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From small businesses to big lifestyles, many award travelers need a card that offers extra benefits for extra spending. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele looks at a variety of travel rewards cards to suit a big budget.
The basis of a sound travel rewards strategy is making sure you earn points and miles for every dollar spent, since the more you spend, the more you’ll earn. However, as your spending increases, your earnings can increase disproportionately, and your outlook on award travel may change.
If you charge more than $100,000 each year to credit cards, then you fit my definition of a big spender — and your approach will likely differ from those who spend considerably less. In this post, I want to look at some credit card strategies for big spenders in order to help you leverage your financial power and maximize your travel rewards.
Why big spenders have different credit card needs
While most big spenders are also big earners, you don’t necessarily have to be rich to spend a lot. For example, business owners often survive on profit margins below 10% of their revenue, which means they might be spending up to 10 times their actual income. Frequent business travelers and even administrative assistants commonly need to make large and/or frequent purchases (using their personal credit cards) that are later reimbursed. Finally, many people use their cards simply to cover expenses for a large or extended family, which can add up quickly.
When your annual credit card spending zooms past the six figure mark, it has several effects on your credit card portfolio. First, annual fees become less important relative to your total spending. For example, if you spend $10,000 annually, then a $95 annual fee is nearly 1% of your charges — a significant amount. However, if you spend more than $100,000, that $95 annual fee becomes less than 0.1% of your spending, which is trivial. Those who spend heavily can justify holding more cards with annual fees, which allows for greater diversification of rewards and benefits.
In addition, many credit cards offer annual spending bonuses (in the form of cash back, added travel rewards, elite qualifying miles or even outright status) for those who put up big numbers, and the potential to earn those bonuses may also impact which cards you prefer.
Making a plan
TPG often preaches the importance of diversifying your travel rewards, and one of the easiest ways to do this is by focusing your earning on transferable points. However, while you can diversify by earning points in any one of the four major transferable points programs (American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, the Starwood Preferred Guest program and Citi ThankYou Rewards), your options are still limited to the available transfer partners within each one. One solution for big spenders is to take that diversification to the next level: the increased earning potential allows you to accumulate points in more than one of those programs, so you can have access to even more airline and hotel partners.
For big spenders who frequently fly on revenue tickets (as opposed to award tickets), credit cards that offer elite qualifying miles should be of particular interest, since you have a good shot at boosting your status, and that will help you can enjoy more upgrades, fee waivers and other perks.
In addition, you should consider holding one or more credit cards that offer the travel benefits you value the most, such as lounge access, hotel elite status or premium travel assistance. Finally, if you’re trying to minimize (or even eliminate) your out-of-pocket costs, you’ll want to complement your points and miles in traditional rewards programs with a card that offers statement credits toward travel expenses.
Here are my picks of credit cards for big spenders, including current sign-up bonus offers, top benefits and why I think each one is a good fit.
Current bonus — Earn 40,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $3,000 within three months of account opening (although there are targeted offers that may have larger bonuses).
Top benefits — $200 annual air travel credit. $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Access to Delta SkyClub, Priority Pass and Amex Centurion lounges. Transfer points to 16 different airlines and 4 hotel partners. (Note that the transfer ratios to British Airways and Iberia will decrease starting October 1.)
How this card works for big spenders — This card only earns 1 point per dollar spent, so there are other Amex cards that do better in that respect. This card excels in its array of travel perks, including membership in three different airline lounge programs, Starwood Gold elite status, and elite status with Avis, Hertz and National. Other benefits that work for big spenders include the Fine Hotels & Resorts and Hotel Collection programs, which can offer room upgrades, free nights, complimentary breakfast, and credits toward food, beverages and spa services.
It’s also worth considering the Morgan Stanley Platinum Amex, which offers a $500 credit when you spend $100,000 annually, or better yet, the Goldman Sachs Private Banking version of the Platinum card, which offers a bonus of 40,000 points each year that you spend $100,000. That’s worth $800 according to TPG’s latest monthly valuations.
Annual fee — $450
Current bonus — Earn 25,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on the card within the first 3 months of account opening (but be sure to check for targeted offers that may have a higher sign-up bonus or targeted Amex offers).
Top benefits — Earn 3 points per dollar in one category of your choosing: airfare, advertising, gas stations, shipping or computing (which includes US computer hardware, software and cloud-computing purchases made directly from select providers). Earn 2 points per dollar in each of the other four categories, on up to $100,000 spent each year in each category. Earn an unlimited 2 points per dollar on eligible purchases from the American Express Travel website, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
How this card works for big spenders — This card can help business owners maximize earnings of valuable Membership Rewards points. Many business owners can easily spend $100,000 annually in some of the eligible categories. For example, a retailer could quickly rack up huge advertising costs; a tech company could incur extensive hardware, software and cloud computing charges; and any business with a fleet of vehicles will spend heavily on gasoline. As I noted when comparing the Amex Business Gold Rewards vs. Amex Business Platinum, these two cards complement each other nicely.
Annual fee — $175 (waived for the first year)
Current bonus — Earn up to 25,000 Starpoints: 10,000 Starpoints after your first purchase on the card, and another 15,000 after you make $5,000 in purchases on the card in the first 6 months of card membership.
Current benefits — Earn 2 points per dollar spent at Starwood properties, and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else. As of August 11th, you’ll receive added benefits like free access to Sheraton Clubs when you book rates eligible to earn Starpoints, and complimentary premium internet access at all SPG properties. Earn SPG Gold status after spending $30,000 in a calendar year.
How this card works for big spenders — The business (and consumer) Starwood Preferred Guest cards are the only ones that earn valuable Starpoints, which you can transfer to over 30 different frequent flyer programs. I like the business version because it offers access to Sheraton Clubs (although sadly not on award stays and other rates that are ineligible to earn Starpoints). Big spenders will have no problem reaching Starwood Gold status (if they don’t already receive it from the Amex Platinum card).
Annual fee — Currently $65, but will increase to $95 in August (waived for the first year).
Current bonus — 10,000 SkyMiles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after your first purchase.
Top benefits — Earn 15,000 MQMs when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year, plus another 15,000 MQMs when you spend $60,000. Get Delta SkyClub lounge access (for the cardholder only). Flight benefits include one free checked bag, priority security and boarding, upgrade priority over those in the same elite status level, and discounts on in-flight purchases. Get an annual companion certificate in economy or first class on domestic flights.
How this card works for big spenders — Despite recent devaluations of the SkyMiles program, this card offers the tantalizing opportunity to earn 30,000 Medallion Qualification Miles each year, which can quickly vault you to the next level of status. This is an easy way for Delta flyers to improve upgrade opportunities while enjoying lounge access and other perks. By holding both the business and personal versions of this card, big spenders could earn mid-level status even before setting foot on a flight.
Annual Fee — $450
JP Morgan Palladium
Current bonus — None
Top benefits — Earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. In addition, those who spend $100,000 in a calendar year can earn 35,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points. Cardholders get complimentary upgrades to first class with each purchase of a round-trip business class ticket from the US to London on British Airways, and a complimentary companion ticket for each full-fare, non-restricted, round-trip business class ticket from the US to anywhere British Airways flies. You’ll also get full Priority Pass membership, access to Palladium Concierge and Marquis Jet Perks. This card is only available for private banking clients.
How this card works for big spenders — Although Palladium lacks the 2x rewards for dining found on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the 35,000-point spending bonus helps make up for it. This card could be a great way to effectively earn 1.35 points per dollar on non-bonus spending, but there’s little reason to use this card beyond that threshold. The upgrade and companion benefits could be useful to anyone who routinely flies in business class on British Airways.
Annual fee — $595
Current bonus — None
Top benefits — This invitation-only card offers everything that the Platinum cards do, but it also comes with membership in the Gulfstream Aerospace Private Flyers Club, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold status, and Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion status. Unlike the Platinum card’s single complimentary companion ticket on full fare business or first class international flights (on select airlines), the Centurion Card’s benefit is unlimited. Other perks include first-class flight upgrades and access to airport clubs, as well as membership in Sony’s Cierge personal shopping program and dozens of other elite club memberships. Receive one free night every year at Mandarin Oriental properties worldwide when at least one paid night is booked, as well as privileges at hotel chains like Ritz-Carlton, Leading Hotels of the World, and Aman resorts.
How this card works for big spenders — If the $7,500 combined annual fee and initiation fee doesn’t scare you off, and you can really use the airline status and companion ticket benefits, this card can offer huge savings. The perfect candidate is someone who frequently purchases full fare business and first class international tickets, and would love to bring a companion or an assistant along at no additional cost.
Annual fee — The card requires a one-time initiation fee of $5,000, and has an annual fee of $2,500.
Current bonus — Earn 50,000 ThankYou points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
Top benefits — Receive a $250 air travel credit each year for airfare, baggage fees, lounge access and some in-flight purchases. You also get Admirals Club access and Priority Pass Select membership, which allow entry for both you and a guest. Get your fourth night free at hotels with no blackout dates when you book four consecutive nights at any hotel via a personal travel adviser designated by MasterCard. Get a $100 Global Entry application fee credit. No foreign transaction fees.
Unlike many of the premium travel rewards cards, Citi Prestige also comes with some strong bonus categories. Earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent on air travel and hotel purchases, 2 points per dollar on dining and entertainment, and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Redeem your points for air travel at a rate of 1.33 cents apiece, or 1.6 cents apiece on American Airlines and US Airways. Citi ThankYou Rewards also now has 12 transfer partners, including Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Virgin Atlantic and Hilton HHonors.
How this card works for big spenders — This card provides a way to quickly earn transferable Citi ThankYou points while enjoying lounge benefits and an impressive array of other perks. This card is a great option even if you’re not a big spender, but you can get even more out of it by stacking the 25% relationship bonus for Citi Private Bank customers. Other perks that tend to work well for big spenders include free rounds of golf and the fourth night free hotel benefit.
Annual fee — $450
Current bonus — Earn 75,000 AAdvantage miles when you spend $7,500 in the first three months, although you might receive a targeted offer for more.
Top benefits — Full Admirals Club membership, which allows you (and immediate family or up to two guests) to access lounges even when you’re not flying on American Airlines. $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Earn 2 points per dollar on American Airlines and US Airways purchases, and one point per dollar elsewhere. Earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles when you spend $40,000 in a year. Priority check-in, security and boarding on American Airlines and US Airways. One free checked bag for you and up to eight companions. 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases.
How this card works for big spenders — While it’s not as generous as the elite bonus on the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card, the 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles are easily within reach for big spenders and can be highly valuable to anyone seeking top-tier AAdvantage Executive Platinum status. Combined with Admiral’s Club membership and the favorable guest policy, this card can be very useful to American Airlines flyers.
Annual Fee — $450
What’s your credit card strategy for big spending?
The Platinum Card® from American Express
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