The credit cards with the best annual threshold bonuses

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The way I look at it, 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. 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.

But what about the cards that offer anniversary bonuses that require meeting a certain spend threshold? Can they be worthwhile? I figured I’d cover some of the cards out there that offer threshold bonuses for completing spending, and which I consider to be worthwhile.

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

Threshold bonus: Starwood Gold status after spending $30,000 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, given that with Hilton $40,000 of spend will get you top tier status in their program.

But the reason it could still totally be worthwhile is because Starpoints are probably the single most valuable points currency, so this is already the best card for everyday spend in a non-bonused category.  So if you’re a big spender I totally think it’s worth putting $30,000 on the Starwood American Express, but not exclusively for the Gold status — it’s just a nice added bonus.

Delta Reserve Personal Card

Threshold bonus: 30,000 bonus redeemable miles and MQMs after spending $60,000 in a calendar year

While I’m not a huge fan of Delta’s frequent flyer program as such, the ability to earn status exclusively on credit card spend is ridiculously lucrative. $60,000 of spend on their card will earn you 90,000 redeemable miles and 25,000 MQMs. You can actually earn bonus MQMs and redeemable miles through several of their co-branded credit cards, so see this post for all the details. In all, $220,000 of spend could earn you 100,000 MQMs, more than enough for Platinum status.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card

Threshold bonus: Anniversary night after spending $10,000 on the card in a cardmember year, and HHonors Diamond status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year.

So I’m kind of torn with this one. Up until March I loved the HHonors program, though it was hugely devalued at that point.

Still, for spending $10,000 on the card you get a free weekend night certificate which can be redeemed at virtually any property worldwide, even those that ordinarily go for 90,000 points per night. In addition to that you get three HHonors points per dollar spent on the card. I value three HHonors points conservatively at a cent, and that free night certificate at maybe $250. So spending $10,000 would net you 30,000 HHonors points plus a free night, which I’d value at ~$350. Definitely a fairly good return on $10,000 of spend, in my opinion, assuming that spend wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a bonus category on another card.

What about Diamond status for $40,000 of spend? I actually went for that this year, and to be honest haven’t noticed much of a difference between Diamond and Gold status. You get Gold status for as long as you have the card without any spend requirement, so I really don’t think I’d put $40,000 of spend on the card for Diamond status if I had to do it over.

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Threshold bonus: 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 roundtrip 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.

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.

Which threshold bonuses do you guys find most valuable?

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  1. The 10,000 miles after $25k on the Chase United Explorer isn’t bad, especially if it’s done after manufactured spend (double that because you can do it on the business version too for a toal of 70k miles after manufactured spend and bonus for under $600). I’m going for the SPG bonus next year and might go for the BA one after that.

  2. 1. Hilton Diamond status for spend. I prefer doing this on the AMEX Surpass though because I do most of my spend in a 6x catagory instead of a 3x that the Citi offers. 240k HH points is more than 120k+90k.
    2. 10k for 25k on United card. Probably will go above Hilton Diamond when it includes waiving PQDs next year.
    3. SPG Gold. Yeah, SPG Gold isn’t too fabulous, but its better than nothing.

  3. Hi Lucky. Does the Amex business Gold card provide the same spend bonus? The other benefits seem similar. Bit frustrating if not, thou means a new card to open. I passed 30k spend on the bis card within 2 months of initiation.

  4. The lame thing about the Hilton Reserve card is you get your anniversary night at the end of your membership year. Therefore, you haev to pay the $95 annual fee again to get a free night plus spend $10K.

  5. Also, I don’t know how the Fairmont night certificate with the credit card works, but I once earned a free night certificate from getting status in their program, and it was pretty much impossible to use — all of their high-end properties are heavily capacity-restricted.

  6. I personally go for the Hilton Reserve $10k threshold, and also the SPG $30k. The latter is more out of habit — been doing it for ~7 years now, and don’t want to end the streak. Like you said, though, it’s also the most worthwhile points to earn, so that makes it easier to stomach.

  7. Do you put ALL of your airline purchases on the Amex PRG even if you have an airline specific card (i.e. Citi AAdvantage for AA purchases)? I assume yes because it is 3X vs. 2X, but then you are limited to the transfer partners of MR.

    Also, I don’t think the SPG Gold status is all that special after $30k spend especially when you can get it with the Amex Platinum for only $450 (i.e. annual fee). That is addition to what you said that SPG Gold is “meh” at best.

  8. @ rom — That’s true, though I tend to think that the Gold status just for having the card more than justifies the annual fee, so it’s a moot point for me, personally.

  9. @ Peter — To keep things simple I do put all my US airline purchases on the card. Airline purchases with foreign transaction fees go on the Chase Sapphire Preferred for 2.14 points per dollar.

  10. I like the US Airways Premier World Mastercard’s conversion of 10k Dividend miles into PQMs after $25k in spend. (They’ll also waive your award processing fees.)

  11. I go for the HH Reserve 10k spend. Just got my two night cert, and another one wont be so bad either! Of course, more than 1/2 is achieved using MS.

  12. What about the bonuses on the Virgin Atlantic credit card? Would be interested to see how you think it compares to BA CC and companion pass since both have fuel charges. BA has more flex and can use companion pass for business/first, but VA might be interesting for specific situations.

    Get 1.5 points/dollar, plus at $25K spend 15,000 bonus miles, economy companion pass for half points and 10 tier pts (close to Silver status). So 25K spend effectively gets you 2 economy flights to LON (+ $450 surcharge/ticket) vs BA which requires $32K spend for the same tickets and no status.

  13. @ Matt — That’s a real toughie. Yes, if you’re spending $25,000 you would be earning 52,500 Virgin Atlantic miles, which is quite a bit. The issue, in my book, is that Virgin Atlantic miles are probably worth about half as much as most other points currencies due to their redemption rates and fuel surcharges. With BA you have some “sweet spot” redemptions, like Air Berlin or Aer Lingus to Europe, LAN to South America, or Cathay Pacific within Asia. I don’t think Virgin Atlantic has any similar “sweet spots,” unfortunately.

  14. My wife has a club carlson card, and I have 2, personal and business. That comes to 120,000 renewal points a year for $210. With there last night free deal, that’s good for 3 nights at there top hotels, where a room could be $500 a night, or a $1500 VALUE, how can you beat that!

  15. @alan
    Are you joking? $1500 value for 120k points?? I hate to brake it to you, but that’s very very lousy.

    I have the old ink bold which gives 15k bonus UR points after spending $25 within a membership year, and an additional 25k points after spending an additional $25k within the same membership year.

  16. Steve – Please explain to me how 3 nights at a $500/night resort for $210 is ‘ very very lousy’ .By the way, my wife and I are spending 7 nights on palm beach in Aruba in March for a cost of about $500. I’ll take that deal any day.

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