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** This chapter is excerpted from the book “MilesTalk: Live Your Wildest Dreams Using Miles and Points” available now on Amazon **

Chapter 9: High-End Credit Cards: You Can Get More Than You Give 

If you are like me, you have a “thing” against paying annual fees on credit cards. The concept just doesn’t sit right.

If you are in a cash crunch, you should avoid travel rewards credit cards until you are caught up. Here are our favorite credit cards for Intro 0% APR offers and for balance transfer offers

But in recent years I’ve really gotten my head around paying annual fees, as long as I’m getting more in value than I am paying for the fee.And so the reality now is that I pay annual fees on several cards each year. And I come out ahead.

Right now, three of the major premium cards are the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Citi Prestige, and the Platinum Card from American Express.

There are also super-premium cards like the fabled “Black Card” (actually called the Centurion and issued by American Express) but I won’t discuss those here because a) they aren’t accessible to most people and b) because in a cost/benefit analysis, they come out on the losing end most of the time because of their outsized annual fees and generally poor points earning rates on daily spend.

The premium cards all have annual fees in the $400-$600 range. There are also many other cards with annual fees ranging from $50-$200. A great many of these have annual benefits that can make them worth carrying, ranging from a complimentary status level as long as you hold the card, to a free annual hotel night, up to a free companion airline ticket each year, which can handily beat the annual fee in one fell swoop.

You will need to do your own math to see if a particular card is worth it for you. Below, I’ve created a simple worksheet you can use to see if you will come out ahead or behind with a particular card. If you still aren’t sure after doing the worksheet, that’s a good time to come to MilesTalk or one of its social channels (Facebook GroupTwitter) to ask for help.

First, I’ll show you my example of a cost-benefit analysis for myself with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Below that, you’ll find a worksheet you can use yourself.

It’s important to realize that different people will value things differently. It’s never purely about what a benefit is worth but, rather, what it is worth to you.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Cost/Benefit Analysis

(Fees/benefits are as of November 2017 and subject to change – this is meant as an example analysis only.)

Card annual fee: $550


 BenefitMy ValueNotes
A$300 Annual Travel Credit (good on any travel including air, hotel, car rental, parking, parking meters, taxi, tolls, Uber/Lyft)$300I probably spend $300 on these categories in a month. Easy.
BPriority Pass Lounge Access$100It includes Priority Pass lounge access for me and unlimited guests with no per-visit fee. While worth more than $100 to buy the same, I lower the value because a) I can live without lounge access and b) I get it from other Premium cards. This is very subjective.
CGlobal Entry reimbursement$100 in yr 1,

$0 thereafter. Value at $20

You can only get this once every 5 years. For simplicity, I’ll amortize over 5 years at $20 a year.
DPrimary car rental insurance$50This is actually a major benefit if you own a car, carry your own insurance, but rent cars often. Primary CDW (Collission Damage Waiver) and LDW (Loss Damage Waiver) means you are 100% covered and will never need to involve your own policy – even for a deductible.
ENo Foreign Transaction Fee$0I’m glad it’s a feature but most of my travel credit cards offer this.
FRewards$250Another tricky one. You earn points worth at a minimum 1.5 cents apiece. But with transfer partners and category bonuses of 3x points for all travel and dining, you have a 4.5% cash back card here when you spend on travel and dining and redeem in the portal. An average card is 1-2%. How much you value this depends on your annual spending on travel and dining. I’m assuming I spend $10,000 a year there and compared to a 2% cash back card come out $250 ahead ($10,000 at 4.5% vs $10,000 at 2% in rewards). I’ll do even better if I transfer points to airlines/hotels.
GSignup bonus value$750The current bonus is 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points which are worth a minimum of $750 when redeemed through the Chase travel portal. Use this only in calculating your year one value.
HTotal Year One Value$1,470Add lines A-G
Total Year 2 and beyond value$720Subtract line G
Am I ahead or behind?$170Subtract annual fee. If it’s not negative, you could do well with this card. If it’s negative, you may be better off without this card.


Now, try a card you are thinking about applying for or keeping yourself:

Blank Credit Card Annual Fee Cost/Benefit Analysis Worksheet

Card annual fee: _____________

BenefitMy ValueNotes
GSignup bonus value
HTotal Year One ValueAdd lines A-G
Total Year 2 and beyond valueSubtract line G
Am I ahead or behind?Subtract annual fee. If it’s not negative, you could do well with this card. If it’s negative, you may be better off without this card.


You can download a printable copy of this worksheet at https://milestalk.com//annual-fee-worksheet/

A list of current credit card signup bonuses is here.

What else is in the book?

This is the Table of Contents:

  • How to Use this Book to Achieve Your Travel Dreams
  • So, What are Miles and Points, Exactly?
  • Elite Status with Airlines and Hotels: Is It Worth It?
  • Setting your Travel Goals (Earn and Burn)
  • Airline Miles and Alliances: How They Work and How to Work Them
  • Finding Availability for Airline Awards: They’re Hiding In Plain Sight
  • Hotel Points: Luxury on Landing
  • Credit Card Points / Transferable Currencies: Your Most Important Tool
  • High-End Credit Cards: You Can Get More Than You Give
  • Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses: Fill Your Points Coffers Quickly
  • Credit Card Category Spend Bonuses: Don’t Leave Points on the Table
  • Earn Points and Miles by Banking: Make your $ Work For You
  • Earning Miles / Points / Cash Back for Eating and Shopping
  • Useful Websites to Bookmark
  • Tying It All Together

With an eBook that costs less than your daily coffee (and a fancy paperback available if you prefer), you have no reason not to get started in miles and points right now.   Check out MilesTalk: Live Your Wildest Dreams Using Miles and Points on Amazon now.


Let me know below in the comments, on Twitter, or in the private MilesTalk Facebook group.

And if this post helped you, please consider sharing it!

You can find credit cards that best match your spending habits and bonus categories at Your Best Credit Cards

New to all of this? My “introduction to miles and points” book, MilesTalk: Live Your Wildest Travel Dreams Using Miles and Points is available on Amazon and at major booksellers.

I got "in the game" in 2003 and since then I've collected literally millions and millions of frequent flyer miles and hotel points. I've flown around the world in first class seats that would cost $29,000 using frequent flyer miles and a few bucks in tax. And I've stayed in some of the finest hotels - all for free! A few years ago I realized many of my friends actually thought I was paying for these!! So I started sharing my tips. It's long been a passion, but when I hosted a session on Miles and Points at this year's South by Southwest festival, my love of the game intensified and this blog was born.



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