Credit Card Expert Roundup #28 - Several premium credit cards have just announced higher annual fees. Do you think customers are willing to pay them, and is this sustainable?

Jason Steele
March 5, 2019
Jason Steele CardCon

While sign-up bonus have continued to climb, there is a new trend where some issuing banks have raised their annual fees within their premium card portfolio. For issue #28 of the Credit Card Reviews Expert Roundup, Jason Steele asks this week's panel to weigh-in on this trend with the following question:

"Several premium credit cards have just announced higher annual fees. Do you think customers are willing to pay them, and is this sustainable?"

Joe Resendiz - Research Analyst at ValuePenguin

Credit card companies charging higher annual fees in exchange for more perks and benefits isn't anything new. However, what is new and actually quite surprising is just how high the annual fees on these premium cards are starting to get. Credit cards that charge annual fees surpassing the $300 threshold are becoming more prevalent.

If you calculate the monetary value of the benefits and perks offered by these premium cards, the value proposition will likely be a net positive. That said, the perks and benefits offered up by premium cards are becoming increasingly geared toward certain users, such as travelers or business owners. However, in most actual use cases, cardholders won't be able to use all the perks and benefits needed to outweigh a high annual fee.

In my opinion, consumers will be willing to pay higher annual fees for premium cards as long as the benefits on the cards are easy to use. That's because consumers value simple and useful perks and benefits. For example, a general travel credit card, which offers rewards that can be applied to any travel expense, is much more versatile than one tied to a specific form of travel. Ultimately, if the benefits and perks of premium cards become highly specialized, I would expect consumers to shy away from forking over the higher annual fees for the cards. Of course, there is a tipping point where annual fees on premium cards lock out large customer segments. That means card issuers must tread carefully and realize that charging increasingly higher annual fees isn't a sustainable long-term practice.

Lee Huffman - Travel and points expert who blogs at Bald Thoughts

There are two different types of consumers when it comes to paying credit card annual fees. The first are those who will keep the status quo until the pain becomes too much. And the other are those that are hyper-focused on squeezing value out of their credit cards and are sensitive to changes in fees and benefits. With so many resources available online to educate themselves, the second group continues to grow.

Although consumers dislike paying higher annual fees, they will do so if there is enough value. The credit card world is extremely competitive and cardholders with excellent credit and the ability to pay higher fees are ideal clients for banks. New credit cards are being issued all of the time to grab a piece of their wallet.

I recommend everyone to review every credit card they have each year to ensure the card is still worth the annual fee. Sometimes your needs change and other times the credit card fees or benefits change. Don't assume that a credit card that was a good fit a year ago is still the right card going forward. You work hard for your money. Make the bank work even harder to earn your loyalty for another year.

Andy Shuman - Travel and credit expert and an author of the Amazon bestselling Lazy Traveler's Handbook series

Most people aren’t willing to pay any credit card fees, and for a good reason. No-annual-fee credit cards cover most of the things people want from them, including rewards or cash back. This is why those who don’t mind paying annual fees tend to appreciate extra features and additional perks. Not just rewards, but higher rewards; not just standard benefits, but benefits that go above and beyond; not just a few perks, but the privileges that a no-fee credit card wouldn’t be able to offer.

Let’s take unlimited access to airport lounges – a fantastic perk, which is mostly offered by ultra-premium credit cards, such as AMEX Platinum, Citi Prestige, and a few others. If you are a frequent traveler, it’s pretty hard to go back from sipping a free cocktail at an airline lounge to waiting, sometimes for hours, in an overcrowded terminal. This benefit that most people wouldn’t probably appreciate is very tangible to frequent flyers, a particular subset of credit card customers. They will want to keep the card even when faced with a fee increase.

So, yes, I believe this is sustainable, but only up to a point. There are not many truly exclusive benefits, so in order to raise an annual fee, the issuer has to entice the customer to stay with them rather than defect to a competitor. In the credit card world, that means adding even more perks and benefits, but that’s a double-edged sword. Add too many, and the annual-fee increase won’t cover your additional expenses. Too few, and a large part of your customers will vote with their feet.

Michelle Black - Credit expert, freelance writer, and speaker with over 16 years of experience in the credit industry.

Although consumers may be accustomed to paying annual fees for premium rewards cards, a lot of people (myself included) strongly dislike fees. Add on the fact that, in order to qualify for premium cards, the customers who hold those accounts likely have good credit. Many of those consumers will know they have options.

Higher fees may have customers calling into their card issuer’s customer service department to complain. It also may trigger consumers to look elsewhere for alternative credit card options.

Whether or not the fee hikes will be sustainable in the long term will depend upon two factors. First, do the benefits of the premium card still greatly outweigh the newly raised annual fee? Second, are other card issuers offering similar products with lower annual fees?

All in all, rate and fee hikes leave a bad taste in consumers’ mouths, especially consumers with good credit who manage their credit card accounts responsibly. Personally, I’m very anti-annual fee with a few exceptions. If one of my personal credit card issuers were to hike my annual fee, I would call to ask for it to be waived or at least reduced (something I already do each year anyway). Otherwise, I would strongly consider looking elsewhere for a more attractive credit card product."

Susan Johnston Taylor - Has covered money and credit cards for online publications including Bankrate.com, CreditCards.com, DailyWorth.com, Learnvest.com and U.S. News & World Report.

I think the credit card companies who've raised annual fees on their most premium cards probably expect some attribution but they've run the numbers and determined that it still makes sense. They may have fewer customers paying a higher fee but they'll make it up in other ways.

Many consumers don't scrutinize their credit card statements, so they may not even notice that they're paying a higher annual fee, especially if they already have a high monthly spend. Some of the more fastidious consumers who read credit card blogs and check their balance online every day will call and ask to be moved to a less expensive ersion of that card, so the credit card company won't lose their business entirely, they'll just lose some revenue on the annual fee. (Some of this group may be credit card churners who would have canceled the card after the first year even if the annual fee remained the same because they open new cards primarily for the signup bonus.)

Other consumers who geek out about credit cards will choose to pay the higher annual fee because they believe they can milk the perks and get enough value to offset the higher annual fee. Frequent travelers may feel the airport lounge access, airline credits and other perks outweigh the cost. As long the premium cards deliver value, I think some card-holders will continue paying the annual fees. Plus, many card-holders like the cache of paying with a sleek metal card. For them, the annual fee doesn't matter. If anything, a higher annual fee only increases the card's prestige factor for them.

Bill Hardekopf - CEO of LowCards.com

Typically, when an issuer raises the annual fee of a credit card, the potential market for that card gets a little smaller. After all, the great majority of credit cards come with no annual fee. In addition, so many consumers have fair to poor credit, so they would not be approved for these cards. But if we just look at the consumers who would qualify for a premium card, raising the annual fee will not necessarily deter those consumers from applying for that card. These premium credit card consumers are savvy. It will all depend on the cost-benefit analysis that these consumers will likely do. If the incremental rewards significantly outweigh the additional annual fee, they will consider paying the extra fee. But the incremental rewards have to appeal to that individual; they need to be rewards that will surely be used. And the cost-benefit can't result in just a "push." If it's an additional $100 in rewards but you pay an additional $100 annual fee, it likely will not be worth the risk. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card showed that consumers will flock to a card, even with a very high annual fee, if the rewards are appealing.

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