The Top Credit Card Spending Bonuses for 2014

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Update: The offers mentioned below for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Cards from American Express has expired. View the current offers here – personal, business.

Update: Some of the offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: Gold Delta SkyMilesPlatinum Delta SkyMilesDelta Reserve Credit Card.

Now that we’re into the new year, it means it’s time to really plot out your credit card spending strategy for 2014, because there’s a lot more to maximizing credit card rewards than simply raking in the sign-up bonuses. While an easy boost  to your miles and point balances, a more sustainable approach is to select the most lucrative credit cards to use for all of your daily expenses. Whether it is companion tickets, elite qualifying miles or simply point bonuses, there are a ton of cards that offer valuable bonuses for hitting spend thresholds throughout the year.

It's January - the perfect time to plot out your spending strategy for the year!
It’s January – the perfect time to plot out your spending strategy for the year!

Plus, with so many prepaid/reloadable cards out there, as well as checking/debit alternatives like the Amex Bluebird that can help you maximize earning points on your expenses, generating credit card is much easier than doing it the old fashioned way of putting all regular expenses on your credit card.

My Strategy

I actually have several credit cards that offer calendar year spending bonuses that I was able to maximize in 2013, but that I am reconsidering and re-prioritizing according to my earning and elite status strategy for 2014.

Delta Credit Cards: Gold, Platinum or Reserve.
I’m going to drop Delta in favor of Alaska this year, so no spending on my Platinum Delta Amex.

Although I’ve been a Delta Diamond or Platinum Medallion for several years now and in 2013 I applied for the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex specifically for the ability it gives me to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles based on spending – thus making it easier for me to requalify for Platinum for 2014, due to recent award devaluations, revenue requirements and elite status perks being hacked away, I think that 2014 will be my last Delta Medallion year for now so I’m not going to use my Delta American Express cards at this time, which saves me having to put $25,000 on them to avoid the Medallion Qualifying Dollar program.

I’m also unrolling my Hyatt elite status – though I really like the chain, its smaller number of properties proved to be a real stumbling block in my travels this past year so I’m going to shift my focus elsewhere.

With those two major considerations in mind, here are my top five spending priorities for 2014.

1. Amex Premier Rewards Gold: Spend $30,000 in a calendar year and earn 15,000 bonus points. Not only do I love this card for the bonus spending categories like 3X points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines and 2X on gas and groceries, but being able to earn an additional 15,000 bonus points on everyday spend almost feels like double dipping and has the potential to bring my everyday points-earning on it to 1.5X points per $1 per dollar towards the first $30,000 per year if you can hit that spend level., so I’ll be focused on hitting that $30,000 mark this year.

The Amex Premier Rewards Gold's 15,000-point bonus is my top spending priority.
The Amex Premier Rewards Gold’s 15,000-point bonus is my top spending priority.

2. Citi Executive AAdvantage World Mastercard: American has become my main frequent flyer program and I’m a top-tier Executive Platinum with them. One of the ways having this card makes it easier to maintain that status is that cardholders earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles when they spend $40,000 in a calendar year. Those 10,000 elite miles can make all the difference between requalifying for the top, or just settling for middling Platinum status.

3. British Airways Visa: One of the best features of this card is that every calendar year you spend $30,000, you get a “Travel Together” Companion Ticket good for two years. I actually already have two of these, but am planning to use them soon, so it would be nice to stock up again. I also like that this card earns 1.25X Avios per $1 on everyday purchases, so it’s a good card to use on non-bonus-category spending.

4. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve: This card actually has two spending bonuses. Cardholders who spend at least $10,000 on the card in a cardmember year (so not a calendar year) get a free weekend night certificate good at any Hilton property, so you can get huge value out of this if you redeem at top-tier properties like the Conrad Maldives. The calendar year spending bonus on this card is Hilton Diamond status when you spend $40,000. Now, I’m not terribly impressed with Hilton Diamond status, but as I mentioned, I’m unrolling my Hyatt status, so I do want to maintain top-tier status with another chain (I have Starwood 75-Night Platinum status as well), especially in case I want to status match to another hotel program in the future.

5. United Explorer: You can earn 10,000 bonus award miles each calendar year you spend at least $25,000 on this card. Despite the upcoming United devaluation, I still value their miles at between 1.5-2 cents each, so that’s a good $150-$200 in value.

6. Virgin Atlantic American Express: I still have this card, which lets me earn 15,000 bonus miles on every cardmembership anniversary upon spending $25,000 annually. This is low on my priority list, but since Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner of both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards, I might use those points to top up my account and redeem an award to try out the airline’s new Upper Class cabin.

So that’s my strategy – good luck in figuring out your own (and feel free to email me or Tweet me @thepointsguy with your questions) – and in the meantime, here’s a roundup of the various travel credit cards out there that award such bonuses – including thousands of extra points, elite-qualifying miles or credit for hotel stays, companion tickets and more.

TRANSFERABLE POINT CARDS

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. Some people are still getting targeted offers of up to 50,000 points when applying through the Card Match Tool.
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 apiece, 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: 20,000 bonus FlexPoints after the first $3,500 in net purchases in the first 4 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.

AIRLINE CREDIT CARDS

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.

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express
Calendar Spend Bonus:
Spend $30,000 in a calendar year and you can earn 15,000 miles plus a Miles Boost of 15,000 MQMs. Spend $60,000 in that same year and you can earn an additional 15,000 miles and 15,000 more 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) and 10,000 bonus miles 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.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express
Calendar Spend Bonus: Earn 10,000 miles and a Miles Boost of 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles when you reach $25,000 in eligible purchases during a calendar year. Earn an additional 10,000 miles and another 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 35,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months.
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 up to 60,000 miles when you make $5,000 in purchases within 3 months of becoming a cardmember.
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.

Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage Mastercard and Visa
Calendar Spend Bonus: Earn a $100 American Airlines Flight Discount every year when you spend $30,000.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 50,000 bonus AAdvantage miles after $3,000 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.

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 as seen on FlyerTalk 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 afteryou 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 value1,500 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: 50,000 miles with $2,000 spend in the first 3 months (ONLY IN CHASE BRANCH) or 30,000 miles with $1,000 spend in the first the months plus an additional 5,000 miles when you add an authorized user and make a purchase during 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.

Virgin America Visa – this offer might not currently be available since Virgin is ending its partnership with Barclaycard.
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.

The new Hawaiian Airlines credit cards offer calendar year spending bonuses.
The new Hawaiian Airlines credit cards offer calendar year spending bonuses.

The New Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard
Calendar Spend Bonus: Earn a 5,000 bonus miles every membership year when you spend $10,000 or more.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 35,000 bonus miles after $1,000 in purchases in first 90 days.
Annual Fee: $89
My Estimated Value of Bonus: $350

The New Hawaiian Airlines Business Mastercard
Calendar Spend Bonus: Earn 20,000 annual bonus miles on your Hawaiian Airlines Business MasterCard account anniversary when you spend between $50,000 and $99,999 in Net Purchases within an anniversary year, or 40,000 annual bonus miles on their credit card account anniversary when you spend at least $100,000 in Net Purchases within an anniversary year.
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 35,000 bonus miles after $1,000 in purchases in first 90 days.
Annual Fee: $89
My Estimated Value of Bonus: Up to $400.

HOTEL CREDIT CARDS

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 70,000 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: 75,0000 points when you spend $3,000 in 3 months.
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: A complimentary night stay 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

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