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5 Travel Credit Cards With Annual Fees That Are Worth It (and 2 That Aren't)

By Elizabeth Aldrich - Updated Jun 25, 2018 at 11:00AM

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When it comes to rewards credit cards, sometimes spending money can actually save you money -- especially if you like to travel.

This article was updated on June 25, 2018.

With so many credit cards out there that don't have an annual fee, why would you ever pay one?

Well, once all the rewards are factored in, a card with a high annual fee can actually be the most financially savvy choice.

It sounds counterintuitive: Pay more to save more? But if you plan to travel in the next year, you can save hundreds and even thousands of dollars by paying an annual fee on a travel credit card and then using it strategically.

pile of credit cards

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Of course, that doesn't mean that paying an annual fee is always a smart decision. Depending on the credit card and your travel habits, you could lose money.

Below, I've rounded up the best cards with annual fees, as well as a handful that probably aren't worth the fee.

Credit cards with annual fees over $400

Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus Minimum Spend to Earn Bonus Annual Fee Perks
Chase Sapphire Reserve® 50,000 points $4,000 in 3 months $450
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • TSA Precheck or Global Entry credit
  • Airport lounge access
  • 3x points on travel
The Platinum Card® From American Express 60,000 points $5,000 in 3 months $550
  • $200 Uber credit
  • $200 airline fee credit
  • TSA Precheck or Global Entry credit
  • Airport lounge access
  • 5x points on travel
Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card Two free nights $4,000 in 3 months $450
  • $300 travel credit
  • TSA Precheck or Global Entry credit
  • Airport lounge access
  • 5x points at Ritz-Carlton and Starwood Preferred Guest, 2x points on airfare and rental cars

Source: Card issuers.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Worth it

Even after JPMorgan Chase ( JPM -1.07% ) cut this card's sign-up bonus in half last year, the rewards from Chase Sapphire Reserve® still easily make up for its annual fee. Your first $300 in travel purchases -- whether that's for a flight, a couple of nights in a hotel room, or some Uber charges and a subway pass -- are credited back to you, bringing the net cost of the card down to $150. If you redeem your 50,000 points through Chase's Ultimate Rewards system, which gives Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders a 50% bonus on all redemptions, your sign-up bonus is worth at least $750. For frequent travelers, the addition of a credit for Global Entry and premium airport lounge access, plus three times the points on travel and dining, make this one of the best travel cards on the market.

The Platinum Card® from American Express: Worth it

American Express ( AXP -0.50% ) has long been known as the king of premium credit cards, although Chase is catching up quickly. While the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers much more flexibility with its award redemption and travel credits, the perks offered by the American Express Platinum Card® far outweigh the annual fee if you're a frequent traveler looking for luxury. Unfortunately, the $200 travel credit applies only to certain airline fees rather than plane tickets -- and only to one airline, which you select. While this is limiting, the credit is offered once every calendar year, so you could potentially redeem it twice in your first 365 days as a cardholder, giving you $400 in statement credits. Add on the $200 annual Uber credit for rides in the United States, and you've already eclipsed the annual fee. The 60,000-point sign-up bonus adds at least $600 of value to the mix. Plus, you get Global Entry, lounge access, and elevated status with a number of hotel chains and car rental companies.

Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card: Probably not worth it

Unless you stay frequently at Ritz-Carlton or Marriott hotels and place a high value on room and club upgrades, this card's annual fee is hard to justify, especially when you compare it to the two cards mentioned above. Instead of points that can be redeemed for a variety of travel options, this card's sign-up bonus gives you two free nights at Tier 1 to Tier 4 Ritz-Carlton properties. While two nights at a Tier 4 Ritz-Carlton can easily be worth more than $450, this is not an area where most people would otherwise spend their money. The $300 travel credit is much more limited than the one offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, as it can be used only for lounge access and airline fees such as seat upgrades and in-flight Wi-Fi. The card does come with hotel upgrades, club access, and two times the points on airline and rental car purchases, but even those perks are limited by strict terms and conditions.

Credit cards with annual fees under $200

Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus Minimum Spend to Earn Bonus Annual Fee Perks
Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card 70,000 miles $3,000 in 3 months $195
  • 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles
  • $100 statement credit after first Delta purchase
  • Annual companion certificate
  • Free checked bag
  • Priority boarding
  • 2x miles on Delta purchases

Source: American Express.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express: Worth it

Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) also has a Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express with an annual fee that is waived for the first year, and that might be more worthwhile for some. However, for folks who fly Delta regularly, the Platinum is a great deal. The $100 statement credit brings the annual fee down to $95, and 70,000 SkyMiles are enough for one round-trip economy flight to London, Amsterdam, or Paris, or two round-trip economy flights to Central America. It's almost enough for three round-trip domestic flights in economy. The addition of 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles is valuable if you're on the cusp of qualifying for a higher status level, and the annual companion certificate is also worth a pretty penny.  

Credit cards with annual fees under $100

Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus Minimum Spend to Earn Bonus Annual Fee Perks
JetBlue Plus Card 40,000 miles $1,000 in 90 days $99
  • Free checked bag
  • 10% points back with every award redemption
  • 50% off in-flight purchases
  • 6x points on JetBlue purchases
  • 2x points on restaurants and groceries
British Airways Visa Signature® Card 50,000 miles + 25,000 miles $3,000 in 3 months + $10,000 in one year $95
  • Travel Together Ticket if you spend $30,000 in a calendar year
  • 3x miles on British Airways purchases
Hyatt Credit Card 40,000 points $2,000 in 3 months $75
  • One free night on card anniversary
  • Hyatt "Discoverist" status
  • 3x points on Hyatt Hotels purchases
  • 2x points on restaurants, airlines, and rental cars

Source: Card issuers.

JetBlue Plus Card: Worth it

JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ: JBLU) offers this Barclaycard credit card, as well as the JetBlue Card with no annual fee. If your airport is served by JetBlue, the Plus card is worth the $99 annual fee for the sign-up bonus alone. While 40,000 points isn't the largest sign-up bonus, JetBlue offers some incredible deals on certain routes. Recently, it has shown availability for one-way flights for as few as 4,000 points. You can fly round-trip from Las Vegas to New York for as few as 16,500 points, and you can even find deals on round-trip flights from New York to Costa Rica for as few as 10,300 points. That means you could take nearly four trips to Costa Rica with this sign-up bonus. Add the whopping six-times points bonus on all JetBlue purchases, 10% points back on all redemptions, a 50% discount on in-flight food and beverage purchases, and a free checked bag, and this credit card is a must for anyone who flies JetBlue even occasionally.

British Airways Visa Signature® Card: Worth it

The British Airways Visa Signature® Card comes with one of the biggest sign-up bonuses out there: 75,000 "Avios" (British Airways' version of "miles") if you can spend $10,000 in the first year, with $3,000 of that spending taking place in the first three months. While British Airways is infamous for charging high fuel surcharges on long-haul award flights, its short-haul flights are often a steal. One-way flights within Europe and South America start at only 4,000 Avios. You can also redeem Avios on partner airlines to avoid high surcharges, making them a great option for domestic travel on American Airlines and Alaska Airlines. Finally, if you're able to put $30,000 on the card in one calendar year, the Travel Together Ticket lets you take a companion with you on any flight -- domestic or international, economy or business class -- for free.

Hyatt Credit Card: Probably not worth it

Hyatt Hotels Corporation (NYSE: H) offers the Hyatt Credit Card through Chase Bank for lovers of hotel luxury. This used to be a favorite for hotel rewards back when the sign-up bonus was two free nights at any Hyatt property, because those nights could be redeemed at hotels like the Park Hyatt New York, which costs upward of $1,000 per night. Unfortunately, the Hyatt Credit Card recently changed its sign-up bonus to 40,000 points, which are enough for only one night at its most luxurious properties. While free nights start at as low as 5,000 points for its Category 1 properties, those are few and far between -- and often in undesirable locations. Unless you have very specific plans for how you'd like to spend your Hyatt points (two nights at the Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica is a popular redemption option), this credit card is probably not worth the annual fee.

Sometimes spending money to save money makes sense, and sometimes it doesn't. But you shouldn't rule out a credit card simply because it has an annual fee. Consider first whether or not the perks and rewards might make the credit card worth it after all.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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Stocks Mentioned

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Stock Quote
JPMorgan Chase & Co.
$158.99 (-1.07%) $-1.72
Visa Inc. Stock Quote
Visa Inc.
$208.78 (-0.10%) $0.21
American Express Company Stock Quote
American Express Company
$168.09 (-0.50%) $0.84
Discover Financial Services Stock Quote
Discover Financial Services
$113.02 (-0.49%) $0.56

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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