I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps it is too many years of failed #fitnessgoals (or those couple of years I successfully made it to the finish line of a marathon that inspired my continued complacency since) or maybe I just procrastinate long enough that my new year’s resolutions come just far enough in to the new year as to not qualify as the traditional January 1st goals. At any rate, when asked at a family gathering if I had any New Year’s resolutions, I answered in the negative. The truth was I figured that my credit card spending goals for 2019 were not ideal party conversation — but I certainly do have some goals for big spend bonuses this year.
First, should anyone do big spend bonuses?
We list the best big spend bonuses on this page:
When the topic of “big spend bonuses” comes around, there is inevitably discussion about the huge opportunity cost involved. In the below analysis, I’ll be comparing the opportunity cost of spending on these cards versus the best ongoing cash back alternative available in my collective family wallet, the Alliant Cashback Visa’s 2.5% cash back (note that this card offers 3% back in the first year and 2.5% back in subsequent years) to determine the “cost” of the big spend bonus in each case.
However, you should also consider the opportunity cost versus the ability to spend towards new account welcome bonuses. The best way to amass miles and points quickly has long been (and likely will long be) new credit card welcome bonuses. Our Best Airline Credit Cards page alone lists a dozen cards that offer 50,000 miles or more with $3,000 (or less) in purchases required within 3 months. With just over $23,000 in spend one could earn 640,000 bonus miles from those offers — and that’s ignoring a couple of even larger offers that require $4K in purchases. It also totally ignores all of the transferable currency cards on the market. There is no doubt that new card bonuses offer huge returns on spend and without a doubt the quickest path to big rewards balances.
Of course, I don’t think it’s mathematically possible to get all of those bonuses within a short period of time as the Chase cards will be subject to 5/24, the American Express bonuses will be subject to lifetime language, the Bank of America bonuses will be subject to its 2/3/4 rule, etc.
However, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume what is true for me: going after these big spend bonuses will not affect my ability to go after new account bonuses. That is to say that I’ve found enough ways to meet spending requirements that I’m not giving up the opportunity for a new account by choosing these big spend bonuses. These are additional fruit to harvest in my case. The same may not be true for you: if you ordinarily have difficulty finding ways to meet minimum spend requirements, or you have tons of new cards you’d like to open, big spend bonuses might not make sense for you. It’s a calculation you’ll have to consider based on your spending patterns.
Big spend bonuses I resolve to go after
In no particular order, here are the big spend bonuses I plan to pursue:
1) AT&T Access More: Spend $10K, get 10K extra points
Opportunity cost vs 2.5% cash back card: $250
This one is an annual no-brainer for me — so much so that when I initially started outlining this post, I totally forgot about it. The AT&T Access More card has not been available for new applications for a couple of years now, but some have had success in product changing to it. A direct product change may no longer be possible, but this trick might still work.
The key card benefit is that it earns 3x points at “online retail and travel merchants”. That’s not quite 3x everywhere online, but it does award 3x at many online merchants.
For its big spend bonus, the card offers an extra 10K points when you spend $10K or more in your cardmember year. The great retention bonus I got on this card this year meant that I easily hit that requirement for my 2018-2019 cardmember year, but even without that bonus I will likely spend at least $10K online this year and come out of it having earned an effective 4x on those purchases — which is worth the $95 annual fee plus the $250 opportunity cost vs 2.5% cash back.
2) Radisson Rewards: 1 free US night per $10K spend up to $30K in purchases
Opportunity cost vs 2.5% cash back card: $250 per $10K ($500 this year)
Radisson Rewards is a program that doesn’t get much attention, and that’s kind of understandable: they just don’t offer that many upscale hotels in the United States. They do have a decent footprint in Europe, but without an easy path to free breakfast, they often get ignored in favor of Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott.
However, the Radisson Rewards credit card is one of the more underrated hotel cards in my opinion. While Radisson Rewards points are not incredibly valuable — our Reasonable Redemption Values lists them at 0.38 cents each — the main Radisson Rewards Premier credit card earns 5x everywhere. While that makes the earning rate unfavorable compared to my best cash back alternative, it only requires a slightly better than average redemption to come out ahead of a 2.5% cash back card.
Furthermore, I think the big spend bonus on this card makes the value proposition for this card: earn a free (domestic US night) for each $10K spent up to $30K. My current cardmember year ends soon. I’ll be completing $20K in purchases, which will give me 2 free nights plus 100,000 points (plus 40,000 points at renewal with the $75 annual fee). Between $20K in purchases and the anniversary points, I’ll end up with 4 free nights at a top-tier 70K property. Is it a shame that the free nights are limited to US properties? It absolutely is. Still, I have a redemption lined up that will work out nicely.
For my next cardmember year, I intend to spend at least $10K. When combined with the 50K points earned and 40K anniversary points I could have 2 top-tier nights in the US at an opportunity cost of $250 (what I could have earned with the Alliant cash back card). I know I can always put a weekend away to good use. If I find another specific situation in which multiple nights could be valuable enough for me, I’ll consider spending towards the $20K or $30K thresholds.
3) Hilton Honors Ascend: Free weekend night after $15K in purchases
Opportunity cost vs 2.5% cash back card: $375
I’ve recently hashed out some of my disagreement with Gary at View from the Wing over the debate between Hilton and Marriott and I clearly like Hilton.
With two Aspire cards in my household, we already get 2 free weekend nights per year. Putting $15K in purchases on a Hilton Honors Ascend card will earn us an additional weekend night.
Making those purchases at a US supermarket, where this card earns 6x, will also yield 90,000 points. That puts me within striking distance of the 95,000 points required for another night at a top-tier Hilton (or gives me enough points for 2 or 3 mid-range Hilton nights). I think that’s not a bad value for the spending requirement. Based on the Reasonable Redemption Value of 0.45c each, the 90K points earned are worth around $405. Depending on how you value the weekend night certificate and whether or not you find a better-than-average redemption for your 90K points, the return on your US supermarket spend could be quite good.
All that said, the return here versus using an Amex Gold card becomes debatable. That card earns 4x Membership Rewards at US Supermarkets on up to $25K per year in purchases (then 1x). Spending $15K at US Supermarkets on that card instead would yield 60,000 Membership Rewards points. Amex recently ran a targeted transfer bonus of 1K Membership Rewards to 3K Hilton points. If you’re able to take advantage of something like that, your $15K in purchases could yield as much as 180,000 Hilton points. That’s enough for 2 top-tier nights and it keeps the points flexible rather than tied up as a weekend night certificate (and that’s not considering more valuable uses of your Membership Rewards points). If you aren’t going to both max out that card’s cap and spend on this card, this big spend bonus probably isn’t worth it.
Other big spend bonuses that intrigue me
As you can see above, I’m not considering big spend bonuses on airline credit cards. That’s because I don’t highly value airline elite status and I can generally get better value by maximizing category bonuses on flexible currency cards than I can through airline card big spend bonuses.
However, there is one airline card with a big spend bonus that may eventually intrigue me: The Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard. That card offers 7,500 bonus points with $15K cardmember year spend + an additional 7,500 points with $25K cardmember year spend. That’s in addition to earning 1.5x everywhere. If you spend exactly $25,000 on this card, it earns 2.1 miles everywhere. Since Virgin Atlantic is an Amex transfer partner, Chase transfer partner, and Citi transfer partner, I’m not overly excited about a 2.1x return as I’d rather be earning a flexible currency at a similar (or in many cases better) rate. However, if I ever want to go to Necker Island, I’ll need help spending towards Virgin Atlantic Silver status, and this card can provide that help with 25 tier points per $2500 spent (up to 50 tier points per month). Spending $5K per month on this card diminishes its everyday spend, but might be worth it if I someday decide to go after a week with Sir Richard Branson. At this point, that isn’t in any immediate plans, so I’ll probably be giving this one a miss for a while, but I could imagine doing this eventually.
The other big spend bonus that is on my radar is that of the World of Hyatt credit card. That card offers a free Category 1-4 night each year with $15K in purchases. The card also offers 2 elite night credits per $5K spent. That might become intriguing if I ever decide to go after Hyatt status again. The problem here is that going after Hyatt status would involve either spending a huge amount of money on the card or spending at least some nights at Hyatt hotels without Globalist status rather than finding a friend who can let me borrow their Globalist status with a Guest of Honor reservation. The reality would likely be a combination of statusless nights spent and spend on the World of Hyatt credit card, but I’m still not sure I’ll go after this as long as the Guest of Honor system remains as-is.
Big spend bonuses aren’t for everyone. However, for those who can meet the spend without sacrificing other opportunities / bonus categories / etc, they can offer a decent value. In 2019, I only plan to go after three big spend bonuses, none of which are huge but all of which are valuable to me. Some will prefer to put spend on cards that earn status, but my spend will mostly be going towards free night certificates. Those come with their own drawbacks in terms of expiration and limitations — so my next resolution is going to be to use those certificates towards good value without letting them get close to expiration.