Making Sense Of Annual Credit Card Spending Bonuses

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At the start of a new year, in addition to considering elite status options and resetting the counter for various travel credits, it’s worth thinking about if it makes sense to direct everyday or bulk spending to certain cards.

When it comes to getting value out of a credit card long term, one of the things to consider is whether or not you can earn any extra perks for meeting certain spending thresholds during the year.

Many people have hefty expenses with the new year (we’re paying tuition, and estimated quarterly taxes are due soon, as examples), so I figured it would be useful to go through some of these threshold bonuses.

Keep in mind that many of these cards offer anniversary points or elite credits each year you maintain your card membership, and there are definite perks for keeping some of these cards year after year.

For example, the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card, Hyatt Credit Card, and Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card all offer a free anniversary night each year just for having the card. The Club Carlson Visa offers 40,000 points upon account anniversary. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers 6,000 points upon account anniversary. And that’s just a few of them — there are plenty of cards out there that offer huge anniversary bonuses that more than justify the annual fee.

For now though, we’re just going to talk about the merits of putting incremental spend on the various cards.

As an overview, here are some of 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, but others offer a potentially great value depending on your circumstances, so I’ll also go through the cards based on what they offer for extra spend.

Bonus Miles

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

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

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. For a roundtrip you’re looking at paying over $1,000 per person, in addition to the mileage requirement.

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

I’m always torn on the value of the BA companion certificate. If you’re traveling between the US and London it’s not a horrible value. First class requires more miles nowadays, which you’re saving 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.

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. We 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 The Enhanced Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN is going to be more lucrative, 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.

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. You can do slightly better with the Chase Freedom® Unlimited, provided you also have a premium Ultimate Rewards card, so I’d only put spend on this card if you need the PQD waiver.

Free Nights

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.

While some (DCS) will argue that HHonors Diamond status is worth the additional spend, most people are going to find Gold status to be sufficient, which you get automatically with this card.

You can also get Gold status for free with The Enhanced Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN or The Platinum Card® from American Express, so the target bonus here is the free weekend night. If you have plans to stay at a top-tier property, that certificate could be quite valuable.

Fairmont Visa Signature Credit Card

Threshold bonus: Free night certificate after spending $12,000 on the card in a year; you’ll also get one stay credit when you spend $7,500 on the card in a calendar year, and another stay credit if you spend an additional $7,500

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.

Or at least it would be, if the points were otherwise valuable. 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, the points are rather tough to rack up.

fairmont-pacific-rim
Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver

The free night itself might be worth the $12,000 of spend, but I wouldn’t value the points otherwise earned far beyond that. If you typically stay at Fairmont properties, however, it could make sense.

Elite Status

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard

Threshold bonus: This is tricky, as you can theoretically get a shortcut to status by spending money on American’s co-branded Barclaycard products, as follows:

  • AAdvantage Aviator Red, Aviator Blue, and Aviator Business MasterCard accounts can earn up to $3,000 EQDs by spending $25,000 on qualifying net purchases during the calendar year
  • AAdvantage Aviator Silver MasterCard accounts can earn up to $6,000 EQDs by spending $50,000 on qualifying net purchases each calendar year; they’ll earn $3,000 EQDs after spending $25,000 on qualifying purchases and another $3,000 EQDs after $50,000 on qualifying purchases

At present, however, you can only apply for the Aviator Red. If you already have the Aviator Red, you may be able to upgrade to the Aviator Silver, but otherwise you’ll need to wait until the cards become more widely available.

If you’re committed to maintaining elite status with American (I’m not), and wouldn’t reach the EQD requirement otherwise, it could make sense to earmark some spending for an Aviator card.

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 (for the committed).

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.

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.

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.

If you’re a Delta flyer, it probably makes sense to direct $25,000 of spend to this card, as that waives your MQD requirement.

Delta-SkyClub-San-Francisco - 13
Delta SkyClub San Francisco

Beyond that depends on your elite status tier and whether or not the additional MQMs will make a difference.

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 — Nick finds value in spending $60,000 on this card each year, but that will vary based on individual circumstances.

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

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

We 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.

The elite night credits can be extremely valuable, however, if you’re going for status with Marriott. With enough spend, you can even earn top tier status exclusively on credit card spend. Not that I’d recommend earning status that way (you’d need to spend ~$180,000 on the card for Platinum status), but it is worth noting that the option is out there.

Otherwise, if you just need an additional night or two to reach the next elite tier, this is a good option.

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

Threshold bonus: Gold status by spending $10,000 on purchases within your account year; Platinum status when you spend $75,000 on purchases every account year

The main benefit here is the reciprocal status with Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, and Starwood. $10,000 of spend per year in order to maintain mid-tier status with all three chains isn’t that much, and will at least get you free breakfast at Marriott properties (but you can also get Gold status for free with The Enhanced Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN or The Platinum Card® from American Express).

marriott-astana-hotel-40
Breakfast at the Marriott Astana

Platinum status is probably not worth it, marginally, but $75,000 in spend is a lot less than the $180,000 of spend required on the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card in order to earn Platinum status, and if you have large purchases to make this year it might be a decent option. Platinum status earned through Ritz-Carlton will also grant you United Silver status, which could be compelling for some.

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, and you can get it for free with The Enhanced Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN or The Platinum Card® from American Express.

Gold status 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, we 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 for the points earned, but don’t do it for the status.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Southwest 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.

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, but do the math to make sure it’s worth putting spend towards a spending bonus versus spreading the money around.

Which card threshold bonus do you find most valuable? 


Non-Affiliate Product Disclaimer: The information for the Fairmont Visa Signature Credit Card, Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business credit card, and the The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card has been collected independently by One Mile At A Time. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

About Tiffany

Tiffany Funk is a passionate traveler who splits her time between California and Italy (when she’s not traveling elsewhere!) Her posts offer a different perspective on earning miles, tricks for balancing multiple household accounts, and break down the basics of redeeming miles for aspirational travel -- whatever those aspirations may be!

More articles by Tiffany »

Regarding Comments: The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  1. @Tiffany: The $100 American Airlines flight discount was (I believe) discontinued in early 2016 for the Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®. I remember receiving official notifications from Citi regarding that.

  2. I had the US Airways Barclaycard Silver Avaiator which became the AA Silver Aviator after the merger and I’ve been using it for the past three years. They offer 5,000 EQM after $20,000 spend and another 5,000 EQM at $40,000 spend in addition to the new EQD thresholds you detail in the article. Normally the give 3 miles for all AA purchases, 2 for hotels and rental cars. Right now they have a promotion for 50% more miles in all categories for the next three months. Since I fly exclusively AA and their OW partners, this card is pretty valuable for my situation.

  3. AT&T Access More card offers 10,000 TYP when spending $10K for the card year. That is one of the better threshold bonuses out there.

  4. Tiffany,

    I met the $25k spend requirement with a United MileagePlus Explorer card in 2016 and don’t recall ever having achieved silver status (although I may have missed it as I am rarely on an airplane any longer) and definitely am not now that we are in 2017 as I have just checked. As best you understand it, would my having met the threshold in 2016 carry over into 2017 or would it just be good for the remainder of the year in which it was achieved? Thanks for any input.

  5. Virgin America’s Premium Visa Signature card provides for up to 15,000 credits for $30,000 in spend. Considering you can get Virgin America Silver status with just 20,000 credits, this card gets you 75% of the way to status before even taking a flight. Considering that Alaska matches Virgin status, this isn’t a bad deal.

  6. Some AA Aviator Red cardholders get 10,000 bonus miles on account anniversary (and lower annual fee, $89 vs $95). I believe this is only grandfathered for previous US DM cardholders; I don’t know what the cutoff date was.

  7. @Daniel B. is correct about the AA Platinum MasterCard.

    Also, your comment in the Hilton Reserve Card section about getting HHonors Gold from Amex Plat misses the obvious: you get Gold from the Reserve card itself.

  8. Another use of spend is to take out new credit cards which have large mileage bonuses and reasonable cost. Delta Skymiles Platinum offer was 70K miles for $5,000 spend in first three months and Chase has been generous with Ink and Sapphire sign up bonuses

  9. I think it might be worth pointing out that the $75k spend on the Ritz card gives you United Silver by virtue of the Marriott Platinum. Considering Delta Silver needs $60k spend on the Reserve, I find the Ritz bonus a more compelling alternative.

  10. “While some (DCS) will argue that HHonors Diamond status is worth the additional spend, most people are going to find Gold status to be sufficient.”

    “Most people are going to find Gold status to be sufficient” simply because self-anointed travel gurus have been telling them for years that HH Diamond is a subpar top elite status based on made up claims about how other top elite levels are better!

    HH Gold is unquestionably the best second tier elite status out there but the benefits are nowhere near as good as those of HH Diamond, unless free breakfast is all one cares about, or one is completely clueless about the HH program, or both… I would not settle for anything less than HH Diamond because I know better 😉

    Cheers from Phnom Penh in the Kingdom of Cambodia!

  11. I obtained Air Berlin Gold Status (which equals One World Saphire including One World Lounge Access) just by spending 50k Euro in 2016 through the Air Berlin Credit Card Commercial Gold. No single flight on Air Berlin required! Each Euro will get you 1 Status Mile + 1 Travel Mile. So, essentially, including the bonus for signing up for the card (25k miles), I was able to collect almost 90k miles last year, for the annual fee of 90 Euro if you don’t have status.
    Downside is, award travel with Air Berlin is quite expensive. And I don’t know if you can apply for the card outside Germany or the EU.

  12. Hi Tiffany,

    Up here in the Great White North we don’t have nearly as many credit card options. However, the Premier Marriott Rewards Visa currently offers 5x points on spend at Marriott and SPG properties. Given the 3:1 transfer ratio from Marriott to SPG, that would equate to earning 1.66 SPG points when transferring the 5x bonus points from Marriott to SPG. I qualify that I mathed this one out quickly on the train this AM

  13. You really dropped the ball on the Barclay AA Silver Aviator. All you covered was EQDs, which VASTLY understates the value of the spend requirements.

    5,000 EQMs for each $20,000 in spend (10k max EQMs per year).

    Companion ticket for up to 2 guests at $99 each at $30,000 in spend.

    Plus, as you note, you get $3k in EQD credit for each $25k in spend (up to $6k EQD credit).

    So, if you spend $40k you get 10k EQMs, a companion ticket and $3k EQD credit. I probably won’t be putting $50k on the card, and for me, the benefit tops out at the $30k level with the companion ticket. But to say that the only value is EQD credit is just lazy research.

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