Competition in the premium travel card segment continues to heat up as two new contenders have recently entered the market. the Altitude Reserve card from US Bank and the UBS Visa Infinite card. In addition to these new cards, Amex has made a variety of benefit changes to both the personal and business versions of the Platinum card.
We have also seen the sign-up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve card decreased from the original promotional offer of 100K points to the new standard offer of 50K points. With all of these changes, it’s a good time to re-evaluate the pros and cons of the cards in the premium market segment.
- Sign Up Bonus: 50K points after spending $10K in the first three months, plus an additional 25K points after spending another 10K in the first three months
- Annual Fee: $450
- Key Benefits: Elevated points earning, point redemption rebate, lounge access and hotel elite statuses
Amex has made a flurry of changes to both the personal and business versions of the Platinum card over the past several months, and now that the dust has finally settled, the business version is clearly the superior card. The annual fee remains at $450 for the business card, while the fee was increased to $550 for the personal version.
There are also several benefits which are unique to the business version. You earn 1.5 Membership Rewards points per dollar on purchases over $5K up to one million bonus points per year. Points are also more valuable because you receive a 35% points rebate when paying with points for your selected airline or for premium cabin bookings with any airline. This puts a floor under your points’ value at approximately 1.54 cents per point (for example a 10,000-point redemption only costs 6,500 points after the 35% rebate, so 10,000/6,500 = 1.54). The business Platinum card also grants 10 complimentary in-flight Gogo wi-fi passes per year.
These are in addition to the benefits both versions of the card share which includes Gold status at both SPG and Hilton properties, $200 per year airline fee credit, and 5x points on airfare and hotels through amextravel.com. Points can be transferred to a variety of hotel and airline partners. The Platinum cards also offer the broadest airline lounge benefit with access to Amex Centurion lounges, Airspace lounges, Delta SkyClubs, and Priority Pass lounges (though only the first two include complimentary guests).
- Sign Up Bonus: 60K points after spending $5K in the first three months
- Annual Fee: $550
- Key Benefits: Lounge access, hotel elite statuses and Uber credits
The personal version has much in common with the business version, though there are a few key differences. First, the annual fee has been raised to $550. In order to help offset this, Amex has added credits for up to $200 per year in Uber rides. These are distributed as $15 monthly credits plus $35 in December, however they do not roll over from month to month. The Priority Pass select membership now allows for two complimentary guests. The sign-up bonus also has a much lower spending requirement, which will make it more attainable for those who don’t manufacture spend.
- Sign Up Bonus: 50K points after spending $4K in the first three months
- Annual Fee: $450
- Key Benefits: Good bonus categories, lounge access and good direct point redemption value
Now that the sign-up bonus is no longer 100K points, the hype surrounding the Chase Sapphire Reserve card has died down considerably. It is still a solid card, but cheaper options such as the Sapphire Preferred card may be better for some people. The Sapphire Reserve card has a $300 per year travel credit which is very broadly applicable and posts automatically. For those that would spend this amount out of pocket, it essentially reduces to the annual fee to $150. Earning power is solid with 3x points on both travel and dining. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed directly through Chase at 1.5 cents per points, or transferred to a variety of airlines and hotels. The card comes with a Priority Pass select membership that has the most generous complimentary guest policy of any lounge benefit on this list.
- Sign Up Bonus: 50K points after spending $5K in the first three months
- Annual Fee: $450
- Key Benefits: Free hotel nights, air travel credit and lounge access
This card has a $250 annual airfare credit, which is automatically applied. It also comes with a Priority Pass select membership which includes complimentary access for two guests. After Citi gutted the benefits of this card last year, the only remaining unique feature is unlimited fourth night free on hotel bookings made through Citi concierge.
This card earns 3x on air travel and hotels, 2x on dining and entertainment, and points are transferable to airline and hotel partners.
- Sign Up Bonus: 50K points after spending $4,500 in the first three months
- Annual Fee: $400
- Key Benefits: Good bonus categories, lounge access and high travel credit
US Bank is a new entrant into the premium market with its Altitude Reserve card. This card has the highest travel credit of any card on the list at $325 which makes the effective annual fee only $75. It also has a very unique bonus category of 3x points on mobile wallet purchases, plus 3x on travel. The card comes with 12 annual Gogo in-flight wi-fi passes.
Unfortunately, the card falls short in other areas. Points are not transferrable, so you’re stuck with a fixed redemption rate of 1.5 cents per point, and the Priority Pass select benefit only includes 4 lounge visits per year.
UBS Visa Infinite Card
- Sign Up Bonus: None
- Annual Fee: $495
- Key Benefits: Priority Pass select and flight discounts
Another brand-new entrant into the premium card market is the UBS Visa Signature card. This is a weak offering and likely won’t be considered by many travelers. First, there is no sign-up bonus. The $250 air travel credit is low relative to the $495 annual fee. Points cannot be transferred to any partners, and the redemption values are bizarre with flights up to $350 costing 25K points and flights up to $900 costing 50K points.
The one positive of this card is that it comes with the Visa Infinite flight benefit of $100 discounts on purchases of two or more round-trip domestic economy tickets, which most other Visa Infinite cards do not offer.