The Best Luxury Travel Credit Cards—With Perks That Are Worth the Cost

Matt Ortile
6 min read
Matt Ortile
August 24, 2023
6 min read
Table of Contents
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There are certain travel rewards credit cards that grant the whole points and miles world a particular kind of halo effect. You know the kind of card I’m talking about—those sleek squares of metal that come with a bevy of benefits that make traveling more seamless or stylish or comfortable; the cards that your fanciest traveler friend will include in an Instagram post of their business class ticket, their passport, and a glass of Champagne. (Maybe that’s just me.)

But the truth is, you don’t have to be an insufferably bougie globetrotter to take advantage of those high-end travel credit cards. Yes, the annual fees are a lot higher than those of entry-level or mid-range travel cards, but the cards often come jam-packed with benefits that mitigate the costs. And if you feel like your current credit cards aren’t meeting your needs—if you want to earn points faster, for example, or if you need lounge access at the airport—then it may be time for you to upgrade what’s in your wallet.

I’ll run through some of the hallmarks of a “luxury” credit card, and the role one can play in your points and miles strategy even if you don’t consider yourself a “luxury” kind of traveler. I’ll also recommend two approachable high-end cards that can easily work for most travelers, whether they’re casual vacationers or constant road warriors.

What makes a “luxury” travel rewards credit card?

If you’re in the market for a luxury or a premium travel rewards credit card, you can expect a number of factors across the board, regardless of credit card issuer:

A high annual fee

There’s no way around it: A luxury credit card will cost you a luxury price upfront. Among the premium credit cards out there competing with each other for a spot in your wallet, annual fees start at around $395 and go all the way up to $695. So if you see a credit card with an annual fee within that range, you can also expect some or all of the following features below.

Yearly credits that offset that annual fee

The sticker shock when you see the annual fees for those fancy pieces of metal is totally warranted. That said, premium travel credit cards regularly come with annual credits that effectively reduce the cost to carry them. Some work as reimbursements on purchases made in specific categories (often travel purchases, of course); others offer memberships to services or amenities that you can use while traveling (and/or while at home); and one even gives you bonus credit card points every year when you pay the annual fee.

Increased points-earning rates

Traditionally, the top-of-the-line credit cards offer higher points-earning rates compared to their entry-level or mid-range counterparts. Some even offer ten points per dollar you spend on certain types of purchases. That said, the spending categories on a premium credit card should align with your own shopping habits and preferences; otherwise, you might be better served by a card with fewer fancy benefits and credits, but with categories that actually fit your lifestyle.

Complimentary lounge access

This is pretty straightforward: A premium credit card will come with some kind of complimentary access to airport lounges. Which lounges you can get into will depend on what kind of card you have. And bear in mind that not all airports will have lounges that you can access with your card—or have lounges at all. (Please do not cry “false advertising” because you were looking for an American Express Centurion Lounge at, I don’t know, Northwest Arkansas National Airport.)

A credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck® 

And finally, a premium credit card will likely (and, in my opinion, should) have a statement credit of up to $100 every four years as reimbursement for the Global Entry/TSA PreCheck® application fee charged to the card. Note that getting Global Entry also grants you TSA PreCheck®; applying for TSA PreCheck® only gets you TSA PreCheck®. 

Not sure what Global Entry and TSA PreCheck® are? Put simply, the former expedites the immigration process when you enter the United States from abroad; the latter grants access to an expedited security lane before departures—but not every airport or airline participates in TSA PreCheck®.

Two recommendations for premium points-earning credit cards

I’m suggesting these two credit cards below because they offer increased points-earning rates, regular credits that offset their large annual fees, and some kind of airport lounge access. Moreover, I think these are the best premium credit cards currently available because of their ease of use. Other top-of-the-line cards can come with a lot of caveats, but these two cards are convenient and accessible, on top of being packed with benefits.

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Current welcome offer: 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

Annual fee: $550

Key annual credits: Get up to $300 in statement credit reimbursements each anniversary year for spending on travel; two complimentary years of Lyft Pink All Access (enrollment required)—a value of $199 per year; a complimentary year of DashPass, a membership for both DoorDash and Caviar (enrollment required)—a value of $120; a monthly $5 DoorDash credit through December 2024—a value of up to $60; a complimentary year of Instacart+ (enrollment required)—a value of $99 per year; a monthly $15 Instacart+ credit through July 2024—a value of up to $180 for the year. Altogether, that’s up to $958 in credits, which more than pays off your first annual fee.

Rewards structure: Earn 10 points per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal; earn 5 points per dollar spent on flights purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal; earn 3 points per dollar spent on all other eligible travel purchases and on dining at restaurants (including eligible delivery services, takeout, and dining out); earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Airline transfer partners: Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Air France-KLM, British Airways, Emirates, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United, Virgin Atlantic

Lounge access: The card comes with a Priority Pass™ Select membership (enrollment required), a value of $469 per year, which grants access to over 1,300 lounges across the world.

Global Entry and/or TSA PreCheck® credit? Yes, this card offers one statement credit of up to $100 every four years as reimbursement for the application fee charged to the card.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a good option for folks who want to get a feel for using a luxury travel rewards card. The credits easily “negate” the annual fee for the first year of card membership. In subsequent years, without all the limited-time credits, the easy-to-use annual $300 credit brings down the net annual fee to $250. In a year where you apply for Global Entry and/or TSA PreCheck®, the credits bring it down to $150. And if you use airport lounges at all, the value of the Priority Pass™ Select membership covers almost the entirety of the sticker price.

All that said, here’s something to consider: The Reserve out-earns its more “junior” counterpart, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, in only one spending category: travel purchases. With the Reserve, you get 10x on hotels and rental cars, and 5x on flights, when purchasing through the Chase Travel portal; non-portal travel spending nets you 3x. On the other hand, the Preferred earns 5x on all travel spending through the Chase portal, and only 2x on non-portal travel purchases. 

To its credit, the Preferred has a wider variety of bonused spending categories. On top of the travel categories, the Preferred earns 3 points per dollar spent on online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target, and wholesale clubs) and on select streaming services. For dining at restaurants (including eligible delivery services, takeout, and dining out), the Preferred’s earning rate is the same as the Reserve’s, 3x. All this to say, depending on your needs and spending habits, you may actually get more points-earning value out of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

(That said, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® comes with an extra feature that outranks its Preferred sibling. When you hold the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, each of your Chase points are worth 1.5¢ in the Chase Travel portal. More info on that in our in-depth review of this card.)

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve® in this review.

2. Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Current welcome offer: 75,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

Annual fee: $395

Key annual credits: Get up to $300 back as statement credits annually for bookings through Capital One Travel; receive 10,000 bonus anniversary points every year, starting on your first cardholder anniversary.

Rewards structure: Earn 10 points per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals purchased through the Capital One Travel portal; earn 5 points per dollar spent on flights purchased through the Capital One Travel portal; earn 2 points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Airline transfer partners: Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air France-KLM, Avianca, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, EVA, Finnair, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, TAP Air Portugal, Turkish Airlines, Virgin Red

Lounge access: Unlimited complimentary access to Capital One Lounges for the cardholder and two guests per visit; at the time of writing, the only Capital One Lounge currently open is the location at Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW). Additionally, you get access to over 1,300 airport lounges in Capital One’s Partner Lounge Network, which includes lounges within Priority Pass™ and the Plaza Premium Group.

Global Entry and/or TSA PreCheck® credit? Yes, this card offers one statement credit of up to $100 every four years as reimbursement for the application fee charged to the card.

Compare the Chase Sapphire Reserve® above and the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card here, and notice how much more streamlined the Venture X is as a premium travel rewards card, as well as the ease with which you earn back the annual fee with its yearly credits.

The $300 annual credit is comparable to the Reserve’s; the only thing is that you have to make your purchases through the Capital One Travel portal, which is easy enough. (I just used my $300 credit on a hotel booking in Paris this September; it was an easy process and the prices were equivalent to what was advertised directly on the hotel’s site.) On top of that, you get 10,000 Capital One points every year, after your first year of card membership; that’s worth $100 if you redeem through the Capital One Travel portal—and even more if you transfer them directly to an airline partner to make an award booking. Between those two credits, that’s at least $400 of value, negating the $395 annual fee.

As for the rewards structure, the Venture X has the same earning rates as the Reserve for purchases related to hotels and car rentals (10x), as well as flights (5x), made through their respective travel portals. Where they differ is on purchases for everything else. While the Reserve earns 3x or 1x on other non-portal categories, the Venture X keeps it simple by applying a flat 2x on all eligible purchases made out of the Capital One Travel portal. This may seem less exciting, but it’s perhaps just as powerful. The ability to earn two points per dollar on every purchase means you can use it for pretty much all your spending, and you’ll steadily earn points as you simply live your life without thinking too much about your points strategy.

It’s worth noting that the mid-range version of this card—simply called the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card—offers nearly the same reward structure: 2x on all purchases made outside the Capital One Travel portal; 5x on hotels and rental cars booked through the Capital One Travel portal, for a reduced annual fee of $95. It doesn’t have any easy-to-use credits, however, so the Venture X, in theory, costs less to carry than its “junior” sibling. Which one you choose may just come down to the question of if and how you’d use the credits that come with the Venture X, such as the Global Entry and/or TSA PreCheck® credit and the lounge access.

Learn more about the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card in this review. 

Ask yourself: Is it a must-have or a nice-to-have?

It can take a second to get the hang of traveling with a premium points-earning card, but the advantages can be extremely worthwhile—as long as its benefits actually meet your needs. When deciding what card (or cards) is right for you, always ask yourself: Is this a must-have card? Or is it just a nice-to-have card?

If you’re not able to take advantage of a benefit offered by a card, then that benefit is essentially useless, and should not be considered when deciding to pick up that card or not. For my part, I much prefer to do my grocery shopping in-person and at farmers markets, so the Instacart+ membership that the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is, to me, useless. If you drive your own car, then you might value that Lyft Pink All Access membership a whole lot less than someone without a car who is also a Lyft loyalist. But will the other benefits be worth that hefty annual fee? That’s up to you.

All that said, it’s definitely worth it to take the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (or both!) out for a spin. There’s no better way to learn how a car drives than to get behind the wheel. If it’s not a fit for you, you can always “downgrade” a card to its mid-range counterpart.

Last Updated 
September 6, 2023
Matt Ortile

Matt Ortile is the author of the essay collection The Groom Will Keep His Name, a columnist at Condé Nast Traveler, and working on a novel about a flight attendant. He lives in Brooklyn.

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