- Courtesy of Caroline Lupini
- I pay over $4,000 in credit card annual fees. The costs add up quickly with cards like the Platinum Card® from American Express, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and the Citi Prestige® Card.
- I travel about eight months out of the year, so I need credit cards that offer strong travel coverage to protect me if something goes wrong, and valuable benefits and rewards to improve my experience on the road.
- You may not need every single one of these cards, especially if you don’t travel very often, but make sure the ones you do have provide the best set of perks and coverages. For example, if you’re a frequent Hilton guest, the Hilton Honors Aspire American Express Card could make your life easier with benefits like free elite status.
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I pay a lot in credit card annual fees – more than $4,000 per year in total. That may seem like an absurd amount, but I get a ton of benefits and value out of my credit cards. Plus, I spend about eight months out of the year traveling internationally, so it’s not hard for me to take advantage of the travel perks my cards offer.
Here are the details of my cards, their annual fees, and why I’m happy to pay them – in approximate order of how important the cards are to me and which benefits justify me keeping the card. While I do have some cards without annual fees that I love, those will not be included here.
Read more: The best no-annual-fee credit cards of 2019
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.
When you’re working to earn credit card rewards, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card.
While some cards may have overlapping benefits, once I’ve mentioned a benefit offered by one card (e.g., Priority Pass lounge access), that benefit will not weigh into whether or not I keep a card that is lower down on my list. I have a few cards that charge annual fees that are no longer available for new applications, so those have not been included in this analysis.
I’m splitting my cards into two categories: my “spending cards” and my “holding cards.” Some of my cards have benefits like an annual free night reward that make it worth it for me to keep them, but not generally spend money on, while other cards offer great spending benefits as well, such as strong bonus rewards.
Here’s why it makes sense for me to spend over $4,000 per year on credit card annual fees.
My spending cards
Annual fee: $450
This is my most important credit card. It offers a $300 annual travel credit each year, which effectively brings the annual fee down to $150. And it offers up to a $100 Global Entry fee credit every four years.
Since Global Entry is valid for five years, this benefit is effectively worth $20 per year, further reducing the annual fee to $130. For that $130, I earn 3x points on travel (and dining purchases, but I use a different card for dining), Priority Pass lounge access, trip delay and cancellation insurance coverage, lost and delayed baggage insurance coverage, and primary car rental insurance.
Read more: Chase Sapphire Reserve card review
- Centurion Lounges
Annual fee: $550
Even though the Amex Platinum has a whopper of an annual fee, it’s still on my keep list, at least for now. This card offers up to $200 in airline fee credits and up to $200 in Uber credits each year. While I would rather have that money in the form of actual cash, I do not have a problem using both of those credits, effectively bringing the annual fee for this card down to $150 for me. For that $150, I gain access to American Express Centurion Lounges, which I use at least a few times per year. When the new Denver location opens next year, it’s a benefit I will use very regularly.
Additionally, I have the ability to earn 5x points for airline bookings made with the airline or at Amex Travel. I don’t use this card to book airfare for myself because I prefer to sacrifice the extra 2 points per dollar and book with my Sapphire Reserve in exchange for travel insurance, but I do book flights for other people quite often, and the ability to earn these extra 2 points per dollar works out great then! I estimate that I earn 12,000 to 15,000 points per year from these 2 extra points per dollar by booking flights for other people.
Annual fee: $495
Even though Citi recently cut many travel coverage benefits and added limitations to the 4th Night Free benefit for hotel stays benefit, the Citi Prestige is still in my wallet for three main reasons.
First, this card offers a $250 annual travel credit, which effectively brings the annual fee down to $245. It also earns 5x points on dining purchases, and I eat out a lot. This is two points more than the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers per dollar and I estimate that this earns me an extra 12,000 to 15,000 points per year, which I value around $200-$250.
Finally, while the 4th Night Free at hotels benefit is not as valuable as it once was (it’s now limited to two uses per year), I still will have no problem using it once or twice per year. Conservatively, this will save me $200 per year. And as a bonus feature that I hope I’ll never have to use, the Citi Prestige offers cell phone insurance when you pay your cell phone bill with the card.
United Club Card
Annual fee: $450
I don’t spend on this card too often, but every once in a while its 1.5 miles per dollar comes in handy. But the main reason I keep this card is that it gets me access to United Club airport lounges.
Since Denver is my home airport and a United hub, United Club access comes in handy. Next year when the Centurion Lounge opens, keeping this card may no longer make sense, but for now, it’s the cheapest way into United lounges.
My “holding” cards
Annual fee: $595
These annual fees just keep going up, and to be completely honest I’m not sure that I’ll keep my Business Platinum when the annual fee comes due again. But for right now it’s worth it for me for one main reason: the year of Platinum Global Access WeWork membership.
Since I work remotely, the ability to access coworking spaces around the world is incredibly valuable to me, and getting a year-long WeWork membership for only $595 is a steal. (It’s available for a year for cardholders who enroll by December 31, 2019.) Additionally, the Business Platinum Card offers up to $200 in airline fee credits and up to $200 in Dell credits each year.
Read more: The best small-business credit cards
Annual fee: $450
This card offers four standout benefits: a free weekend night at a Hilton hotel, complimentary top-tier Hilton Diamond status (which includes free breakfast at Hilton hotels), up to a $250 Hilton resort credit each year, and up to a $250 airline fee credit.
After considering the resort credit, the annual fee for this card is brought down to effectively $200, and if we conservatively value the free night certificate at $100, the annual fee comes down to only $100. And there’s still the $250 airline fee credit, so the Aspire card is a complete no-brainer for me! Complimentary Hilton Diamond status is just the icing on the cake.
Annual fee: $450
You read that right: yet another card with a $450 annual fee. But this one makes sense for me too: Each year, I get a $300 Marriott statement credit and a free night at a Marriott hotel that costs up to 50,000 points. I stay at Marriott hotels pretty regularly, enough to qualify for Platinum status, so the $300 credit is easy to use. I can easily get $100 to $150 in value from the free night certificate, and often much more (this year, it was almost $400!).
Annual fee: $95
Another Marriott card, and for one reason only: the free night certificate. The free night certificate from this card is worth up to 35,000 points, and it’s not a problem at all for me to find a use for it where I’m getting more than $95 in value.
Read more: The best hotel credit cards
Annual fee: $89
Each year, I earn a certificate valid for a hotel night costing up to 40,000 points. It’s not uncommon for me to need a hotel stay, and it’s a pretty good deal to effectively stay for a night for $89.
Annual fee: $95
The World of Hyatt Credit Card offers a free night certificate each year for a Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel. Just like with the other hotel cards, it’s easy to cover the cost of the annual fee with this card.
- REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Annual fee: $149
I just upgraded my Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card to the Southwest Priority Credit Card. This card offers 7,500 bonus points each year on the account anniversary (worth around $90) and a $75 Southwest travel credit each year. These two benefits alone make this card break even for me (I always fly Southwest at least once per year), and it also offers four upgraded boarding passes per year.
Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card
Annual fee: $75
Similar, but not the same as the other hotel cards listed here, I earn 40,000 points each year when I renew my card. I can use those points for multiple hotel nights or I can save them up from year to year and redeem for a hotel costing more than 40,000 points. I like the flexibility this gives me, and I will gladly pay $75 to essentially buy 40,000 points.