Which Credit Cards Offer The Best Anniversary Bonuses?

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Reader steven k recently made the following request on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:

This is not a question but rather a request. When you get a chance, can you write a post about credit cards with best (most lucrative) anniversary bonus?

I do keep 20+ credit cards open at a given time, and it’s not because I enjoy paying annual fees. 😉

There are two reasons I keep credit cards open long term:

  • They offer me a great return on everyday spend, typically in terms of the category bonuses they offer; in these cases, the marginal bonus points I earn have to outweigh the annual fee
  • They offer me lucrative anniversary bonuses just for holding onto the cards; in many cases I don’t spend a cent on these cards, but I gladly pay the annual fee for the benefits the card offers

With that in mind, which credit cards have the most lucrative anniversary bonuses?

Absolute no brainers for (just about) everyone

In general, hotel credit cards offer the most lucrative “no strings attached” annual category bonuses. Specifically:

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card ($49 annual fee)

This is possibly the single best credit card in terms of the annual bonus. On your account anniversary each year you receive a free night certificate valid at any IHG property worldwide. That’s right, there are no “caps” on the category you can redeem at.

Add in the fact that this is the lowest annual fee hotel card that I list and that it offers IHG Platinum status for as long as you have the card, and it’s a no brainer.

Redeem your annual free night certificate at the Crowne Plaza Doha

Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card ($75 annual fee)

This card offers 40,000 points upon your account anniversary every year. 40,000 points will cover a free night at a vast majority of Club Carlson properties. I value Club Carlson points at ~0.4 cents each, so that’s like a return of ~$160 on your $75 annual fee.

Until June 1, 2015, the second night of every award redemption is free as well, though unfortunately that benefit will finally be going away.

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card ($85 annual fee)

This card offers an anniversary free night, valid at Category 1-5 properties. While this doesn’t cover Marriott’s highest end properties, given their global footprint this is something that should be worthwhile to just about anyone.

Wish I had a free night certificate when I stayed at the Marriott Sao Paulo Airport

Chase Hyatt Visa Card ($75 annual fee)

This card offers an anniversary free night, valid at Category 1-4 properties. While this doesn’t cover Hyatt’s highest end properties, it does cover a lot of them, and just about anyone with plans to stay at a Hyatt property would get at least $75 value out of it.

Redeem your annual free night certificate at the Hyatt Olive 8 Seattle

Absolute no brainers for many

While I think the above cards are a no brainer for virtually everyone, there are a few other cards which can offer incredibly lucrative anniversary bonuses if the situation is right. These include:

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card ($75 annual fee)

This card offers a $122 economy companion certificate (~$99 plus taxes) valid for anywhere that Alaska flies. Both tickets are eligible for mileage accrual and upgrades, so it’s a no brainer as long as you travel on Alaska with a companion at least once a year.

Alaska Airlines 737 SeaTac Airport

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® ($99 annual fee)

This card offers a 10% refund of miles when you redeem your American AAdvantage miles, for up to 100,000 redeemed miles per year. That means if you redeem at least 100,000 miles per year you’d get 10,000 miles back just for having this card. I value American miles at well over a penny each.

Citi® Hilton HHonors Reserve Card ($95 annual fee)

This card offers Hilton HHonors Gold status for as long as you have the card, which is among the most valuable mid-tier hotel status levels out there, given that it offers complimentary breakfast and/or club lounge access, and free wifi.

Beyond that, the card offers:

  • A free weekend anniversary night if you spend $10,000 on the card in a year
  • Hilton HHonors Diamond status if you spend $40,000 on the card in a year

At a minimum it’s worth holding onto for the HHonors Gold status, in my opinion.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express ($95 annual fee)

If you’re chasing SPG Platinum status (which is among my favorite hotel status levels) then this card can help with that. You get two elite stay credits and five elite night credits each year just for having the card.

If you also have the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express you can earn an extra two elite stay credits and five elite night credits each year towards status, for a total of four elite stay credits and 10 elite night credits towards status annually.

Bottom line

As I’ve explained many times before, there are a lot of misconceptions about how credit scores work. Not only can holding onto cards long term be incredibly rewarding thanks to the recurring benefits they offer, but it can also help your credit score.

At a minimum, I think the above hotel cards should be a no brainer for just about everyone. Beyond that, depending on your travel patterns, a lot of the other above cards can also make sense.

Which credit card anniversary bonuses do you value most?

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  1. Can’t beat the 10,000 annual bonus from the old Barclays US Airways card. Very happy to see that that benefit is sticking around for the new Aviator card

  2. Free wifi will be available at all Hilton properties for everyone soon. I am not sure I use or value free breakfast enough to keep paying the annual fee.

  3. @Ms M
    Sometimes the breakfast is not more than a Starbucks voucher but just knowing you are not getting the worse room in the hotel is worth the $95/year.
    In Europe and Latin America (I am sure that is the case in Asia) you get upgraded to the “executive floor” or usually get lounge access which is worth 20-30 $ per night (based on executive floor rate differential)
    At times I have had amazing upgrades as well as late checkout.
    The bonus points for paid stays is also nice.

    All in all if you stay more than 2-3 nights in a Hilton hotel it more than pays for itself.

  4. Lucky, I have a question:
    The Citi AAdvantage offers 10% of your redeemed miles back and so does the new Barclays Red Aviator card. If you hold both cards, can you get the 10% back twice?

  5. Ben, I just called Hyatt to ask for 10k points in exchange for my credit card anniversary night and they would not it… they said the best they can do is extend the expiration by one month… i was so upset… when did this change? do you think Chase would help?

  6. No love for the Delta platnium amex? Say what you will about the skymiles program but the annual companion cert pays for the annual fee twice over.

  7. Hey Lucky,

    A nicely-timed article (for me). Last week, I applied for the Citi Advantage Platinum MC through your link (expecting to receive it this week). I’ve also had the Citi Advantage MC for the last 15 years. While the latter has gotten me a lot of good travel over the years, I hardly use it anymore since switching over to the BA Visa. So the old AAdvantage card is doing nothing for me now other than taking $50 each year in annual fees (the card has zero anniversary benefits). My question is – is it still worth keeping it given the 15-year history with that card? I’m inclined to just drop it and move on with a lot of the other good ones out there. Your thoughts?


  8. @ Arun — That’s a toughie. Assuming your credit score is otherwise good and all your other cards aren’t brand new, I’d probably cancel. It’s not worth continuing to pay $50 per year to perhaps slightly improve your credit score, assuming it’s good otherwise.

  9. @ Lantean — It’s news to me that you can get 10K points in exchange for the anniversary night?

  10. @ Lars — I believe it’s supposed to be one or the other, but I guess we’ll see soon how it works in practice.

  11. Lucky,
    great post as always.
    for me, the IHG card is definitely a no brainer. so are the hyatt, marriott and club carlson cards because i can reap the full benefit with no strings attached.
    i can bury them in my backyard and still would profit from them as long as i pay the annual fee.

  12. I have the four hotel cards that you mentioned. Only the Marriott card is questionable to me, as far as renewing it. Marriott has moved a lot of its Category 5 into Category 6 in the past few years. It depends on where you might use it but $85 for a “free” night (with no points) is definitely NOT a good deal if you find that you can’t use it in places you travel to. Marriotts around SFO are one example. Try finding one that is under Category 6.

  13. ” I value Club Carlson points at ~0.4 cents each, so that’s like a return of ~$160 on your $75 annual fee.”


    Yet another meaningless statement since the free night that one gets out of the 40K sign up bonus points would be 2-4 times more than the annual fee. So, what is the “valuation” of 0.4 cent/point, which is relative and thus largely meaningless, supposed to convey that one does not get by simply knowing that the sign up bonus points alone covers the annual fee and then some?

  14. I love the new Discover Miles card which has a $30 annual wifi credit. Great for flights and airports or non chain hotels where you can’t get free wifi.

    Also, i’m a sucker for the Southwest Airlines Visa’s 6,000 point annual bonus.

  15. Is the companion ticket for Alaska only on paid fares or can you book one with miles and then pay the $100+ for the companion ticket. Pretty sure it is on paid fare only but just wanted to make sure.

  16. I just booked Cancun for November using my AAdvantage points and got back instantly 3000 points each from Citi and Barclays (my 10% rebate). I am hoping that the 10,000 annual rebate applies to both cards and I will keep both of them. I was going to keep the Aviator card only, because of it being a one shot deal and no foreign transaction fees…time will tell!

  17. “Reader steven k recently made the following request on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:

    This is not a question but rather a request. When you get a chance, can you write a post about credit cards with best (most lucrative) anniversary bonus?”

    Actually, it is a question. He’s even put a question mark at the end to help us identify it as a question. For it to be a request, perhaps he could have worded it:

    “I’d really appreciate it if, when you get the chance, you would write a post about credit cards with the best (most lucrative) anniversary bonus”

    Yep – I’m just a bit bored today. Sorry.

  18. I didn’t know the new Aviator card was keeping the 10k miles at anniversary as a carry-over from the US Airways card. I was considering cancelling my US Airways card, hoping they’d give some kind of sign-up bonus in the future for getting the Aviator. I guess I’ll need to rethink this!

  19. I’m hanging on to the Citi card for the time being as I’m redeeming miles this year, and plan on doing so next year as well. My question though is, how often does Citi allow another bonus? ie, do I stand to benefit if I canceled this card sooner so I can get the signup bonus again at a later time?

  20. Lucky, I’ll disagree with you just a little bit here. I realize you are responding to a request, but I think you are too enthusiastic about the hotel cards. None of your hotel cards are no-brainers except probably the SPG. I have to assume that many, many of your readers use their points for planning a few big trips rather than frequent travelers.

    Free night certificates are incredibly annoying. Especially if you only get one free night. I almost never stay in a hotel for just one night. Plus, as one commenter already noted, they expire after 12 months. 1 free night at an IHG property? There’s a 90% chance I will let that expire. Am I going to plan a trip around 1 free night? Nope, and probably not even 2 free nights if my wife got one as well. The Hilton reserve is probably worth it if you stay at HIltons occasionally, but in terms of the other annual bonuses for hotel cards (even the Hyatt card), I say use the free night certificates and cancel at year anniversary. The signup bonus is where 95% of the value is.

    For some people, who travel a ton and are in hotels for one night on a regular basis (or who live in hotels, wink wink), these cards are probably no brainers, but I think the “vacation planners” segment should employ a different strategy. Just my 2 cents.

  21. @ Dub Z — Citi seems to be really inconsistent in terms of the number of times you can get their cards, so it seems to vary substantially by person.

  22. Hi,
    This is slightly off topic newbie question so please bear with me. I have pts with IHG and Club Carlson but I want a hotel that has a larger network and relatively easy to earn pts from their credit card. Of the programs you mentioned above what would you recommend?

  23. new2pts — The Club Carlson Card has a pretty good earn rate since you earn 5x points per dollar spent, so isn’t a bad option. The IHG Rewards Club Card isn’t very rewarding for everyday spend, so I probably wouldn’t use it. Then the Hyatt and SPG Cards are pretty rewarding as well.

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