The following is a guest article written by Barry Choi of “Money We Have.” Enjoy!
When applying for a credit card, one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is if you should get a card with or without an annual fee.
Cards with no annual fees make sense if you just want something that will help manage your expenses. If you’re willing to pay an annual fee, though, you may get benefits such as a welcome bonus, an increased earn rate, travel insurance, lounge access, and more. That’s not bad if the perks are worth more than the annual fee.
However, what about credit cards that have an annual fee of $400+? The idea of paying that much every year to have a credit card may sound ludicrous to some, but smart travelers know that it can be worth it.
You’re Getting Value for What You Pay
Some travelers assume that high annual fees are not worth it. While that may be true, you need to look at what you get with your card. As long as you’re using the benefits every year, you’ll usually come out ahead.
Credit card providers make money from transaction fees…not from what they charge on annual fees. Offering good benefits encourages more people to sign up and spend on the card, but they can’t always give away those incentives for free.
The annual fee offsets the costs for all of those benefits, but when you really analyze what you’re getting, you’ll realize that in most cases, paying a high fee for a travel rewards credit card is more than worth it. That is, if you use it correctly.
Let’s take a look at two cards where it’s clear that you’re getting more in benefits than what you’re paying in annual fees.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
- $450 annual fee
- 150,000 welcome bonus when you spend $4,000 within 3 months
- Complimentary Diamond status
- Annual free weekend night at any Hilton hotel
- $250 annual Hilton resort statement credit
- $250 airline fee credit
- $100 Hilton on-property credit
- Priority Pass Select Membership with unlimited lounge access for you and up to 2 guests per visit
- No foreign transaction fees
- Car rental loss and damage insurance
- Baggage insurance plan
- Concierge service
- Learn how to apply
You don’t need to be a math major to see why the $450 annual fee that comes with the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is worth it, but let’s take a look at things from a practical perspective.
Suppose you’re planning a trip overseas. If you applied for the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, you could reap the benefits if you plan properly.
Presumably, you’d have to purchase airfare for your trip, so you could immediately take advantage of the $250 airline fee credit. This credit pays for things such as seat selection, checked baggage, and in-flight meals. While you’re at the airport, you could also use your free lounge access which is normally $32 per person, per visit.
Although all hotels have different point requirements for a free night, it would not be difficult to get at least $750 in value out of your 150,00 Hilton Honors points if you earn the welcome bonus. In addition, you could use either the $250 Hilton resort statement credit or the $100 Hilton on-property credit.
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is just one example. If you prefer Marriott hotels, take a look at the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card which has similar benefits and also has an annual fee of $450. Even if you travel just once a year, you can still easily get more value than the $450 annual fee you’re paying.
Not All Cards Are Equal
What many American travelers don’t realize is that the travel rewards credit cards available to them are far superior compared to other countries. That may seem unusual, but it comes down to the population and competition.
For example, Canada has about 1/10th of the population compared to the United States. There are also fewer airlines, so travelling is typically more expensive. Even the best credit cards in Canada pale in comparison to what’s available in the United States. Here are the benefits of the American Express Platinum Canada Card which has an annual fee of CAD $699:
- Annual travel credit of $200
- Unlimited airport lounge access
- Toronto Pearson International Airport benefits
- Hotel status upgrades
- Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits
- Exclusive dining experiences with the Global Dining Collection
- Travel insurance
- Buyer’s assurance
- Purchase protection
The annual $200 travel credit is nice. But the value of unlimited lounge access is based on how often you’ll use it. Two passengers visiting lounges on two separate flights would get a value of about CAD $460.
There’s also extended travel insurance, which includes travel medical that’s available with many Canadian travel credit cards. That’s worth about $200 a year. All in, Canadians could easily get CAD $860 in value a year from the American Express Platinum Canada Card and that doesn’t even include the hotel status upgrade perks or any of the additional benefits. Clearly, the annual fee is worth it.
Read any American Express Platinum Canada review and it’s always positive, but when you compare it to the cards available in the U.S., you’re probably thinking, “That’s it?”
There’s no denying that the benefits of many premium U.S. travel credit cards are more appealing than what’s available in Canada, but in the end, it comes down to value. Are you getting enough value for that annual fee?
Paying a high annual fee for a travel credit card shouldn’t be a concern if you know you’re going to get a greater value out of the benefits. The welcome bonus alone is often worth much more than the annual fee, so the amount you’re getting back in the first year can be extremely generous.
That said, remember to always pay your bills in full and on time every month. Travel perks are never worth it if you’re paying interest on your purchases.
Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who makes frequent media appearances. His blog Moneywehave.com is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel.