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Credit Card Benefits to Maximize Before 2015

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As I’ve often said, one of the great tragedies for travelers is letting loyalty points and frequent flyer miles expire, and I think the same goes for unused credit card benefits. Today, TPG Contributor Nick Ewen will guide us through some of the best offers and benefits whose days are numbered, to help you make sure they don’t go to waste.

Happy fall! As of 10:29 pm Eastern Time last night, summer has officially ended. With the end of the year approaching, we’re in the home stretch for hotel and airline elite status qualification, and the last few months to make use of certain credit card offers and annual benefits. To help you get the most out of your loyalty programs and co-branded credit cards, in this post I’ll highlight some important considerations for points, miles, and elite status enthusiasts as 2014 comes to a close.

Get the US Airways card while you still can.
Get the US Airways MasterCard now so you can take advantage of benefits that will no longer be there in 2015!

BENEFITS CHANGING IN 2015

The first consideration is of cards whose benefits will change in the new year. Fortunately, as of now there appears to be only one offender in this arena: the US Airways Premier World MasterCard. As TPG discussed back in May, this card is rolling into the American Airlines AAdvantage MasterCard from Barclaycard in 2015, and several benefits will expire at the end of this year:

  • Annual $99 companion pass
  • First class check-in
  • Free annual club pass and $75 discount towards US Airways Club membership
  • 5,000 mile rebate for US Airways award redemptions
  • 10,000 Preferred Qualifying Miles after $25,000 in spending

While several new benefits will be added (including a 10% discount on award redemptions, 25% off in-flight purchases, and one-way and upgrade redemptions), there’s still a lot of value in the existing benefits, and enough time left to use them. If you redeem miles for a domestic coach class ticket and can find low-level availability, the 5,000 mile rebate offers a 20% discount. The companion pass could come in handy for expensive holiday travel (again, assuming you can find availability). The club pass is valid for you and up to 2 guests, and expires a year from the date on which you open the account. Keep in mind that this card comes with a sign-up bonus of 40,000 Dividend Miles after your first purchase and payment of the $89 annual fee. With no spending requirements, the bonus is low hanging fruit, so even if you can’t take advantage of the expiring benefits, this card is worth considering.

The $200 airline fee credit on the Amex Platinum resets on January 1st, so apply now and get your first $200 before the end of the year!
The $200 airline fee credit on the Amex Platinum resets on January 1, so apply now and get your first $200 before the end of the year!

ANNUAL AIRLINE CREDITS THAT RESET IN 2015

Back in August, I wrote a comparison of the Visa Black Card, the American Express Platinum, and the Citi Prestige. The latter two of these premium cards offer credits for any airline fees incurred on the card. For the Amex Platinum, it is $200 every calendar year, which means that you can sign-up for the card now, get a $200 credit by the end of 2014, and then get another $200 in the early months of 2015. Those two credits cover almost the entire $450 annual fee. You would need to select a designated airline and then charge purchases like in-flight refreshments and baggage fees to the card. Be sure to enroll either online or by calling the number on the back of your card, and with just over 3 months to go, now is definitely the time to apply. Check out TPG’s post on how to maximize this benefit.

Citi Prestige offers an even more compelling (and time-sensitive) case for these credits. Last month, TPG posted details about changes to the card that go into effect on October 19 of this year, including a 4th night free at hotels, new bonus categories, and improved lounge access. One of the most interesting changes, however, is to the airline fee credit. The card presently offers a $200 fee credit similar to the one on Amex Platinum (though instead of needing to select one airline, cardholders have the flexibility to charge fees to nine differentairlines: AirTran, AA, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, Southwest, United, and US Airways). As of October 19, that airline “fee” statement credit turns into a $250 “air travel credit,” which includes the same fees as before, but now also includes airfare. Not only do you get an extra $50, but also you can now get the statement credit just for flying!

Citi prestige benefits
One new benefit of the Citi Prestige is a larger AND more flexible air travel credit.

There’s one more consideration that could make this card very attractive if you can apply before the benefits change in October. The card’s terms & conditions include the following quotes regarding the $200 fee credit:

The credit will apply toward purchases of $100 or less, with an annual cap of $200 for all fees charged by October 18, 2014.”

And here’s what it says about the new $250 air travel credit:

“This statement credit is an annual benefit available for purchases appearing on your billing statements from December through the following December.”

Based on my interpretation of this language, you should be able to do the following:

  • Open the card now and get the $200 credit by October 18, 2014
  • Earn a $250 credit between October 19, 2014 and your statement closing date in December, 2014
  • Earn another $250 credit from December 2014 through December 2015

That adds up to $700 in credits during the first year of cardmembership, which more than covers the annual fee (and doesn’t even consider the other benefits on the card).

There are a few important caveats to this, however. First of all, for the $200 fee credit that is going away next month, the T&C claim that it “can take up to 10 business days after Cardmember enrollment for the statement credit to be effective.” That significantly shortens the window for taking advantage of the credit before it changes. In addition, the credit only applies to purchases of $100 or less, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking about renewing your club membership (for example). Finally, there’s a good chance that Citibank’s interpretation of the fine print differs from mine, so you may not be able to get both the $200 credit and the new $250 credit this year.

However, even if you can’t get the $200 credit before October 19, the new $250 benefit is based on the calendar year rather than the cardmember year, so you can get this credit now and in the first part of 2015. That $500 still covers the entire annual fee, so if you’re thinking about applying for Citi Prestige, doing so before the end of the year is worth your while.

Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express
Both the business and personal versions of the Starwood American Express include stay/night credit toward elite status.

CARDS WITH ANNUAL ELITE CREDITS

A similar benefit that can be maximized late in the year is found on cards that offer elite credits that reset at the end of each calendar year (regardless of when your account was opened). A great example of this is the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express. Both this card and the business version offer cardholders 2 stays and 5 nights toward elite status qualification each year. If you opened both of these cards now, you’d get 4 stays and 10 nights toward qualification in 2014, and then another 4 stays and 10 nights toward 2015 (which generally post in mid-January, as TPG discovered this past year). This is a great way to boost your stay/night levels without mattress-running at the last minute.

Keep in mind that both cards also offer a sign-up bonus of 25,000 Starpoints after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months. TPG’s August valuations put each of these bonuses at $575, and since the $65 annual fee is waived for the first year, you’re looking at $1,150 in value for the two cards together.

Another card that offers annual elite credits is the Marriott Premier Visa from Chase, which gives you 15 elite night credits after account approval. While this bonus resets each cardmemberyear (rather than on the calendar year like the SPG Amex cards), this is still a great option if you’re just short of Gold status (earned after 50 nights) or Platinum status (earned after 75 nights) in the Marriott Rewards program.

Amex's Delta cards will no longer levy foreign transaction fees starting May 1.
All Delta Amex cards waive the new MQD requirement with $25,000 in yearly spend, while some offer MQM bonuses as well.

CARDS WITH ELITE (OR OTHER) BONUSES AT SPENDING THRESHOLDS

One final “category” of cards to consider are those with annual bonuses when you reach certain spend thresholds. The vast majority of these cards are designed to help with your elite status qualification, and while the thresholds tend to be quite high, they can still be good options for anyone working toward that next level of status. Here’s a quick rundown of cards (organized by airline/hotel chain), along with the elite qualification benefits they offer:

American Airlines

Delta Air Lines

Southwest Airlines

  • Rapid Rewards Premier Visa: 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points (up to 15,000 each calendar year) for every $10,000 in purchases
  • Rapid Rewards Premier Business Visa: 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points (up to 15,000 each calendar year) for every $10,000 in purchases (see this post for details about a 50,000 point sign-up bonus)

US Airways

  • US Airways Premier World MasterCard: 10,000 preferred qualifying miles after spending $25,000 (as mentioned at the beginning of this post, this benefit is going away in 2015)

Virgin America

Hilton

Hyatt

  • Chase Hyatt Visa: 2 stay/5 night credits after spending $20,000; additional 3 stay/5 night credits after spending $40,000

Marriott

Ritz-Carlton

Which credit card perks do you plan on maximizing on this year?
Which credit card perks do you plan on maximizing on this year?

This is not a complete list, and not all annual benefits are connected to elite status. For example, you can earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years when you spend $30,000 in one year on the British Airways Visa Signature. You could also earn 10,000 bonus United miles after spending $25,000 on your United MileagePlus Explorer card. However, I would argue that elite status bumps are more valuable, since any status earned by the end of 2014 will be good until the first month or two of 2016.

Are you working toward elite status qualification, or trying to find ways to maximize your credit card benefits? Please share your thoughts and strategies in the comments below!

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®

Apply Now
  • Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy Group 1 Boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases.1
  • Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*
  • Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back — up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 14.24% - 22.24%* (Variable) $95, waived for first 12 months* 0% Excellent/Good