When I tell people I have over a dozen rewards credit cards in my wallet, they often react with shock and awe. People wonder how I keep track of all these cards and how much the annual fees must add up to each year. While rewards credit cards can get expensive (especially the premium variety), I only keep cards that offer more value than the annual fee I’m paying. No bank makes this easier than American Express.
I currently have four American Express credit cards in my wallet, with annual fees ranging from $0 to $595.
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire ($450)
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express ($0)
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express ($695)
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card ($450)
In total, I’m paying $1,495 per year in annual fees for these American Express cards. Still, I’ve gotten significantly more value in return. Thanks to generous shopping and travel credits, I had gleaned $2,022.86 in benefits from my American Express credit cards by November. I anticipate adding even more to the haul this year. Here’s a detailed look at how I received over $2,000 in value from my American Express credit cards last year:
Airline fee credits: $450
With airlines adopting rigorous COVID safety measures, I managed to take several trips in 2021, after a hiatus in 2020. Two of my American Express cards offered airline fee credits totaling $450, which I managed to take full advantage of. Both cards required me to designate a specific airline for these credits. That doesn’t always work out, but this year it did.
I received $250 in JetBlue airline fee credits from the Hilton Honors Aspire Credit Card and $200 worth of American Airlines credits from the Amex Business Platinum Card. These credits came in handy on several occasions when I had to check a bag or decided to upgrade my seat. It was great to be able to put those pesky fees on my card and receive a credit several days later.
I certainly can’t consider these credits “free money” because I did pay over $1,000 in annual fees for these cards. However, since I would have paid those airline fees anyway, the credits I received helped offset the annual fees on two credit cards that offer more value beyond this benefit.
Hotel credits: $550
One of the best perks of having a hotel credit card is receiving annual statement credits towards hotel expenses. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card offers up to $300 per year, while the Amex Hilton Honors Aspire Card covers $250. These credits are valid towards on-site expenses like meals, spa treatments and incidental purchases. Sometimes prepaid hotel rooms will also qualify.
I’ve stayed at quite a few Hilton and Marriott hotels over the last year, and these credits have come in handy. While most hotel restaurants were closed or operating in a limited capacity most of the year, I was able to put the credit to use in other ways.
It was great to treat myself to a spa treatment and see a statement credit on my account. I also enjoyed an occasional dash to hotel coffee shops and pantries for incidentals I had left behind. Overall, I was able to maximize this benefit while making my various hotel stays just a little more comfortable.
Global Entry application fees: $300
My premium American Express cards all include a $100 Global Entry fee credit every four years. While I’ve already secured this benefit for myself with the Citi Prestige Card, I was able to cover application fees for my parents and brother. It saved me $300.
Global Entry is a trusted traveler program that allows you to skip the long passport lines when returning from a trip abroad. Instead, you head to a kiosk where the passport control process is automated. You’ll receive a receipt, which you can then take to a dedicated (that is, virtually line-free) passport control lane and go about your day. Global Entry can save you many hours of waiting in line, especially if you’re traveling during peak season.
You not only skip long lines, but you also get access to TSA PreCheck. This means you get to skip to a shorter security line at the airport and keep your shoes and light jacket on. Both these perks are incredibly convenient and well worth the $100 fee every five years. Getting these fees covered with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, Amex Hilton Honors Aspire and Amex Business Platinum card was a nice bonus.
Amex dining credits: $240
American Express made customer-friendly moves throughout the pandemic to alleviate the financial burden of having high-annual-fee rewards cards in your wallet. This trend continued through February 2021, when Amex announced $20 monthly dining credits for select cardholders. This credit would be issued up to 11 times per year on transactions of $20 or higher.
I managed to use this benefit a combined twelve times since February, saving me $240 on dining out. After a year of quarantine cooking disasters, it was nice to be able to dine out more, and have the expense partially covered by my Amex Hilton Honors Aspire and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant cards.
Amex Offers: $483
Most of my American Express cards include valuable benefits, but none is more useful than Amex Offers. Amex Offers provides virtually all Amex cardholders with discounts and bonus points on purchases made at participating merchants. New offers are loaded constantly and you’ll see up to 100 at a time. As you begin adding offers to your account, you’ll often notice new deals populating.
Over the last year, I’ve been targeted for some great Amex Offers. These include an Apple Pay offer of $10 per transaction (up to three times), which I used to cover subway rides during a trip to New York City. I also received a free Motley Fool subscription back in January, along with over $160 in hotel savings.
In total, I saved $482.86 through Amex offers. Ironically, most of these savings came from my Amex Blue Business Card, which has no annual fee. However, I got plenty of value out of my premium credit cards as well. Here’s a look at my Amex Offers savings by card:
The bottom line
Considering the $1,495 in annual fees I paid and $2,023 in savings, I came out $528 ahead by having these four Amex cards in my wallet. Thanks to perks like Priority Pass Select membership, I’ve also had better travel experiences. The program has granted me lounge access (and saved me money on meals) at virtually every airport I’ve transited.
All these Amex Cards offer benefits beyond what I’ve been able to take advantage of. There’s the Clear membership fee credit and $10 monthly wireless fee credit from the Amex Business Platinum Card, the annual free night award from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card and annual free weekend night from the Hilton Honors Aspire Credit Card. All these are valuable perks that I’ll eventually claim in order to maximize value out of my Amex annual fees and improve my travel experience.
Rewards travel credit cards can carry high annual fees and aren’t for everyone. But if you familiarize yourself with their benefits and leverage their perks, you can get an outsized return on your investment.