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Up, Up and Away: Airline miles cards with big bonuses

upandawayUp, up and away—quickly! That’s the goal for many frequent fliers, and a current round of cards for various airlines is offering some big bonuses to meet that goal…some of them enough for a round-trip to Europe in one shot. Right now, two cards are offering a 100,000-mile bonus!


But before we get to the details…there are a few things to think about before you sign up. We’ll go over a few of them here.

  • First, and most obvious: does the card represent ticket on an airline that goes where you’re planning to go? Even with the three big airline alliances, some are stronger in some regions than others.
  • What do you have to do to get the bonus? There are fewer cards than there were that give you a big bonus just for signing up: most require a “spend” of some amount over a specified period (the first three months of use seems most common). If the amount required is something you’re not likely to be spending, danger lies ahead.
  • What’s the annual fee? Some cards are free, or waive the annual fee for the first year; others, especially some with big bonuses and big benefits, have high fees and don’t waive them. But for reasons discussed below, they may be worth it for you, depending.
  • Other benefits. You want more than miles. Many cards offer a first checked bag free (at $25 a bag, that could save $100 per round trip for a couple. Others offer priority boarding, lounge access, etc. One of the most important benefits to look for if you travel internationally: Look for a card with no foreign transaction fees. Some cards offer “statement credits,” a form of cash rebate.
  • Check out an airline’s partners to see if they add destinations you are interested in to your “home” airline’s network. It might make the difference for you.

It used to be taken as common sense to pick an airline and specialize in it, because points came mostly one-per-dollar-spent. In the world of bonuses, that’s less significant, because with bonuses that are big enough for a pair of domestic tickets or one international, it may make sense to keep a foot in each airline alliance.


After the bonus, how can you maximize miles? The more you pay for with a card, the more miles—and the more danger of getting over your head. Keep track of what you’re spending, and regularly pay it up. For many people, it’s better to do that weekly than to wait for a monthly bill and face a big total. The goal is to get miles for everything you spend…not to spend more just to get miles!


Here are some of the biggest offers out right now. I've highlighted some of the additional benefits, but click on the cards for the complete story. Most, by the way, give double points when you buy a ticket on that airline; some of them have boosts for other categories as well. These offers are constantly changing; if the ones listed below are gone when you read this, check out current listings on sites such as The Points Guy, Top Ten Reviews and


The current Big Ones from Citi (American) and Chase (British Air). Both are Oneworld carriers.


Citi Executive/AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard

Bonus: 100,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles. Up to $200 in statement credits

Required Spend: $10,000 within first 3 months.

Annual Fee: $450

•Up to $200 in statement credits ($1 per $1 spent during first 12 months)

•Admirals Club membership privileges (usually $500)

•Up to 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles per year (by spending $40,000)

•No Foreign Purchase Fees

•Dedicated check-in and priority screening and boarding

•First Checked Bag Free

Before you consider this one, go over what you spend on a regular basis to make sure you'll spend enough to earn the bonus. Put all your utilities, car payments, anything else you can into the calculation. After all, it is one winter and one summer roundtrip to Europe on American...


Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World Mastercard
Bonus: 50,000 American AAdvantage miles

Required Spend: $3000 within the first 3 months

Annual Fee: $95, waived for first year

•First eligible checked bag is free

•Priority boarding

•25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases

•Reduced mileage awards (fewer miles needed for ticket)

If the big spend and annual fee on the 100,000-mile card is too much, this is an alternative. No lounge, but no fee, either, for the first year.


Chase British Airways Visa

Bonus: 100,000 British Airways Avios

Required Spend: $2000 in 90 days (50,000), additonal 25K for additional $8000 within first year, and another 25K for another $10,000 in first year. In other words, $20,000 spend in one year to get it all.

Annual Fee: $95

•No foreign transaction fee

•Free companion ticket after $30,000 spend (good even in first class!)

•First checked bag free

•Family’s points can be combined in Household Account

•Can be exchanged with Iberia Avios one-for-one

The Iberia exchange requires there be points in both accounts and 6 months of membership, but since Iberia's fuel surcharges etc. are much lower (and you don't have to even think about Heathrow) it's a biggie.


Barclays USAirways MasterCard

Bonus: 40,000 Dividend Miles; additional 10,000 for balance transfer within 90 days

Required Spend: None!

Annual Fee: $89

•Annual companion certificate good for up to 2 companion tickets at $99 each, plus taxes and fees

•First class check-in

•One free US Airways Club® day pass every year

•Reduced mileage awards

Yes, USAirways is going away, and you can no longer use Dividend Miles on Star Alliance flights. But you can use them on American, or just wait until they’re folded into the AAdvantage program. And in the meantime, 40,000 miles with no required spend. There’s also a junior version: $49 fee, 25,000 miles.


Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

Bonus: 30,000 Dividend Miles

Required Spend: $1,000 within 90 days

Annual Fee: $95, but waived for first year

•$50 statement credit on first Delta purchase

•First checked bag free

•Priority Boarding

•No foreign transaction fee (starting May 1, 2014)


Chase Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Visa

Bonus: 50,000 Rapid Rewards points (about 2 domestic roundtrips)

Required Spend: $2,000 within 90 days

Annual Fee: $99

•6000 point bonus on membership anniversary

•No foreign transaction fee


Chase United Airlines Explorer Visa

Bonus: 50,000 MileagePlus miles if you apply at a Chase branch, otherwise 30,000. 5000 extra for added cardholder

Required Spend: $1,000 within 90 days

Annual Fee: $95, first year waived

•10,000 extra miles for spending $25,000 in a year

•Priority boarding

•First checked bag free

•No foreign transaction fee

•Two United Club passes each year




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I have a Delta American Express Platinum card that has served us well. The fee is higher than the gold card, but we can check two bags free, priority boarding, and a free companion pass yearly. We fly two or three times a year and the value of the waived baggage fee and the companion pass far exceed the $150 annual fee.


The card also accrues one mile for each dollar spent and lately has offered cash back incentives. For example: spend $15 at Panera's using the card and receive $5 credit on your statement.


IMHO, priority seating is becoming an important item due to increased number of people using carry-on. With the priority seating boarding before everyone else can guarantee overhead space availability and placing your bag over or very near your seat.


Buon viaggio,

Buon viaggio,

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