Annual card bonuses shower extra rewards for loyalty

Yearly gifts of points, flights, free hotel nights give you reasons to keep a card

Susan Ladika
Personal Finance Writer
Expert on fraud, travel and debt.

Taylor Tompkins
Staff Reporter
Former newspaper reporter now focused on rewards and fintech.

Annual card bonuses shower extra rewards for loyalty

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers.

In the arms race of bigger and better credit card rewards, card issuers are showering cardholders with annual bonuses such as an airfare certificate, tens of thousands of points or a free night at your favorite hotel.

Just about every flavor of rewards card includes some kind of an annual bonus. Hotel cards often award cardholders an annual night’s stay at any property. Airline cards tend to reward cardholders annually with points toward a flight, flight discounts or reduced-fare companion certificates.

Elite rewards cards, which carry the highest annual fees, pile on the annual rewards. For example, the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve introduced in May includes an annual statement credit of up to $350 for travel-related purchases, the Chase Sapphire Reserve rolled out in 2016 with an annual statement credit of up to $300 for travel purchases, and the granddaddy of premium cards, the American Express Platinum card, got a revamp in 2017 and now offers up to $200 in Uber credits per year.

These annual bonuses reward loyalty year after year and are one way issuers aim to keep their cards in your wallet. 

“There has been a tendency among people when there are relatively rich rewards upfront to sign up, to take the rich rewards and then revert back to their old credit card behavior,” said Edward Niestat, managing director at  Novantas, a bank solutions company. “By spacing that out, and making it a more continuous stream of more rich rewards, you’re potentially increasing the likelihood of moving yourself up to top of wallet and getting increased engagement.” 

Which card is right for you? “Every customer has a different lifestyle,” Chase spokeswoman Ashley Dodd says. It’s all about considering “what is ultimately going to benefit you the most.” 

Airline cards: Airfare discounts, bonus miles, lounge access

With airline cards, annual bonuses can help get you to your next vacation or romantic getaway. 

For example, with the JetBlue Plus card ($69 annual fee), “we want to thank you with the 5,000-point bonus,” says Kelly Furman, Barclaycard vice president for airline partnerships.

Southwest spokeswoman Michelle Agnew says the 3,000 miles that Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus cardholders receive “is our way of saying thank you each year to our card members.”

SOME AIRLINE CARDS AND THEIR ANNUAL BONUSES
Airline credit card Annual fee Annual bonus
AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard $95, waived the first year 10 percent of your redeemed miles each year
British Airways Visa Signature card $95 A Travel Together companion ticket each year you make $30,000 in purchases
Platinum Delta Skymiles from American Express $195

10,000 miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) if you spend at least $25,000 in a calendar year, 20,000 miles and 20,000 MQMs if you spend $50,000+ in a calendar year

Frontier Airlines World Mastercard $69 A $100 flight discount voucher every year you spend at least $2,500 on the card
Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard $69. A $100 companion pass discount and 5,000 bonus miles when cardholders spend $10,000 in the year
JetBlue Plus card $99 5,000 bonus points
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus card $69 3,000 bonus points awarded annually
United MileagePlus Explorer card $95 Two United Club one-time passes for cardmember anniversary, 10,000 miles annually after you spend $25,000 on your card each calendar year

Hotel cards: Free night stays, bonus points at anniversary

Several hotel companies help cardholders rest easier with a free night’s stay or points for a future stay each year. 

For example, Daraius Dubash, founder of Million Mile Secrets, says the IHG Rewards Club Select card “is a no-brainer card for me to keep,” as the value of a free night at an InterContinental hotel far outweighs the $49 annual fee.

SOME HOTEL CARDS AND THEIR ANNUAL BONUSES
Hotel credit card Annual fee Annual bonus
Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard $59, waived the first year 20,000 points each year you spend at least $5,000
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa $75 40,000 points with renewed membership and a free night certificate when you spend $10,000
Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card $95 One free night’s stay each year you spend $10,000 (worth up to 190,000 points)
Chase Marriott Rewards Premier card $85 A free night stay in a Category 1-5 hotel
IHG Rewards Club Select Mastercard $49 One free night at any IHG property worldwide
Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature card $75 6,000 points every year

Elite rewards cards: Travel credits, Uber rides as annual bonuses

If you’re not sure whether you’ll use your rewards (and annual bonus) for airfare or hotels, elite rewards cards give you a wide range of options at redemption – airfare, hotels, merchandise, experiences and gift cards. Elite rewards cards, which carry higher annual fees, also often include premium perks, such as airport lounge access, free Wi-Fi on flights and extensive travel insurance coverage. 

Annual bonuses with elite cards usually are in the form of a statement credit for travel expenses. The annual travel credit can help make up for a chunk of the annual fee for an elite card. 

SOME ELITE REWARDS CARDS AND THEIR ANNUAL BONUSES
Elite rewards credit card Annual fee Annual bonus
American Express Platinum card $550 Up to $200 credit a year for baggage fees and more on one airline, up to $200 in Uber credits ($15 per month, $20 in December)
Bank of America Premium Rewards card $95 A statement credit of up to $100 each calendar year if you make qualifying airline incidental transactions
Chase Sapphire Reserve card $450 Up to $300 in statement credits as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
Citi Prestige card $450 A $250 statement credit is an annual benefit available for purchases appearing on your billing statements from December through the following December.
Luxury Card Mastercard Black Card $495 A $100 annual airline credit toward qualifying airline purchases
U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve $400 Up to $325 annually in automatic statement credits for eligible net travel purchases

If paying an annual fee – small or large – is not your cup of tea, even Discover has gotten in the annual bonus business, but with a twist.

Discover matches first year cash back and miles on its no-annual-fee Discover it Cash Rewards and Discover it Miles cards. Both cards match cash back or miles earned during your first year. 

“Essentially it’s a test-drive of Discover,” says Maureen Powers, Discover’s vice president of rewards. “We are confident they’ll enjoy the many benefits we offer.” 

Which card is right for you?

With the bounty of annual points, airline and hotel certificates, travel credits and other anniversary bonuses, which credit card is right for you? “There’s no one size fits all,” says Dubash. “It will vary based on your lifestyle and travel.” 

If you frequently stay at Hilton properties or Best Westerns, one of those hotel cards may make sense. In addition to any annual bonus, hotel card perks often include upgrades in status that can include free room upgrades, discounts on in-room Wi-Fi and late checkouts.

If you live near an airline’s hub airport or tend to fly one airline, having that airline’s card can cut your vacation or business travel costs. In addition to the annual bonuses, airline card perks often include letting you board first, relax in an airport lounge and at least one bag checked for free. 

With elite cards, the heftier annual fee comes with bonus rewards and luxurious travel amenities. You will travel in style, often with airport lounge access, VIP treatmnt at hotels and 24/7 concierge service to get you tickets to a hot Broadway show or courtside seats at basketball games.

The annual bonuses are an added sweetener – a little something extra – and issuers offering anniversary rewards and travel credits are doing so to keep you as a loyal card-carrying credit customer. 

That can be an important factor when the annual fee comes due. “You may be more likely to renew,” Niestat, of Novantas, says, if you are getting an anniversary bump of points, a free night at a hotel, a travel credit or some other annual reward. 

See related: Calculate your rewards card’s value: an 8-point checklist, Maximizing card rewards after you’ve earned the sign-up bonus, Our airline card reviews, hotel card reviews, rewards card reviews


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Updated: 11-19-2017