The 4 Cards With the Best Benefits

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There are (3) kinds of value you can get from a credit card, beyond just making it easy to buy stuff.

  1. Signup bonus. A card may have an attractive acquisition bonus. And you should get the card. But that doesn’t mean you should put any spending on it once you’ve earned the bonus. It’s like the old saying that the best marketing in the world is the enemy of a bad product.

  2. Benefits for having the card There are cards you should get because they give you better treatment from an airline or hotel, lounge access, annual free hotel nights, or other perks — perks that are worth far more than the card’s annual fee — but again, that doesn’t mean you should put any spending on the card. Get the card, stick it in a drawer, unless you have to show it to access your perks.

  3. Rewards for your ongoing spend There are cards that are rewarding for your ongoing spending. They earn valuable points (like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards), and earn them quickly (more than one point per dollar). That’s where you want ongoing spend to go.

I often list the best signup bonuses, or lists of which card is best for which category of spending. But what are the best cards just for the benefits, that you may want to mostly stick in a drawer but still give you fantastic value just for having them regardless of whether you put spending on them?

  1. Platinum Card By American Express earns valuable points (Membership Rewards that transfer to airline miles), has a strong signup bonus (60,000 points after $5000 spend within 3 months), and earns 5 points per dollar on airfare.

    The annual fee is $550 but there’s a $200 annual airline fee credit (which you can use once in 2017, and again at the beginning of 2018, so twice during your first cardmember year) and a $200 annual Uber credit. There’s also a $100 Global Entry credit.

    Lounge access is American Express’ own Centurion lounges, Delta lounges when flying Delta same day, Airspace lounges and Priority Pass lounges.

    Plus you get elite status with Starwood (which matches to Marriott), Hilton, National Car Rental, and Uber.

  2. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature has one killer benefit, but it’s one of the best benefits in travel. Each year you get a companion economy ticket that costs $99+tax just for having the card, and you can pretty much always use it because it books into the same revenue inventory that the paid ticket does.

    In other words the companion even earns miles. And you can use it for any itinerary bookable through Alaska. Book East Coast to Hawaii roundtrip if you want. And even book a Seattle stopover if you wish.

  3. United Club Card has a $450 annual fee card and comes with United lounge membership (which gets you access to Star Alliance business lounges, too) and earns 1.5 miles per dollar on all spending. For years though it didn’t come with any miles as a signup bonus but they’ve just started offering 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. [Offer no longer available]

    The card comes with Hertz Presidents Club and Hyatt Discoverist status, and the Hyatt status matches to MGM Pearl status. United elites get upgrades on domestic award tickets. United waives the $75 close-in booking fees for award tickets for cardmembers.

    You get extra saver award availability, and access to last seat on the plane when spending extra miles. You get first and second checked bag fee waived. Plus priority check-in, security, boarding and baggage handling. Not to mention primary car rental collision damage waiver. 5/24 applies.

  4. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card comes with Gold Elite status (which is honored at Marriott hotels, comes complimentary the first year and that you retain each year you spend $10,000 on the card); a $300 Airline Fee credit; $100 Global Entry credit; unlimited use $100 Airline Ticket discounts when buying for 2 or more passengers; and airport lounge access.

    The signup bonus has dropped to 2 complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after meeting minimum spend.

    Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, Credit: Ritz-Carlton

    The Ritz-Carlton credit card comes with 3 complimentary upgrades to The Ritz-Carlton Club® Level each year valid on paid stays of up to seven nights. It also comes with a $100 hotel credit toward dining, spa or other hotel recreational activities on paid stays of two nights or longer.

    It appears that ‘5/24’ restrictions don’t apply to this card.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.


  1. I noticed that you have the United Club Card info saying “United elites get upgrades on domestic award tickets”. You had pretty much identical phrasing a few days ago, but don’t list what elite status, if any, that you get for having the card. If the card doesn’t provide elite status, why even mention this?

  2. FWIW I think AMEX has 75K offer now for the Platinum card. It does say “Special Offer for you” on their landing page and I am not sure if its because I am somehow being targeted. I ain’t special 😉

    @Jeremy – Prestige is a skeleton card now with one unique “real” benefit that very small subset of customers can really use. Citi managed to trash this card unfortunately at least when compared to the CSR and AMEX Platinum.

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