Your turn: Which Ultra Premium Cards are Keepers? Version 1

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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.

This tab shows how I estimated the value of my CNB Crystal Visa infinite card

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…

Bank Cards

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

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.


Annual Fee: $595

Card Type: Amex Charge Card

Base
Travel
Other

Earning rate: 5X flights and prepaid hotels at AmexTravel.com ⚬ 1.5X points per dollar on eligible purchases of $5000 or more (up to 1 million additional Membership Rewards points per year) ⚬ 1X elsewhere

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Up to $200 a year in statement credits for airline incidental fees ⚬ Up to $200 a year in statement credits for Dell purchases ($100 Jan-June; $100 July-Dec) ⚬ $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement.⚬ Airport lounge benefits ⚬ Rental car elite status ⚬ Marriott Gold status ⚬ Hilton Gold status ⚬ Terms Apply. (Rates & Fees)

See also: Maximizing value from Amex Platinum Cards

The Platinum Card® from American Express

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.


Annual Fee: $550

Card Type: Amex Charge Card

Base
Travel

Earning rate: 5X points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel ⚬ 5X points for prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ $200 Airline Fee Credit. Up to $200 a year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline ⚬ Up to $200 for Uber rides annually. Credit and Uber VIP status for Basic Member only ⚬ Up to $100 in credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue (up to $50 in credits semi-annually, enrollment required) ⚬ $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement ⚬ Airport lounge benefits ⚬ Rental car elite status ⚬ Marriott Gold status ⚬ Hilton HHonors Gold status ⚬ Free Gold card AUs. Terms Apply.

See also: Maximizing value from Amex Platinum Cards

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

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


Annual Fee: $550

Card Type: Visa Infinite

Base
Travel
Dine
Other

Earning rate: 3X Travel and Dining ⚬ 10X Lyft (through March 2022)

Noteworthy perks: $300 Annual Travel Credit ⚬ Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel ⚬ Primary auto rental collision damage waiver ⚬ Priority Pass Select lounge access ⚬ $100 Global Entry fee credit ⚬ $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 & 2021 ⚬ Free DashPass for at least 1 year (activate by 12/31/21) ⚬ One year Lyft Pink membership ⚬ Earn 10X on Lyft spend

See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide

Citi ThankYou Prestige Card

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.


Annual Fee: $495

Card Type: Mastercard World Elite

Base
Travel
Dine

Earning rate: 5X airfare, dining, and travel agencies ⚬ 3X hotels and cruise line ⚬ 1X everywhere else

Noteworthy 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 benefit

See also: Citi ThankYou Rewards Complete Guide

CNB Crystal Visa Infinite Credit Card

FM Mini Review: This card's value is hobbled by an inferior Priority Pass membership (as of 1/1/20).


Annual Fee: $400

Card Type: Visa Infinite

Base
Travel
Dine

Earning rate: ⚬ 3X airline, hotel, taxi, limousine, rental car, train bus, restaurant, fast food and takeout food and dining purchases ⚬ 1X everywhere else

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)

See also: CNB Crystal Visa Infinite loses valuable perks as of Jan 1 2020

U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card

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%)


Annual Fee: $400

Card Type: Visa Infinite

Base
Travel
Shop
Other

Earning rate: 5x prepaid hotel & car rental through Altitude Rewards Center ⚬ 3X travel and mobile wallet payments

Noteworthy perks: $325 in travel credits per membership year ⚬ Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel ⚬ Priority Pass Select airport lounge access (4 per year) ⚬ 12 free Gogo Wifi passes per year ⚬ Primary car rental coverage ⚬ No foreign transaction fees

See also: US Bank Altitude Reserve Complete Guide

Airline Cards

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve for Business Credit Card

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.


Annual Fee: $550

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Brand
Other

Earning rate: 3X Delta ⚬ 1.5X on all spend per calendar year after spending $150K

Big spend bonus: Earn 15K MQMs (towards elite status) after $30K spend up to four times per year ⚬ Medallion Qualifying Dollar waiver (up to Platinum status) with $25K spend across one or more Delta cards (or $250K spend for Diamond status) ⚬ 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: Domestic economy or first class companion certificate (subject to taxes & fees) after card renewal ⚬ SkyClub access ⚬ 2 Delta SkyClub one-time guest passes ⚬ Centurion Lounge access when flying Delta ⚬ Complimentary upgrades ⚬ $100 Global Entry fee credit every 4 years (or 4.5 years for TSA Precheck) ⚬ Priority boarding ⚬ First checked bag free. Terms and limitations apply. (Rates & Fees)

See also: Delta Reserve complete guide

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Credit Card from American Express

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.


Annual Fee: $550

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Brand

Earning rate: 3X Delta

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 ⚬ 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
spend across one or more Delta cards (or $250K spend for Diamond status) ⚬ Terms apply.

Noteworthy perks: Domestic economy or first class companion certificate (subject to taxes & fees) after card renewal ⚬ SkyClub access ⚬ 2 Delta SkyClub one-time guest passes ⚬ Centurion Lounge access when flying Delta ⚬ Complimentary upgrades ⚬  $100 Global Entry fee credit every 4 years (or 4.5 years for TSA Precheck) ⚬ Priority boarding ⚬ First checked bag free. Terms and limitations apply. (Rates & Fees)

See also: Delta Reserve complete guide

Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card

FM Mini Review: While pricey, the Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card is a great choice for those who want a United club membership and waived close-in award fees.


Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Visa Signature

Base
Brand

Earning rate: ⚬ 2X United ⚬ 1.5X everywhere else

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ United Club membership ⚬ No fees on close-in awards ⚬ Priority check-in, security screening, baggage handling, and boarding ⚬ Free 1st and 2nd checked bags ⚬ Hertz President's Circle Elite Status ⚬ Primary auto rental collision damage waiver

Citi AAdvantage® Executive World Elite MasterCard®

FM Mini Review: Excellent choice for those who need Admirals Club access (included for both the primary member and authorized users). Heavy spenders who are short of the miles necessary for status can earn 10K elite qualifying miles with $40K spend. Plus, it offers the usual collection of perks for flying AA (free checked bag, priority boarding, etc.).


Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Mastercard World Elite

Base
Brand

Earning rate: 2X AA

Big spend bonus: 10K Elite Qualifying Miles towards elite status when you spend $40K in calendar year

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ First Checked Bag Free ⚬ Admirals Club® access for both primary and authorized users ⚬ 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines and US Airways flights ⚬ Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit

Hotel Cards

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

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 once per year, and other Hilton properties a few times a year..


Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Travel
Dine
Brand

Earning 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.

Big spend bonus: Second free weekend night after $60K spend in calendar year

Noteworthy perks: ⚬Annual Weekend Night Reward upon approval and every year upon renewal ⚬ Free Diamond Status ⚬ Priority Pass w/ 2 free guests ⚬ $250 Hilton Resort Credit per membership year ⚬ $250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit per calendar year ⚬ $100 on-property credit w/ Aspire Card package ⚬ Terms Apply. See Rates & Fees

See also: Amex Hilton Aspire In-Depth Review

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

FM Mini Review: Decent ultra-premium option for Marriott fans, but Hilton fans may prefer the ultra-premium Hilton Aspire card.


Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Travel
Dine
Brand

Earning rate: 3X airfare charged by airline; 3X US restaurants, 6X Marriott; 2X on all other eligible purchases

Big spend bonus: Platinum Elite status with $75K calendar year spend

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ 50K Free Night Award each year upon renewal ⚬ $300 Marriott Rewards statement credit per membership year ⚬ Gold Elite status ⚬ 15 elite nights credit ⚬ Priority Pass Select with 2 free guests ⚬ Global Entry fee credit ⚬ Free premium internet at Marriott properties

See also: Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide

Chase Ritz Carlton Rewards Visa Infinite

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.


Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Visa Infinite

Base
Travel
Dine
Brand

Earning rate: ⚬ 6X Ritz & Marriott.⚬ 3X airline tickets purchased directly with the airline, at car rental agencies and at restaurants ⚬ 2X everywhere else

Big spend bonus: $75K spend per account year for Platinum elite status

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Annual 50K 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 ⚬ $100 discount on multi-passenger ticket purchases. ⚬ Automatic Gold Status

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.

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