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With the new calendar year well underway, so it’s time to think about maximizing annual spending bonuses on your credit cards. Any:

  • Traveler who desires elite status
  • Manufactured spender
  • Heavy spender
  • Person who is reimbursed expenses
  • Small business owner with lots of charges

should have a cohesive strategy for how to attack the great annual spending bonuses being thrown around by credit card companies these days. Though signup bonuses are the quickest and most lucrative way to earn points, spending bonuses can really boost your balance and turn that dream trip into reality.

Bonuses for big spenders take many forms:

  • Bonus points/miles
  • Airline status miles or hotel status
  • Free hotel nights
  • Companion passes
  • Flight discounts and more!

What are the best spending bonuses for credit cards? Can you really earn elite status through spending alone? What are the top cards to put tens of thousands of dollars of spending on?

BONUS POINTS

Issuer: American Express
Card: Premier Rewards Gold Card
Fee: $0 for the first year, $175/year after
Bonus: 15,000 Membership Rewards after $30,000 in calendar year spend
Take: This is a really great bonus. With 3x points on airfare and 2x points on gas and groceries, you can earn Membership Rewards fast with certain spending patterns. I took advantage of this threshold bonus three years ago and it helped me book several great awards. If you do hit the $30k spending level, you will essentially have earned 1.5 Membership Rewards per dollar (30k MR for regular spending and the 15k bonus points), and that’s not even factoring in category bonuses.

Issuer: Bank of Hawaii
Card: New Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard
Fee: $85
Bonus: 5,000 Hawaiian miles after $10,000 in calendar year spend
Take: Bonus miles are better than nothing, but with Hawaiian as a American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, I would focus spend on those cards (especially the Premier Rewards Gold Card) to more quickly earn Hawaiian miles.

Issuer: Chase
Card: United MileagePlus Explorer Card
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, $95/year after
Bonus: 10,000 bonus United miles after $25,000 in calendar year spend
Take: Very similar to the Premier Rewards Gold Card offer, though fewer less miles and an easier goal to hit. Because United shredded its award chart, I would lean towards attaining the Membership Rewards instead for Star Alliance travel. If you do hit the $25k spending level, you will essentially have earned 1.4 United miles per dollar (25k United miles for regular spend plus the 10k bonus miles).

Issuer: US Bank
Card: FlexPerks Visa Signature
Fee: $0 for the first year, $49/year after
Bonus: 3,500 bonus Flexpoints (worth up to $70 in flights) after $24,000 in calendar year spend
Take: Scott wrote a thorough review of the FlexPerks card in this post. Flexpoints are US Bank’s proprietary point currency and can be redeemed towards the cost of cash tickets. For travelers who focus more on domestic flights, this card or the Barclay’s Arrival World MasterCard should definitely hold a spot in your wallet.

Flexperks
FlexPerks Redemption Chart

AIRLINE ELITE STATUS

Issuer: American Express
Card: Delta Reserve Credit Card
Annual Fee: $450
Bonus: 15,000 SkyMiles & 15,000 MQM after $30,000 in calendar year spend
2nd Bonus: 15,000 SkyMiles & 15,000 MQM after $60,000 in calendar year spend
Take: A perfect credit card choice for frequent Delta flyers and aspiring elite members. With enough spending, you could earn Silver Medallion status without ever stepping on a plane! This card is great for current Delta elites who want to augment both their SkyMiles balance and boost their elite level.

Issuer: American Express
Card: Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit card
Annual Fee: $150
Bonus: 10,000 Skymiles & 10,000 MQM after $25,000 in calendar year spend
2nd Bonus: 10,000 Skymiles & 10,000 MQM after $50,000 in calendar year spend
Take: Another good credit card for frequent Delta elites members, though not quite the earning potential of the Reserve.

Issuer: Chase
Card: Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
Annual Fee: $99
Bonus: 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points after $10,000 in calendar year spend, up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points annually
Take: I wouldn’t chase Southwest elite status, which doesn’t include upgrades like the legacy carriers. This card could, however, be useful in trying to reacquire the Southwest Companion Pass, though as Scott mentioned in this post there are often faster ways to earn the Companion Pass.

Issuer: Citi
Card: Executive AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard
Annual Fee: $450
Bonus: 10,000 elite qualifying miles after $40,000 in calendar year spend
Take: This is a lofty amount of spend for elite qualifying miles, especially in comparison to the Delta cards issued by American Express. The card does come with Admirals Club lounge access, a benefit soon to be removed from the American Express Platinum card.

HOTEL ELITE STATUS

Issuer: American Express
Card: Hilton HHonors Surpass Card
Annual Fee: $95
Bonus: Hilton HHonors Diamond status after $40,000 in calendar year spend
Take: I actually earned this bonus as one of my 2013 Travel Resolutions, and it paid off in spades. I was upgraded to an incredible suite at the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing and the Hilton Molino Stucky Venice. I was also able to burn most of my HHonors balance at the Conrad Tokyo and Conrad Hong Kong before Hilton’s huge award chart devaluation. This goal isn’t really enticing this year given my travel plans, but it was great while it lasted.

Issuer: American Express
Card: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, $65/year after
Bonus: Starwood Gold Status after $30,000 in calendar year spend
Take: Starwood Gold status isn’t all that valuable an elite level, though it’s better than nothing. Benefits include free internet, 3 Starpoints per $1 spent on room stays, and occasionally an “upgraded” room on a higher floor. The American Express Platinum card actually gives complimentary Starwood Gold status just for having the card, so it’s a much faster way of earning the exact same elite status.

Issuer: Barclay’s
Card: Best Western Rewards Credit Card
Fee: $0
Bonus: Diamond Elite Status after $10,000 in calendar year spend
Take: Top tier Diamond status sounds enticing for owning a $0 annual fee card, but according to the Best Western published elite benefits, Diamond status simply equates to a handful of bonus points and a slightly better room at check-in.

Issuer: Chase
Card: Hyatt Credit Card
Annual Fee: $75
Bonus: 2 stays/5 nights credit after $20,000 in calendar year spend
2nd Bonus: 3 stays/5 nights credit after $40,000 in calendar year spend
Take: This spending bonus pales in comparison to both the Starwood business and personal American Express cards, which both award 2 stays and 5 nights simply for owning the card!

Issuer: Chase
Card: Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, $85/year after
Bonus: Earn one elite night for every $3,000 spent
Take: The Marriott card also comes with 15 elite night credits (instant silver status which normally requires 10 nights), so this card is for frequent Marriott guests (like most Major League baseball scouts!) who spend a lot of money and don’t want to do mattress runs to reach Marriott’s lofty night requirements for elite status.

Issuer: Chase
Card: Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
Annual Fee: $450
Bonus: Ritz-Carlton Gold status after $10,000 in calendar year spend
Take: This card functions in a similar fashion to the American Express Platinum, including $200 in airline fee reimbursement and Priority Pass lounge access. The list of Ritz-Carlton Gold benefits can be found here. Ritz-Carlton Gold elites are recognized reciprocally at Marriott properties, so this could interest those staying at lots of Marriotts, especially because Marriott elite status is so difficult to earn relative to competing hotel loyalty programs.

FREE NIGHTS

Issuer: Citi
Card: Hilton HHonors Reserve Credit Card
Annual Fee: $95
Bonus: One free weekend night after $10,000 of spending in your cardmembership year (not calendar year)
Take: Restriction alert! This night must be used for a Friday-Sunday stay. Still, though, you can get up to 95,000 HHonors points worth of value if used at a top tier hotel. Note that the certificate is awarded at the end of the year in which you met the spending requirement. It is not deposited into your account as soon as you meet the goal. This card also gives HHonors Diamond status after $40,000 in annual spending, mirroring the benefit of the American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass card discussed above.

Issuer: Chase
Card: Fairmont Visa Signature Credit Card
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, $95/year after
Bonus: One free night after $12,000 calendar spend
Take: Fairmont has some intriguing properties, especially the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui, so it’s certainly worth investigating. There are reports of these free nights being tightly capacity controlled, so redeeming for a night at the Plaza Fairmont in New York City is not a slam dunk by any stretch.

MISCELLANEOUS

Issuer: Bank of America
Card: Virgin Atlantic MasterCard
Annual Fee: $90
Bonus: Economy Companion Award Ticket after $25,000 in calendar year spend
Take: This benefit is similar to the Chase British Airways Companion Pass discussed below. Essentially, you are using your Flying Club miles and redeeming two economy awards for the price of one. The second passenger is still responsible for taxes and fees. The full terms and conditions are below. (Click the image to expand.)

Virgin Atlantic Companion Pass

Issuer: Chase
Card: British Airways Visa Credit Card
Annual Fee: $95
Bonus: British Airways Companion Pass after $30,000 in calendar year spend
Take: There are many strings attached to the Companion Pass, as Scott detailed in previous posts. The British Airways Companion Pass is basically a “Buy One Award Ticket, Only Pay Taxes/Fuel Surcharges on the Second Award Ticket” coupon. The person redeeming the pass must be one of the two passengers, and that’s not the only drawback. You can only use it on British Airways metal (no partners like American or airberlin), travel must originate in the United States, the itinerary must be a roundtrip, and the fuel surcharges are often quite high ($700+ per person roundtrip). The Avios award chart is distance-based, so the more you fly the more Avios you have to redeem. This might appeal to some, but it’s not even close to our favorite spending benefit.

Issuer: Citi
Card: Platinum Select AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, $95/year after
Bonus: $100 American Airlines flight discount after $30,000 in calendar year spend
Take: This discount applies to American, its codeshares, and even oneworld partners, but spending $30,000 to receive a measly $100 off coupon isn’t worth your time in comparison to the value of the other big spending bonuses on this list.

Recap

Big spenders certainly have the advantage in the points game. They can rack up huge amounts of miles in little time and receive great bonuses such as additional points, elite status, and free hotel nights. This list above goes to show that manufactured spend should be part of most anyone’s miles and points strategy.

My favorite big spender bonus is the 15k bonus points for spending $30k on the Premier Rewards Gold Card in one calendar year.

Some of the status benefits from other cards are nice, but status is only valuable if you fly that airline or stay at those hotels a lot. And if you do that, you’ll get status anyway. So in general, I think status for spending is overrated.

What are your favorite big spending bonuses?

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