Basics of Credit Card Perks

The first thing to know about credit card perks is, they are ever-changing and always evolving. So you need to KEEP UP with the promotions for each card you have, especially if your card(s) have an annual fee. Second, most banks have different "tiers" of cards, and some can be co-branded, like the cards my wife and I personally use. These tiers represent this post's focus.

Most every bank has a basic, no annual fee card. These usually have no perks, though some co-branded cards might come with basic/limited perks like low-tier hotel elite status, point earning bonuses for certain purchases, and interesting redemption/credit offers. By and large, however, if you want to utilize your points and miles for travel on a yearly basis, consider at least a mid-tier or higher card, which will likely represent a better value than a no-fee card which offers no perks – as long as you are only spending what you normally spend and pay off your credit card bill monthly.

  • Mid-tier cards are those with lower annual fees, usually up to $100 or so. Which perks you receive depend on which bank issues the card, and whether or not it's co-branded. For co-branded hotel cards, this usually means elevated elite status and higher per dollar earning at that brand, and maybe a limited free night voucher each year (in the case of co-branded hotel cards). For co-branded airline cards, it may mean more miles per dollar spent on certain categories. For non-co-branded mid-tier cards, certain categories (e.g., dining, petrol) usually earn bonus points.
  • Premium non-co-branded cards represent those with high annual fees, usually between a few and several hundred dollars. Cards in this category – like the American Express Platinum card (NOT the Amex Delta Platinum), Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Capital One Venture X – offer great earning potential and interesting-yet-always-changing perks: from restaurant and gym credits to travel and streaming services credits, lounge access, and even varying levels of travel insurance. Plus, each of those categories have their own point/mile value/structure varying from 1x to 10x (or more) depending on categories. Usually, to get maximum value, points must be redeemed via the issuer's own travel portal or transferred to another loyalty program (sometimes at not so great rates). No biggie, just another step to redeeming your points and/or miles.
  • Premium co-branded cards also come with high annual fees, and usually offer higher-tier elite status (or fast-track to it), higher earning-per-dollar rates  especially on stays at that hotel chain or flights booked on the specific airline – and some nice travel credits and/or benefits (e.g., lounge access, in-flight/hotel stay credits). Again, these benefits are ever-changing, so keeping up with what your card offers remains key to maximizing benefits.
  • There are also Ultra-premium cards, but these are for VERY big spenders and usually invite-only. And, generally speaking, the only difference is you have a dedicated/special customer service/concierge person who is always available to help you. With anything. For these ultra-premium cards, it is usually the service that people desire and value most.

So, that's the basics of credit cards perks. In a nutshell, the higher the annual fee you pay, the more perks you're likely to get. Just remember: to get the maximum value from any rewards card, you need to be vigilant when it comes to promotions and taking advantage of them, and you must utilize the benefits during your regular/normal spending in a year. Why would you pay $500 dollars for a premium card just to get a "free" night each year if you use that free night at a $100/night hotel and don't use any of the card's other perks?

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