Best small business cards with annual fees

In June, I wrote “Best no-fee small business cards.”  My intent was to quickly round this out with additional posts:

  • Best small business cards with annual fees (this post)
  • Best no-fee personal cards
  • Best personal cards with annual fees

Well, it’s been over three months so I’ve failed on the “quickly” part of my intent, but better late than never…

In my prior post, I found that the no-fee Chase Ink Classic and Ink Cash cards offered the best value in terms of sign-up bonus, earnings on spend, and perks.  I pointed out, though, that some might want to consider the Capital One Spark card for 1.5% earnings everywhere or the Amex Blue for Business card that, thanks to a 30% annual point bonus, earns 1.3 Membership Rewards points everywhere.  For those who spend a lot on gas, I recommended the Amex TrueEarnings Costco card which gives 4% cash back at the pump.

In today’s post, we’ll take a look at small business cards that do charge an annual fee, at least after the first year.

There are many airline branded business cards that may be well worth the annual fee if you fly often with the particular airline.  Airline business cards won’t be reviewed here, but in case you’re interested, here is a list of the ones that I’m aware of:

  • American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
  • American Express Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
  • American Express Delta Reserve Credit Card
  • Barclay US Airways Dividend Miles Business Card
  • Barclay Frontier Airlines BusinessCard
  • BOA Asiana
  • BOA Alaska Airlines
  • Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Business
  • Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Business
  • Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business
  • CitiBusiness AAdvantage World MasterCard

There are also a number of hotel business cards that won’t be reviewed here, with one exception: The Starwood American Express business card.  This card has terrific airline mile transfer options so its really much more than just a hotel card.

So, here are the business cards for review that have an annual fee, at least after the first year:

  • American Express Business Platinum
  • American Express Business Gold Rewards Card
  • American Express SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) Business Credit Card
  • CapitalOne Spark Cash
  • CapitalOne Spark Miles
  • Chase Ink Plus
  • Chase Ink Bold
  • US Bank FlexPerks Business Travel Rewards Visa

Comparing cards

There are four things I look at when comparing credit cards:

  • Signup bonus
  • Earnings on spend
  • Perks
  • Annual fee

Let’s dive into each…

Signup Bonus

At the time of this writing (September 23 2013), the best publicly available signup bonuses are as follows:

  • American Express Business Gold Rewards Card: 50K Membership Rewards points after $5K spend in 3 months
  • American Express SPG Business Credit Card: 25K Starpoints. 10K after first purchase, 15K after $5K spend in 6 months
  • CapitalOne Spark Cash: $150. $100 after $1K spend in 3 months. $50 when you signup an employee card within 60 days.
  • CapitalOne Spark Miles: 15K. 10K after $1K spend in 3 months. 5K when you signup an employee card within 60 days.
  • Chase Ink Plus: 50K Ultimate Rewards points after $5K spend in 3 months.
  • Chase Ink Bold: 50K Ultimate Rewards points after $5K spend in 3 months.
  • US Bank FlexPerks Business Travel Rewards Visa: 20K FlexPoints after $3.5K spend in 4 months.

The clear winners here with 50K signup bonus points each are the Amex Business Gold Rewards, Chase Ink Plus, and Chase Ink Bold cards.

Earnings on spend

Let’s look at the point earnings from each card.  In order to pick a winner, it’s necessary to estimate the value of the points earned with each card.  For simplicity, let’s say that Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, and FlexPerks points are worth 1.5 cents each.  Let’s assign 2 cents per point to SPG and 1 cent per point to Spark Miles.  We then get these rough valuations:

Card

Reward

Base

Gas

Airfare

Office

Cell / Internet

Other

Amex Business Platinum Membership Rewards Points 1X
(1.5%)
Amex Business Gold Rewards Membership Rewards Points 1X
(1.5%)
2X
(3%)
3X
(3%)
2X select ads & computer merchants
Amex SPG Business Starwood Points 1X
(2%)
20K points transfer to 25K airline miles
CapitalOne Spark Cash Cash 2%
CapitalOne Spark Miles Points 2X
(2%)
Chase Ink Plus Ultimate Rewards Points 1X
(1.5%)
2X
(3%)
5X
(7.5%)
5X
(7.5%)
2X hotels (3%)
Chase Ink Bold Ultimate Rewards Points 1X
(1.5%)
2X
(3%)
5X
(7.5%)
5X
(7.5%)
2X hotels (3%)
US Bank FlexPerks Business Points 1X
(1.5%)
2X*
(3%)
2X*
(3%)
2X*
(3%)
2X
(3%)
* Earn 2X only for category in which you spend most each month

Note that I didn’t list bonus earnings for travel that requires booking through a specific agency

We can see from above that different cards are best for different types of spend:

  • Gas: Chase Ink Plus, Ink Bold, Amex Business Gold Rewards, and US Bank FlexPerks all earn approximately 3% depending upon how you value the points.
  • Airfare: Amex Business Gold Rewards and US Bank FlexPerks have the edge here.
  • Office Supplies: No contest.  Ink Plus and Ink Bold are best here.
  • Cell phone and internet: Again, no contest.  Ink Plus and Ink Bold are best here.

Best for category spend

The Chase Ink cards have more bonus categories than any other card on the chart and earn 5X in several important categories.  The only categories where they fall short are with airfare and computer purchases (both are bonus categories of the Amex Business Gold card).

Best for non-category spend

The CapitalOne Spark cards earn the equivalent of 2% cash back on all spend.  For those who prefer points and miles, American Express’ SPG card earns just 1 point per dollar on all spend, but those points are quite valuable when used for Starwood hotel stays or when transferred to select airline programs at a favorable rate (20K SPG points to 25K miles with most programs).  Another to consider is the US Bank FlexPerks business card.  While it earns just 1 point per dollar for non-category spend, those points are worth up to 2 cents each for airfare.

Points vs. Cash

When credit cards reward you with cash, the value of the reward is obvious.  When you earn points, though, the value is less obvious.  CapitalOne’s Spark Miles are simple enough, though: each point is worth a penny towards travel rewards.  FlexPerks points are a little more complicated.  Each point is worth a penny for most things, but for airfare each point can be worth up to 2 cents depending on the retail price of the flight.  Then there are points that can be transferred to airline miles.  In this roundup, these include Amex Membership Rewards points, Starwood Starpoints, and Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  I prefer these rewards over other types of rewards because it is possible to get outsized value from your rewards.  For example, one could transfer points to an airline program and book a round trip business class award to Europe for about 100,000 miles (or 80,000 SPG Starpoints).  If you paid for that same flight, you would probably pay $3500 or more.  So, in this example, you would be getting 3.5 cents or more value per point.  This is just one of many possible situations where points and miles can be much more valuable than cash.

Credit card perks

Let’s look at the major perks offered by each card:

  • American Express Business Platinum: Airport club access; $200 airline fee credit; Global Entry; car rental elite status (Avis, Hertz, National); Starwood Gold status; Amex OPEN Savings; standard Amex purchase protections and travel benefits.
  • American Express Business Gold Rewards Card: Amex OPEN Savings; standard Amex purchase protections and travel benefits.
  • American Express SPG Business Credit Card: 5 nights and two stays towards elite status; Gold status with $30K annual spend; Amex OPEN Savings; standard Amex purchase protections and travel benefits.
  • CapitalOne Spark Cash & Spark Miles: Visa SavingsEdge. Standard travel benefits such as purchase protection, car rental insurance, etc.
  • Chase Ink Plus & Ink Bold: Complimentary Lounge Club membership (two free visits per year); Visa SavingsEdge; primary car rental insurance when car is rented for business purposes; Ink Insider Offers (including Avis elite status and discounts); extensive purchase and travel protections.
  • US Bank FlexPerks Business Travel Rewards Visa: Annual fee reimbursed with $24K annual spend; National car rental discounts; Visa SavingsEdge.

In terms of perks, the Amex Business Platinum card is the clear leader by a mile.  The Chase Ink cards are a distant second, but do provide a few more perks than the rest of the cards in the roundup.

A look at annual fees. Which cards are worth paying for?

Let’s consider each card, one by one…

American Express Business Platinum: $450

Yes, this card is crazy expensive, but some people will find it worth paying for.  If put to full use, $200 of the annual fee is offset each year with the airline fee credit.  And, if you travel often, the airline lounge access benefit may be worth the annual fee by itself.  SPG Gold status and car rental elite status benefits are nice to have too!  Ironically, I wouldn’t recommend using this card for spend.  Many other other cards offer better rewards for your spend.  In my opinion, this is a card to have just for the perks.

American Express Business Gold Rewards Card: $175

If you spend a lot on airfare (direct with airlines) or on internet advertising, or at selected computer stores, then the bonus categories offered by this card may be enticing.  For most people, though, the Chase Ink cards offer better rewards with a lower annual fee.

American Express SPG Business Credit Card: $65

If you’re really into points and miles, but don’t want to worry about bonus categories, this card might be right for you.  It only earns 1 point per dollar (except at Starwood properties where it earns 2 points per dollar), but those points are quite valuable.  Another reason to get and keep this card is if you chase status with Starwood.  Since this card automatically gives you 5 nights and two stays towards elite status, it is undeniably cheaper than mattress running.

CapitalOne Spark Cash / Spark Miles: $59 each

CapitalOne Spark cards offer a way to get 2% back on all purchases.  If you like to keep things simple, this is the way to go.  Compared to the similar no-fee versions  of these cards that earn 1.5% (Spark Cash Select and Spark Miles Select), you would have to spend only $12K annually to do better with these $59 cards.

Chase Ink Plus / Ink Bold: $95 each

These premium Chase Ink cards have the best signup bonuses, the best category bonuses, and the best perks (after the Platinum card) in this roundup.  For $95 per year, I’d argue that these cards are definitely worth paying for.  Ironically, though, the no-fee Ink Cash and Ink Classic cards are almost as good.  So, you may do just as well with one of them if you also have a premium personal card (Sapphire Preferred).  See “The best mix of Ultimate Rewards cards.”  Either way, I don’t think anyone would go wrong with signing up for an Ink Plus card with the first year free, then decide later whether to switch to a no fee Ink Cash or Ink Classic.

US Bank FlexPerks Business Travel Rewards Visa: $55

This is the cheapest card in the roundup, especially when you consider that US Bank will reimburse the fee when you hit $24K of annual spend.  If you use this as a cash back card, it’s not too interesting.  If you use it strategically to purchase flights, points can be worth up to 2 cents each.  That said, if you want a simple rewards card, you’re probably better off with the CapitalOne Spark Cash card.  And, if you want to optimize rewards, you’re probably better off with the Chase Ink Plus or Ink Bold.

Conclusion.  Best of the best

While all of the cards in this roundup are decent cards, the Chase Ink Plus and Ink Bold cards standout from the pack.  If you’re interested in earning lots of valuable points quickly, you can’t do much better than the Ink Plus and Ink Bold 50,000 point signup bonuses, and 5X category spend.  And, the points earned are among the most valuable: Ultimate Rewards.  It doesn’t hurt, too, that these cards come with better than average perks.

The ultimate irony here is that even though the Ink Plus and Ink Bold cards are arguably the best business cards with annual fees, they might not be worth paying for.  In my prior post, “Best no-fee small business cards,” I argued that the no-fee Chase Ink Classic and Ink Cash cards were the best no-fee business cards.  They are so good that you may find them to be just as good as the $95 Ink cards.  My recommendation: If you’re interested in the Chase Ink line, start with the Ink Plus and try it for free for the first year.  Then, if you decide it’s not worth the $95 annual fee, downgrade to the Ink Cash or Ink Classic.

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Comments

  1. The Chase Ink Plus and Bold ARE worth paying for. I spend about $500 on gas, cable, cellphone, a month for 2 people. That’s 30K points a year, which is worth more than $95. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is NOT worth keeping after the first year. You need a card with Ultimate Rewards, and Chase Ink Plus or Bold is the card to have and keep.

    • rom: Did you read my post about the best mix of UR cards?
      .
      TravelBloggerBuzz: Thanks!
      .
      mo: I write (and will always write) whatever interests me. It happens that credit cards interest me a lot so I write about them a lot. Does that somehow make me a “CC pumper”? Have you noticed that I have never since 2011 put credit card links in my posts?

  2. Dude… ur audience is quite noticing u becoming a CC pumper (like all the rest). At one time, you were very unique (not a part of boarding area perhaps?)with great content. As i scan the miles and points world for the commoner> i believe that its the lack of new topics to blog about running a far second to the Almighty greenback. just sayin

  3. Hope you don’t mind if I use your link today for at least one card? Thanks for all the good contend especially on manufactured spending, BlueBird etc.

    • Donn: Thanks!
      .
      HikerT: Yeah, I punted on the question of airline cards. For Delta elites (or wanna-be elites) the Reserve card is terrific and the Delta Platinum card is not too far behind.
      .
      chris: Sorry to bore you. I’m even sorrier that you seem to think that I write about Ink cards for the money. I write about them because I truly believe they are great cards with great signup offers.

  4. I’d think the DL Reserve might be the best business card for a DL flyer, particularly since the annual fee is deductible. 60K spend => 30K transferable MQMs (worth $900 minimum) + 90K RDM (worth $900 minimum) => ~3 cents per dollar of spend. The annual fee is $450, but closer to $300 after-tax. Could be well worth it for the lounge access, first class companion ticket, upgrade priority, etc.

  5. Yawn………slow new week. Hasn’t this already been posted/reposted already? We get it already…Ink Ink Ink is where the money is

  6. Great post….it really makes the point that you need the AMEX Platinum to compliment the Bold/Plus card……….although I am not the biggest fan of AMEX as you say the benefits of that card can be worth a lot if you travel on AA, US Air or Delta……..I think it is great to go over these concepts as you constantly have new bloggers who will appreciate the info………and the game is always moving so we can never be too complacent…………

  7. Are there any limits and or restrictions when it comes to a business card? At this point, I only have one Citi AA, Chase United and Amex SPG as a sole proprietor. What about my own company with EIN plus a firm I’ve been working for???

  8. if i downgrade Ink Bold/Plus -> Ink Classic/Cash, i will not get the classic/cash 25K UR sign up bonus, right?
    Also, even after downgrading you will still need a Ink or CSP to xfer pts to UR partners and having to pay annual fee.

  9. Robert: Chase will let you get a card (and signup bonus) for each legitimate business you have. Sole proprietorships are fine. An EIN is helpful, but not required as you could use your SSN (if sole proprietor).

  10. ff_lover: Yes, that is right. The benefit of downgrading is that you do not incur a hard-pull on your credit. The benefit of applying new is the 20K sign-up bonus for the Ink Cash or Ink Classic. Yes, after downgrading, you or your significant other would need a Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, or Ink Bold in order to transfer points to partners. In my related post (best mix of Ultimate Rewards cards) I argued that a couple should have one Sapphire Preferred card between them. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a premium Ink card, though.

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