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.

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