If you have a favorite premium rewards card, you probably grin and bear the annual fee that pays for it. But thankfully, that pain can be lessened on some credit cards that offer annual reimbursement credits on popular expenses like travel, dining and subscription services.
The best annual credits offset all or most of the annual fees by themselves, and that doesn’t even take into account the value of the rewards you’ll earn by using the card. This is why the best credit cards with annual credits are worth a more detailed look.
Best credit cards for annual credits
The Platinum Card from American Express: Best for luxury lifestyle
The Amex Platinum is generally one of the best all-around cards for annual credits because they’re both numerous and valuable, especially if you’re interested in luxury brands. You’ll be eligible for credits toward high-end brands like Equinox, Saks Fifth Avenue and Uber.
The return on the $695 annual fee is significant, as cardholders annually get an Uber Cash credit of up to $200 for delivery orders and rides, up to $100 for Saks Fifth Avenue purchases, up to $300 for Equinox+ fitness centers and up to $240 in digital entertainment credits. The digital entertainment credit can cover subscriptions for Sirius XM, the New York Times, Peacock and Audible (enrollment required). One major drawback to the annual credit package is that the $200 airline credit only covers incidental travel fees, not flights.
Amex also includes an up-to-$100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck applications every four years that appears on many of their travel cards. However, the Platinum takes it a step further with an up to $179 credit for a Clear membership, which includes the ability to breeze through security at select stadiums and airports. Total it up, and that’s up to $1,100-plus in annual credits, far surpassing that annual fee.
If that isn’t enough, there are additional benefits on the Amex Platinum besides annual credits:
- 100,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $6,000 in the first six months
- Access to exclusive reservations and events through Resy
- Earn 10 points per dollar on eligible restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. (on up to $25,000 in combined spending) during your first six months of card membership
- 5 points per dollar on flights booked through the airline or on American Express travel up to $500,000 annually
- 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked on AmexTravel.com
- 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Pro tip: “Even if you just use half of these credits on an annual basis, you’ll extract $470 worth of yearly credit value from your Amex Platinum, an amount that exceeds the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit by $170—which more than makes up the $145 difference between the Platinum’s $695 annual fee and the Reserve’s $550 annual fee.”—Logan Allec, CPA and owner of Money Done Right
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best card for travel
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the clear runner-up to the Amex Platinum overall when it comes to the number of annual credits. Its $300 annual travel credit doesn’t just cover incidental travel fees. You can use it for travel expenses outright, including flights and hotels. Plus, those who are still hesitant to travel don’t miss out. Grocery and gas station purchases also count toward the credit until Dec. 31, 2021.
There are additional benefits, too:
- 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months
- 10 points per dollar on Lyft purchases (through March 31, 2022)
- 3 points per dollar on travel expenses after the first $300 covered by the annual credit
- 3 points per dollar on restaurants and dining, including takeout, eligible delivery services and dining out.
- 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
- 50 percent more redemption value when you redeem points through Chase Ultimate Rewards (60,000 points would be worth $900 in travel instead of $600)
- Your points are worth 50 percent more when you redeem them for statement credits for eligible purchases in select rotating categories.
- Eligible cardholders can split purchases of $100 or more into fixed monthly payments with no interest through My Chase Plan. You’ll just pay a fixed, monthly fee.
Pro tip: “As a business owner, credit card hacking is a standard part of my game plan. One of my go-to cards for travel is the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, as it provides you $300 in travel credits every year. If I book a $225 flight on my card, I’ll get a statement credit of $225 and have another $75 to be used towards other travel expenses for the year.”—Brooks Conkle, personal finance blogger
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card: Best for international hotel stays
If you are looking to travel anytime soon, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card can help take the edge off your hotel bill, as long as you’re a fan of Marriott hotels.
Though some might be spooked by the $450 annual fee, it’s countered by up to $300 in statement credits for eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program. Cardholders also get a credit for up to $100 for qualifying charges like spa treatments and room service when they book a two-night stay directly at the Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis. Newly approved applicants are eligible for one more credit—up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases made at U.S. restaurants within the first three months of card membership. The value of these three credits combined surpasses the annual fee, at a possible total of $600 in credits.
But credits aren’t the only benefit up for grabs:
- Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months
- Earn 6 points per dollar on eligible purchases at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy
- Earn 3 points per dollar on dining at U.S. restaurants (takeout and delivery included)
- Earn 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines
- Earn 2 points per dollar on all other purchases
- Earn one free night (redemption level at or under 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at Marriott Bonvoy hotels every year on your account anniversary
- Each year, receive 15 nights toward Marriott Bonvoy elite status
- Up to $100 credit for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
- No foreign transaction fees
- Car rental loss and damage insurance
- Free in-room premium Internet access
Pro tip: “The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card is ideal for international hotel stays.”—Dr. Michael K. Newman, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, California
Is a card with annual credits right for you?
The cards above may have perks with dollar values that offset the annual fee, but you still have to pay it. So, if you can’t afford the annual fee, these high-end rewards cards aren’t for you, no matter how much money back on certain expenses makes it seem worth it. On the other hand, if you’re able to absorb these annual fees and use the credits, then go for it, as the expense reimbursement value certainly exceeds the annual fee on all of these cards.
How to choose a card with annual credits
Choosing a card that gives you annual money back on certain expenses comes down to your lifestyle and spending habits. If you don’t ever patronize Marriott hotels, then the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card isn’t for you. If you’re always booking flights and traveling in general, then maybe it’s worth signing up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Best cards for annual credits FAQ
Do all expenses in an outlined spending category count toward the corresponding annual credit?
Only eligible expenses count toward the annual credit. Review the offer terms and conditions as well as your credit card agreement for what counts as an eligible expense. Generally, gaming wages, balance transfers, traveler’s checks and foreign currency are ineligible.
When does your credit appear on your statement?
This depends on the credit card, so read the terms of your rewards and offers. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, statement credits for travel expenses post on the same day as your eligible travel purchase appears on your statement.
Are there restrictions to annual credit offers?
Yes. Some annual credits, such as those for Clear and TSA PreCheck, can only be applied every four years. The Amex Platinum airline fee credit only applies to certain eligible airlines and some hotel credits only count if the hotel is booked a certain way—such as through a specific website. Always check the offer’s fine print for details.
The bottom line
If you have a rewards card with a high annual fee, see if it offers annual credits that may offset the cost by giving you money back on certain purchases. You will still pay the annual fee every year, but the credits can balance the scale in your favor.