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As competition between card issuers only continues to heighten, banks are offering more and more generous annual benefits in exchange for your card membership. With a wide array of perks available from several card issuers, let’s look at all the annual benefits you need to make sure you’re taking full advantage of in 2017.
Annual Travel Fee Credits
One tool to combat the increasing ancillary fees airlines now charge are the annual travel credits offered by many premium travel cards. It’s important to note that each card issuer has specific criteria for what charges qualify to be reimbursed.
American Express — Amex offers a $200 airline fee credit on The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express(in addition to all further Platinum variations Amex offers). More recently, it added a $100 annual fee credit to the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. The fee credit for these cards resets on January 1 and is valid for most non-ticket purchases, including fees for ticket changes, seat selection, checked baggage, lounge day passes and in-flight purchases. Fees for upgrades to a different class of service are not reimbursable — and remember, Delta now considers its Comfort+ product (a coach seat with more legroom and amenities) to be a different class of service, so any fees you pay to get it probably won’t be eligible for reimbursement. Finally, you must log in to your American Express account and designate a single airline that will be eligible for fee reimbursement.
Chase — Chase offers the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, which features an annual $300 fee credit per calendar year. In this case, the credit is not automatic and cardholders must call Chase within four billing cycles to request it. Additionally, it can be used toward charges with any airline and is not limited to one pre-specified carrier. Eligible fees include airline lounge day passes and yearly lounge memberships, baggage fees, in-flight internet and entertainment and in-flight meals. And unlike with the American Express fee credit, you can use this credit for seat upgrades.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card also offers a $300 annual travel credit, good for almost anything remotely related to travel. Technically it includes merchants such as airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages.
To complicate things, Chase’s calendar for annual fee credits is not as clear-cut as the Amex calendar and differs by card. Sapphire Reserve credits will count toward the calendar year in which a statement closes. If you made a purchase on December 23, 2016 and your statement closed in January 2017, that purchase counted toward 2017’s $300 credit. For the Ritz-Carlton Card, on the other hand, the date of purchase determines which year’s credit you use.
Citi — The Citi Prestige Card offers a $250 annual airline purchase credit. Citi defines purchases made with airlines as baggage fees, lounge access and in-flight purchases, plus airfare itself. The entire $250 credit can be used to cover a single eligible expense, or multiple smaller expenses.
Citi’s credits are also based on the month of your statement, not the month of the charge. So if a charge appears in your January through December statements, it will qualify for that calendar year even if the date of charge happens to fall outside the calendar year. So you can begin using your annual fee credits as soon as your January statement period begins.
A few other cards offer annual travel credit fees, like the Mastercard Gold Card and the Bank of America Merrill Lynch card (after you spend $50,000 annually on the card). Make sure you read the fine print to determine which charges are eligible for reimbursement.
Elite Status Miles and Airline Status
The ability to earn elite-qualifying miles through credit card spending can make reaching the next tier of elite status easier. Here are the cards currently offering elite-qualifying miles, elite-qualifying dollar requirement waivers or, in one case, elite status:
American — The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard offers elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) as well as full Admirals Club membership — the latter is for all authorized users as well. This card offers 10,000 EQMs when you spend $40,000 within a calendar year. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Delta — Delta offers the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express and the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, both of which offer Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) and every year when you meet certain spending thresholds. The current offer for the personal Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card and the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express is 35,000 bonus miles and 5,000 MQMs after you spend $1,000 in the first three months, plus a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the first three months. Additionally, you can earn 10,000 MQMs (and 10,000 bonus miles) each calendar year when you spend $25,000 on your card, and another 10,000 MQMs (20,000 total) and 10,000 bonus miles when you reach $50,000 in purchases. This card has a $195 annual fee, and no foreign transaction fees.
The Delta Reserve Credit Card offers a welcome bonus of 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 within the first three months. You’ll also earn 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles every calendar year that you make $30,000 in purchases, and another 15,000 MQM/bonus miles when you reach $60,000 in purchases each year. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Additionally, spending $25,000 on any co-branded Delta American Express card will waive the Medallion® Qualifying Dollar (MQD) requirement to achieve SkyMiles Medallion status.
JetBlue — Earn JetBlue Mosaic status for one year after spending $50,000 annually on the JetBlue Plus Card.
Southwest — The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card (and its business version) from Chase both offer 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points (TQPs) for every $10,000 you make in purchases up to 15,000 TQPs each calendar year. Since A-List status requires 35,000 TQPs or 25 (paid) one-way flights, qualifying for all these bonuses on one card will get you about halfway there, and doing so on both the personal and business cards can get you most of the way toward A-List status. There’s a $99 annual fee for each card, and no foreign transaction fees.
United — Once you spend $25,000 on any United co-branded card, United will waive the Premier Qualifying Dollar (PQD) requirements for up to Premier Platinum Status. You can complete the spend requirement on the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, the United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card, the United MileagePlus Club Card or the United MileagePlus Club Business Card — and you can combine purchases across these cards to meet the $25,000 requirement. You’ll also earn 10,000 bonus redeemable miles after spending $25,000 annually on the MileagePlus Explorer Card.
Virgin America — The Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card from Comenity Capital Bank offers up to 15,000 status points per calendar year at a rate of 5,000 points for every $10,000 spent, and it allows you to roll over any unused points toward qualifying in the next year. There’s a $149 annual fee for this card.
Virgin Atlantic — The Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard from Bank of America offers 25 tier points for every $2,500 you spend on the card, with a maximum bonus of 50 points per month. There’s a $90 annual fee for this card.
Hotel Elite Status
Just as you can earn elite airline status miles by meeting credit-card spending requirements, you can spend your way to hotel elite status.
Hilton — The Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card with no annual fee allows you to earn an upgrade to Gold status after you make $20,000 or more in purchases each calendar year. Both the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express ($75 annual fee) and the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card ($95 annual fee) offer an upgrade to Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year when you use it to spend $40,000 on eligible purchases in a calendar year. Holders of the Amex Platinum also automatically earn Gold status.
Hyatt — The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase offers Discoverist status as soon as you become a cardholder. If you spend $50,000 annually on the card, you’ll be upgraded to Explorist status. Also don’t forget to use your free Category 1-4 free night, which is an anniversary bonus for holding the card.
Starwood — Both the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express offer Starwood Gold status when you spend $30,000 each calendar year. Gold status offers room upgrades, late checkout and additional points per dollar spent at Starwood properties. There’s a $95 annual fee for these cards that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees. Holders of the Amex Platinum also earn Starwood Gold status.
Category Spending Bonuses and Quarterly Bonuses
American Express — The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express (with no annual fee) earns you 2x points on up to $6,000 spent each year at US supermarkets (then 1x), while the Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express gets you 3x points on up to $6,000 spent each year at US supermarkets (then 1x). Plus, when you use your EveryDay Preferred at least 30 times in a statement period, you receive a 50% points bonus, making the card’s grocery bonus worth 4.5x. There’s a $95 annual fee for the EveryDay Preferred. Additionally, the Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN offers 3x points on your choice of several different spending categories, and 2x on the rest, on a combined $100,000 of spending each year. This card has an annual fee of $175 that’s waived the first year.
Make sure you pay attention to rotating categories in 2017 and maximize your spending to earn 5x Ultimate Rewards points (10x for the month of March) and up to 10% cash back (if you’re in the first year of card membership) with certain Discover cards.
Chase — The Chase Freedom 5x bonus categories are limited to the first $1,500 spent each quarter:
- 1st Quarter (January-March): Gas stations and local commuter transportation (not including parking, tolls or Amtrak)
- 2nd Quarter (April-June): Grocery stores and drugstores
- 3rd Quarter (July-September): Summer Fun (TBA)
- 4th Quarter (October-December): Holiday (TBA)
Discover — Discover it and Discover More card members can take advantage of rotating categories of 5% cash back on the first $1,500 in combined purchases. Discover matches your first year’s cash back earned, meaning you can get as much as 10% cash back on purchases in these categories during your first year.
- 1st Quarter (January-March):Gas stations, ground transportation, wholesale clubs
- 2nd Quarter (April-June): Home improvement stores and wholesale clubs
- 3rd Quarter (July-September): TBA
- 4th Quarter (October-December): TBA
Lounge Access — A few co-branded credit cards offer lounge access through a specific airline, and many credit cards now offer Priority Pass Select membership, getting you into airport lounges around the world. Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders can access the Centurion Lounge network, which is expanding to include a Hong Kong location.
Reduced Mileage/Point Awards — American Airlines and JetBlue both allow co-branded cardholders to get 10% of their redeemed miles or points back. Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard holders get a 10% mileage rebate on redeemed miles, with a maximum annual benefit of 10,000 miles per calendar year. Barclay Aviator Silver and Red cardholders also qualify for the rebate. JetBlue Plus cardholders get 10% of their redeemed points back with no annual cap. On the hotel side, IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card holders receive 10% of redeemed points back, up to 100,000 points per year.
Free Onboard Wi-Fi — Having the ability to connect in the air for free makes every flight a little easier. The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN offers 10 free Gogo passes annually, while the U.S. Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card provides 12 annual passes. A third, lesser-known card, the City National Bank Crystal Visa Infinite, also gives cardmembers 12 free Gogo flight segments per year, but the card can only be applied for in-branch in select states.
Depending on which cards you have in your portfolio, there can be a lot of benefits to keep up with and maximize. Make sure you have an adequate tracker at home that won’t allow you to come to the end of the year and scramble to maximize travel credits, leave free Wi-Fi passes unused or realize you’ve been putting significant spending on the wrong card.
How will you ensure you maximize all your credit card benefits in 2017?
Featured image, a rendering of the Centurion Lounge set to open at PHL, courtesy of Amex.
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