How to increase credit card signup bonuses

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Many credit cards offer fantastic bonuses simply for signing up for the cards and meeting minimum spend requirements.  And, often, after holding the card for a year you may realize that its not worth the annual fee to keep it any longer.  Then, it makes sense to cancel the card or downgrade it to a no fee card.  In those situations, it is sometimes possible to eke out additional rewards before cancelling.  Here are some examples…

Hotel cards

Several hotel branded credit cards offer a free night certificate each year that you renew your card.  The Hyatt Visa Signature card, for example, gives cardholders a certificate for a free category 1 through 4 night.  And the Marriott Rewards Premier card gives cardholders a certificate for a category 1 through 5 night.  The IHG Club MasterCard is most generous with a certificate good for any IHG property.

Each of these hotel cards are fairly easy to justify keeping since the free nights are arguably worth quite a bit more than their annual fees.  If you decide not to keep the cards, though, you can get the free night certificate before you cancel.  Simply wait until the free night is credited to your hotel rewards account before cancelling or downgrading the card.  In this way, you will have received the complete signup bonus plus an annual free night certificate… for free.

Premium card travel reimbursements

Several premium credit cards offer to reimburse travel expenses every calendar year (up to a set limit).  In some cases it is possible to get reimbursed for refundable expenses (so that the credits are as good as cash) or for airline gift cards (which are cash-like).  Since these cards offer this benefit each calendar year, it is possible to get the full benefit twice during your first full card membership year as long as you don’t sign up for a card in the beginning of January.  For example, if you signup for a card in early October, you can earn the full travel reimbursements this year, then earn it again next year before cancelling or downgrading the card next October.  So, with a card that offers $200 in credits, it is fairly easy to earn $400 in credits in one membership year.

If you want to really push the limits, it may be possible to sign up for these cards in early December, earn the full benefit before the year is over, then earn the benefit again the following calendar year, then earn the benefit a third time in January of the year after that.  You will have been charged for a second annual fee by then, but most issuers will return the annual fee if you cancel with in the first couple of months of your membership year.

Examples of cards that offer travel reimbursements each calendar year include:

  • American Express Platinum Card ($550 annual fee): Offers $200 in airline fee reimbursements each calendar year, but you must first select a specific airline.
  • Citi Prestige Card ($450 annual fee): As of October 19th 2014, this card offers $250 in credits each calendar year for any airline charges (including airfare itself).
  • The Ritz Carlton Rewards Card ($395 annual fee): Offers $300 in travel fee credits each calendar year.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. On the annual renewal bonus: BofA’s Virgin Atlantic card typically offers a bonus upon annual renewal of the card. If you keep it until the bonus deposits into your Virgin Atlantic account, then cancel, will BofA claw back the extra miles? Just wondering if you, or a reader, knows.

  2. @stvr Two totally different things. Everyone will draw the ethical line differently (should you get the AA 100K points card, spend $10,000 immediately and then cancel the card before the $450 fee hits?) but we can only guess at bank’s valuable customer/poor customer criteria.

    Banks aren’t trying to evaluate your ethics – they are trying to evaluate your behavior (is this someone who will potentially put lots of spend on our card if we make it appealing enough?)

    Banks certainly have an interest in weeding out gamers but I’m not sure it is worth their while to do so except in extreme cases (heck, if I were a bank, I’d never approve any application that came from a Frequent Miler link but obviously the banks disagree and think blogs like this are a good place to advertise/market).

    If you are worried that some algorithm will decide you are not a \valuable customer worth extending credit\ then behave in a way you think banks want you to behave. You can of course base that on what seems ethically fair to you.

    But I sense in your question more \how far can I go?\ than \what are the ethics here?\ When you realize you can go farther than you feel comfortable with (i.e. avoid that AA card $450 fee), well that is your personal line.

  3. tangential question. Any confirmation about Ameriprise Plat bonus being considered a different product and thus not conflicting with bonus’ on other Plat products? I love the waived 1st year AF but don’t want to be frozen out of the sig better offers that people report receiving north of 100K.

    • I don’t have direct confirmation, but I would be very surprised if it isn’t treated as a separate product. The Platinum Mercedes card is definitely treated as a separate product (I know from experience)

      • Very timely question as I was planning on using the Ameriprise link last night. The website application says the offer expires Aug 31 so there is no way of knowing what you will get if you use it now (the offer promises first year free and 25,000 MR).

        I spent a very frustrating hour plus trying to find out the current Ameriprise offer, but noone knows – not on the Amex side or the Ameriprise side. The latter folks were rather daft – glad they aren’t handling my money.

        If anyone has had experience with the Ameriprise application after 01 Sept, I’d love to hear your experience. I don’t want to waste a hard pull without knowing what benefits I’ll receive.

        • Neil, sorry for taking so long to answer this. Its a great question about that link. The good news is that I no longer see an expiration on the application page so my guess is that it is good to go.

        • I went ahead and had my SO apply about two weeks ago (listing me as AU). At that time the 25,000 MR and Aug 31 expiration terms were on the webpage. His application was accepted a few days later – when the card comes I’ll call to make sure we are at least getting the 1st year free and with luck, the 25K MRs. I won’t cancel so long as the card waives the first year fee, but if there is a fee and no MRs then I’ll try to match to the standard public offer, and failing that cancel the card (nice to have someone elses hard pulls to play with)!

          Reach out to me if you are curious on the result.

  4. I just got the Chase IHG MC. From what I’ve read, the yearly free night comes as a paper certificate, NOT points to your frequent stayer account, AFTER you’ve paid your annual fee, and is good for one year. So the strategy to \steal\ a free night before paying won’t work and as noted by another poster IS immoral. I’m surprised and disappointed the board would suggest such a thing.

    • Hi Mojave – I have the IHG card and have had it for 3 years, I consider the benefits (the free night and the 10% points rebate) good value so I pay the fee every year. Bit of a fact check: there is no paper certificate and you don’t get points – when you go into your account there is a link to “chase free night” (or some similar language) and there you’ll see the number of free night credits you have and their expiration date.

      It would cross my line to use the free night if I canceled the card, but I’m not so sure you are correct when you say it wouldn’t work. I’m pretty sure the free night posts right before or right after the annual fee hits, and of course you usually have at least 30 to 60 days from the time an annual fee hits to get it reversed. So you could use the free night in that period. Also I wouldn’t be shocked if the free night stayed in your account for the full year once you canceled, but I’m speculating there.

      The flyertalk wiki seems to say such a strategy does work for the Hyatt card.

      Again, do what is comfortable for you, but “immoral” is pretty harsh. I

  5. Greg, on which cards can you get away with buying a refundable ticket which you later return, without getting the credit revoked? I have the platinum and was going to get gc, but cash sounds better if possible. I know this is forbidden by basically all the card issuers with these travel credits, but Id be curious to know which ones actually enforce it.

    • I haven’t tried buying refundable tickets. Instead, I book awards that have fees and get those fees reimbursed. Then I later cancel the awards for my money back. I’ve used this trick many times with the Platinum card, but I’m pretty sure it would work also with Ritz and Prestige cards.

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