We’re a little later than we wanted to be in publishing this article for 2020, but once again we thought it would be useful to review some big-spend bonuses and benefits available on our credit cards and give you our thoughts. We’ll break them down into:
- Yes, Definitely
- Amex Hilton Surpass or Amex Hilton Business – free weekend night for $15k spend
- Chase World of Hyatt – Category 1-4 free night for $15k spend
- Citi AT&T Access More – 10,000 TYPs for $10k spend
- Intriguing to Help Get Status
- Chase World of Hyatt – Globalist status by earning 2 elite nights for each $5k in spend (total big-spend requirement to get Globalist depends on number of Hyatt hotel nights)
- Maybe for Some American Airlines flyers
- Various AA card bonuses
- Probably Not, But With Some Narrow Exceptions
- Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa or Amex Marriott Brilliant – Marriott Bonvoy Platinum status for $75k spend
- No Thanks
- Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business – Marriott Bonvoy Gold status for $35k spend
- Amex Hilton Aspire – free weekend night for $60k spend
For each big-spend bonus/benefit, we’ll identify the bonus or benefit, let you know the spend required to get it, and let you know whether it’s a calendar-year or cardholder-year bonus. For cardholder-year bonuses, the time window for earning the reward should start and end on your anniversary date of the particular card. This, of course, will be different for each person.
We’ll also identify the approximate “net cost” of obtaining each bonus. If you’re interested in hearing our exact methodology for determining “net cost,” we’ve inserted a paragraph at the bottom of this article. For now, we’ll just say that we believe our “net cost” calculations are conservative and lead to solid decision-making.
Finally, for all calculations, we use our baseline values for each points currency, which we recently analyzed and published here:
- Middle Age Miles: Recalibrating Our Baseline Values for Points & Miles (January 7, 2020)
Amex Hilton Surpass or Amex Hilton Business – Free Weekend Night Certificate for $15k Spend (calendar year)
- Net Cost to earn with unbonused spend:
- Gross cost = $15,000 * 2.5% = $375
- Earnings on spend = 3x Hilton Honors (HH) points/dollar * $15k = 45,000 HH points, times 0.45 cents per HH point = $202.50
- Net cost = $172.50
- Net cost to earn by purchasing $500 GCs at grocery stores, using the Surpass card (this option does not exist for the Business card):
- Activation fees for $15k in cards = $5.95 * 30 = $178.50
- Liquidation fees at 2% = 0.02 * $15k = $300
- Earnings on spend = 6x HH points/dollar * 15k = 90,000 HH points, times 0.45 cents/HH point = $405
- Net cost = $178.50 + $300 – $405 = $67.80
For us, we find this an easy call, even if we simply made $15k in unbonused spend in the ordinary course on a Surpass or Business card. However, we now earn this big-spend bonus on our Surpass card by spending $15k at grocery stores, mostly with purchases of $500 gift cards. As you can see, the net cost of the free night certificate is only about $67.80 when we do this, even without considering promotions or less-than-2% liquidation methods. In practice, we often use offers for discounted activiation fees, and we’re also often able to liquidate for less. All of this makes the big-spend bonus on the Surpass card for a Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate an absolute yes for us.
We’ve been able to use Hilton Free Weekend Night certificates routinely to obtain a value easily in excess of even the $172.50 net cost using unbonused spend. The Hilton Free Weekend Night certificates can be redeemed for a standard room on a Friday/Saturday/Sunday night at any Hilton hotel in the world, subject to availability. (In fairness, there are certainly some Hilton hotels that play games with standard-room availability, but to me, this doesn’t materially impact this analysis.)
Over the past 2 years, we’ve regularly used Hilton Free Weekend Night certificates when paid rates would have been more than $300, all the way up to $750+. We’ve stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, the Hilton Nashville Downtown, the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, and perhaps our very favorite, the Waldorf Astoria Versailles – Trianon Palace.
We’ve also successfully executed an interesting upgrade/downgrade strategy between our Surpass and Aspire cards, where we upgraded the Surpass and downgraded the Aspire. By doing so, we were able to get a second Surpass big-spend Free Weekend Night certificate in 2019. We discussed this strategy in detail here:
- Middle Age Miles: Our Amex Hilton 2-card Aspire-Surpass Upgrade-Downgrade Strategy – How Has It Worked? (August 21, 2019)
Chase World of Hyatt Visa – Free Category 1-4 Night Certificate for $15k Spend (cardholder year)
- Net Cost to Earn:
- Gross cost = $15,000 * 2.5% = $375
- Earnings on Spend = 1x Hyatt points/dollar * $15k = 15,000 Hyatt points, times 1.5 cents per Hyatt point = $225
- Net cost = $150
For us, this one in general would be a closer call than the Hilton certificate because the Category limitation places somewhat of a cap on the amount of value you can get out of this certificate. But we still lean toward making the spend to get the certificate.
In addition, there’s another huge piece to this spend decision. The Chase World of Hyatt card awards 2 Hyatt elite night credits for each $5,000 in spend. This means that when you spend $15k to earn the free night certificate, you’ll also be earning 6 Hyatt elite night credits. If these credits are enough to vault you to a higher elite status level with Hyatt, then spending the $15k on this card becomes even more attractive. And if the 6 elite nights get you to top-tier Globalist status (like ours did in 2019), then this spend is an absolute no-brainer.
Also, for new cardholders, the $15k spend for a free night certificate is particularly attractive. Chase’s current sign-up bonus offer for the Hyatt card requires $6k in spend to qualify for the full sign-up bonus. So it’s really just an extra $9k in spend for new cardholders to also get the Category 1-4 Free Night certificate.
Back to the basic certificate-earning proposition – One way to look at this one would be to say that a Category 4 Hyatt hotel would cost 15,000 Hyatt points for a redemption night. Because we give Hyatt points a baseline value of 1.5 cents per point, 15,000 points would be worth about $225. That’s more than the net cost of $150.
Of course, that’s all theoretical; the true value of the certificate comes from its actual redemption. In 2019, we used Hyatt free night certificates at New York-New York in Las Vegas on an expensive weekend. (In hindsight, we should have gone with the Park MGM; see our article, Best Value for Hyatt Category 1-4 Free Night Awards on the Las Vegas Strip.) Looking ahead, we see Category 4 hotels in several places that we regularly visit, plus we see some possibilities amongst the handful of European Category 4 hotels, including a few SLH properties as they continue to integrate into the World of Hyatt charts.
We already have a Category 4 certificate award booked this year for the Hyatt Regency Seattle on a night where a paid rate would exceed $300 all-in. We’d also note that 2 other nice downtown Seattle hotels, the Grand Hyatt Seattle and the Hyatt at Olive 8, will be returning to Category 4 as of March 22, after each spending a year in Category 5.
Given the options and results we’ve obtained so far, the decision to go for this big-spend bonus is a pretty easy one for us.
Citi AT&T Access More – 10,000 ThankYou Points for $10k Spend (cardholder year)
On this one, we don’t think the “net cost” methodology makes as much sense. The Citi AT&T Access More card (ATTAM) earns 3x ThankYou Points (TYPs) per dollar of spend for online purchases, which is best-in-class for almost all online retail purchases. Thus, if you have at least $10k in online retail purchases, it won’t cost you a thing extra (save for the annual fee, I suppose) to get this big-spend bonus.
For us, we won’t have to go out of our way one bit to hit $10k in spend on the ATTAM card during our cardholder year. In fact, we’re in the midst of spending $17.5k to max out this year’s awesome retention bonus on our ATTAM. This big-spend bonus is a very easy “yes” for us!
Intriguing to Help Get Status
Chase World of Hyatt Card – Globalist Status by Earning 2 Elite Nights for Each $5,000 in Spend (total big-spend requirement depends on number of Hyatt hotel nights)
Top-level Globalist elite status with Hyatt requires 60 nights in a calendar year. We earned it for the first time during 2019, and so far in 2020 our Globalist experience has been great. Listed benefits include room upgrades up to standard suites, Club lounge access and/or full breakfast on all stays, waived resort fees, extra points earning, and other benefits.
The Chase World of Hyatt card gives each cardholder 5 elite nights annually just for holding the card. This knocks the Globalist requirement down to 55 more nights. In addition, the World of Hyatt card gives 2 additional elite nights of credit for each $5,000 in spend. So, theoretically, even if you never stayed in a Hyatt hotel, you would earn Globalist if you spent $140,000 on the card during a year. That is, you’d be spending $5,000 28 times, thereby earning 56 elite nights, which would give you a total of 61.
Of course, it makes no sense to spend your way to Globalist status if you never stay at a Hyatt property. But let’s say you would stay 25 nights at Hyatt organically, and you could use the Globalist benefits at nice properties where suite upgrades, lounge access, and full breakfast would be valuable. At that point, you’d be looking at 30 nights earned (25 from stays and 5 from holding the card), and you’d need to spend your way to 30 more. Now, we’re looking at 15 * $5,000, or $75,000 in additional spend. [For simplicity, I’m going to set aside the additional complexity of the fact that you’d earn a free night certificate along the way or that you could spend some of the points you’ve earned to generate additional nights.]
- Net cost for $75,000 in spend:
- Gross cost = $75,000 * 2.5% = $1,875
- Earnings on spend = 1 Hyatt point/dollar * $75k = 75,000 Hyatt points, times 1.5 cents per point = $1,125
- Net cost = $750
Now, this is pretty intriguing. When you achieved Globalist status, you’d also receive a Category 1-7 Free Night certificate (good at any Hyatt hotel in the world). And along the way, you’d also receive two Category 1-4 certificates – one when you hit $15k in spend, and another when you reached 30 nights. But even excluding these free nights, you’d “only” be looking at an additional $30/night to get Globalist benefits for each of the 25 Hyatt nights we assumed you’d be staying organically for the following year.
Note also that the actual net cost here may be lower than $750, if you can MS the spend at less than a 2.5% rate.
In 2019, when we decided to migrate our hotel loyalty to Hyatt, we spent enough on our Chase World of Hyatt card to earn 10 elite night credits. Given that our total for the year was 63 nights, we wouldn’t have achieved Globalist without these credits. Spending on the Hyatt card to help push us over the 60-night threshold was well worth it for us last year!
Maybe for Some American Airlines Flyers
American Airlines Co-Branded Cards – various big-spend bonuses for EQMs, EQDs, and Companion Certificates
There are several big-spend bonuses on American Airlines co-branded cards that are intriguing for some regular AA flyers – especially those who can use the bonuses to reach a higher level of status, and even more especially those who can use the bonuses to reach Executive Platinum status. Personally, we’re in an odd spot with AA at the moment because of my current AAdvantage account lockdown. But we’ve used several of these big-spend bonuses to help Philly and me reach Executive Platinum status in each of the past 3 years when we wouldn’t have made it otherwise.
Here are the AA co-branded card big-spend bonuses:
Barclays AA Aviator Silver card (personal):
- $20k spend earns 5,000 EQMs (calendar year)
- $40k spend earns an additional 5,000 EQMs (calendar year)
- $50k spend earns $3,000 EQDs (calendar year)
- $20k spend (cardholder year) earns a 2-person Companion Certificate – purchase a paid fare for a domestic economy flight, and up to 2 companions can fly for $99 plus taxes each (generally about $135 each); see our article here for complete details
Barclays AA Aviator Business card:
- $25k spend earns $3,000 EQDs (calendar year) – but this does not stack with the EQD bonus on the Aviator Silver personal card; you can only earn a maximum of $3,000 EQDs
- $30k spend (cardholder year) earns a 1-person Companion Certificate – same as the 2-person certificate on the Silver personal card discussed above, but for only 1 companion
Citi AA Executive card (personal):
- $40k spend earns 10,000 EQMs (calendar year) – these EQMs do stack with EQMs earned on the Aviator Silver card; you can earn all of the bonuses, which gives a person holding both cards the opportunity to earn up to 20,000 EQMs through credit card spend
Barclays AA Aviator Red card (personal):
- $20k spend (cardholder year) earns a 1-person Companion Certificate – same as the 2-person certificate on the Silver personal card discussed above, but for only 1 companion
It’s also worth looking at the net cost for these various bonuses. Let’s look at it on a net-cost-per-$10k-spend basis (and you can scale it up depending on which big-spend bonus you’re evaluating):
- Net Cost for $10,000 in spend:
- Gross cost = $10,000 * 2.5% = $250
- Earnings on spend = 1 AA mile/dollar * $10k = 10,000 AA miles, times 1.25 cents per AA mile = $125
- Net cost = $125
For now, we’ll stop the AA analysis about earning EQMs and EQDs here, as it becomes complex beyond the scope of this article. It’s difficult to quantify the dollar value of the various level of status. (We gave a pretty thorough analysis of the incremental value of Executive Platinum over Platinum Pro last year in this article, so that’s a start if you’re interested.) Also, there are trade-off choices about which card to spend on – If you want $3,000 EQDs, is it better to spend $50k on the Aviator Silver personal card and also earn 10,000 EQMs and a Companion Certificate along the way, or is it better to just spend $25k on the Aviator Business card but earn no other bonuses? How do you account for annual fees (a hefty $199/year on the Aviator Silver personal card) in the calculation? All of these are in-depth questions that depend a lot on your individual circumstances, but we hope we’ve given you a framework to use to evaluate them for another day.
On the Aviator Red personal card, the 1-person companion certificate is probably worse than a break-even proposition for most people but perhaps useful for some. As we’ve outlined above, the net cost of the $20k spend would be $250. The companion ticket would cost about $135. Plus, to get the certificate, you’d have to pay the next year’s annual fee of $99. Thus, your companion’s ticket would “cost” you somewhere around $484 in total. Given the certificate’s limitations (domestic economy only, with some important blackout dates and some high-end fare limitations), we don’t think it’s worth it for most people. But that said, there are certainly times when the certificate could have more value than that – we used one last year to fly to & from South Bend on a Notre Dame football weekend when the paid fare would have been almost $1,000!
Probably Not, But With Some Narrow Exceptions
Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa or Amex Marriott Brilliant card – Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite Status for $75,000 Spend (calendar year)
- Net cost to earn:
- Gross cost = $75,000 * 2.5% = $1,875
- Earnings on spend = 2 Marriott Rewards points/dollar * $75k = 150,000 Marriott points, times 0.67 cents per point = $1,000
- Net cost = $875
For most people, we’d say that putting $75k in spend on a card to earn 2x Marriott Bonvoy points and Platinum status would be a hard “no.” The net cost of $875 to achieve Platinum status, when by definition you would be spending less than 35 nights during the year in Marriott properties just wouldn’t be worth it. (Note that Platinum status requires 50 nights, and you’d get 15 nights just from holding the card; hence, you must be spending < 35 nights at Marriott in order to need this status.)
But, there might be a few narrow subsets of people that could benefit from this, and it’s possible that we might fall into one.
Let’s start by examining the main benefits of Marriott Platinum status:
- 50% points bonus on paid stays
- Guaranteed 4:00 pm late checkout
- Late check-out is subject to availability at resort & convention hotels
- “Do our best” upgrades to enhanced rooms, including select suites (subject to a lot of exclusions)
- Lounge access (at the higher-end hotels that have lounges)
- Breakfast (either through lounge access or as a welcome gift choice)
- At most properties; Marriott’s breakfast rules are complicated
Next, let’s think about who might benefit from paying a net cost of $875 for Platinum status.
The first set of people would look something like this: You’d have to have enough nights at higher-end Marriott hotels to get substantial value out of the Platinum benefits. You’d have to have less than 35 actual hotel nights, or else you’d earn the status in the usual way, and if you were just a few nights short, say 10-12 or less (23-25 nights in all), it would probably be cheaper to mattress-run those nights. Now, we’re down to someone with 25 or less actual Marriott nights but who’s going to get more than $875 in value from Platinum status. Perhaps there are people who would be spending 20 nights in St. Regis hotels with lounges and good upgrade chances, and the big-spend deal would work for this person. But this seems like an inordinately narrow set of people.
And here’s a second set of people who might give this $75k spend deal a thought – and we only thought of this because we happen to fall into this group. What about a person who’s close to Lifetime Platinum status but wouldn’t have enough organic stays this year to get to 50 nights? Recall that Lifetime Platinum requires 600 nights and 10 years as a Platinum or higher member. We have the 600 nights covered, but only 8 years in the bank. Our organic stays at Marriott this year (including the 15 nights from the credit card) might only be in the range of 25-30 nights. (Having earned Hyatt Globalist status last year, and needing 60 nights to re-qualify, we’re now choosing Hyatt for most of our stays when possible.) But when we do stay at Marriott, our stays are most often at higher-end properties where Platinum benefits are most valuable. It would be very, very nice to get to Lifetime Platinum where we’d never have to worry about our number of nights at Marriott again, yet receive the Platinum benefits each time we do stay there.
We’re still thinking through this question, which has many facets: How many nights of actual stays could we make at Marriott instead of Hyatt, and would we even want to? Assuming that we’re short, how many nights would we need to mattress-run to reach 50, what would that cost, and how much of a pain would it be? Is it truly worth it to spend points or cash to reach Lifetime Platinum, or would we be better off with Lifetime Gold plus paying for the extra stuff when we stay at Marriott properties? Should we forego Marriott properties entirely (not 100% feasible given our travel patterns)? Can we MS a large part of the $75k spend at a lower cost, and if so, how much effort would that require? As you can see, it’s a complex but very interesting question.
Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business – Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status for $35,000 Spend (calendar year)
- Net Cost to earn:
- Gross cost = $35,000 * 2.5% = $875
- Earnings on spend = 2 Marriott Bonvoy points/dollar * $35k = 70,000 Marriott points, times 0.67 cents per point = $467
- Net cost = $408
No way on this one. We wouldn’t spend $408 for a mid-tier elite status that doesn’t get us free breakfast and puts us in line behind a bunch of Platinum-and-up elites for room upgrades. And if you can generate $35k in spend on an Amex card, please do it on a Blue Business Plus card and earn 2x Membership Rewards points instead!
In addition, Marriott Gold status is available as an automatic benefit on at least 4 cards – the Amex personal Platinum, Amex Business Platinum, Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brililant, and Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa.
For us, we’re already a level above this in the Marriott Bonvoy elite status hierarchy as Platinum members (in fact, at the moment we’re Titanium, but we expect that to reset to Platinum soon). In addition, we have Lifetime Gold status, so this spend wouldn’t get us anything at all.
Amex Hilton Aspire – Free Weekend Night Certificate for $60k Spend (calendar year)
- Net Cost to Earn:
- Gross cost = $60,000 * 2.5% = $1,500
- Earnings on spend = 3x Hilton Honors (HH) points/dollar * $60k = 180,000 HH points, times 0.45 cents per HH point = $810
- Net cost = $690
As much as we loved the Hilton Free Weekend Night certificate when we could get it for $15,000 in spend with the Surpass card (see above), we don’t see any way the certificate justifies $690 in net cost. As we said above, we’re confident that we can easily get more than $172 in value for a Free Weekend Night certificate and probably upwards of $300. However, there’s no way to reliably get more than $690 in value.
As with some of these other “no thanks” offers, though, we suppose there’s a very narrow circumstance when it might make sense. The Aspire card is best-in-class for Hilton stays, at 14x HH points/dollar (7% points rebate). Imagine a true road warrior or Hilton luxury property fanatic who was spending at least $40-45,000 on the Aspire card organically for Hilton stays. This person, if they exist (which seems pretty unlikely), might want to crank out the extra spend to get to $60,000 to get the Free Weekend Night certificate. But even if such a super Hilton road warrior exists, probably the last thing that person wants is yet another night in a Hilton hotel!
This big-spend bonus seems like a “no” for everyone.
Citi AA Platinum card – $100 AA flight discount for $20k Spend (cardholder year)
- Net cost to earn:
- Gross cost = $20,000 * 2.5% = $500
- Earnings on spend = 1 AA mile/dollar * $20k = 20,000 AA miles, times 1.25 cents per mile = $250
- Net cost = $250
This one is self-evident – no one should be spending $250 in order to get a $100 AA flight discount voucher. And if people are spending this much organically on an AA Platinum card, they need to get a new card!
End Note – “Net Cost” Methodology
Here is our “net cost” methodology and explanation: First, recognize that for each of these cards that offers a big-spend bonus, we generally wouldn’t be spending the amount of the bonus on the card. For most of them, we have other cards that would offer better returns for our ongoing spend. Thus, we’re going to look at the “net cost” of creating the spend to hit the bonus.
We start off by calculating the gross cost. For that number, we’re going to use 2.5% (that is, 2.5 cents per dollar of spend). There are several reasons to use that number, one of which is that the opportunity cost of using a Citi Double Cash card instead and converting to TYPs is 2.5% (2x TYP * 1.25 cents per TYP baseline value). Another is more direct-cost based – the Plastiq fee to make payments that could increase spend would incur a 2.5% fee.
Against that, we’ll offset the baseline value of the points we’d earn. So, for example, for a card that earns 1 American Airlines (AA) mile per dollar of spend, the offset is 1.25%, because we give AA miles a baseline value of 1.25 cents per mile. Thus, the “net cost” in this example is 2.50% minus 1.25%, which equals 1.25% (or 1.25 cents per dollar).
We believe this methodology results in a net cost estimate that is, if anything, higher than our “actual” cost. Therefore, we think these are conservative estimates. And, if our expected benefit from the bonus easily exceeds this net-cost estimate, we can be comfortable that it’s worth it to us to hit the spend requirement for the bonus.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our article on big-spend bonuses, and we hope you can get some free hotel night certificates, extra points, and maybe even an airline status bump from some of these benefits!
What do you think of these big-spend bonuses and our analysis? Please share your thoughts with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
At Middle Age Miles, we love to bring you travel, credit card and points-and-miles information that you can use to help make your travel dreams come true. To see all of our tips and insights, please Like and follow us on social media at:
Please share and re-tweet our posts and tell all of your friends about Middle Age Miles! Thank you!