Earlier this week, Nick pondered which ultra-premium credit card he should keep. Ultra-premium cards typically offer terrific benefits in exchange for terrifically high fees (typically around $450 per year). Often the value of the benefits far outweigh those fees, but not always. Nick’s post generated a lot of discussion in which people sometimes asserted that Nick was wrong about how much he values various card benefits. But, that was exactly the point of his post: credit card benefits offer different value to different people depending upon their travel style, which airports and airlines and hotels they frequent, and more.
Most ultra-premium cards are worth signing up for because they have good to excellent signup bonuses that are worth more than the first year’s annual fee. That’s not the question. The question is whether the cards are worth keeping past the first year. When the second year annual fee comes due, do you keep or cancel?
Do the card’s benefits outweigh the annual fee? Each person should conservatively estimate the value of each benefit to them to figure this out. In most cases, I recommend trying to estimate how much you’d be willing to pay for this feature if it was available stand-alone as a subscription. For example, if a card offers free checked bags, you could save hundreds of dollars if you use that benefit often enough. But how much would you pay for an annual subscription to get free checked bags? That answer should be substantially lower than the amount that you think you’ll save. Otherwise, why prepay for that benefit?
To help you come up with your own estimates, I created a Google Doc spreadsheet with tabs for each of the common ultra-premium cards. Click here to open the spreadsheet.
The spreadsheet currently includes general estimates of how much each major card benefit may be worth, along with my own personal valuation to give you an idea of how I think about each.
To use the spreadsheet, create a copy of it and then overwrite the values in columns D and E on each tab with your own value estimates.
Tips for using the spreadsheet effectively
- Be conservative with your estimates. Enter values that you would pay for a subscription for that benefit rather than the amount you expect to save.
- Consider other factors not listed. Most of the benefits of my Sapphire Reserve card are available through other cards, but I love the fact that this single card gives me best in class earnings on travel & dining, best in class travel insurance, and increases the value of my Chase points earned on other cards. There’s something great (to me) about having a single card to turn to for all travel & dining spend.
- Once you identify cards that you know that you’ll keep year after year (like my CNB card pictured above), make sure to consider that when evaluating overlapping benefits on other cards. For example, I get 12 Gogo internet passes from my CNB card each year (really 48 passes since I get 12 from each CNB card), so I don’t value the same benefit on the Altitude Reserve card.
- You’re allowed to make irrational decisions if you can afford it. My personal valuation of the Altitude Reserve card comes out a bit higher than the card’s annual fee. But, even if it came out lower, I would consider keeping the card simply because I like it. I love knowing that I get good value from Apple Pay purchases. And I love getting 1.5 cents value per point through Real Time Mobile Rewards (and no, I do not earn an affiliate commission for this card).
The Card Roundup
At the time of this writing, the spreadsheet includes the following cards…
Card Name w Details & Review (no offer) FM Mini Review: This card is absolutely loaded with high end perks. Depending upon your situation, those perks may be worth the annual fee or much more.$695 Annual FeeEarning rate: 5X flights and prepaid hotels at AmexTravel.com ✦ 1.5X points per dollar on eligible purchases of $5000 or more (on up to $2 million of those purchases per year) ✦ 1.5x on US construction/hardware stores, US electronic goods, and US shipping ✦ 1X elsewhere ✦ Terms apply.Card Info: Amex Pay Over Time Card issued by Amex. This card has no foreign transaction fees.Noteworthy perks: Select one qualifying airline and receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for qualifying charges ✦ Up to $400 a year in statement credits for Dell purchases ($200, twice-yearly) ✦ Up to $120 in wireless services credits per year ($10 per month) ✦ $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement.✦ Priority Pass membership (Lounges only) with 2 guests and other airport lounge benefits (Centurion and Delta) ✦ Rental car elite status ✦ Marriott Gold status ✦ Hilton Gold status. ✦ $189 CLEAR fee reimbursement annually ✦ 35% Airline Bonus: Get 35% points back after you Pay With Points for flights with your selected airline (or premium cabin with any airline). Enrollment required for select benefitsSee also: Amex Platinum Guide FM Mini Review: This card is absolutely loaded with high end perks. Depending upon your situation, those perks may be worth the annual fee or much more.$695 Annual FeeEarning rate: 5X points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel ✦ 5X points for prepaid hotels booked through American Express TravelCard Info: Amex Pay Over Time Card issued by Amex. This card has no foreign transaction fees.Noteworthy perks: Up to $200 a year in statement credits for incidental fees at one qualifying airline per calendar year ✦ $200 prepaid hotel credit per calendar year valid on Fine Hotels & Resorts and The Hotel Collection bookings ✦ Up to $20 per month rebate for Disney+, a Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, The New York Times, Peacock, SiriusXM, and/or The Wall Street Journal ✦ $15 monthly Uber or Uber Eats credit ($20 in December, use it or lose it each month) ✦ $189 CLEAR fee reimbursement per calendar year ✦ $12.95 (+tax) monthly credit for Walmart+ monthly membership subscription credit when you pay with Platinum card ✦ Up to $100 in credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue (up to $50 in credits semi-annually) ✦ Priority Pass membership (Lounges only) with 2 guests and other airport lounge benefits (Centurion and Delta) ✦ Rental car elite status ✦ Marriott Gold status ✦ Hilton Honors Gold status Enrollement required for some benefits. Terms Apply. (Rates & Fees)See also: Amex Platinum Guide FM Mini Review: Excellent all-around card for frequent traveler. Best when paired with no-fee Chase Freedom Flex, no-fee Freedom Unlimited & no-fee Chase Ink Cash$550 Annual FeeEarning rate: 10X hotels & car rentals booked through Chase ✦ 10X Chase Dining ✦ 5X flights booked through Chase ✦ 3X Travel and Dining ✦ 10X Lyft (through March 2025)Card Info: Visa Infinite issued by Chase. This card has no foreign transaction fees.Noteworthy perks: $300 Annual Travel Credit ✦ Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel ✦ Transfer points to airline & hotel partners ✦ Primary auto rental collision damage waiver ✦ Priority Pass Select lounge access ✦ $100 Global Entry fee credit ✦ $5 monthly DoorDash in-app credit through December 2024 ✦ Free DashPass through 2025 ✦ Earn 10X on Lyft spend✦ Free Lyft Pink All Access Memberhsip through December 2024 ✦ $15 monthly Instacart credit ✦ 12 months free Instacart+ ✦ $10 monthly GoPuff credit (through 12/31/23)See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide FM Mini Review: The Prestige card's best in class 5X rewards for dining, airfare, and travel agencies is hard to beat. Sadly, this travel card doesn't provide any travel protections.$495 Annual FeeEarning rate: 5X airfare, dining, and travel agencies ✦ 3X hotels and cruise line ✦ 1X everywhere elseCard Type: Mastercard World EliteNoteworthy perks: $250 travel rebate per calendar year ✦ Free lounge access: Citi Properietary Lounges; and Priority Pass Select with free guests ✦ $100 Global Entry application fee credit ✦ 4th night free hotel benefitSee also: Citi ThankYou Rewards Complete Guide FM Mini Review: This card's value is hobbled by an inferior Priority Pass membership (as of 1/1/20).$400 Annual FeeEarning rate: ✦ 3X airline, hotel, taxi, limousine, rental car, train bus, restaurant, fast food and takeout food and dining purchases ✦ 1X everywhere elseCard Info: Visa Infinite issued by Other. This card has no foreign transaction fees.Big spend bonus: Get reimbursed up to $550 for airline lounge club membership after $50K calendar year spend.Noteworthy perks: Up to $350 a year in statement credits for airline incidental fees (as of 1/1/20) ✦ 12 Gogo In-Flight Wifi passes per card ✦ $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement ✦ Priority Pass lounge membership for 2 cardholders (guests are not free as of 1/1/20) FM Mini Review: With points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel, this card offers an excellent signup bonus. For ongoing use, this card is a winner for those who spend a lot on mobile payments (at 3X, rewards are worth 4.5%)$400 Annual FeeEarning rate: 5x prepaid hotel & car rental through Altitude Rewards Center ✦ 3X travel and mobile wallet paymentsCard Info: Visa Infinite issued by USB. This card has no foreign transaction fees.Noteworthy perks: $325 in travel/dining credits per membership year ✦ Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel ✦ Real Time Mobile Rewards (redeem points at full value at time of purchase) ✦ Priority Pass Select airport lounge access (8 per year) ✦ Primary car rental coverage ✦ No foreign transaction fees ✦ Free authorized user cards
Card Name w Details & Review (no offer) FM Mini Review: Excellent choice for frequent Delta flyers who can make use of SkyClub access and companion certificate. Also a good choice for big spenders seeking Delta elite status.$550 Annual FeeEarning rate: 3X Delta ✦ 1.5X on all eligible purchases per calendar year after spending $150KCard Info: Amex Credit Card issued by Amex. This card has no foreign transaction fees.Big spend bonus: Earn 15K MQMs (towards elite status) after $30K spend up to four times per year (ends 1/1/24) ✦ Medallion Qualifying Dollar waiver up to Platinum status with $25K spend across one or more Delta cards or $250K spend for Diamond status (ends 1/1/24) ✦ After you spend $150K in a calendar year, earn 1.5X miles per dollar on eligible purchases for the rest of the year (excludes Delta purchases after you meet the $150K requirement) ✦ Terms and limitations apply.Noteworthy perks: 15% off when using miles to book an award flight (Delta metal only) ✦ Domestic economy or first class companion certificate (subject to taxes & fees) after card renewal ✦ SkyClub access (starting 2/1/25, 15 visits per year (after 15 visits have been used, additional visits can be purchased for $50 each) or earn unlimited visits after spending $75K/calendar year on the card starting from 1/1/24 to 12/31/24 ✦ 2 Delta SkyClub one-time guest passes ✦ Centurion Lounge access when you book your Delta flight with your Reserve card ✦ Complimentary upgrades ✦ $100 Global Entry fee credit every 4 years (or 4.5 years for TSA Precheck) ✦ Priority boarding ✦ First checked bag free on Delta flights. Terms and limitations apply. (Rates & Fees)See also: Delta Reserve complete guide FM Mini Review: Excellent choice for frequent Delta flyers who can make use of SkyClub access and companion certificate. Also a good choice for big spenders seeking Delta elite status.$550 Annual FeeEarning rate: 3X DeltaCard Info: Amex Credit Card issued by Amex. This card has no foreign transaction fees.Big spend bonus: Earn 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to four times per year (ends 1/1/24) ✦ Complimentary upgrades ✦ $100 Global Entry fee credit every 4 years (or 4.5 years for TSA Precheck) ✦ Medallion Qualifying Dollar waiver (up to Platinum status) with $25K (ends 1/1/24)
spend across one or more Delta cards (or $250K spend for Diamond status) ✦ Terms apply.Noteworthy perks: 15% off when using miles to book an award flight (Delta metal only) ✦ Domestic economy or first class companion certificate (subject to taxes & fees) after card renewal ✦ SkyClub access (starting 2/1/25, 15 visits per year (after 15 visits have been used, additional visits can be purchased for $50 each) or earn unlimited visits after spending $75K/calendar year on the card starting from 1/1/24 to 12/31/24 ✦ 2 Delta SkyClub one-time guest passes ✦ Centurion Lounge access when flying Delta ✦ Complimentary upgrades ✦ One statement credit every 4 years for the $100 Global Entry application fee or one statement credit every 4.5 years for the $85 TSA Precheck application fee ✦ Priority boarding ✦ First checked bag free on Delta flights. Terms and limitations apply. (Rates & Fees)See also: Delta Reserve complete guide
FM Mini Review: Good choice for those who need Admirals Club access and those who value the Loyalty Points boosts at 50K and 90K Loyalty Points earned. Plus, it offers the usual collection of perks for flying AA (free checked bag, priority boarding, etc.) and some handy credits for Avis or Budget rentals and GrubHub.$595 Annual FeeEarning rate: 4X AA ✦ 10X hotels booked through AA.com/Hotels ✦ 10X car rentals booked through AA.com/Cars ✦ 1X everywhere elseCard Info: Mastercard World Elite issued by Citi. This card has no foreign transaction fees.Noteworthy perks: ✦ First Checked Bag Free ✦ Admirals Club® access for both primary and authorized users ✦ Up to $120 in statement credits per calendar year for car rentals booked directly with Avis or Budget ✦ Up to $120 per 12 monthly billing cycles for GrubHub purchases (up to $10 per monthly billing cycle) ✦ $10 monthly Lyft credit after you take 3 Lyft rides that calendar month ✦ 10K bonus Loyaty Points after earning 50K Loyalty points through all channels and another 10K bonus Loyalty Points after earning 90K Loyalty Points through all channels ✦ 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines flights ✦ Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit
Card Name w Details & Review (no offer) FM Mini Review: This card is loaded with valuable perks that are more than worth the card's annual fee if you stay in Hilton resorts at least twice per year.$550 Annual FeeEarning rate: ✦ 14X Hilton spend ✦ 7X US restaurants, flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, select car rental companies ✦ 3X on all other eligible purchases ✦ Terms & Limitations Apply.Card Info: Amex Credit Card issued by Amex. This card has no foreign transaction fees.Big spend bonus: Additional free night awards after $30K and $60K spend in calendar yearNoteworthy perks: ✦Annual Free Night Reward every year upon renewal ✦ Free Diamond Status ✦ Up to $400 Hilton Resort Credit per membership year ($200 semi-annually) ✦ $200 Flight Credit ($50 per quarter for purchases directly with airlines or via Amex Travel) ✦ $100 on-property credit w/ Aspire Card package ✦ Terms Apply. See Rates & FeesSee also: Amex Hilton Aspire In-Depth Review FM Mini Review: Decent ultra-premium option for Marriott fans, especially those aiming for lifetime status tiers$650 Annual FeeEarning rate: 3X airfare -on flights booked directly with airlines; 3X restaurants worldwide, 6X Marriott; 2X on all other eligible purchasesCard Info: Amex Credit Card issued by Amex. This card has no foreign transaction fees.Big spend bonus: Annual Choice Award with $60K calendar year spendNoteworthy perks: ✦ 85K Free Night Award each year upon renewal ✦ $300 dining credit per membership year ($25/mo) ✦ Platinum Elite status ✦ 25 elite nights credit ✦ Priority Pass membership (Lounges only) with 2 guests ✦ Global Entry fee credit ✦ Free premium internet at Marriott properties Note: Enrollment required for some benefits.See also: Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide FM Mini Review: While the card is pricey, the annual free night, plus $300 in ariline fee credits, plus other perks make this card a keeper.$450 Annual FeeEarning rate: ✦ 6X Ritz & Marriott.✦ 3X airline tickets purchased directly with the airline, at car rental agencies and at restaurants ✦ 2X everywhere elseCard Type: Visa InfiniteBig spend bonus: $75K spend per calendar year for Platinum elite statusNoteworthy perks: ✦ Annual 85K hotel certificate upon renewal ✦ 3 club level upgrades. $100 hotel credit for each 2 night or longer stay ✦ Priority Pass Select with unlimited guests ✦ $300 annual credit for airline incidentals ✦ Automatic Gold Status ✦ $10 monthly GoPuff credit (through 12/31/23)See also: Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide
My Personal Keepers
Here’s where I landed after analyzing each card:
To understand the above results, keep in mind the following dependencies:
- The CNB card is an obvious no-brainer since it offers up to $1,000 per year in airline fee credits for $400. As a result, other cards that offering duplicative benefits were not valued as highly. For example, I don’t value getting Priority Pass from any of the other cards since this one gives me Priority Pass with unlimited guests.
- After analyzing both the consumer and business versions of the Amex Platinum card, I realized that the business card made more sense to me, so I zeroed out the duplicate benefits on the consumer spreadsheet. For example, there’s no advantage to having two cards that offer Emergency medical evacuation.
- Similarly, the values I assigned to the Delta Reserve business card assume one already has the consumer card, so some of the card’s benefits were zeroed out.
Also keep in mind:
- I live near a Delta hub (Detroit) and like to use Delta credit cards to manufacture high level elite status for both me and my wife.
- I rarely fly AA or United
- I’ve gotten very good at getting full value from credit card travel credits, so my net cost on many of these cards is far less than it appears.
Currently, I have all of the above cards except for the Platinum Business card, United Club, AA Executive, SPG Luxury Card, and Hilton Aspire. Based on the analysis, I should think about cancelling my consumer Platinum card when the annual fee comes due and upgrading my business Green to the Platinum Business card. And, I should consider getting the Hilton Aspire if I can ever free up credit card slots in my Amex portfolio.
My wife currently has the Amex Platinum Business card, Sapphire Reserve, both Delta cards, and the SPG Luxury card. We’ll probably drop her Sapphire Reserve card and add her as an AU on my account. And we’ll consider getting her a Hilton Aspire card at some point in the future. With her SPG Luxury card we’ll probably downgrade her to the regular $95 SPG card when the second annual fee comes due unless we decide that the 50K free night certs are worth that much more than the 35K certs.