Premium Cards are some of the most useful tools for great travel. Despite their high annual fees, they have some of the best sign-up bonuses, earning structures, and perks in the industry.
American Express released the Platinum Card in 1984 and simultaneously created the Premium Card market. Citi released the Prestige Card in early 2011, creating some competition for American Express. Citi continued to evolve the Prestige Card to compete with Amex during the 2010s.
The market was jolted in August 2016 with the release of the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The unprecedented success of that card made other banks jump on the bandwagon with premium cards of their own.
This post focuses on the Amex Platinum, Citi Prestige, and Chase Sapphire Reserve. Premium co-branded cards like the Amex Hilton Aspire are not included.
The Sapphire Reserve has a bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards (UR) points. Those points can be earned by spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. This card was known for having a 100,000-point bonus when it was first released. But Chase halved the bonus and enacted the One Sapphire Rule after noticing that people were taking advantage.
Conversely, the American Express Platinum Card has a bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points. Those points can be earned after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months.
Finally, the Citi Prestige has a bonus of 50,000 Thank You (TY) points. Those points can be earned by spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
American Express wins here in terms of pure value. However, the Sapphire Reserve’s bonus is the easiest to hit. But if you like a certain points “currency” more than another, go for that card.
Premium cards are better known for perks than their earning structures. However, these three cards can earn serious points if you spend within their categories.
The Sapphire Reserve earns 3x UR points on Travel and Dining. Chase’s list of travel expenses is very inclusive. Airfare, hotels, tolls, taxis, ride-sharing (Uber, Lyft, etc.), and cruises are included.
The Platinum Card earns 5x MR points on Airfare booked directly with the airline and booked on amextravel.com. This category is restrictive because it does not include discount booking sites like Expedia. But you can earn lots of points if you can find a deal directly with the airline.
The Prestige earns TY points in a litany of categories. It earns 5x points on Dining and Airfare booked directly with the airline as well as 3x points on Cruises and Hotels. Overall, the Citi Prestige wins because it has the most bonus categories and high multipliers to boot.
All other purchases earn one point per dollar on all three cards.
All three premium cards earn different points “currencies”, meaning that they all have different transfer partners. The winner depends on your travel itinerary and preference of travel partners.
The Sapphire Reserve is the best for domestic travel and hotels. The Platinum Card is the best for domestic and international travel, especially airfare. And the Prestige is best for international travel.
The Sapphire Reserve wins as well for those who don’t want to transfer partners. This is because you can redeem UR points for 1.5 cents per point (CPP) via their travel portal. Citi has a similar portal, but you will only get 1 CPP. Amex has their own website, but you will get less than 1 CPP when using points to pay for travel.
Perks are the draw for many Premium cards. They are the reason why these cards have nearly $500 annual fees. But said fees can easily be justified if used frequently and properly.
All three cards have the following common perks:
- No Foreign Transaction Fees
- Pre-TSA / Global Entry Credits
- Priority Pass Airport Lounge Access
- Travel Credits (in some capacity)
The Sapphire Reserve also has various insurances for travel. These include trip cancellation insurance, trip delay insurance, and baggage delay insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve wins for car rentals because its the only card of the bunch with primary car rental coverage.
The Citi Prestige has its signature Fourth Night Free benefit, cell phone protection, and other World Elite MasterCard benefits However, many of its perks will be discontinued on September 22, 2019. This is significant because the discontinued perks include various travel insurances, secondary car rental insurance, and even Citi Price Rewind. Citi’s benefit purge makes the Prestige the clear loser in this category.
The Platinum Card and its numerous perks handily win this category, potentially giving you thousands in value. There are so many perks that come with this card that they required their own post!
I normally rate individual credit cards based on sign-up bonuses, earning structure, redemption methods, and perks. But there are other factors involved when selecting between multiple cards.
Credit Limit and Income
The Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige are traditional revolving credit cards. They come with a set limit and can be hard to get approved for those with lower credit scores or incomes. Both cards let you keep a balance, despite my recommendation for not doing so. The Chase and Citi cards are great options if you have the credit score and income to get them.
Conversely, the Platinum Card is a charge card which does not have a pre-set limit. In other words, Amex has an internal limit for your card that can change each month. If you want to make a large purchase, I suggest calling Amex customer service to alert them about the purchase. The Platinum Card is the better card for those with lower income or credit scores because it’s a charge card. It also forces you to pay in full, which gives you financial discipline.
The Sapphire Reserve has the lowest fee at $450 while the Prestige is in the middle at $495. But the Platinum Card is the most expensive at $550. None of these cards have their fees waived the first year. However, they all come with travel credits that offset the fees.
The Sapphire Reserve has a $300 general travel credit, which brings the “net” annual fee down to $150. Of course, this assumes that you will use the entire credit each year. Most travelers will use the credit.
The Prestige has a $250 general travel credit that works like that of the Sapphire Reserve. This credit brings the “net” annual fee down to $245.
The Platinum Card comes with two sets of credits. The first is $200 in airline incidental credits, which can be used for in-flight fees and baggage. The second is $200 in Uber credits, which are split into 11 $15 monthly credits and one $35 credit for December. The Uber credits are difficult to use, but some people do use them. The “net” annual fee for the Platinum Card is $150 assuming all the credits are used.
Your mileage may vary with this category. But the Sapphire Reserve has the lowest “net” annual fee and come with a credits that is easy to use. Therefore, it wins this category.
Your mileage may vary with Premium Cards especially. All three cards are fantastic options, but they each have strengths and weaknesses:
The Chase Sapphire Reserve does not have the perks that the Platinum Card has. However, its sign-up bonus, earning structure, and membership in the Chase “ecosystem” make it a fantastic card for many people.
The Citi Prestige doesn’t have the best set of travel partners and many of its perks have been dropped. But it has the best earning structure of the three cards, as well as a nice sign-up bonus.
The Amex Platinum lacks in earning potential and has a hard-to-earn sign-up bonus. However, its perks are second-to-none. Amex also has the longest list of transfer partners of the three issuers.
Consider your other cards, travel itinerary, loyalty to transfer partners, and desire for traveling in luxury. All of these are huge factors that must be considered before acquiring a card with a nearly $500 annual fee. As with everything in point and miles, your mileage may vary. Someone might find one card better for him while their best friend might another card better.