Premium reward credit cards to know about

Matthew Nunez

The previous issue of Credit Fundamentals talked about “mid-tier” credit cards. This issue will reach into the upper echelon for regular consumers — premium travel rewards credit cards.

To qualify for these cards, a person should have at least one year of credit card history and a score above 700.

These cards come with hefty annual fees, but if you use the card’s offerings diligently, you will come through on top. These cards fall into three general categories: general travel, airline and hotel credit cards.

1.  General Travel Rewards Cards

An example of a general travel reward credit card is American Express Co.’s swanky Amex Platinum card, which commands a hefty $695 annual fee. Despite the fee, you can get a whole lot out of the card.

Owners can earn some tangible value, such as a $200 hotel travel credit, a $200 hotel credit and a $189 “CLEAR” credit. CLEAR allows people to skip airport lines using biometrics. The savings would already be worth $589, so the annual fee can be justified.

There is also intangible value associated with Amex Platinum, which includes access to American Express Centurion lounges. Airline food courts can be expensive, but with access to a

lounge, you get that food for free, in addition to perks such as drinks, showers and saunas. There’s no specific dollar value tied to food, so the more you travel and take advantage of the lounges, the more value you can get out of this card.

2.  Airline Rewards Cards

Airline credit cards are co-branded with the airline and the issuing bank. The points earned on these cards are usually referred to as “miles,” but they are generally the same as regular credit card points.

One highly-regarded card is the Delta SkyMiles Reserve. This card is co-branded with American Express, which means Centurion Lounges are included in this card as well. The annual fee of $550 is offset by two companion certificates issued annually, which you can redeem to take two passengers on a first class flight for free.

There are also reduced requirements to earning Delta Medallion status. At the highest level, “Diamond,” these benefits include vouchers, increased points earnings on the card and the ability to gift medallion status to people. Additional perks include free upgrades to first class and benefits at lower tiers.

3.  Hotel Rewards Cards

Hotel credit cards offer increased points back on hotels in addition to goodies such as free hotel nights. Like airline cards, these are co-branded with an issuing bank.

One example is JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Ritz-Carlton credit card, which comes with an annual fee of $450. While the card is closed to new applications, it is an example of a powerful hotel card.

This hotel credit card offers Marriott Gold elite status, as well as the very powerful Priority Pass program. This card provides complimentary priority certificate membership — a $429 value — and unlimited guests. That means if you are traveling with a group of 20 people, they would all have access to free food and drinks.

Although this is the top-end for regular consumers, there are two more categories of credit cards I will cover: invite-only credit cards and business credit cards.