certificate by spending $60,000 on your card in a given calendar year.
As far as points-earning goes, the card earns bonus Hilton points in the following categories:
- Hilton charges: 14 points per dollar spent
- Airfare and car rentals: 7 points per dollar spent
- Other purchases: 3 points per dollar spent
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card is the latest addition to the premium hotel card space. While the benefits aren’t as plentiful as the Hilton Aspire card we outlined in the last section, the card is aimed at Marriott loyalists who already stay at Marriott hotels frequently.
The card has an interesting benefits package that includes 15 elite night credits towards Marriott Bonvoy status, a $100 credit when staying at St. Regis and Ritz Carlton properties, a Priority Pass lounge membership, Global Entry reimbursement, an annual free night (up to 50,000 Marriott points), and a $300 credit towards Marriott purchases per calendar year. This annual credit can be applied to hotel room rates, in-room dining, and more, making the annual fee a bit easier to swallow.
Further, the card comes with free mid-tier Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status. This isn’t quite as powerful as Hilton Diamond, but it will get you access to upgrades, late checkout, and more.
Further, you can upgrade to Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status by spending $75,000 per calendar year on the card, which may be worth it depending on your Marriott purchase patterns.
The card earns Marriott points in the following purchase categories:
- Marriott purchases: 6 points per dollar spent
- U.S. restaurants: 3 points per dollar spent
- Flights booked directly with airlines: 3 points per dollar spent
- Other purchases: 2 points per dollar spent
Which Premium Hotel Card is Right For You?
Each of these cards has valuable benefits when staying at their respective hotel brands, but we think that the Hilton Aspire card is the best bet for most travelers.
Getting Hilton’s top-tier status — Hilton Diamond — is a huge perk. This gives you the best shot at upgrades, free breakfast, and other valuable benefits without spending a night at Hilton hotels. Further, this card has points-earning categories for travel booking, and its various credits and annual free weekend night can help you offset the card’s annual fee when you travel.
On the other hand, we only recommend the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card to those who already stay at Marriott hotels. This is because the $300 Marriott credit largely offsets the card’s annual fee, and earning elite night credits makes it just a bit easier to earn top-tier Marriott Bonvoy elite status.
While Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite is nothing to scoff at, you’re likely better off getting it with the Amex Platinum card as mentioned earlier.
What Type of Premium Travel Card is Right For You?
For the bulk of travelers, we think that a general travel credit card like the Amex Platinum card, Citi Prestige card, or Chase Sapphire Reserve card is the best bet. These cards provide both great returns on everyday spend and have excellent benefits like lounge access across multiple lounge networks, car rental status, and more.
However, those who regularly fly a specific airline for work may prefer a premium airline credit card. These cards can help you achieve airline status faster and will give you access to domestic airline lounges when flying on your preferred airline. This is especially important when you consider that Priority Pass has limited options when traveling domestically.
Finally, hotel cards can be a good option for road warriors who want hotel status quickly. Like we mentioned earlier, though, we only recommend the Hilton Aspire card unless you’re already a frequent Marriott guest that can take advantage of the bonus elite night credits and $300 stay credit.
We showed you all of the best premium travel credit cards on the market. Picking a card from this list depends on what you value the most in your travel experience — but as we discussed earlier, we think that a general premium travel credit card is best for most travelers. These cards provide the widest range of benefits and will reward you for spending in certain categories.
But now we want to hear from you. What premium travel credit cards do you carry on a daily basis? Let us know in the comments — we’re excited to hear from you.