The Top Airline and Hotel Credit Cards With Anniversary Bonuses

by on April 24, 2014 · 35 comments

in Alaska, American, American Express, Barclays, Chase, Citi, Club Carlson, Credit Cards, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, Hyatt, IHG Rewards, Lan, Marriott, Southwest, Top 10, US Airways

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One of the questions I’m asked the most is, how to decide when to cancel a credit card. This comes up a lot because many of the best points-earning travel credit cards carry annual fees ranging anywhere from $49-$495. That’s why, every year when it’s about to hit their statement, readers write in asking whether keeping this card or that for another year is worth it.

Time for a round of applications? Here are some great current offers.

Which cards are worth keeping because of benefits that outweigh the annual fee?

When taking my own personal credit card inventory, like I did just last month before a round of credit card applications that netted me 230,000 bonus points and miles, I ask myself certain questions like how long I’ve had a card since credit history contributes to your credit score, and is there a duplicate card I can get a similar sign-up bonus on. However, the most important question I ask myself is: do the perks and benefits of this card outweigh the annual fee?

The good news is, many of the cards I carry – as well as a lot of other airline and hotel co-branded out there – offer anniversary bonuses that can often far outweigh the annual fee including free hotel nights, companion tickets and bonus points and miles. Here are my top picks.

A regular Park King room - looks the same as my suite, only without the living room area.

The Hyatt Visa gives cardholders a free room night at a Category 1-4 hotel each year, like this Park King at the Park Hyatt Seoul.

1. Hyatt Visa
Anniversary Benefit: Receive 1 free night every year on your cardmember anniversary at any Category 1-4 property.  Some properties where that certificate’s value is maximized to far outweigh the card’s $75 annual fee include higher-end properties within categories 1-4 such as the Park Hyatt Toronto, Hyatt Escala Lodge Park City and the Park Hyatt Seoul, where room rates can easily top $400 per night. To qualify for this, your account must be open and in good standing. The award night is good for one night in any available standard room within 12 months from the issue date of the certificate.
Current Sign-up Bonus: Receive 2 free nights after spending $1,000 within the first 3 months with the Hyatt Credit Card (for first time Hyatt Credit cardmembers)
Other Benefits: Receive automatic Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum elite membership (and up to 20% off room rates thanks to Hyatt’s new Elite Nights benefit), earn 3 points for every $1 spent at all Hyatt properties with your Hyatt Credit Card. Earn 2 points for every $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline and at car rental agencies, and earn 1 point for every $1 spent anywhere else you use your card. No foreign transaction fees. Smart Chip technology and extra protections. Redeem for free nights with no resort fees, and with as few as 5,000 points at any Category 1 property
Annual Fee: $0 introductory fee for the first year, $75 thereafter.

Use your IHG annual free night at a top-tier property like the Intercontinental Hong Kong.

Use your IHG annual free night at a top-tier property like the Intercontinental Hong Kong.

2. Priority Club Visa/IHG Rewards Club Mastercard
Anniversary Benefit:
1 free night stay every year of membership. Cardholders can use their free night at any IHG Rewards property, including Intercontinentals, without category restrictions, so that’s like getting a 50,000-point bonus every year since high-end Intercontinental properties like the Intercontinental Hong Kong require 50,000 Priority Club points for free night redemptions and room rates can easily run well into the $400-500 range, more than making up for the card’s $49 annual fee, which is waived for the first year anyway.
Current Sign-up Bonus: See this thread for information on how to get an 80,000 point offer for this card
Other Benefits: Earn 5X points per dollar spent at participating hotels, earn 2X points per dollar spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, earn 1X point per dollar spent spent on all other purchases, automatic 10% point rebate, no foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $0 introductory fee for the first year, $49 thereafter.

US airlines flying into/out of the EU must also abide by these rules.

Bring along a buddy on Delta with your Delta Platinum Amex companion ticket.

3. Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express
Anniversary Benefit: Annual Companion Certificate for one roundtrip economy ticket in the 48 contiguous United States. It must be on an economy ticket in the 48 contiguous United States purchased in L, U, T, X or V fare classes. However, even though these aren’t the most deeply discounted fares, you can still save hundreds of dollars or more on an itinerary by not having to buy a second seat. Just make sure you’re getting more than $195 in value to counterbalance the annual fee.
Current Bonus: Get 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles and 35,000 miles when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months and a $100 statement credit when you make your first Delta purchase within 3 months.
Benefits: 2X miles on Delta purchases, 1X on other purchases. First checked bag free for you and up to 8 people on your reservation. Earn up to 10,000 MQM’s a year (10,000 for $25,000 in calendar year spend, and another 10,000 MQM’s for a total of $50,000 in calendar year spending, Priority Boarding and 20% In-Flight Savings. On the business version, save 3% to 10% automatically on business expenses from FedEx, Hertz, OfficeMax, and more with OPEN business program savings.
Annual Fee: $150 before May 1, 2014, $195 after.

The Alaska Visa also offers a companion ticket.

The Alaska Visa also offers a companion ticket.

4. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
Anniversary Benefit: Coach Companion Fare every year from $118 (USD) ($99, plus taxes and fees from $19). Even though Alaska stopped letting cardholders redeem these for first class tickets, even with economy fares, you can get tons of value out of these on expensive routes like those to Hawaii.
Current Sign-up Bonus: 40,000 miles when you spend $10,000 in 6 months (there’s also another offer for Earn 3 miles for every qualifying dollar in purchases of Alaska Airlines tickets, Vacation packages and Cargo purchases. 40,000 miles when you spend $10,000 in 6 months (there’s also another offer for 30,000 miles with no spending requirement)
Other Benefits: Earn 3 miles for every qualifying dollar in purchases of Alaska Airlines tickets, Vacation packages and Cargo purchases. Earn 3 miles for every qualifying dollar in purchases of Alaska Airlines tickets, Vacation packages and Cargo purchases, 1 mile per $1 on everything else. No mileage cap. There’s no limit to the number of miles you can earn with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card
Annual Fee: $75 annual fee not waived

If the merger goes through, it will eventually mean the end of the US Airways World Mastercard.

The US Airways World Mastercard comes with companion tickets and bonus miles each anniversary

5. US Airways Premier World MasterCard
Anniversary Benefit: Receive an annual companion certificate good for up to 2 $99 companion tickets upon approval and every year and a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus. The bonus miles alone are worth about $150-$180 in my opinion, far outweighing the annual fee, but those companion tickets can also prove quite valuable if you leverage them correctly. They are good for economy flights in the contiguous 48 States on US Airways flights only, and the airfare purchased must be $250 or more, so if you can apply them to an expensive flight, you’re saving hundreds of dollars. Note: read the terms carefully, some readers have noted that when they apply the terms don’t explicitly state the anniversary bonus, so you might prefer this offer instead with 30,000 miles on first purchase and the anniversary bonus of 10,000 miles plus $89 annual fee waived.
Current Bonus: 40,000 miles after first purchase in the first 90 days – but I have a hunch that this bonus might be going up soon, or the card could roll out new benefits to entice new cardholders while Barclaycard is still permitted to sign up new customers for it.
Other Benefits: Receive an annual companion certificate good for up to 2 companion tickets upon approval and every year, 5,000-mile discounts on awards, 2X miles per $1 on US Airways purchases. Also receive 1 complimentary US Airways Club day pass and get first class check in and Zone 2 boarding.
Annual Fee: $89

The 40,000 anniversary Club Carlson points can be worth hundreds of dollars at a property like the Radisson Blu Berlin.

The 40,000 anniversary Club Carlson points can be worth hundreds of dollars at a property like the Radisson Blu Berlin.

6. Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card
Anniversary Benefit: Receive 40,000 points each year when you renew your card. No spending requirement. 40,000 Carlson points is almost enough for a night at a Category 5 property (44,000 points), like the Radisson Blu Berlin, where room rates in May are 199 EUR ($280). Plus, don’t forget that by being a cardholder, you can get half-price awards on two-night stays since your last night of an award stay is free, so you’re essentially doubling the value of your points if you maximize them.
Current Sign-up Bonus: 85,000 Gold Points, 50,000 of which will be earned after your first purchase, plus 35,000 more points once you spend $2,500 within the first 90 days.
Other Benefits: You will earn 10 points per dollar spent at participating Carlson Rezidor hotels and 5 points per dollar spent everywhere else. Club Carlson cards come with Gold status and a bonus award night.
Annual Fee: $75

My original 10k bonus, which more than pays for the annual fee on my AA card

Citi’s personal AAdvantage cards give cardholders a 10% mileage refund up to 10,000 miles a year.

7. Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World Mastercard
Anniversary Benefit: Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage miles back, up to 10,000 AAdvantage miles each calendar year – it’s not exactly an anniversary bonus, but it’s a calendar year one that I wanted to include. Getting 10,000 miles back on up to 100,000 redeemed miles is equivalent to about $180 in my estimate. Twice the annual fee on this card.
Current Sign-up Bonus: 50,000 American AAdvantage miles after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of cardmembership
Benefits: Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1 mile per $1 on everything else. Your first eligible checked bag is free, priority boarding and 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases, reduced mileage awards, earn a $100 American Airlines flight discount every cardmembership year when you spend $30,000 or more on eligible purchases.
Annual Fee: $95 waived the first year

Southwest Airlines will enforce a "no show" policy as of today.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa cardholders get 6,000 bonus points per year.

8. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa
Anniversary Benefit: 6,000 points after your cardmember anniversary. That’s worth about $86 – just under the $99 annual fee on this card, but still worth it considering those points count toward Companion Pass Qualification.
Current Sign-up
Bonus: 25,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: With this card you will earn 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways purchases as well as Rapid Rewards Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Annual Fee: $99

Your Marriott Premier Visa comes with an annual free category 1-5 room night.

Your Marriott Premier Visa comes with an annual free category 1-5 room night.

9. Marriott Rewards Premier Visa
Anniversary Benefit: Every account anniversary, you’ll receive a free night stay in category 1-5 hotel. That’s the equivalent of a 25,000-point bonus. Category 5 properties include the JW Marriott Beijing, where rooms in May go for 1,530 CNY, or $245.
Current Sign-up Bonus: Sign-up bonus of 50,000 points with $1,000 spend in the first 3 months (some readers have reported targeted offers of 60,000-70,000 points)
Other Benefits: Earn 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott locations, 2 points per dollar spent on airfare, car rentals and dining and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Receive 1 credit toward elite status for every $3,000 spent. No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $85 waived the first year.

Barclaycard Hawaiian Airlines Mastercard

The Barclaycard Hawaiian Airlines Mastercard comes with an annual coach companion ticket discount.

10. The New Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard
Anniversary Benefit: Primary Cardholders are eligible to earn a $100 discount off one coach companion ticket for roundtrip travel between Hawaii and North America on each credit card account anniversary.
Current Sign-up Bonus: Earn 35,000 bonus miles when you make $1,000 in eligible purchases in the first 90 days.
Other Benefits: Enjoy a Complimentary Checked Bag for the primary cardholder when you use your card to purchase tickets directly from Hawaiian Airlines; receive a one-time 50% Off Companion Discount for roundtrip coach travel between Hawaii & North America on Hawaiian Airlines; discounted award travel (5,000 miles off roundtrip award fares from North America to Hawaii); 2X miles per $1 on direct purchases from Hawaiian Airlines, 1X miles on everything else; earn up to 10X miles per $1 with participating partners; every membership year you spend $10,000 or more on the card, you get 5,000 bonus miles;  Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard cardholders can receive HawaiianMiles from friends and family online at up to 10 times per calendar year; no foreign transaction fees, SmartChip technology.
Annual Fee: $89

LANPass Visa

11. LANPass Visa Signature Card
Anniversary Benefit: 4,000 bonus miles with annual renewal, 20% discount on LAN purchase of up to $1,000 once per year, 3 one-way upgrade coupons to use at check-in per year when you spend $15,000 or more each calendar year. Though those upgrades can be valuable, even if you buy a ticket of $375 or over each year, you’re making up for that $75 annual fee thanks to the 20% discount you get on one ticket each year.
Current Sign-up Bonus: 20,000 bonus kilometers with first use.
Other Benefits: 2 miles per $1 on LAN ticket purchases, 1 mile per $1 on other purchases, 25% flight miles bonus, Visa Signature benefits.
Annual Fee: $0 first year then $75.

For more information on hotel credit cards, check out these previous posts:

Top 10 Hotel Credit Card Perks
Maximizing Travel Credit Cards Calendar Year Spending Threshold Bonuses
Hotel Credit Cards That Offer Annual Free Nights
Top 10 Airline Credit Card Perks
Top 10 Almost Too Good To Be True Credit Card Benefits
When To Cancel a Credit Card

Where will you travel to? Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Where will you travel to? Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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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  • Ben Price

    Good list.

    As far as the Marriott card, I can’t, for the life of me, find any category 5 hotels in the Southeast US. Once I got my 70k points, cancelled this card at the 11.5 month mark.

  • Emily Poff

    Do you know if you get FF miles when using the US Airways $99 companion pass? Also, it appears that there is a minimum annual spend of $25k to get the anniversary bonus. Am I reading that correctly? I am thinking about getting that card. Thanks for this great list and for your help!

  • Mercruiser

    The Alaska Airlines Visa is churnable. So you can get the sign up bonus every year instead of just once by opening a new account and closing the old card. The sign up bonus and companion fare coupon code are deposited to your Alaska mileage account within one week of being approved. I just opened my second Alaska Visa last week and have already booked a RT to Kauai using the companion fare. Even better, I used my MVP Gold Guest upgrades to get confirmed first class seats both ways.

  • Mercruiser

    I meant to add, I signed up for a card offer with a $100 statement credit after $1000 spend. This pays for the $75 annual fee.

  • Ben Price

    I think you can get it more than once a year…I think it really may be a 2-4 times a year kinda card. Check FT thread on same issue.

  • Mercruiser

    Yout are right. I actually got my second card 10 months after the first one. I wanted another companion fare to book the Kauai trip while there was still two open seats with “U” upgrade space for the confirmed first upgrade.

  • Jason Michael

    I don’t see anywhere in the term for the usair premier world MasterCard about the 10,000 mile anniversary bonus. Do we know if this is still available?

  • Joe

    Marriott used to be great, but now it’s really tough to find reasonable properties, especially in US urban areas. Not everyone can fly to China.

  • Justin

    I love posts like this because it reminds me to do an inventory and go over everything we’re holding onto. I just used one of the lounge passes from the Explorer card at O’Hare the other day (the Terminal 2 lounge just happened to be directly across from my gate) and it was great to be able to relax in there before the flight.

  • Ryan McVickers

    Slight correction to the list: the IHG card is no longer available as a Visa. It was reintroduced as a MasterCard and all existing Visa accounts were converted to MC. :)

  • yourPFpro

    Are you guys talking about the 30k offer? Spending 10k in 6 Mos for 40k Alaska points doesn’t seem like it’d be worth it. I live on West coast and go to Hawaii a lot though so might have to look into this card.

    How much was the ticket to kauai? Can’t pay in points I presume if you’re going to use companion fare right?

    I’ll check out the ft thread, thx.

  • MYRflyer

    Re: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa

    There is a 50,000 link floating around in FF world (MMS), fyi

  • Mike G.

    The Courtyard Marriott Downtown-Iberville in New Orleans is pretty nice, category 5 and in a prime location.

  • Raj

    Interesting that United Mileage Plus card is not here… guess I picked the wrong card =/

  • Mark

    Emily, You do get FF miles when using the $99 companion pass. There is no anniversary bonus. What happens, when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year you will get 10,000 miles converted to preferred miles.

  • Emily Poff

    Fantastic. Thanks so much, Mark!

  • Staralliancer

    @disqus_3ElfHGNT08:disqus United Mileage Plus cards don’t offer anniversary bonuses. ANA’s premier card, on the other hand, gives you 10k miles each anniversary and silver status. Pretty good.

  • Tushar Khandelwal

    I got a targeted offer for 100,000 points after 5k spend in 90 days for the Marriott Card, however the fee is not waived in the first year

  • Allison

    I disagree that the Marriott cat 5 certificate is “equivalent” to 25,000 points. I’d MUCH rather have the points. As it is, I have an anniversary certificate that will expire in a few weeks, unused. I’m sure the JW Beijing you mentioned is nice, but it didn’t fall into my travel plans in the 6 month validity period.

  • Tara Zee

    The free companion voucher is the only reason I keep the Delta Platinum Amex. The free checked bags alone don’t make the card worth it. The 10,000 bonus miles with $25k spend is nice but with their mileage inflation, it doesn’t go far. But an actual free flight is worth it.

  • Mercruiser

    I went for the offer with 25,000 mile sign up bonus, plus $100 statement credit after $1000 spend. The link for this is on a web site called portlandtraveltips. The total paid for the two tickets was $867 GEG-LIH-GEG. No, I don’t think you can pay with points, but it appears you can upgrade to first with points if U space is available. I found U space on the PDX-LIH flights using expertflyer.

  • Daniel

    Call the Rewards line and ask for an extension. They granted it for me with no hassle at all and I was in your same situation.

  • Patrick Folger

    Did for me as well but they mentioned “one time only” I find it crappy that its only good for upto 6 months after anniversary date. Should fix that and make it a year

  • K Johnson

    TPG’s link doesn’t have an anniversary bonus so he may want to edit the post, but there’s still a link on the internet that includes the 10K bonus if that’s what you prefer–good luck in finding it.

  • Glaire

    As more cat 4 Hyatts and cat 5 Marriotts move up a category each year than go down from 5 to 4 and 6 to 5, I would like to see the respective Chase CC offer a way to earn a cert with higher cat limit. Say spend $X on the Hyatt card and get a cat 1 to 5 cert, spend $Y and get a 1 to 6 cert, etc.

  • Jeff

    thinking about canceling this card next November. Marriott just made many cat 5s cat 6s and the six month window is really restrictive

  • Joe

    Now it’s up to a 6.

  • thepointsguy

    Good to know- updated

  • thepointsguy

    I’d love that too- I feel like cards need to offer more spend thresholds to incentivize more usage.

  • thepointsguy

    Yes you do earn miles on both tickets

  • Emily Poff

    Thank you for the info! I believe I will be getting that card now!

  • ann

    where? can you share the link? thanks

  • AlaskaGeo

    The $99 Alaska companion fare is the real deal. Both my wife and I have the card, so we get two certificates a year. As MPV Gold I easily get the F complementary upgrade which drags the companion into F with you. The voucher is good for ALL cities served by Alaska on every flight and every fare. This is very much unlike my yearly DL companion coupon that has so many fare, date, and destination restrictions. Just tried to book SLC-BUF on the companion voucher and it came up that no flights were available. And…it is not valid for travel to Alaska or Hawaii. So yes, the Alaska $99 companion are is well worth the annual fee for the card.

  • Mike

    Got a targeted offer today for the Marriott card. $100 Statement Credit after first purchase, and 40,000 Points after 3k spend.

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