Credit Cards With The Best Annual Spending Bonuses

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Update: This offer for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® is expired. Learn more about the current offer here.

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Update: This offer is expired. You can find the current offer details here.

Reader James asked the following on the Ask Lucky page of the blog a couple of days ago:

Hi Ben,

Would love to see a post with a roundup of all the cards with spend threshold bonuses like spend $40K on the AA Executive Card get 10K AA EQM, Hyatt Stays/Nights, BA companion etc….

Thanks!

As I’ve often said, I feel there are three components to the value of a credit card:

  • The sign-up bonus
  • The value the card gives you for everyday spend
  • Any bonuses you may get for having the card long term

Regarding that last category, there are several cards out there that offer considerable value just for keeping the card in your wallet and paying the annual fee. Others offer bonus points or extra perks for reaching a certain spending threshold, and many of these can be quite lucrative.

As an overview, here are the main travel credit cards that offer bonuses for meeting certain thresholds:

CardThresholdBonus
Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card$3,000Additional one night towards status for every $3,000 you spend
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card$10,000Free weekend night certificate valid at virtually any Hilton property worldwide
Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard$10,0005,000 bonus miles
Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card$10,000Gold elite status
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card$10,0001,500 Tier Qualifying Points
(up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points annually)
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card$10,0001,500 Tier Qualifying Points
(up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points annually)
Fairmont Visa Signature Credit Card$12,000Free night award
United Mileage Plus Explorer$25,00010,000 bonus miles
Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard®$25,000Companion reward ticket for half the miles
Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card and Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express$25,00010,000 bonus redeemable miles and MQMs
British Airways Visa Signature® Card$30,000Travel together ticket for companion awards
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express$30,000Starwood Gold elite status
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express$30,000Starwood Gold elite status
Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express and Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card$30,00015,000 bonus redeemable miles and MQMs
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card$40,000HHonors Diamond status
Citi Executive AAdvantage World MasterCard$40,00010,000 American AAdvantage elite qualifying miles
American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass Card$40,000HHonors Diamond elite status
Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card and Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express$50,000Additional 10,000 bonus redeemable miles and MQMs
Hawaiian Airlines® Business MasterCard®$50K-$99K20,000 bonus miles
Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express and Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card$60,000Additional 15,000 bonus redeemable miles and MQMs
Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card$75,000Platinum elite status with Ritz, Marriott, and SPG; United Silver status
Hawaiian Airlines® Business MasterCard®$100K+40,000 bonus miles

Some of these are clearly a terrible idea (if you know anyone spending over $100K a year on a Hawaiian business card please give them my email address), but others offer a potentially great value, so I figured I’d also go through the cards one by one.

Transferable Points

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express 

Threshold bonus: Starwood Preferred Guest Gold elite status after $30,000 in net purchases in a calendar year.

There’s no doubt this is a high threshold, given that Starwood Gold status isn’t all that valuable. It gets you late check-out, “preferred” rooms, and free internet, but that’s about it. Spending $30,000 for that is a lot. That being said, I value SPG points quite highly (2.2 cents each), so if you have $30,000 of un-bonused spend in a year this is still a good option.

Airline Miles

British-Airways-A380-First-Class
Redeem a companion certificate for British Airways A380 first class

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Threshold bonus: Travel together award companion certificate after spending $30,000 on the card in a calendar year

So the issue with the companion certificate is that it’s only valid for travel on British Airways flights, and travel has to originate in the US. Of course the issue with awards on British Airways is the fuel surcharges they impose. For a roundtrip you’re looking at paying over $1,000 per person including taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges.

The funny thing about the companion certificate is that people either love it or hate it. I know people more desperate to collect them than Pokemon, that say “Only 120,000 Avios plus ~$2,200 for two people to fly between New York and London in first class? That’s basically a gift.” And then I know people that say “I have to pay $2,200 on what’s supposed to be a ‘free’ ticket? What an absolute scam!”

I stand somewhere in the middle. If traveling between the US and London I do think it’s a fairly good value. With most airlines you’d pay 125,000-135,000 miles per passenger in first class, so figure you’re saving that number of miles by using a companion certificate. Instead you’re paying roughly $800 per person in fuel surcharges. I’d say spending $1,600 to save 125,000-135,000 miles isn’t a bad deal.

And for that matter, if you want to fly British Airways first class you have no choice but to pay the fuel surcharges, since all of their partners impose them on award redemptions.

Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®

Threshold bonus: $100 American Airlines flight discount certificate after spending $30,000 in a calendar year.

I honestly can’t think of a reason to spend $30,000 on this card in a year. If you’re planning on spending that amount with American, or really want to earn AAdvantage miles, I’d probably put that spend on the Citi Executive card instead, but most people are better off with one of the SPG cards.

Citi Executive AAdvantage World MasterCard

Threshold bonus: 10,000 American AAdvantage elite qualifying miles after spending $40,000 in qualifying purchases in a calendar year.

While this still isn’t a fantastic bonus, I generally feel that earning some elite qualifying miles is better than none. Unless you have a significant amount of American Airlines spend you’re probably best off putting extra spend on the SPG cards. Starwood points transfer to American with a bonus of 5,000 miles for every 20,000 transferred, so that’s typically going to be more lucrative.

Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard

Threshold bonus: 5,000 bonus miles after spending $10,000 in a calendar year.

I don’t think it’s worth putting $10,000 of spend on the card to earn 5,000 bonus miles, meaning you’re basically earning 1.5 miles per dollar for the first $10,000 spent. Ultimately I think there are better threshold bonuses out there and more valuable points to accrue. I value HawaiianMiles at maybe 1.2 cents each, so this spending bonus would be worth ~$60.

Hawaiian Airlines® Business MasterCard®

Threshold bonus: 20,000 bonus miles after spending $50,000-$99,000 in qualifying purchases in a calendar year, 40,000 bonus miles after spending $100,00 or more in qualifying purchases in a calendar year.

Seriously, please don’t do this. You’re getting between $240 and $480 in value for an outrageous amount of credit card spend. If you’re spending over $100,000 a year on a single credit card, or if you really want to accrue Hawaiian miles, you’d be better off putting that spend on one of the Starwood Preferred Guest cards, in my opinion.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card and Platinum Delta SkyMiles®Business Credit Card

Threshold bonus: 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles with $25,000 in eligible spending in a calendar year. Additional 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $50,000 in net purchases in a calendar year.

Unlike the American AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles cards, these bonus miles are both elite-qualifying and redeemable. On top of that, Delta has revenue component to their status program. That means in addition to earning a certain number of MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles) you also have to earn a certain number of MQDs (Medallion Qualifying Dollars), ensuring you’re spending an average of a minimum of 10 cents per mile to reach the threshold. However, if you have a co-branded Delta credit card that requirement can be waived by spending $25,000 on it in a calendar year.

So if you’re a Delta flyer, it probably makes sense to direct $25,000 of spend to this card. Beyond that depends on your elite status tier and whether or not the additional MQMs will make a difference. I value Delta SkyMiles at 1.3 cents each, so each threshold bonus is worth ~$130.

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express and Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card

Threshold bonus: 15,000 bonus Medallion Qualifying Miles after spending $30,000 in net purchases in a calendar year. 30,000 bonus Medallion Qualifying Miles after spending $60,000 in net purchases in a calendar year.

Similar to the Platinum Delta SkyMiles cards, if you’re getting value out of this card otherwise I’d certainly spend the $30,000 to get the first bonus. Beyond that really depends on your travel patterns. I value Delta SkyMiles at 1.3 cents each, so each threshold bonus is worth ~$195.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card

Threshold bonus: 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points (up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points annually) for every 10,000 spent in qualifying purchases.

I am not a Southwest flyer, and unless you’re shooting for the Companion Pass I generally don’t think it makes sense to put much spend on these cards. If you’re short a few tier points this could be worthwhile, but I don’t think this threshold bonus is otherwise valuable as such.

United Mileage Plus Explorer Card

Threshold bonus: 10,000 bonus miles after spending $25,000 in a calendar year.

The main benefit here is that by having a co-branded MileagePlus credit card, the Premier Qualifying Dollars requirement for Premier Silver, Premier Gold and Premier Platinum qualification is waived if you spend at least $25,000 on the card in the year. Given you’d also receive the threshold bonus for spending $25,000 on the card, this is a good option for those flyers.

With the spending bonus, you’re basically earning 1.4 MileagePlus miles per dollar spent on non-bonused categories for the first $25,000, which is pretty tough to beat. I value United MileagePlus miles at about 1.4 cents each, so this spending bonus would be worth ~$140.

Virgin America Visa Card

Threshold bonus: Up to 15,000 status points on cards with an annual fee — you’ll earn 5,000 status points for every $10,000 of eligible purchases on your card, up to a maximum of 15,000 status points per calendar year.

Virgin America offers Silver status once you’ve earned 20,000 points in a year, and Gold status after 50,000 points. If you frequently fly Virgin American and this spend would push you to the next tier of elite benefits, then this might make sense. For everyone else though, keep in mind that these are status points, not redeemable miles.

Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard®

Threshold bonus: Spend at least $25,000 on purchases in a year and redeem the necessary miles for a Virgin Atlantic Economy reward ticket and get a companion reward ticket for half the miles.

Unless you fly a ton on Virgin Atlantic, it likely doesn’t make sense to reach for this bonus. The card offers 3 miles per $1 spent directly on Virgin Atlantic purchases, and 1.5 miles per $1 spent on everyday puchases. That’s a good earning rate, though Virgin Atlantic levies hefty fuel surcharges on award tickets, so I’d rather accrue miles with a transferable currency and redeem awards through the Delta SkyMiles program.

Hotel Points

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Threshold bonus: Additional one night towards elite status for every $3,000 you spend.

I value Marriott Rewards points at 0.8 cents each, so you’re looking at a return of 1.6% on bonus categories and 0.8% on everyday spend. Unless you’re putting money on the card to requalify for status (since the card offers one elite qualifying night for every $3,000 spent) this probably isn’t worth putting spend on at all.

So if you’re committed to the Marriott program and just need an additional night or two to reach the next elite tier, this is a good option. Otherwise I’d direct that spend elsewhere.

Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

Threshold bonus: Gold Elite status after spending $10,000 in qualifying purchases in a calendar year. Platinum Elite status after spending $75,000 in a calendar year.

This card is interesting because it offers Gold Elite status automatically for the first year of membership. You can maintain Gold Elite status in subsequent years in which you spend at least $10,000 on the card. You can also receive Platinum Elite status for any year in which you spend $75,000 on the card (I wouldn’t recommend this).

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card

Threshold bonus: Free weekend night certificate valid at virtually any Hilton property worldwide after $10,000 in net purchases in a year. HHonors Diamond status after spending $40,000 in qualifying purchases in a cardmember year.

Last year I made an effort to reach the $40,000 in spend on this card to achieve Diamond status, and I sorta regret the decision. I haven’t noticed any appreciable difference in Diamond status compared to the Gold status that comes with the card, so while I think spending $10,000 for the free night makes sense, I would direct excess spend elsewhere.

American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass Card

Threshold bonus: HHonors Diamond status after spending $40,000 in qualifying purchases in a calendar year.

Ultimately I don’t think HHonors Diamond status is worth the opportunity cost of putting $40,000 of spend on this card. While Hilton probably offers the most valuable mid-tier status at their Gold level, I just don’t find Diamond status compelling enough to go out of the way for.

Fairmont Visa Signature Credit Card

Threshold bonus: Free night certificate after spending $12,000 on the card in a year

On one hand I think a free night certificate after spending $12,000 on their card is generous, since Fairmont has some really great properties. At least it would be in conjunction with other valuable points. While there are many awesome perks to Fairmont’s program, I find their award chart to be a bit overpriced. A free night in a base room requires between 25,000 and 65,000 points per night, and aside from their credit card or actual Fairmont stays, their points are rather tough to rack up.

So the issue is that I doubt I’d ever get any value out of the points I earn on the Fairmont credit card, since it would take me a long time to earn enough points for a free night at a property I’d like to redeem at. The free night itself might be worth the $12,000 of spend, but I wouldn’t value the points otherwise earned far beyond that. So generally the free night threshold doesn’t tempt me.

The Hyatt Credit Card

Threshold bonus: Receive 2 stay credits and 5 night credits toward Diamond status upon spending $20,000 in each calendar year. Receive an additional 3 stay credits and 5 night credits toward Diamond status upon spending $40,000 in each calendar year.

The Starwood American Express cards offer additional credit towards elite status just for carrying the card and paying the annual fee. The Hyatt card only provides bonus elite credits when you meet the spend thresholds. I value Hyatt Diamond status tremendously, so if you need a few additional stay or night credits this is potentially worthwhile.

Bottom line

As you can see, the above spend thresholds really vary in terms of value, ranging from extremely valuable to almost laughable. It’s tough to beat a card with a good return on the categories you spend the most in, plus a threshold bonus.

Which card threshold bonus do you find most valuable? 


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Comments

  1. Lucky, can you clarify something re Hyatt? Platinum requires 5 stays or 15 nights. Diamond requires 25 stays or 50 nights. But by having the credit card you are automatically Platinum.. So then do you only need the difference between diamond and platinum of 20 stays or 35 nights to get to Diamond? If ask because if spend $40k on the card then I only need 10 more stays or 25 nights for Diamond? Or is Diamond only achieved by 25 stays minus credit spend bonus credit? Thanks.

  2. @ Juno — You automatically get Platinum with the credit card, but not the corresponding stay/night credits. So just for having the card you’d be Platinum but have zero nights and stay credits, so you’d still need the full 25 stays or 50 nights (less five stays or 10 nights if you spend $40,000 on the card).

  3. @ Lucky: ” For example, I already spend a lot on airfare, so the American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card is a no brainer” ===> I thought you always use miles and points to book a flight? Paying full fare for a flight ticket just against our motto as miles and points collector and to travel “almost free” or with less money, isn’t it? 🙂
    For tax and surcharges or non reimbursable airline or travel related fees, would it be better to use Barclay Arrival Plus as we can take off those fees by redeeming the arrival plus’ miles? Therefore it made the ticket free!

  4. @Ben, aren’t you assigning value to the MQM’s you get at the $30K and $60K thresholds on the Delta Reserve card? You say they’re only worth $195, but the fact that with $60,000 of spend you can get Silver Medallion without even setting foot on a plane is worth more than $390, for sure, no?

  5. @ Dave — For me, I’m all about redeeming miles for aspirational wards. I do a ton of domestic flying on revenue tickets, and also a fair bit of international flying where I upgrade on American using systemwide upgrades. A vast majority of my premium longhaul international flying is using miles, though.

  6. @ Nick — Yes and no, I think those are numbers everyone has to crunch for themselves. It definitely can be worth putting spend on the Delta cards for MQMs, though at the same time they’re only worth anything if you actually plan on flying with Delta or SkyTeam carriers. So it’s tough to assess a “universal” value to them, in my opinion.

  7. @luck- call me a fan of the US card. Between a pretty useful companion pass, the ability to get multiple cards (I have 3 personal and 1 biz), and the ability to stack the 10K PQM for $25K spend, it was easy to earn high tier status on US pretty cheaply. Really sad those benefits are going away, especially as the companion pass paid for some great transcon weekend getaways for me and Mrs arrek.

  8. The Citi HHonors Reserve card may have changed their definition of “cardmember year”. I believe that, previously, it started and ended on the date you were approved for the card. Recently, I got a postcard specifying it begins on the date your annual fee is charged. For me, that changed my “anniversary date” from November 25 to January 1.

  9. If you MS at all, since you can’t really load teen cards with Amex, your options are Visa/MC. Given how mindlessly easy it is to unload upwards 25k+ a month on them, hitting the thresholds even on the cards you denigrate makes a lot of sense since no card gives category bonuses for loading em ($100 AA certificate for the Platinum Select will cover 2/3 of your load fees to hit the 30k spend meaning you paid less than a fifth of a cent for each mile).

  10. Hi Ben, just wondering when will you get the 2 Free weekend night certificate from CIti HHonor Card after you finish the min spending and how to see it from your HHonor account?

  11. On Marriott/Chase card. I have the Premier for about two or three years. The rewards are:

    1. Get 1 free night every year you carry the card (Cat 1-5 hotels)
    2. For every 3K spend, get a 1 night bonus toward Elite Status
    3. If you’re just signing up you get a free night off the bat (cat 1-4)
    4. When you first sign up you get 50,000 points in your account (which is good for at least 1 free night)
    5. You boost your points toward free stays by using your Marriott Card at Marriott and get 5 to 1
    6. 2 to 1 for travel and 1 to 1 for everything else

    Use it with MegaPromo’s and you can really pump your points. I’m Platinum and earned a lot more points by signing up for the Mega Promos and using my card.

    The card comes with a chip. And, you always get a free night every year which more than offsets the annual fee.

    It’s a no brainer for a hotel card

    Now, if i could find an airline card I could be as loyal to……. i’ve been searching but alas nothing yet.

  12. sorry – didnt mean to hit send.
    please explain the free nights per 2 stays on club carlson. is that only good one time per stay? or if i stay 10 nights, do i get 5 free? i’m confused.

    thanks!

  13. @ jerri — It’s good once per stay, but you can use it dozens of times per year. So if you switch hotels every two nights then you’d basically always have your second night free.

  14. Jumping in on a very old post, but not sure why you think the Hawaiian business card is such a terrible idea. At the $50k or $100k levels you’re earning at 1.4x, which is better than Starpoints 1.25x. Yes, with Starpoints you can transfer to other airlines besides Hawaiian, but if you KNOW you will be using the points at Hawaiian it’s actually quite a good deal.

  15. @ Cindi Anderson — Because Hawaiian miles themselves offer a terrible value compared to the alternatives, not to mention all the other cards that could earn 2x points or more on business spend.

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