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5 Platinum Cards You'll Want When You Travel

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- A platinum credit card can cost you as much as $500 a year in membership fees, but experts say the perks are as good as gold if you travel a lot.  

"Most of the upper-level managers I've worked with carry these types of cards and love them," says Ben Woolsey of CreditCards.com. "They love the VIP lounges and shorter security lines, and they love the hotel upgrades and rental-car upgrades and things like that."  

Known in the industry as "mass-affluent" credit cards, platinum cards, black cards and other high-end plastic are a cut above even the traditional gold card.  

For openers, these cards usually offer not only 1% or more cash back on everyday purchases, but also as much as 10% in bonus points for each dollar spent on hotel stays and other travel services.  

Bonus points are typically worth a penny apiece toward free airline tickets or hotel rooms, and you can generally combine them with various airline frequent-flier programs -- often with no "blackout dates."  

"Even though the annual fees are pretty steep, these cards can certainly be justified if you use them in a certain way and at a certain spending level," Woolsey says.  

In addition to cash-back features, mass-affluent cards also often offer a wide range of other perks, from express airport check-in to a free bag per flight.  

The costliest cards even include free access to airport VIP lounges, where travelers can enjoy comfortable waiting areas, free snacks and even free showers.  

Woolsey says many business travelers take out mass-affluent cards just to get access to these facilities, which usually cost around $500 a year anyway -- and that's just to use one airline's lounges. Mass-affluent cards typically include access to VIP lounges regardless of carrier.  

"That's the kind of calculus people go through when considering these cards," Woolsey says.  

Here's a look at five mass-affluent cards Woolsey particularly likes. Cards are listed in alphabetical order, and getting one generally requires a top FICO score -- about 750 or higher:  

American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card
Annual fee: $175 (first year free)  
This American Express (AXP - Get Report) card gets the nod primarily because of a generous 25,000 Membership Rewards points you can earn right off the bat by spending just $2,000 in your first three months of membership.  

You'll also get an extra 15,000 points if you charge $30,000 on the card in your first calendar year. And that's on top of 1 point for every dollar you spend on most purchases, plus 2 points per dollar for gas and grocery bills and 3 points for airfare.  

Other perks include free baggage insurance when you travel, free extended warranties and return protection on purchases and access to special Gold Card concerts, shows and sporting events.  

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