American Express released the Platinum Card in 1984 and simultaneously created the Premium Card (Tier IV) market. Citi released the Prestige Card in early 2011, creating some competition in Tier IV for American Express. Citi continued to evolve the Prestige Card to compete with Amex during the 2010s.
But the Premium Card market was jolted in August 2016 with the release of the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The unprecedented success of Chase’s premium card saw other banks jump on the bandwagon with premium cards of their own. Citi and Amex have since responded with changes to their premium cards.
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.
I will be focusing on the Amex Platinum, Citi Prestige, and Chase Sapphire Reserve for this Card War. I’m not including Premium co-branded cards like the Amex Hilton Aspire. This is because all three earn transferrable points and offer suites of perks on the side.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum currently have sign-up bonuses, but the Citi Prestige does not.
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.
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. The Platinum Card has targeted bonuses of 75,000 points for the same minimum spend. But it’s had bonuses as high as 100,000 points in the past.
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. But if you like a certain points “currency” more than another, go for that card.
Premium cards are better known for perks than earning structure. However, these three cards can earn serious points for travelers.
The Chase 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. This category is restrictive because it does not include discount booking sites like Expedia and Travelocity. But you will score big if you can find a deal directly with an airline.
The Citi 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. You can also earn 2x on Entertainment until August 31.
All other purchases earn one point per dollar on all three cards.
The Citi Prestige wins overall given the number of categories in which you can earn points. The Prestige and Platinum Cards are tied for airfare. Meanwhile, the Prestige and Reserve are tied for hotel purchases.
All three 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 common perks:
- Car Rental Insurance (Primary for Chase, Secondary for Amex and Citi)
- No Foreign Transaction Fees
- Pre-TSA / Global Entry Credits
- Priority Pass Airport Lounge Access
- Travel Credits (in some capacity or another)
The Sapphire Reserve also has various insurances for travel. These include trip cancellation insurance, trip delay insurance, and baggage delay insurance.
The Citi Prestige also has its signature Fourth Night Free benefit, cell phone protection, and baggage delay insurance.
The Platinum Card and its numerous perks handily win this category, potentially giving you thousands in value. In fact, there are so many perks that come with this card that they require 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 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. Oftentimes they will tell you to proceed. You must pay your card in full each month (which I recommend doing anyway).
The Platinum Card is the better card for those with lower income or credit scores because it’s a charge card. The Platinum Card also forces you to pay in full, which gives you financial discipline. The Chase and Citi cards are great options if you have the credit score and income to get them.
All three cards have annual fees of at least $450. The Reserve and Prestige both have annual fees of $450. The Prestige will sit in the middle when they raise the fee to $495 on September 1. But the Platinum Card is the most expensive at $550. None of these cards have their fees waived the first year. But they all have travel credits that offset the fees.
The 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 now works like Chase’s. This credit brings the “net” annual fee down to $200 ($245 starting September 1). Th
The Platinum Card has two sets of credits. The first is $200 in airline incidental credits, which can be used for in-flight fees, baggage, and even gift cards. 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 and Platinum Card have the lowest “net” annual fees. The card that’s best for you depends on which and how many travel credits you will use.
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 other two have. This is not surprising given it has the lowest annual fee (“gross” and “net”) and the biggest travel credit. However, its sign-up bonus, earning structure, and part in the Chase “ecosystem” make it a fantastic card for many people.
The Citi Prestige doesn’t have the best set of travel partners. But it has the best earning structure of the three cards, as well as a nice set of perks and a good 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 most expansive 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.