Maximizing Travel Credit Cards Calendar Year Spending Threshold Bonuses

by on January 2, 2013 · 48 comments

in American, American Express, British Airways, Credit Cards

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I hope everyone had a great time ringing in 2013. A new year means…a new chance to hit some spending thresholds on your travel credit cards and earn valuable bonuses! Many credit cards offer spend bonuses per calendar year, so it is best to plan your strategy now to figure out which bonuses are worth going for throughout the year. With so many Bluebird and pre-paid/reloadable cards out there, generating spend is much easier than doing it the old fashioned way of putting all regular expenses on your credit card.

Here’s a roundup of the various travel credit cards out there that award such bonuses – whether it’s thousands of extra points, elite-qualifying miles or credit for hotel stays, companion tickets and more. So take a look and if you have any of these cards, then keep your eye on the prize as you start spending this year.


American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card
Calendar Spend Bonus: Spend $30,000 in purchases on the card in one year, you will earn 15,000 bonus Membership Rewards points.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Earn 25,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $2K during your first three months of Card membership.
Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $175.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: I value Amex points at about 1.7 cents a piece, so $255.

US Bank FlexPerks Visa Signature
Category Spend Bonus: Earn 3,500 bonus FlexPoints each year when you spend $24,000 in net purchases per cardmember year – yes this not per calendar year, but if you get the card now, or got it recently, it would be roughly along the same timeline, and it’s an annual benefit, so I decided to include it.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 17,500 bonus FlexPoints after the first $2,500 in net purchases in the first 5 months.
Annual fee: $0 for the first year then $49.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: FlexPoints are worth up to 2 cents apiece when redeemed for airfare, so $70. 


Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express
Calendar Spend Bonus: 
Spend $30,000 in a calendar year and you can earn a Miles Boost of 15,000 MQMs. Spend $60,000 in that same year and you can earn an additional 15,000 MQMs. Those 30,000 MQMs are not only for Medallion status but can be used as redeemable miles as well.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 
Get 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) upon your first purchase with the Card and SkyClub access.
Annual Fee: $450
Note: There is also the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card which offers the same Miles Boost as the personal card.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: 30,000 MQMs will get you Silver status and is 25% of Diamond Status, so at 5 cents per MQM, $1,500

The "Travel Together" companion ticket is one of several great benefits to the British Airways Visa.

The “Travel Together” companion ticket is one of several great benefits to the British Airways Visa.

British Airways Visa Signature Card
Calendar Spend Bonus: Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa Signature card, you will earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years when you redeem for a flight on British Airways.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 50,000 after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
Annual Fee: $95
My Estimated Value of Bonus: $1,000 - only if you value premium awards and don’t mind paying the $700+ in fees for the companion award.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express
Calendar Spend Bonus: Earn a Miles Boost of 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles when you reach $25,000 in eligible purchases during a calendar year. Earn an additional Miles Boost of 10,000 MQMs when you reach $50,000 in eligible purchases the same calendar year.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Earn up to 5,000 MQMs and 25,000 bonus miles toward Award Travel – 20,000 bonus miles after first purchase.
Annual Fee: $150
Note: There is also the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card which offers the same Miles Boost as the personal card.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: 20,000 MQMs at 5 cents each is $1,000. 

Virgin Atlantic American Express
Category Spend Bonus: Earn 15,000 bonus miles on every cardmembership anniversary upon spending $25,000 annually (redeem miles for a Virgin Atlantic Economy reward ticket and get a second reward ticket for half the miles). One tier point per $2,500 in purchases (maximum of 2 per month).
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 20,000 bonus miles after your first purchase.
Annual Fee: $90
My Estimated Value of Bonus: 15,000 bonus miles and 24 tier points is worth about $525. 

The Virgin Atlantic Amex comes with reduced-price awards and the ability to earn elite status based on spending.

Citi Executive American Airlines AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard
Calendar Spend Bonus: Earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Earn 40,000 when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of cardmembership and an additional 10,000 when you spend $10,000 in purchases in the first 12 months.
Annual Fee: $450
My Estimated Value of Bonus: Elite Qualifying Miles are difficult to get with AA and 10,000 will get you 10% of the way to Executive Platinum, so I’d estimate the value at around $500.

US Airways MasterCard
Calendar Spend Bonus: Earn 10,000 Preferred Qualifying Miles after hitting $25,000 in spending each year.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: This is actually a “targeted” offer for Chairman’s Preferred members where you earn 40,000 Bonus Miles after your first purchase, an additional 10,000 bonus miles for a balance transfer within 90 days, and 10,000 bonus miles each year upon your account anniversary. Many who did not receive the targeted offer have reported success in applying for the card, though, so you might want to try.
Annual Fee: $89 annual fee is waived the first year.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: 10,000 PQMs at 5 cents each is $500. 

Update: This offer is no longer available. View the current offer for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card here.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
Calendar Spend Bonus: Earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases. Get up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points annually.
Sign-Up Bonus: 25,000 Rapid Rewards points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account.
Annual Fee: $99
Note: There is also a business version of this card with the same terms.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: Southwest status isn’t as generous, but I’d value 1,500 TQPs at $200.

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card
Calendar Spend Bonus:  Earn 10,000 bonus redeemable miles each calendar year you spend at least $25,000 on your card.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Earn 30,000 miles after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months.
Annual Fee: $95 annual fee, waived first year.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: I value United miles at about 1.9 cents a piece, so $190. 

Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage Visa Signature
Calendar Spend Bonus: Earn a $100 American Airlines Flight Discount every year when you spend $30,000.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 30,000 bonus AAdvantage miles after $1,000 in purchases in first 3 months.
Annual Fee: No annual fee for the first year, and $95 thereafter.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: $100
Note: There are offers out there for the Citi AAdvantage Visa and American Express cards where consumers have reported getting up to 50,000 bonus miles for spending $2,500 in 4 months. The bonus offer is not explicitly stated on the application page, so your miles may vary, but it could be worth it to try applying and see what offer you get.

Virgin America Visa
Category Spend Bonus: Cardmembers that have an annual fee will earn 10,000 status points (provided the annual fee has been paid) and Virgin America Visa cardholders not paying an annual fee will earn 5,000 status points when the spend $25,000 within a calendar year.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 10,000 Elevate points with first purchase with fee card, 2,500 Elevate points with first purchase with no-fee card.
Annual Fee: $49 or $0 depending on card.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: Virgin America status isn’t as valuable as major legacy airlines that offer more perks, but I’d still value 10,000 status points at about $100. 


Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card
Calendar Spend Bonus: A free weekend night at $10,000 in spend and Diamond status when you make $40,000 or more in eligible purchases each calendar year.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Earn two weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton HHonors portfolio after $2,500 in purchases within the first 4 months.
Annual Fee: $95
My Estimated Value of Bonus: $500 

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card
Calendar Spend Bonus: Earn 1 elite night credit for every $3,000 spent. There is no limit to the number of elite nights that you can earn.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in your first 3 months from account opening.
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $85.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: Really depends on how much you spend, but I’d value buying Marriott Platinum at about $500.

Fairmont Visa Signature
Calendar Spend Bonus: Earn one free night every anniversary with $12,000 in annual spending.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Two complimentary nights including breakfast for 2 at any Fairmont destination worldwide after you make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of account opening.
Annual Fee: $95
My Estimated Value of Bonus: $250. 

hilton surpass

American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass Card
Calendar Spend Bonus: Enjoy an automatic upgrade to HHonors Diamond Elite status when your total eligible spend reaches $40,000 or more during a calendar year.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 60,0000 points – earn 40,000 HHonors bonus points with your first purchase and earn 20,000 additional bonus points if you spend $3,000 or more within the first 90 days.
Annual Fee: $75 annual fee.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: $250 

Hyatt Credit Card
Calendar Spend Bonus: When you spend the following amounts in a calendar year, Hyatt will award you with credits towards Diamond status: $20,000 annually = 2 stay / 5 night credits 
or $40,000 annually = an additional 3 stay / 5 night credits, so up to 10 night credits per year by spending $40,000.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Two free nights at Hyatt properties worldwide when you spend $1,000 in 3 months. Platinum members also receive 2 free suite upgrades, and Diamond members receive 2 free nights in a suite.
Annual Fee: $75
My Estimated Value of Bonus: $200 

Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
Calendar Spend Bonus: Gold status every year you spend $10,000 or more on the card.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 70,000 Ritz-Carlton Rewards points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months.
Annual Fee: $395
My Estimated Value of Bonus: $150

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card
Calendar Spend Bonus: Spend $30,000 in a calendar year and receive complimentary SPG Gold status.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 25,000 Starpoints – earn 10,000 Starpoints with your first eligible purchase and 15,000 more when you spend $5,000 within 6 months.
Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65.
Note: There is also the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card which offers SPG Gold Status after 30K in spending as well.
My Estimated Value of Bonus: $150

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • RQ

    Why are you pushing inferior offers for US Airways, AA and Hyatt credit cards?

    You don’t have to answer that. We already know why

  • Ackrach

    Like anything else, RQ, you have to look at these things through the lens of value. While you may not feel that the US Air or Hyatt card offers are of value, I’ve got two free tickets wrung out of the US Air card that cost me ZERO, and I stayed in the Park Hyatt in Philadelphia for two nights for free on a trip thanks to the Hyatt card for ZERO. These offers are not worthless.

    If you think that somehow TPG is obligated to do this for free you are deluding yourself. As a consumer, it is your job to weigh the offers and see if they are worthwhile to you. TPG has a great product, but I don’t have every card or offer he presents. Criticism is fine, and valuable in the world, but so is a dose of reality periodically. Happy 2013 everyone!

  • Je Gr

    This is great place for newbies to learn Art of Churning.
    Why not say “thanks” by applying via links?

    But am confused why list above is different from “Top Deals” list,
    e.g. Ink Plus is missing above…

  • CR

    Does Chase Sapphire have no extra point opportunities? I am a Star Alliance and Hilton guy. Do you recommend this card for me or would there be another more advantageous card to use. Min you, I only want 1 or 2 cards in my name at any given point in time. Thanks

  • RQ

    It’s not that the US Airways offer it’s bad

    It’s that there is a better offer out there for the exact same credit card. But because that link doesn’t offer TPG $$$, not only will he provide a link to the inferior offer…. he won’t even mention that there is a better offer out there

    There are at least 3 credit cards on his list for which there is a better existing offer than what he posted.

    The gap between TPG and your average Used Car Salesman gets foggier every day

  • RQ

    And I should add Ackrach…. TPG is well aware of this. He knows full well that there is a better US Airways offer out there. He just doesn’t care.

  • Anon

    I can only find the 40k after first purchase (+10k balance transfer and 10k anniversary). What better option is there?

  • RQ

    The link above doesn’t offer 10K on anniversary (or waive the $89 fee the first year)

    And since the 10k bonus actually hits a month before the anniversary, you can end up with 50K miles without every paying a dime in fees

    Or you can get 40K miles and pay $89 for it. That’s what TPG wants you to do (which is why he didn’t disclose the alternative)

  • Trajan81

    Thanks for the roundup. I do wonder sometimes if it is better with some of these cards with high calendar spend numbers that also include annual fees if it would be more adventageous to cancel them before the fees kick in and go after additional sign up bonuses. I will say that I’ve had some success with the Hilton Honors AMEX products in getting additional points by starting with the basic no fee card, getting the sign up bonus, then getting an offer to upgrade and also getting signup bonus points for it. Curious if anyone has a similar experience with say the Citi Hilton cards getting additional signup bonus points for going from the Citi Hilton HHonors card to Citi HHonors Reserve card?

  • vortix

    Sapphire Preferred offers 2x Ultimate Rewards points on dining and travel expenses (includes hotel, airfare, parking, taxi, etc.). Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio into United, Southwest, Avios, Hyatt, Marriott, etc. This is a great card to use for all travel/dining spend…and if you have a lot of it, this should be one of the key cards in your wallet.

  • Ackrach

    Yeah, I have the better of the two offers-and no, I don’t remember if I learned about the better offer on TPG or the other blogs I read-and honestly, I don’t care. TPG’s product is good and I learn a lot from what he presents. Again, as a consumer it’s my responsibility to determine the best offer’s for me. I don’t expect TPG to give his time away-that’s not how the world works.

    And speaking of giving one’s time away, I have a question for you. You seem really angry, as if you have an axe to grind with TPG. If you are going to be the travel blog content police, you are going to have your hands full-that’s a full-time job in itself, and a service I might add, I’m not really interested in reading on this blog.

  • thepointsguy

    Because those cards don’t offer spending threshold bonuses, which is what this post is about. The Sapphire Preferred does offer a 7% annual points dividend, but you get that no matter how much you spend.

  • thepointsguy

    I have actually added that US Airways card link – it looked like it was a targeted offer for Chairman’s Preferred members, but people have reported success applying for it without being targeted.

  • thepointsguy

    I’ve also noted the American Airlines Citi offers that are public but don’t have explicit bonuses stated – some people prefer applying for confirmed bonuses rather than YMMV ones.

  • PJ

    a bit sidetrack from the topic: this quarter Citi has 5 % rebate at drugstores I do know this is subject to the $300 annual rebate cap. Does anybody know how citi takes the gift cards purchase at drug stores? that is a lot of Vanila reloads or Visa gift cards we can buy . also Chase Freedom is also giving 5 % .

    FYI, to get 5 % on drug store : wallgreens is offerring 10%now up from the year along usual 5 % . In other words, it is nice to pocket all 5 % on credit cards while you have a constant 5 % though the Discover Shopping

  • DL

    Does the Amex Business Platinum have any spending threshold bonus?

  • Travel Summary

    I don’t see how Citi (or any other bank) would distinguish between a gift card purchase or any other products. You should receive all rebates no problem.

  • Marlenee

    Discover has offered me $500 cash back when I make $3k worth of spend on the card for five months in a row. Am I missing anything in thinking this might be a good time to get into the Bluebird / Vanilla card game?

  • Travel Summary

    The Sapphire Preferred is one the best cards to get if you’re trying to minimize the number of cards you have. With that being said, if you’re a traveler you’re doing yourself a disservice by not getting additional cards for the bonuses.

  • Bob

    Wow, 25 links and no disclaimer whatsoever. Which ones give you a CC referral? Haven’t you been reading travelbloggerbuzz? I know you run a business, but some transparency would be nice.

  • AKold

    US Bank Flexperks Travel card says the $24,000 is for your 12-month membership year.

    Also, cards like the Delta card give you MQMs and RDMs, while the US Airways card gives you just EQM (they are not RDMs). Wouldn’t those have different valuations?

  • Dan

    I am relatively new to your website and so far I have to say you are one amazing guy and help out a lot of people with gaining miles and points without actually having to fly or spend too much. I hope I will be able to take advantage of your site from here on in. I had a question not pertaining to the current subject matter but I did not know where else to post my inquiry. Is a good way of earning points on a card to reach a spending threshold, by purchasing items at a store that will give you cash back if returned? This way you can purchase lets say $1,000 worth of merchandise and then return it, receive cash back, deposit it into your bank account and then pay off the card that way? Is this possible? Any issues with this idea? Thanks for your help TPG!!!

  • Bluecat

    it is RIDICULOUS to mention the Southwest cards that only give 25K points without also mentioning the 50K cards—which costs less in annual fees too!

    really, what’s the thinking behind omitting that?

  • Bluecat

    The “dose of reality” here is that not everything TPG tells his readers is in their best interest.

    You may regard him as a “trusted source” for information about credit cards—and many people do—but he is not disclosing the fact that there are better offers out there.

    Unfortunately, he hurts his reputation by operating this way, in the minds of some. (I will throw some business his way in my current churn but then I think I will go elsewhere for the next churn…)

  • T Nick Usalis Knight

    My family is going to Brazil, for a tiny fraction thanks to the US Air card. So not that bad. Its all how you manage it.

  • T Nick Usalis Knight

    I have had the point switch and bait. I myself like to see it in writing.

  • RQ

    You’re absolutely correct – it is “your responsibility to determine the best offers for you”

    Which kind of brings me back to my original point…. until he was called out on it, TPG didn’t present all your possible offers. He only presented the ones that are financially lucrative to him – even if they were inferior to his readers.

    Which there’s nothing wrong with in this capitalistic world…. lets just not pretend he has any integrity on the matter

  • A.S.

    How could the estimated value of the Hyatt bonus be only $200? 2 free stays in any Hyatt worldwide is easily more than that…

  • Steve West

    Do these cards offer recurring benefits for repeat holders? For example, I signed up for the Delta reserve last year, hit the thresholds, then cancelled the card. Can I re-apply for the card and be eligible for the bonus medallion mileage if I hit the spending thresholds again?

  • MS

    Hi Points Guy. I just got the Citi HHilton Reserve Card this year. I rechecked the terms after I read your post and it indicates the $10,000 spend requirement is per membership year, not calendar year. Am I missing anything here? Thanks for your post.

  • PJ

    Better to be late than never; THE MORE CARDS THE BETTER just try to think if you have all spend on getting into sign on bonus. Sapphire preferred 3K to get 40000 points that is much better than 15 % bonus Once you are done with one card line up for another card and get at least 15% off How much better do you expect the life mixed up with credit cards can be?

    this quarter I have 2 freedom cards and 1 Citi world dividend card which all rebate 5 %. I am excited to find PLENTY of $ 500 visa debit card waiting for me at CVS a Drug Store category

  • PJ

    Better to be late than never; THE MORE CARDS THE BETTER just try to think if you have all spend on getting into sign on bonus. Sapphire preferred 3K to get 40000 points that is much better than 15 % bonus Once you are done with one card line up for another card and get at least 15% off How much better do you expect the life mixed up with credit cards can be?

    this quarter I have 2 freedom cards and 1 Citi world dividend card which all rebate 5 %. I am excited to find PLENTY of $ 500 visa debit card waiting for me at CVS a Drug Store category

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