A new premium rewards travel credit card from American Express will soon hit the scene, promising awesome rewards that frequent travelers will love. But like other cards in the category—namely the Chase Sapphire Reserve—the tradeoff for all the free travel and other perks with the new AmEx card is a hefty annual fee: $450.
The new Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card, which debuts in August, aims to upend the ultra-high-end travel card category with a suite of perks hotels snobs will appreciate. Cardholders pile up six points for every $1 spent at properties run by Marriott, including ones it acquired from Starwood in 2016, plus cardholders get a free room night worth up to 50,000 points on the anniversary of their card ownership. It’s expected that there will be a huge sign-on bonus for new cardholders as well, though nothing’s been officially announced.
Ever since hotel behemoth Marriott International completed the acquisition of its smaller rival Starwood, frequent travelers have been buzzing about what would happen to the beloved Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG in road warrior lingo) loyalty program and the credit cards associated with it. Marriott had said changes would be coming to its co-branded credit card offerings this year, and, sure enough, on Tuesday, it introduced the SPG American Express card.
But is the $450 annual fee worth it for any premium rewards travel credit card? Despite high annual fees, the math can still work out in the long run for many frequent travelers. How do you figure out the best travel credit card for you? Here’s how the main contenders in this category stack up.
When it arrives in August, this card will give travelers accelerated earnings for staying at Marriott Reward and SPG hotels, so it’s likely to be most appreciated by people who already participate in or plan to become members of Marriott and Starwood loyalty programs. (Marriott has indicated it plans to merge the two programs entirely, along with The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, under the Marriott Rewards program in August.)
- 6 points per dollar spent at hotels where cardholders can accrue rewards through Marriott Rewards, 3 points per dollar on direct-booked flights and restaurants in the United States, and 2 points per dollar on other eligible purchases.
- Signup bonus to be announced later.
- Annual fee: $450
- APR: 17.24%—26.24%
The issuer says it will offer “access to a rich welcome bonus” when the card debuts, but isn’t sharing the specifics. Like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this card will give users an annual $300 travel credit — but in this case, it’s only good for purchases made at hotels in the Marriott-Starwood family. (This probably is not a big deal for brand loyalists, but still, it’s a limitation.) Other perks include automatic Gold Elite status in Marriott Rewards and an annual free room night worth up to 50,000 points. Cardholders will get admission to airport lounges via a free Priority Pass Select membership and a credit once every four years for registration with either Global Entry ($100) or TSA Precheck ($85).
Chase redefined the high-end travel card category when it introduced the Sapphire Reserve in 2016. At the time, the Sapphire Reserve was praised for its uber-lavish perks — a $300 annual travel credit, airport lounge access, and a signup bonus that was worth $1,000 as a statement credit or $1,500. The promotion proved so popular the bank briefly ran out of the signature metal cards. It ultimately had to scale back the deal, after Chase executives told investors the influx of new cardholders cost them more than they expected.
- 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining; 1 point elsewhere
- 50,000 bonus points if you make at least $4,000 in purchases within three months of opening your card account.
- Annual fee: $450
- APR: 17.24%–24.24%
The signup bonus is worth $500, or $750 if redeemed for travel through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal. Cardholders get a $300 annual credit against travel purchases, admission to airport lounges via a free Priority Pass Select membership and a credit once every four years for registration with either Global Entry ($100) or TSA Precheck ($85).
This card offers a rare perk, even among premium travel rewards credit cards: medical evacuation, a benefit that might give some travelers peace of mind. Although Citi has run promotions with signup bonuses of up to 75,000 points, new cardholders do not currently get a bucket of bonus points.
- 3 points per dollar spent on air travel and hotels, 2 points per dollar spent on dining and entertainment purchases, and 1 point elsewhere.
- Annual fee: $450
- APR: 17.24%—25.24%
Cardholders get a $250 annual credit against airline fees, a free Priority Pass Select membership for airport lounge access and a credit once every five years for Global Entry registration, as well as a free fourth night each year (for hotel stays of four nights or longer). If you pay for your travel with this card or rewards points, you will be covered for up to $100,000 in medical evacuation costs for yourself, spouse or domestic partner and dependents traveling with you in the event of a medical emergency.
Although this card has a higher fee than its rivals in the category, it also offers some unique perks, including an especially high rewards return on flight purchases. Also, unlike the other cards that offer airport lounge access, this card’s access is through AmEx’s network of airport lounges rather than Priority Pass. The other important feature to note is the Platinum card is a charge card, not a credit card, so it requires payment in full each month. (For any of these rewards cards, of course, you should pay your balance in full each month anyway; otherwise, your interest payments can quickly outweigh any points you’ll get.)
- 5 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel, and 5 points per dollar spent on prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel; 1 point elsewhere.
- 60,000 bonus points if you make at least $5,000 in purchases within three months of opening your card account.
- Annual fee: $550
- APR: N/A
This card might appeal to people who use Uber frequently: It offers a credit of up to $15 per month for Uber rides, and an additional $20 credit in December (for a total of up to $200 annually) — plus another credit of up to $200 annually against airline fees, and a credit once every four years for registration with either Global Entry or TSA Precheck.
Which Premium Travel Credit Card Is Best?
All in all, your travel habits will probably dictate which of these is the best travel rewards card for you. MONEY chose the Chase Sapphire Reserve as the best premium travel credit card this year, but there are compelling reasons why you might prefer one of these other offerings. For travelers who are loyal to Marriott or Starwood brands already, the new offering coming this summer could be a serious contender. Starwood-branded cards have a good track record too: We found the non-premium SPG Rewards AmEx to be the best hotel card when we evaluated this category last year.
Finally, if these annual fees are more money than you could ever imagine spending just to own a credit card, MONEY also evaluated middle-of-the-road and no-fee travel credit cards to find the best travel rewards cards.