Comparing Credit Card Travel Credits
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With the end of the year coming up, now is the perfect time to ‘double-tip’ on credit card travel credits. If you already have one of these cards, make sure to go ahead and check if you’ve fully used the credit. Your credits will be good to use for the remainder of this year and next year.
All credit cards aren’t created equal – and all credit card travel credits aren’t created equal, either.
Below are the cards which offer airline travel credits and my ranking of them from most lucrative and easiest to use, to least lucrative and most restrictive.
|Bank||Card||Restrictions||Amount||Annual Fee||How it works?|
|Citi||Prestige||1 per family, every 24 months||$250||$450||Automatic|
|American Express||Premier Rewards Gold Card||Once per lifetime||$100||Waived first year, then $195||Choose 1 airline|
|American Express||Personal Platinum||Once per lifetime||$200||$450||Choose 1 airline|
|American Express||Business Platinum||Once per lifetime||$200||$450||Choose 1 airline|
|American Express||Mercedes Benz Platinum||Once per lifetime||$200||$475||Choose 1 airline|
|Chase||Ritz-Carlton Rewards||Once every 24 months||$300||$450||Call Chase|
1. Chase Sapphire Reserve – $300
Chase’s newest and most popular credit card, the Sapphire Reserve has the best travel credit policy of all the cards. Not only is it the most amount per calendar year ($300!), it is the least restrictive
Though the terms & conditions do not say what is included, anecdotal evidence points that the credits work on many (if not all) travel purchases including airline tickets, award taxes and fees, lounge access, tolls, taxis/ubers, commuter trains and buses and even hotels.
Travel statement credits post automatically.
2. Citi Thankyou Prestige – $250
The Prestige’s airline travel credits were a game changer before the Reserve hit the market. Unlike AMEX, which makes you designate one domestic airline to receive the credits, the Prestige airline travel credit worked on any airline purchase – even a ticket. It also works on award taxes and foreign airlines.
Travel statement credits post automatically, typically after your statement closes.
3. American express personal rewards gold card – $100
When you take a glance at the matrix above, you’ll notice that the AMEX Personal Rewards Gold card is ranked higher than the Platinum products which offer $100 more in travel credits. Why? Because the Gold card’s annual fee is completely waived the first year.
So if you were to apply today (or soon), you’d get $100 in travel credits in 2016 and then again in 2017! That’s $200 in travel credits and you haven’t paid an annual fee. (The annual fee of $195 is charged after the first year).
In order to receive the credits, you must log in and select your airline of choice. You can access the selection page by going to your card’s ‘benefits’ section.
For each AMEX card you have that offers this benefit, you must do this once a year. These airline choices only include domestic U.S. airlines and officially apply towards the following purchases:
- Award taxes & fees
- Seat upgrades
- Lounge access
- Baggage fees
- Miscellaneous airline imposed fees
After selecting your airline, you’ll be reimbursed automatically by AMEX.
4, 5, 6. AMEX Platinum Personal, Business and Mercedes Benz Platinum
I rank these cards lower because their annual fees are higher.
The restriction about choosing one airline per year is the same as the Gold card. This restriction is frustrating, but AMEX was the first bank to offer these types of credits. Everyone else – Chase and Citi – have copied AMEX and improved.
I’d love to see AMEX up their game and ease some of the restrictions on the travel credit. (As an aside, I typically don’t activate my credits until I know I’m going to use them).
These cards offer $200 – instead of $100 – in travel credits.
7. Chase Ritz Carlton Rewards Card – $300
Though this card offers more in travel credits than the Platinums/Benz, I’ve ranked it lower because it is the least restrictive is not applied automatically.
You must either: 1) Call Chase or 2) send a Secure Message to have the charge reimbursed. The call center is quick and painless, but it’s a process nonetheless.
Officially, the following incidentals can earn the travel credits (for all airlines – foreign or domestic)
- Baggage fees
- Lounge access
- Seat upgrades
- In-flight internet/entertainment
- In-flight meals
Things like the actual tickets, cancellation fees and award taxes probably won’t work.
After you call it usually takes a few days and then you’ll be reimbursed.
Travel Credits Are Not Free Money
Travel credits are not free money.
With the exception of the AMEX Personal Rewards Gold card, you need to pay a hefty ($450 – $475) annual fee in order to have the card and ultimately, utilize the credits.
So what’s the point of this post?
If you have one of the premium card products and open it now before 2017 and take advantage, or ‘double-dip’ the travel credits in 2016 and 2017, your return will be a bit better. But again, you’re still spending $450 in order to get $400 back in travel credits. Again, you’ve still spend money.
However, cards like the Reserve and Prestige which are the least restrictive, you’ll gain something because their travel credits in two calendar years ($600 and $500, respectively) are greater than the annual fee.
So for the Reserve, you should look at it like $150 back in travel reimbursements – not $600.
- The original purchase counts towards minimum spend requirements, even if it you get reimbursed
- You will earn points on the original purchase
- If you do not see the statement credit come in from the bank, be sure to call the number of the back of the card. Even if the T&Cs exclude it, it may be possible to get them to budge – sometimes it’s an error or oversight.
If you’re on the fence about one of these cards because the annual fee, now may be the time for you to grab one up. This analysis does not take into account sign-up bonuses or other perks and benefits of the cards which you may find useful.