NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Credit card rewards programs have gotten decidedly more lucrative following the economic downturn as issuers look for ways to woo the credit elite.
As a result, the perks and parameters used to distinguish a good travel rewards card from a great one have changed recently. MainStreet breaks down how those with excellent credit can determine whether a particular card is worthy of their business.
The annual fee is reasonable.
Rewards cards in general tend to carry an annual fee, since companies need ways to fund the points, perks and frequent-flier miles associated with them. But you shouldn’t assume that you have to spend the $400-plus fee associated with some elite travel credit cards like the American Platinum to earn ample rewards on vacations. While elite cards are certainly known for offering exclusive hotel and resort upgrades, only those who travel frequently really stand to recoup that fee in benefits. Besides, there are plenty of low-fee cards that offer much more than 1% back on purchases.
Capital One, for example, offers two miles for every $1 spent on purchases on its Venture Rewards Card, which carries a $59 annual fee that is waived the first year.
You’re entitled to concierge service or additional airline perks.
These days, opting for a lower-fee card doesn’t have to mean forgoing the added service benefits entirely. The Venture Rewards card entitles cardholders to the 24/7 Visa Signature concierge service. Chase also offers direct access to 24-hour customer service – essentially meaning that you talk immediately to a person and not a machine – on both its $95-fee Sapphire Preferred and no-fee Sapphire rewards cards.
The United MileagePlus Explorer from Visa Signature also features some nice additional airport perks, including priority boarding and a free checked bag, and you also get #? passes per year to the United Club. The card features a $95 annual fee.
You won’t be charged a foreign transaction fee.
Both the Sapphire Preferred and the Venture Rewards cards also follow another trend that’s become popular among the best travel rewards cards: They exempt cardholders from having to pay a foreign transaction fee, which many issuers charge for making purchases overseas. That’s a good thing, since these fees can be as high as 3% of each transaction.