The Basics

Balancing Deadlines And Achieving Maximum Value

Written by Charlie

With the different credit cards out there, some of them come with bonuses (or anniversary bonuses) that have expiration dates. These expiration dates are almost always for one year from the day of issue. These bonuses are great as they are normally for things like a free night at various hotels within the co-branded hotel chain. We can always use free nights! Another type of the expiration certificate is with things like companion tickets from Delta and US Airways. The problem with these certificates is we tend to hold on to them longer than we should trying to obtain the maximum value. In the end, we use it just because we do not want to let it go to waste. Have you received any measurable value with it that way?

Example Of Balancing Deadlines and Value

Here is an example: The Chase Hyatt card comes with an anniversary bonus of a category 1 – 4 hotel night. There are plenty of category 3 and 4 hotels that offer great value, so we kept the card (with the $75 annual fee) in order to get that “free” night each year. Obviously, our desire is to use that free night at a hotel that we would want to stay at which would cost more than $75 per night (to balance out the cost of the annual fee). To make that free night achieve even greater value, we keep the certificate for a while so that we can use it for planned travel as opposed to making up travel just to use the “free” certificate.

In our case, we only have had one Hyatt in Rochester – the Hyatt Regency. I hated to even think of using it there as it is a Category 2 and I can typically get it on Priceline for $50-60 on the nights we would use it. Our hotel of choice to use it at was the Hyatt 48 Lex (which was a Category 4 until two bumps in successive years took it up to a Category 6). Again, we weren’t going to go to NYC just to use a free night certificate! So, instead we held the certificate hoping for a situation where we would end up being able to use it on a trip and save serious cash. That never happened.

Instead, we were left with it having a week left on it before its expiration and we were now in Greece. What to do?! Fortunately, the only Hyatt in Greece is only a few miles away from us. They have some great kid-friendly amenities, so we did a quick little “vacation” down the road to use the certificate. Actual price of the room most nights? $175. So, we definitely got our value out of it, and it is one of the nicer mid-category Hyatts we have been to (not to mention an awesome fitness center I got to use). But, that was close! We almost missed out on it!

The same thing happened with a free SPG certificate we got last year. There are no Starwood hotels in Thessaloniki at all, so there was nothing we could do to use it here. We thought about using it when we were going to be in Frankfurt for 10 hours, but they would not let you apply it toward a day rate. So, the certificate was about to run out and we had to do something – couldn’t let an actual free night get away! I ended up being able to use it at the Sheraton in Tel Aviv on the last day of its validity! Talk about cutting it close!

The Balancing Act

Some of the cards that offer these bonuses with expirations are:

  • Delta American Express Platinum (companion ticket good for one year from day of issue, which is normally a couple of weeks before the card’s renewal)
  • Delta American Express Reserve (first class/coach class companion ticket good for one year from day of issue, which is normally a couple of weeks before the card’s renewal)
  • Chase Hyatt – sign-up bonus (2 free nights as sign-up bonus – good for one year from day of issue, which is normally within a couple of days following the close of the statement that saw you meet the minimum spending)
  • Chase Hyatt – anniversary bonus (1 free night at a category 1 -4 good for one year from day of issue, which is normally a couple of weeks before the card’s renewal)
  • Citi Hilton Reserve card (2 free weekend nights as sign-up bonus – good for one year from day of issue)
  • Fairmont Hotel Card (2 free nights as sign-up bonus – good for one year from day of issue)
  • IHG Chase Card – anniversary bonus (1 free night at any IHG hotel – good for one year from day of issue)
  • US Airways Mastercard (2 companion tickets good for one year from day of issue)
  • Alaska Airlines Credit Card (companion ticket – $99 plus taxes) – good for one year from day of issue)

If you have one of these cards, and one of the big reasons you are keeping it is for the free night or free flight, you need to have a strategy when it comes to redeeming that bonus. If you are not redeeming it, you are throwing away one of the huge perks of keeping the above cards (and I have done it!). Here are some tips to help you achieve maximum value while avoiding deadlines:

Primary Goal

When the renewal date is getting closer, start checking the list of available hotels/flights for your certificate to see what might be the ideal trip for you within the next 12 months. If you do not have a trip in mind yet, set a goal trip that you would like to use it on. This could work exceptionally well for races. Have some fun with your choices and look for races that you may have considered otherwise unreachable – these are prime opportunities to burn those certificates. One great example is the Boston Marathon. There are some fabulous hotels that you can use your certificate on if you plan early enough. Go ahead and make plans for your primary goal before you even get the certificate so you will be ready to book.

If you plan right, you can use your Hyatt anniversary certificate at the Park Hyatt Toronto!

If you plan right, you can use your Hyatt anniversary certificate at the Park Hyatt Toronto!

Safe Goal

Oops – you went to reserve your primary goal hotel only to find out that they were out of availability for when you were going to go. Now what? This is what you have your safe goal for. For this goal, you know a bunch of the hotels that are decent value within your travel plans that could work. An example might be for the first night of a vacation trip or a place to stop on the way to vacation. Another possibility is a smaller race someplace that would present decent value from the certificate. Have this goal ready in case the primary goal fizzles.

Gifting Goal

While some certificates may require you to use it, most of the time, you can still add someone to the reservation so they can check in instead. If that is the case, consider gifting your certificate to a friend or family member to give them a nice night out someplace. For this, it doesn’t really matter what the overall value of the room is because your gift recipient doesn’t know how you had secured it for them! It truly is the thought that counts. In the case of airline certificates, consider asking a friend to come on a trip with you. This also works exceptionally well for races that you may need to fly to. We all have friends that are in amazement sometimes of our travel habits and ability to do it on the cheap. Treat them to a nice experience and gift by asking them if they would like to race with you at some great destination. They will be hooked and you can have the fun of having a companion present at an out-of-town race.

Close Goal

This is the final goal use – the close goal. For this one, you identify the hotel that is closest to you that you know you can book the certificate at if all else fails. Above all, you do not want to let that certificate go to waste! Even if it means burning it on the last day of its validity at a local hotel just so you can use the facilities! 🙂 For airline certificates, this would be the equivalent of a flight to NYC for us from Rochester. Those tickets typically go for around $110. If a certificate is going to expire, find someone to split the cost with you and you both fly down for the day, or a couple more. Ideally, you burn the airline certificate while burning some hotel certificates at the same time – an easy win!


Credit card bonuses like these anniversary bonuses are great – just don’t let them expire! You are paying the annual fee, so make sure you get at least some value out of that before those certificates expire!

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.