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Getting The Most Rewards For Your Minimum Spend

June 16, 2014
8 min read
Getting The Most Rewards For Your Minimum Spend
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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

TPG contributor Jason Steele comes back this week to analyze minimum spend.

Perhaps we are living in the golden age of credit card rewards, where banks are eager to offer us so many valuable points and miles just for giving them a chance to earn our business. Nevertheless, most of these offers require a significant amount of spending (often referred to as the "minimum spend") in order to qualify for bonus offers.

Unless you normally spend a large amount for your household or business, you'll need to weigh the rewards offered by each card against its spending requirement. If manufactured spending isn't your thing, we thought it would be helpful to examine current credit card offers and analyze the rewards you'll receive compared to how much you'd need to spend to earn them.

The chart below examines the value offered by various credit card welcome bonuses. To calculate the total value, we considered the value of each type of point as rated by TPG in his monthly valuation series, and we factored in the cost of any annual fee charged in the first year of card membership. Finally, we divided the total value by the amount of required spend as a measure of which cards provide the most value for the least spending effort. Check the chart to see what we found.

Personal CardsBonusMin. SpendTotal PtsPoint ValueTotal Value1st Year Annual FeeValue After 1st Year FeeValue per $ /Spend

(No longer open to new applicants)

Sapphire Preferred40,000$3,00043,0002.1$903$0$903$0.30
United MileagePlus Explorer30,000$1,00031,0001.4$434$0$434$0.43
British Airways50,000$2,00052,5001.7$892.5$95$797.5$0.40
Marriott Rewards30,000$1,00031,0000.5$155$0$155$0.16
Marriott Premier Rewards50,000$1,00051,0000.5$255$0$255$0.26
Southwest Premier Visa50,000$2,00052,0001.4$728$99$629$0.31
Southwest Plus Visa50,000$2,00052,0001.4$728$69$659$0.33
Ink Bold / Ink Plus50,000$5,00055,0002.1$1,155$0$1,155$0.23
Ink Business Cash Credit Card*20,000$3,00023,0002.1$483$0$483$0.16
American Express
Amex Platinum40,000$3,00043,0001.7$731$450$281$0.09
Premier Rewards Gold25,000$2,00027,0001.7$459$0$459$0.23
Amex Gold25,000$2,00027,0001.7$459$0$459$0.23
Gold Delta SkyMiles30,000$1,00031,0001.2$372$0$372$0.37
Platinum Delta SkyMiles35,000$1,00036,0001.2$432$95***$337$0.34
Delta Reserve10,000$010,0001.2$120$450($330)NA
Starwood Amex30,000$5,00035,0002.1$735$0$735$0.15
Amex EveryDay10,000$1,00011,0001.7$187$0$187$0.19
Amex EveryDay Preferred15,000$1,00016,0001.7$272$95$177$01.8
Hilton HHonors40,000$75040,7500.5$204$0$204$0.27
Hilton HHonors Surpass60,000$3,00063,0000.5$315$75$240$0.08
Capital One
Venture Rewards20,000$2,00022,0001.0$220$0$220$0.11
Hilton Honors40,000$1,00041,0000.5$205$0$205$0.21
Platinum Select/AAdvantage30,000$1,00031,0001.7$527$0$527$0.53
Executive AAdvantage**100,000$10,000110,0001.7$1,870$250**$1,620$0.16
Arrival Plus40,000$3,00043,0001.1$473$0$473$0.16
US Airways40,000$040,0001.9$760$89$671NA

* Assumes you can transfer to Ultimate Rewards account that allows point transfers.
**Net after $200 statement credit.
***Net after $100 statement credit.

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If you look at the value of the points and miles earned, per dollar spent meeting the minimum spending requirement, the cards with the smallest bonuses are actually favored. For example, the Frontier Airlines Mastercard from Barclaycard offers 40,500 total points after spending just $500, which we value at $417 after factoring in the annual fee (which isn't waived the first year). Likewise, the Chase Freedom offers 20,500 total points worth $431 (assuming you can transfer to an Ultimate Rewards account) after spending just $500.

Other standouts include the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage (American Airlines) card which offers 30,000 miles for just $1,000 minimum spending. Essentially, cardholders receive 31x miles per dollar for the first $1,000, which compares quite favorably to the 11x earned by the Citi Executive cards with the 100k offer for spending $10,000. The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Of course, there is also the US Airways card and the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card, both of which offer their welcome bonuses after cardholders make their first purchase.

On the other end of the spectrum are cards like the Amex Premier Rewards Gold which offers 25,000 Membership Rewards points after $2,000 spent within 3 months and the Business Gold Rewards Card which also offers 25,000 points but cardholders must spend a considerable $5,000 on their card within the first 3 months. Even the current Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express that offers 30,000 bonus points (10,000 after first purchase and 20,000 after $5,000 spent within 6 months) only comes out to 7 points per dollar spent by the time the complete bonus is earned.

To be sure, there are many other criteria that you should consider before choosing your next card, for example, we didn't take into account the cost of the annual fee. But if you have a limited capacity to meet minimum spending requirements, this is an important perspective to keep in mind.

Featured image by Make sure your cards waive foreign transaction fees.