Last dash toward calendar year big spend bonuses


Quite a few credit cards offer bonus points or other perks for reaching a high spend threshold within a calendar year.  I keep a list of the best of these offers on the “Best Big Spend Bonuses” page (which can be found under the Credit Cards menu on any page within my blog).  Here are some examples:

  • Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, with $40K annual spend: Earn Hilton’s top tier Diamond status.
  • American Express Delta Reserve, with $30K annual spend (and again at $60K): Earn 15,000 gift-able Medallion Qualifying Miles and 15,000 redeemable miles.
  • American Express Premier Rewards Gold, with $30K annual spend: Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards points. (this bonus no longer exists)
  • Chase United MileagePlus Explorer, with $25K annual spend: Earn 10,000 United MileagePlus miles.
  • Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, with $10K annual spend: Earn 1 free weekend night at almost any Hilton property. (my mistake: this bonus is per membership year, not calendar year)

If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to check to see if you are within reach of any of these bonuses.  It may be worth it to put extra spend on your credit card now to earn that bonus.

Checking spend

When looking at how much you’ve spent so far this year, make sure to look at qualified spend only.  Fees and interest payments do not count towards these bonuses.  Take the Hilton HHonors Reserve card, for example.  Suppose you see that you’ve spent exactly $10,000 on the card, but part of that spend was the $95 annual fee.  In that case, you’re at least $95 short of the spend needed to secure your free night.

Ideas for reaching your target

Here are some things you can do now to increase spend before the end of the year:

Time shift spend

The idea with time shifting spend is to spend money now for expenses you’ll have later.  One way to do this is to see if your billers (insurance, cable, phone, etc.) will accept pre-payments.  Another option is to buy gift cards to cover future expenses.  You could even earn extra points or cash back by doing so.  For example, through the end of this year, you can get 3% cash back when buying American Express gift cards through TopCashBack (see “TopCashBack increases Amex Gift Card rebate to 3%!“) or 3 miles per dollar through SkyMiles Shopping.  When buying gift cards directly from a bank, though, its important to make sure that you won’t be charged a cash advance fee.  One way to protect yourself is to ask your credit card company to lower your cash advance limit as close to zero as possible and then buy gift cards in amounts greater than that limit.  That way, the worst case outcome will be that your purchase will be rejected.  A safer option is to buy merchant gift cards.  If you know you will shop with a certain merchant a lot, you can often earn extra points or cash back by buying gift cards to that merchant.  See “Best options for buying merchant gift cards“.

Buy reload cards

Vanilla Reload cards are widely available for purchase with credit cards at most CVS stores and some Duane Reade stores.  Each card can be loaded up to $500 with a $3.95 fee.


The money on those cards can then be separately loaded to an American Express Bluebird or Serve account.  Once there, the money can be used to pay bills (such as mortgage payments, tuition, daycare, etc.), or transferred back to your regular bank account.

Similar tricks can be done with Visa and MasterCard gift cards, but that’s out of the scope of this post.

Do good

If you’ve been meaning to make donations to your favorite charities, now is the time!  Keep in mind, though, that the charity will have to pay the credit card processing fee in most cases. Alternatively, fund microloans with the hope of getting most of your money back (see “Kiva: loans, points, and miles“).

Pay estimated taxes

Fourth quarter estimated taxes aren’t due until January 15th, but there’s no reason you can’t make those payments now.  You can pay with a credit card online with fees as low as 1.88% for Visa and MasterCard or 1.89% for Amex and Discover (see this IRS page for details).  Depending upon the value of the big spend bonus you’re aiming for, this fee may be worth it.


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Thank you for the quick response. I have got enough gift card for lands end/macys/old navy with deals from AMEX and groupon. So I am bit worried to spend more on store gift cards. Also I have enough for BP Gas(from prior 5% chase). So wondering any other option in any of Dept. store to cash out ?


Sorry for a unrelated question. I have Chase freedom and not able to get max spend for 5% category on department stores for 4q 2013. Not sure if any of them have visa/mastercard/vanilla available(checked macy/sears/jcp/boscov’s). Can you guys please suggest what may be done to get max ?


Go on to Ultimate Rewards shopping portal and pick the retailer you use the most……then buy $1500 in gift cards using your Freedom…….that will get you 7500 spend bonus plus portal bonus IE Neiman’s 7×1500=10,500………


Every time I see that AMEX gold spend bonus I grit my teeth as my AMEX is NOT CODED to receive that offer………….GRRRR……so I just take my spend elsewhere…….but the VR Holiday season is upon us so Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to all to to all may you find another Bluebird in your stocking this year! Ho…Ho….HO!




as far as i can remember there was only one Duane Reade store that accepted credit cards for vanilla. i personally tried 4 of them and no luck, the cashiers tried but register would not allow it.


Thanks. I based that statement on another blog. I’ll update to say something like “some Duane Reade stores”.

Michael B

Having recently gotten into the miles game, I find myself with the predicament of figuring out how to max out my rewards on Citi Dividend in Q1 2014 (Drug stores, Macys, and fitness clubs) since the rest of the year is typically useless. Of course I have Vanilla Reloads at CVS in mind – but do they all accept CCs as payment or is every store different? Also how many funny looks by the cashier and manager approvals will I have to endure (every retailer seems to have a different general attitude about this – I can buy One Vanillas at Speedway without so much as a second glance)?


Most CVS stores do accept credit cards for Vanilla Reload purchases. I’ve never had any problems or funny looks that I’ve noticed 🙂


Thanks for this post. As far as yearly spending, is it based on the transaction date or billing cycle close date? For example if I made a purchase on Dec 31st to put me over a yearly spending goal but the billing cycle its on doesn’t close until Jan 9th would it still count toward 2013 spending amount?



I can’t speak for every bank, but with Amex cards at least, I believe that the spending counts as long as the transaction date is in December even if your December statement closed earlier.


@Frequent Miler

Read your other blog on selling GCs. Are all the listed sites on giftcardgranny legit/reputable? Which site would you use?

Thanks in advance.


The only one I’ve used much is Cardpool. They worked out well for me.


Ive used carpool recently as well, and everything went smoothly. Their estimates of how long it will take to get your money are right on. I will be continuing to use them.


The US Airways Mastercard converts gives you 10K EQM if you spend $25 in a calendar year. May be worth a mention.


Thanks. I have that one and quite a few more on the Best Big Spend Bonuses page.


IIRC, the Hilton Reserve free anniv night for $10k spend is by cardmember year, not calendar year, so no rush to get that done for 12/31 for most.


Thanks. See reply to Chris


Pretty sure that citi hhonors reserve is “membership year”; not calendar.

(I received my e-mail reward cert last week for October-October activity)


Thanks! You’re right. I’ve updated the post.


Is there a reason what you do not mention paying credit card bills with Bluebird? I do this…do you think this is unwise?


I think its fine to do so.