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.
$: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
If you spend more than $3,000 per year on your Venture Rewards card, you'll earn enough rewards miles to cover your annual fee. Beyond that, you'll keep earning two miles per dollar spent on purchases, good towards qualifying travel expenses with no caps, no promotional categories, no foreign transaction fees, and no redemption minimums.
Yet, the real value in this card lies in its Visa Signature status. This is one of the least expensive ways to get access to the full suite of Visa Signature bonus perks and benefits, including a world-class team of personal concierges ready to help you make travel plans, find hard-to-get event tickets, and confirm hot-seat restaurant reservations.
Annual fee: $0 introductory fee for the first year, then $59
$: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
In exchange for this card's modest annual fee, you'll earn up to 5 Starpoints per dollar 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 free 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
$$: Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® - Earn 2x on All Purchases
With an earnings structure similar to Capital One's Venture Card, the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard has sweetened its deal with a redemption bonus. Keeping your account in good standing means you get a 10 percent points rebate when trading part of your balance for travel statement credits. That means you're never out of rewards points, and it bumps this card's effective rebate rate to 2.2 percent.
Cardholders also get free access to their FICO scores, a perk that costs $7 or more every month from many credit reporting agencies. No foreign transaction fees means cardholders save 3-5 percent compared to many airline rewards cards. And Barclaycard, eager to expand their American footprint, will even waive the first year's annual fee for new customers.
Annual fee: $0 introductory fee for the first year, then $89
$$: 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 stacked bonuses for hotel stays: up to 10 HHonors Bonus Points per dollar spent at a participating property. 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. Cardholders get automatic upgrades to Gold HHonors status, bypassing the 20 stay requirement. That means getting your fifth night free on most reward reservations, along with late check-out and complimentary Internet access at most locations. Signup bonuses for new cardholders (after $2,500 in eligible purchases within four months of account opening) have included a pair of weekend night certificates, redeemable at most hotels and resorts in the company's portfolio.
Annual fee: $95
$$$$: The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN
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 also enjoy bonus Membership Rewards points when booking travel through American Express. The "Pay with Points" enables members to redeem points even faster, resulting in a rebate rate as high as 2.2 percent on eligible purchases. 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