Big spend bonuses Nick plans to pursue in 2024

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I recently made some updates to our Best Big Spend Bonuses page. Part of my interest in refreshing that page with current information is that I have had an increased capacity for spend as of late. As my expenditures have increased this year, so has my capacity to earn rewards. Unfortunately, for the first quarter of this year, I’d been spending without putting enough thought into which big spend bonuses I was after, instead trying to spread the spend around on some of my cards that earn a decent return on otherwise unbonused purchases. However, with a number of opportunities for big spend bonuses in my wallet, I realized that I needed to get organized and figure out which of those bonuses might be valuable enough to me to tailor some of my big spend toward earning them. This post isn’t meant to be a guide to tell you which big spend bonuses are best for you (see that Big Spend Bonuses page and look into which might be a good fit for you!), but rather I sometimes find that writing about my own plans helps me walk through and think through them more completely.

a cartoon of a man throwing coins

Why not all welcome bonuses all the time?

We have often said that the fastest route to large numbers of miles and points is through credit card welcome bonuses. It’s true: the fastest way to build your balances is through new card welcome offers.

If you want to optimize every dollar spent, it makes sense to focus on great welcome bonus offers. For some, that is an entirely realistic (and entirely sound!) strategy. Most new credit card welcome bonuses are effectively offering anywhere from 10-20 points per dollar spent (sometimes even more).

Personally, I spend enough every year on credit cards to meet the spending requirements for all of the new card offers that I care to pursue. I know that, in most cases, it isn’t worth pursuing a big spend offer on any one individual credit card if it means not being able to hunt down a valuable new card bonus when I want it.

However, I have enough annual spend to spread around on other cards. This year in particular I’m seeing some more opportunities for spend, so I’m considering which big spend bonuses are worth pursuing for my situation.

The big spend bonuses I’m pursuing

Aviator Silver: $20K spend for 2 companion certs + 5K bonus LPs

a black and silver credit card

The American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator Silver card is only available via invitation as an upgrade from the AAdvantage Aviator Red card. I recently wrote about whether I should upgrade. I ultimately decided to do it.

I upgraded in part because I had already spent more than half of the $20K required to earn a companion certificate on the Aviator Red card. By upgrading to the Aviator Silver, that companion certificate would be good for two companions at $99 each plus the taxes (on a domestic economy class ticket within the contiguous 48 states). I thought it made sense to upgrade to the Aviator Silver to get a second companion at the same spend threshold.

However, at the time, I was ignoring the fact that the account must stay open for 45 days beyond anniversary to get the certificate. That means I will have to pay the Aviator Silver’s $199 annual fee to get my companion certificate. Had I stuck with the Aviator Red card, I’d have paid a hundred bucks less for the annual fee, so we could look at the true cost of that companion certificate as being more like $149 per companion (the $99 you get charged for each + the $100 total in increased annual fee). That’s still probably a good deal, but it changes the math a bit.

However, I am also interested in the Loyalty Point bonuses on this card. I  remain on a Platinum Pro fast track from last year, so I need to earn 42K Loyalty Points by June 1st to keep my American Airlines Platinum Pro status until October. If I do $20K spend now, I’ll earn both 20K Loyalty Points from that spend plus 5K bonus Loyalty Points. That’s a total of 25K Loyalty Points if I’m able to hit $20K spend in time for my May statement cut date. I think it is realistic for me to meet that timeline, which would mean I would be just 17K Loyalty Points short of the 42K I need to maintain my Platinum Pro status.

It should be easy enough to pick up the other 17K Loyalty Points I’ll need through shopping portal offers.

That said, since I have a Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards card and Platinum Honors status with Bank of America, I could alternatively complete $20K spend at 2.625% back to earn a total of $525. Is this big spend bonus worth that opportunity cost?

If I value the 20K miles earned from spend at 1.3c each, that’s about $260 in miles. Then it comes down to the Loyalty Points and companion certificates: Are 25K Loyalty Points + 2 companion certificates worth more than $265? I actually think that could be questionable. I’ve said before that I don’t fly American often enough for AA elite status to be wildly valuable to me (rather I have been maintaining the elite status for a hopeful match to a status that would be more valuable to me). Whether this big spend bonus is worth it to me  will come down to how difficult it is to use the companion certificates. If I’m able to easily use them for enough value, I’ll end up happy to have met this spend. I look forward to being able to report back on how that works out down the road.

World of Hyatt: $15K spend for a Category 1-4 free night certificate + 6 elite night credits (already done)

a group of horses in a field with hot air balloons

The World of Hyatt credit card offers a Category 1-4 Free Night Certificate after $15K spend in a calendar year (on top of the annual Category 1-4 free night certificate that you get at anniversary just for holding this credit card that carries a $95 annual fee). The card also offers 2 elite night credits per $5K spent, which means that the $15K spend required to earn the certificate would earn 6 elite night credits toward World of Hyatt milestone rewards and elite status.

I already applied my Category 1-4 free night certificate to a peak-priced Category 4 night (at a property increasing to Category 5 soon!) on a night where the going rate is about $475 all-in. Realistically, there were other options in the area for about $300, though as a Hyatt Globalist I value the free parking and breakfast that I’ll get on that stay.

The elite night credits are also valuable to me. So far in 2024, I have earned 19 elite night credits (including those from spend). I have at least 7 more definite Hyatt nights this year and two Guest of Honor stays that will earn me an elite night each. That means I should hit at least 28 elite nights this year. I currently have even more nights reserved where plans are less firm; I’d guess I’ll end up with at least a number in the low to mid 30’s in terms of elite nights in 2024.

I therefore may end up mixing a mattress run toward the end of the year with a bit more spend for elite nights nights in order to hit 40 elite nights with Hyatt. That’s because at 40 nights, I’d earn a Guest of Honor award (to be able to give myself Globalist benefits one time next year even if I don’t make it to Globalist status again) and the ability to choose a suite upgrade award (which can be used to confirm an upgrade to a standard suite for a stay of up to 7 nights as early as at the time of booking if a standard suite is available).

However, imagining that I stop at $15K spend, will it have been worth it compared to the $393.75 that I could have earned with my Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards card?

In this case, I think it’s a pretty clear yes. I’m using the Category 1-4 free night certificate for a night that would have cost more than that. I also earned 15K World of Hyatt points with that spend, which we value at more than $300 based on our Reasonable Redemption Values. And the 6 elite nights earned from spend are significant for me since, as things stand, they put me on the path to at least earning another Category 1-4 free night certificate (a 30 elite night milestone reward) or potentially those even more valuable 40-night benefits. This feels like a win.

Hilton Honors Business card: $15K for a Free Night Certificate

a sailboat on a beach

Unlike many other hotel credit cards on the market, the Hilton Honors Business Credit Card does not come with an automatic annual free night certificate in exchange for its $95 annual fee. Instead, it offers a Hilton Free Night Certificate, valid at almost any Hilton property in the world, after spending $15,000 on the card in a calendar year.

I’m considering meeting that level of spend on this card in the hopes of being able to use the free night certificate at Small Luxury Hotels of the World if and when those properties become bookable through Hilton. To be clear, we don’t know for sure that we’ll be able to use free night certificates at SLH properties (and as such, I might hold off on spending at this one until we know whether you can). Still, I think it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a scenario where this big spend bonus would be worth considering.

I should note that I’m generally more enthusiastic about spending on a Hilton Honors Surpass card rather than the Hilton Business card since the Surpass card has a more useful bonus category at U.S. Supermarkets. However, neither my wife nor I have that card right now, but I do have this Hilton Honors Business credit card, which I opened just last year.

I actually think the $15K in purchases can be worth it even if not in any bonus category. I am reasonably confident that I can get at least $300 in value out of a Hilton Free Night Certificate. That $300 in value would represent a return of 2% on $15K in spend. If we value Hilton Honors points at our Reasonable Redemption Value of 0.48c per point, three points per dollar (the rate of return on otherwise unbonused purchases) is worth 1.44c or about 1.44% back. Between the free night certificate and the points, that puts the return on spend at around 3.44% (though note that this is a little wishy-washy since it depends on those values for the free night certificate and the points); . If I use the certificate for a ~$500 stay, that’s 3.33% + 1.44% = 4.77%. If I use it for a truly special stay like the Grand Hotel Victoria (a terrific SLH property that I hope will become bookable with Hilton points and free night certificates!), I’ll feel great about it.

Keep in mind that Hilton frequently sells points for 0.5c per point. My cash back alternative for unbonused spend is 2.625% back, so I could be earning 2.625c for every dollar spent and I could be using that 2.625c to purchase about 5.25 Hilton points per dollar spent. The $393.75 in cash back that I could alternatively earn with $15K spend on my Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards card could purchase about 78,750 Hilton Honors points when they are on sale for half a cent per point (which is pretty common).

With the Hilton Business card, I earn a base rate of 3 Hilton Points per dollar spent, so I’ll earn at least 45,000 points with $15K spend. I would therefore need to use my free night certificate for a stay that would otherwise cost more than 33,750 points to come out ahead over earning cash back and buying points (and I would argue that it should be used for a stay that would cost significantly more to make it worth giving up the flexibility of cash).

I should have plenty of opportunities to put the free night certificate to use at high-end Hilton properties, so I don’t think it would be tough to come out ahead. Still, I’ll probably wait and see what happens with SLH. If those hotels end up being bookable with Hilton certificates, I’ll be more likely to meet this spend.

Bottom line

I want to note again that I’m not arguing that these three big spend bonuses are the best or the ones that you should focus on earning but rather I’m explaining why I intend to focus spend toward earning these bonuses. Other big spend bonuses can absolutely be worth considering depending on your circumstances — and as you see in this post, the math as to whether or not these are worth it to me depends highly on how much I value the perks. Those big spend bonuses aren’t “free”, but if you run the numbers you may find some of them to be worth more than your best alternative. Your mileage certainly may vary.

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18 Comments
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Big Jeff

I’m always tempted to shoot for $20K spend on my Aviator Silver. But I don’t spend much on AA fares or hotels, so it would mostly be at 1x miles. So I default to spending on my Venture X, and usually I’m able to find the flights I need through BA.

Walterj

Hi I am a long time reader of fm. I don’t mind ads, but recently I noticed on my ipad that one of your ads plays unexpected loud advertisement. it is the ad with the More. Normally there is no sound or voices when I read your articles. It would also play during your podcast while you are talking.

Really annoying.

SteveH

I had a problem with several video ads popping up while scrolling thru one article on Saturday. Scroll a bit, FM video ad would pop up and play, scroll a bit more, another FM video ad would play. Haven’t seen it since though so maybe it’s been fixed.

Greg The Frequent Miler

This happens every now and then. It’s definitely far from what we want to happen. We reported it to our hosting site Boarding Area (they also manage the ads) so that the Boarding Area staff can play wack-a-mole with those evil ads.

ffi

Hilton is under appreciated compared to Marriott
Of the 2 cards I think the business is cheaper.
When hit with sign up bonus of 150k – 15k spend in each year = total 240k HH points + 2 free nights – and they work even at 120k nights
For long term planning – best option is to hit spend level as late as possible in the year so they are valid for whole of next year – so hit 14k early and wait for final 1k

Last edited 2 months ago by ffi
Scott Sikes

This is my plan too – I also have a Surpass and P2 has Aspire with annual fee hitting in late October. Aiming for 3 Hilton FNC that can use for the bulk of 2025.

HADLEY V. BAXENDALE

Nick,

If I were you, I would apply for a Surpass card now with no lifetime language — as it is now available, again.

That way, the $3,000 you put on that card to secure the bonus — required for same within 6 months — counts towards the $15,000 that you should put on the card towards the free night — killing 2 birds with 1 stone so to speak.

Also, the $50 you put on each quarter at a hotel or by buying a Hilton gift card goes to defray the cost of the annual fee — You still have time to get the card and put $50 on this quarter, thus securing ~ $200 in annual fee rebates for the $150 annual fee.

Good luck with whatever you do!

Tom

I have both the Hilton Surpass and the Business card. I am trying to get close to the $15k spend and then pause spending on them until late in the calendar year so that I will have the entire next year to use them. Then I will try to do all the spend early in the next calendar year to get at least one more free night. With the 3 FNC’s I plan on booking 3 nights in Paris or London for early Oct. Those nights are worth about $700 each so it is very good value. That Hilton biz card also gets me Priority pass – the Surpass Hilton amex dropped that benefit.

Raylan

I don’t have any first-hand knowledge but I have seen/read of on reddit / Flyertalk some pretty harsh restrictions on the AAviator companion cert. I believe that all three tickets need to fall into the lowest fare bucket, which, if you’re very flexible with scheduling could work. I’m constrained to a US school-based travel schedule so it’s not really a great thing for me to spend 20k then deal with a bunch of goofy restrictions. If AA did theirs more like the flexible AS cert and less like the inflexible DL cert, I’d be all in.

DMoney

When you have been in this game/career/hobby long enough, you realize that you can only apply for so many new cards before you start hitting rejections by the banks or are ineligible due to restrictions (looking at you Amex for family language restrictions) and the alternatives don’t seem as attractive. So you wait and watch for offers that are worthwhile. Despite a 6-player household, I find myself in that territory. I have shifted my spend to IHG premier card to get diamond through 2025 for 40k spend and then will get to Aeroplan card later in the year to get 25k status for myself and P2 for those eUpgrades.

Last edited 2 months ago by DMoney
ucipass

The question is how would somebody go about even finding out ways to manufacture this kind of spending. I understand nobody wants to post these in the open, but a bit more help would be useful. This kind of reminds me of the fuel dump thread in Flyertalk where everybody posts about what’s possible but nobody talks about ways to get there.

Jared

…talk about Debbie Downer! Certainly there are many people/posts around who write unrealistically about massive, unrealistic spec offers, but this one looks achievable to me.

Nick has two young children and is located close the the East coast. I see no challenge in him spending at these levels just for everyday expenses! This article only describes $50k worth of spend, or $4,166 per month. Perhaps a single, frugal person in a low-cost of living area may not be able to achieve this, but those who read this blog are more likely to focus on credit card spend as a way to reach travel goals that would otherwise be out of reach.

Anne

I just figured Greg gave him a massive raise and now he’s rolling in dough. Good for you Nick! It’s about time your star quality was recognized!

Go Bucket Yourself Chris

One non-manufactured spend way that I do it is to book or buy things for my family. Get a free couple together & but the tickets then get reimbursed or go in on an Airbnb together & have them Venmo you.

They also had a podcast episode about this within the last 18 months. It might her helpful

Gina

Everyone I know now is on to this trick now-and it is kind of sneaky doing this to the naive, lol

LarryInNYC

Actually, I think the conversation is pretty open about a number of ways to manufacture spend:

  1. Buy gift cards and cash in via money orders (now very location sensitive) or large payments (such as taxes).
  2. Pay (and overpay) taxes via credit card.
  3. Reselling and buyer’s clubs.
  4. Paying expenses for other people.

I’m sure there are other methods that people keep secret either because they’re loopholes that will evaporate or because they’re of dubious legality. But I think the openly discussed stuff probably consitutes the bulk of the spending that the Frequent Miler team are doing.

Andrew

I’ll echo the other responses and say I don’t think Nick is MSing that much of this. The big spend bonuses aren’t as lucrative as sign up offers to where it makes sense to take a 2% hit on transaction fees for the spend.

One I think I’ve seen mentioned before is Nick paying health insurance since a small business like FM may not have an employer plan. Not something most W-2 workers might think of right away. The premiums on a family plan could pretty much knock out one of these big spend bonuses by itself.

New York property taxes are another if I recall correctly.

I do feel you on those fuel dump threads. I spent an hour looking at them and it was intriguing but the learning curve is steep and I got the impression it wasn’t as lucrative as it used to be.

Last edited 2 months ago by Andrew