Top 10 (Almost) Too Good To Be True Credit Card Perks

Jul 16, 2013

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Some things in life really are too good to be true, and others just feel that way. When it comes to credit card perks, however, spending  – not – seeing really can lead to believing.

Part of being an official miles and points maximizer is seeing past the sign-up bonuses and leveraging the perks of top travel credit cards. Here are some of the perks that I personally find to be too-good-to-be-true lucrative:

Club Carlson is the hot new thing in the hotel world offering lucrative promos and credit card
Club Carlson offers lucrative promotions such as half-off reward nights.

1. Club Carlson Free Night: The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa offers one a free award night whenever you redeem for two or more nights. That means you get half-off on award stays when you stay for two nights (1 night on points, 1 night free just for being a cardholder). After taking it for a spin in one of my all-time number one cities, Madrid, at the Radisson Blu Madrid Prado property, I took advantage of the bonus again last week in Reykjavík, Iceland at the Radisson Blu Saga hotel. There I got a 2 night stay for the price of 1 on points for a total of 38,000 Gold Points. A standard room on those same nights was selling for 190 EUR per night (about $248 – Iceland is not cheap), so each point got me about 1.3 cents each in value. Depending on the hotel that you choose, this perk ranges from moderate to mind-blowing. The most extreme example is probably the May Fair in London, one of Carlson’s flagships. Rooms there in July are going for 434 GBP ($660), but are also available for 50,000 Gold Points per night, yielding a cardholder value of 2.64 cents per point. Not too shabby since the card comes with an 85,000 points sign-up bonus when you spend $2,500 within 90 days with a $75 annual fee.

2. Delta MQM Bonanza From Spending: The Delta Platinum Amex offers 10,000 MQM’s for $25,000 in annual spend, and another 10,000 MQM’s for $50,000 in annual spending, for a total potential of 20,000 MQM’s. In addition, the current sign-up bonus is 20,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles after your first purchase. There is also a Business Platinum card product that offers the same amount of MQMs.

Next up is the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, which awards cardholders with 10,000 Medallion qualifying miles with the first purchase, and 15,000 more MQM’s if a member hits $30,000 in spend within the calendar year. The current sign-up bonus is 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles and 10,000 bonus miles after first purchase. One more thing to note about the Delta Reserve card: It actually allows you to gift the 15,000 MQM’s you earn after $30,000 in annual spend and the other 15,000 MQM’s after $60,000 in spend. So if you have the card and have hit that threshold (or are about to), you can give those miles to someone else who needs them. There is also a Business Reserve card as well that has the same earning structure. Through all these credit cards you can earn a 100,000 MQM’s a year just from spending- more than enough for Platinum status (75,000 MQMs) and almost to Diamond (125,000 MQMs)- all without stepping foot on a plane (albeit with spending a ton of money).

Wanna Get Away deals make Southwest Rapid Rewards flights even more appealing.
The Southwest Companion Pass makes their Rapid Rewards program even more appealing.


3. Southwest Companion Pass: The Southwest Chase Credit Card is offering  50,000 Rapid Rewards points when you spend $2,000 within 3 months, with a $99 annual fee. One card sign-up alone nearly qualifies for half of the companion pass and double that if you also get the business credit card bonus at 50,000, which you can do in one day. The great thing about the companion pass with Southwest is that once you hit the 110,000-point threshold you are given companion pass (no need to redeem) and your pass is good not only for the rest of the calendar year, but also for the following calendar year, meaning if you scored those points in a hurry, you could have a companion pass for almost two years rather than just a one-use ticket. The other great thing about the companion pass is that it is good on either paid or award tickets, giving flyers extra flexibility and thus doubling the value of the 100,000 points from sign-up bonuses (which on their own are worth nearly $1,900 in Wanna Get Away fares, so $3,800 with the Companion Pass). That’s a ton of free flights for only 2 credit card sign-ups!

4. American Express Platinum $200 Airline Rebate: As a cardholder of the American Express Platinum Card, you’ll receive a $200 Airline Rebate, which means each calendar year you get $200 towards incidental expenses on your airline of choice. Since it is run on a calendar year, if you got the card now you’d get $200 this year and then another $200on January 1. That means you’ve already made $400 back on your $450 fee. To top it all off, most people have reported success (myself included) in getting airline gift cards reimbursed, making the $200 easy to hit- even if you’re an elite flyer. Officially the credit can be applied toward baggage fees, seat assignment fees, in-flight food and drink,  lounge day passes, and full lounge membership. So not only can you recoup most of the cost of the card, but the card has a bevy of other benefits as well including lounge access to American, Delta and US Airways lounges, Priority Pass Select and $100 Global Entry Reimbursement. All of a sudden that $450 fee is a lot more palatable. Tip: Get the Mercedes-Benz Amex Platinum for a 50,000 point sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 within 3 months with a $475 annual fee (plus all of the same perks of the regular Platinum card).  I value those 50,000 points at about $900, so you’re ahead before taking advantage of all of the other perks.

Update: Beginning March 22, 2014, American Express Card Members will no longer have access to American Airlines Admiral Club and US Airways Club airport lounges through Airport Club Access / Airport Lounge Program. This means that Card Members will no longer be able to gain complimentary access to the American Airlines airport lounges (known as Admirals Club lounges) or the US Airways Club airport lounges as a benefit of their Platinum Card Membership.

5. Chase cards for shifting around credit: One of the great things about Chase and the reason I’ve been able to get in on so many great credit card offers from them in the past is that they look at you as a customer with one overall credit line rather than considering you card account by card account, so when you want to apply for new products, even if you’re initially denied, you can appeal and get approved by shifting around credit lines. Not only that, but let’s say you wanted to cancel a card with a higher annual fee that you’re no longer maximizing – rather than cutting off the line of credit altogether, you can shift it onto a more basic card with no annual fee like the Freedom (No longer open to new applicants) or Sapphire. Also, Chase has, however, allowed me to shift around credit lines to get more credit on certain cards, like when I was recently batting for the $30,000 spending threshold on the British Airways Visa Signature Card for the “Travel Together” companion ticket, I was able to shift some of the larger limits on my Ink cards to my BA card in order to put some large purchases on it and hit the threshold.

Hilton Diamond status.
Hilton Diamond status earns top-tier hotel status.

6. Hilton Diamond Status Through Spending: One of the best perks with the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve is the ability to earn top-tier hotel status through spending. Cardholders receive complimentary Hilton Hhonors Gold Status just for having the card. It gets even better though- once you spend $40,000 or more on the card per calendar year you’ll receive Hilton Diamond Status. Hilton Diamond membership normally requires 30 stays, 60 nights or 120,000 Base Points earned during any calendar year so this is a much easier to earn it. Diamond status offers a host of additional perks including a 50% bonus on all base points, free WiFi, a dedicated reservations center, room upgrades, access to the executive club lounge regardless of whether they are upgraded to a club room, 1,000 bonus HHonors points, complimentary continental breakfast daily for two, and other welcome amenities.

7. Anniversary Bonuses That Cover the Annual Fee: Travel credit cards are great, but most carry an annual fee and they can add up quickly. Luckily, many cards offer anniversary bonuses that can easily negate that annual fee or even be worth more than the fee making it an easy decision to reap the card benefits in pepetuity. Here are some of my favorites:

Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature: 40,000 renewal bonus points each year, $75 annual fee. It takes only 38,000 points get a free night at a hotel like the Reykjavik Radisson Blu 1919 (where I just stayed recently and paid over 290 Euros a night when points were not available!). With perk #1, 38,000 points is two awards nights at this property- worth many times more than the $75 annual fee.
Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card: One free night stay at a Category 1-5 hotel every year (can be worth over $200 in value at the Residence Inn Toronto Downtown for example), $85 annual fee.
Hyatt Credit Card: One free night stay at a Category 1-4 hotel every year (just under $300 in value at the Andaz West Hollywood), $75 annual fee.
Fairmont Visa: One complimentary night each year you make $12,000 in purchases on the card, $95 annual fee. The Fairmont Pacific Rim Vancouver often goes for over $300 a night.
Priority Club Visa: Annual free night e-certificate, $49 annual fee waived the first year.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card Personal and Business: 6,000 points each year (worth $100 in Wanna Get Away fares), $99 annual fee.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card Personal and Business: 3,000 points each year (worth $50 in Wanna Get Away fares), $69 annual fee.

The Amex Platinum card will get you access into a number of airport lounges.

8. Amex Platinum Lounge Access: One of the great perks with the American Express Platinum Card is their Airport Lounge Access program. When you have a valid ticket for same-day travel, the Platinum card will gain you access to Delta, American and US Airways lounges – potentially saving you membership fees of up to around $500 each per year if you were to join each separately – and you can even bring two guests or your spouse and any children under 21. US Airways even allows entry if you are flying on a different carrier. The Card also confers Priority Pass Select access to over 600 airport lounges in 100 countries (guests can also enter for a $27 per person fee).

Ink Cards 5x
The Chase Ink cards earn 5x points per dollar at select office supply stores.

9. Chase Ink 5x Points Category: For business use, you can’t beat the Ink Plus and Ink Bold cards from Chase especially as you can earn 5X points per dollar you spend up to $50,000 a year each at office supply stores. Even if you don’t need to spend that much on office supplies, big box stores like Office Depot and Staples actually stock a diverse range of products, including gift cards to various merchants as well as Visa and Amex gift cards (which do come with fees of around $3-5 each) that you can then use like normal credit cards on other purchases and earn 5X points per $1 instead of just 1X points per dollar.

10. Make tax payments using your miles-earning debit card: Although the Delta Skymiles World Check Card from Suntrust doesn’t have a great sign up bonus (only 5,000 miles after your first purchase), using a miles-earning debit card to pay your taxes can help you rake in tons of miles. When processing tax payments online or by phone using a debit card, you only incur fees that are nominal compared to those that are charged when you use a credit card to pay your taxes. Here is the official government list of approved tax payment vendors and the rates they charge for using a credit card versus a debit card to pay taxes:

Tax vendors

For example, let’s say you owed $20,000 in taxes – not uncommon for small businesses or those who take a lot of exceptions on their payroll taxes. If you were to pay using, you would incur a fee of either $378 for using a  credit card, or just $3.49 for using a debit card a savings of 99.1%!

To put it another way, if you use a credit card, you’re essentially paying1.89 cents each for those Delta miles – just about half what the airline would charge you for them if you were just to buy them directly at the usual rate of 3.5 cents each plus fees. However, by using a debit card, you’re paying 0.01745 cents per mile. An amazing value considering you have to spend this money anyway and I personally used this to rack up SkyMiles on the cheap earlier this year.

While SkyMiles aren’t the most valuable mileage currency out there, be sure to check out my  Travel Tuesday Top 10: Ways to Redeem Delta SkyMiles– there still are some decent redemptions out there.

What credit card perks are you in love with?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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