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Best credit cards for the annual fee

By , CardRatings contributor
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Even though it sometimes sounds absurd to pay money for the privilege of borrowing money, a handful of major credit cards add enough value for cardholders to justify the cost of their annual membership fees.

$: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

In exchange for this card's modest annual fee, you'll earn Starpoints on eligible purchases at participating Starwood Preferred Guest hotels and resorts. Starwood's hotel brand roster now includes the stalwart Sheraton flag, the hip W Hotels chain, the Aloft airport lofts, and even the posh resorts of St. Regis and The Luxury Collection. Unlike many hotel chains, Starwood uses market-based pricing for rewards stays at its properties. Therefore, spending as little as $7,000 on the card can net you a room that would ordinarily cost $150 or more.

Some rewards cards fans might suggest they can squeeze a little more value from competing rewards programs, especially when traveling to the handful of destinations not well served by Starwood hotels. However, if you redeem Starpoints exclusively for hotel nights, the SPG card offers one of the credit card industry's strongest rewards ratios. With generous bonus Starpoints packages for new cardholders, American Express and Starwood have developed one of today's most popular travel rewards cards. Terms and restrictions apply.

Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65

$$: Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard has sweetened its deal with a redemption bonus. Keeping your account in good standing means you get a 10 percent miles back when trading part of your balance for travel statement credits.

Cardholders also get complimentary online access to their FICO scores, a perk that costs $7 or more every month from many credit reporting agencies. No foreign transaction fees on purchases made while you are traveling in another country means cardholders save 3-5 percent compared to many airline rewards cards. And Barclaycard, eager to expand their American footprint, will even waive the first year's annual fee for new customers.

Annual fee: $0 introductory fee for the first year, then $89

$$: Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card

Hilton and Citi teamed up to steal some thunder from the popular Starwood Preferred Guest card, and a slightly higher annual fee can lead to big travel perks for brand loyalists. Like most hotel cards, the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card offers bonus points for hotel stays: earn 10 HHonors Bonus Points per dollar spent on hotel stays within the Hilton portfolio.* With eligible brands like Hampton Inn, Doubletree, and Embassy Suites in the mix, it's easy to find places to stay that can multiply your earnings.

However, this card's biggest benefit adds value to your journey from day one. As long as you are a cardmember you can get the benefits of HHonors Gold status. New cardholders can earn two weekend night certificates, redeemable at select hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio, after making $2,500 in purchases on the card within four months of account opening.

Annual fee: $95

$$$$: The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN

Editor's Note: Thank you for your interest, this offer expired and is no longer available.

For years, business owners have earned back this card's annual fee by cashing in on baggage fee rebates and VIP airport lounge access. Due to airline industry consolidation, AmEx Platinum cardmembers would no longer have automatic access to all airport lounges. American Express has taken matters into its own hands, launching Centurion Lounge locations in the Las Vegas and Dallas/Ft. Worth airports. By most accounts, the new lounges far surpass their airline counterparts for both comfort and service, and American Express plans to roll out more exclusive locations in the future.

Beyond that luxury perk, Platinum cardmembers can get 20 percent Travel Bonus of the points used credited back to your account when using the Membership Rewards Pay with Points program to book travel through American Express Travel site. With expert assistance from both the Platinum concierge and travel teams, the Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN provides perks and premium support for business owners on the road. Terms and restrictions apply.

Annual fee: $450

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Our editors rate credit cards objectively based on the features the credit card offers consumers, the fees and interest rates, and how a credit card compares with other cards in its category. Ratings vary by category, and the same card may receive a certain number of stars in one category and a higher or lower number in another.

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