Research and Statistics survey: Sign-up bonus offers abound — with a hitch


Card issuers are offering good promotional rates — and there are still rewards to be had — but consumers increasingly have to work for them.

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If you have good credit and are in the market for a new credit card, card issuers are laying out long promotional rates and rich sign-up bonuses to reel in desired customers, according to a survey. But the offers are becoming increasingly difficult to find and harder to get.

While only 20 percent of credit card offers contained sign-up bonuses in the first quarter of 2008, more than 60 percent included them by the end of 2011, according to Ipsos Loyalty’s direct mail tracker Mail Monitor. However, the first quarter of 2012 saw a noticeable drop, when only 45 percent of offers contained sign-up bonuses, says Roy Persson, director of Competitive Tracking Services for Mail Monitor. “There are signs that we’ve kind of hit our high point,” Persson says.

Though there may be fewer offers, the ones that exist continue to be generous. The Priority Club Select card from Chase recently announced that the sign-up bonus for its Visa Signature card had risen to 60,000 points (after your first purchase with the card). Another attractive offer targets jetsetters, as Southwest Airlines recently introduced a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles for new users of its Rapid Rewards Plus card (after spending $1,000 in the first three months).  But card issuers aren’t giving consumers something for nothing, as more and more offers are contingent upon consumers spending sometimes massive amounts of money on the card.

Plus, extremely generous bonus offers are subject to change at a moment’s notice, and not all of them are readily advertised to the public (meaning you may have to have insider knowledge and jump through a few hoops to get the bonus). survey
Out of the 102 cards compared, here is what we found:

  • 53 offer a teaser rate.
  • Of those, an overwhelming majority — 49 cards — offer 0 percent interest rates, while the others offer promotional rates ranging from a 3.9 percent rate by JetBlue Card from American Express to a 5.9 percent rate from the Wells Fargo Cash Back College card.
  • The length of promotions is most frequently six months, with 24 cards giving cardholders a break on interest charges for that amount of time.
  • However, 13 cards offer a 12-month promotional rate, eight offer a 15-month rate and three offer between 18 months and 36 months of little or no interest.
  • 50 cards surveyed offer sign-up bonuses, with 23 of them issuing points.
  • 10,000 points is the most common bonus offer.
  • But four cards, including the Hilton HHonors Card from American Express,  Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card from Citibank, the U.S. Airways Premier World MasterCard and the United Mileage Plus Explorer card offer customers 40,000 points for their business.
  • 10 cards geared specifically toward travelers offer miles as a sign-up bonus, with most in the 20,000 to 30,000-mile range.
  • 25 cards were particularly generous, offering both promotional rates and sign-up bonuses.

Not surprisingly, annual fees appeared more on credit cards offering sign-up bonuses than promotional rates. Of the 26 cards with annual fees, only six offered promotional rates, while 17 offered sign-up bonuses. However, nine of the cards with annual fees — several of which were secured credit cards geared toward people rebuilding credit — offered neither promotional rates nor sign-up bonuses.

Offers come with a catch
Since card issuers made it through the recession of 2008, they’ve been steadily looking to rebuild their customer bases with low-risk consumers. “The most valuable customers are always the high income, high spend, high usage people,” says Lisa Hronek, senior research analyst for Mintel Comperemedia.

But issuers aren’t just satisfied with getting customers to sign up. Their ideal goal is to become “top of wallet,” or the customer’s most used credit card, Hronek says. To achieve this, many issuers are developing promotions that reward new customers after frequent use of the card during a designated period of time. For example, the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express offers users a $150 cash back sign-up bonus only after they’ve spent $1,000 within the first three months of card membership. Likewise, the Chase Business INK card offers users 10,000 bonus points after their first purchase and an additional 15,000 points if they spend $5,000 or more in the first three months. Such promotions may prevent consumers from signing on to a card to take advantage of an offer and then discarding it or failing to use it. “Issuers are making strides to not just get the consumer, but to keep the consumer,” Hronek says.

Issuers are also becoming more selective about who gets such offers. One reason for the decline in sign-up bonus offers this year is that several issuers are sending fewer direct mail solicitations overall, Persson says. Another reason is the economic and political climate. “Consumers are spending less, banks are spending less and government is spending less,” Persson says. Finally, as issuers move beyond the most desirable customers to target those with some credit blemishes, “there’s no need to incentivize this group as much because they don’t have the perfect credit score,” Persson says.

Consumer beware
While promotional rates and sign-up bonuses may be tempting, “it doesn’t always make sense to switch cards because of a fun little offer,” says Katie Ross, education and development manager for American Consumer Credit Counseling. Whenever you apply for or open a new credit card, it can cause your credit score to drop slightly. Plus, if you’re not disciplined enough to pay off your entire balance each month, the interest you pay will quickly eat into any promotional value.

Also determine whether the promotion or sign-up bonus will improve your overall financial life. For example, when Simone Griffin, an executive with homeownership development organization HomeFree-USA in Hyattsville, Md., was working to pay off credit card debt, she accepted promotional offers of 0 percent interest from three different cards. “I didn’t purchase anything and strategically worked to pay each off before the promotional offer expired,” she says.

If you do come across a sign-up bonus that’s too good to pass up, make sure you do your homework and compare it to other offers before making a commitment. “Read the terms and conditions carefully before signing on the dotted line,” says Ross.

Card (full name)Intro rate (%)Intro period (mRate after introSignup bonusConditions to earn bonusAnnual Fee
Blue Cash Everyday from American Express0% Intro Purchase12 months17.24-22.24%$100 cash back after spending $1,000 within first 3 months of card membership$0.00
Blue for Business from American Express0% Intro Purchases6 to 12 months11.24-19.24%10,000 bonus pointsAfter first purchase$0.00
Blue from American Express0% Intro Purchase12 months15.24-20.24%10,000 bonus pointsCharge $1,000 in first three months$0.00
Blue Sky from American Express0% Intro Purchase12 months17.24-22.24%$100 statement creditCharge $1,000 in first three months$0.00
First National Bank of Omaha Graphite American E0% Intro Purchase12 months13.99-19.99%$100 cash back bonusAfter spending $1000 in first 3 billing cycles after account is ope$99.00
Gold Delta SkyMiles  Credit Card from American ExN/AN/A15.24-19.24%30,000 bonus milesMust spend $500 in first 3 months$95.00
Hilton HHonors Card from American ExpressN/AN/A15.24%40,000 bonus points Spend $750 within first 90 days $0.00
JetBlue Card from American Express3.9% Balance Trans6 months15.24%10,000 points toward award travel with first purchase$40.00
Platinum Delta Skymiles Credit Card from AmericaN/AN/A15.24-19.24%20,000 miles (5,000 of which will be MedallioAfter first purchase, MQM count only in the first year$150.00
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from AmeriN/AN/A15.24-19.24%Earn up to 25,000 StarpointsReceive 10,000 points after first purchase and 15,000 if you spen$65.00
TrueEarnings card from Costco and American Expr0% Intro Puchase6 months15.24%N/A$0.00
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature cardN/AN/A14.24%25,000 bonus miles$75.00
Bank Americard Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card0% Intro Purchase12 months12.99-20.99%$100 cash back bonusMake $500 in purchases in first 90 days$0.00
Bank of America Accelerated Rewards card0% Intro Purchase12 months12.99-20.99%$50 statement creditSpend $500 within 90 days of account opening$0.00
Bank of America Platinum Plus for Business Maste0% Intro Purchase6 months9.24-20.24%N/A$0.00
Bank of America Platinum Visa Business Credit Car0% Intro Purchase6 months9.24-20.24%N/A$0.00
Bank of America Student Platinum Plus Visa CreditN/AN/A14.24%$0.00
BankAmericard Cash Rewards from Bank of Americ0% Intro Purchase12 months12.99-20.99%$100 cash back bonusAfter you spend $500 in purchases within first 90 days of accoun$0.00
BankAmericard Power Rewards Visa Signature Car0% Intro Purchase12 months12.99-20.99%Triple points on gas, grocery and drugstore fo$50 statement credit after spending $500 in first 90 days$0.00
BankAmericard Secured card from Bank of AmericaN/AN/A20.24%N/A$39.00
BankAmericard Visa Credit Card0% Intro Purchase15 months10.99%-19.99%N/A$0.00
MLB Extra Bases MasterCard by Bank of AmericaNoneN/A12.99-20.99%10,000 bonus pointsIf you spend at least $250 within 90 days of account opening$0.00 
Apple Barclays Financing VisaN/AN/A22.99%None $0.00 
Carnival World MasterCard from Barclays0% Balance Transf15 months13.99-20.99%5,000 bonus “fun points” when you use your card for the first time; 5,000
bonus fun points toward your next cruise when you transfer a balance of
$5,000 or more within the first 30 days of account opening.
L.L.Bean Visa0% Balance Transf6 months13.99-19.99%N/A$0.00
NFL Extra Points Barclay Visa Signature Card0% Balance Transf15 months13.74-22.74%10,000 bonus points on initial purchase$0.00
US Airways Premier World Mastercard from Barcla0% Balance Transf6 months15.99-24.99%Up to 40,000 bonus miles15,000 with first use, 15,000 miles after spending $750 in first 90$89.00
Visa Black Card0% Balance Transf15 months14.99%N/A$495.00
Wyndham Barclay Visa Signature Card (No annual f0% Balance Transf6 months13.24-19.24%12,000 bonus pointsAfter first use of the card for purchase or balance transfer$0.00
BestBuy rewardzone platinum MasterCardN/AN/A21.74%N/A$0.00
Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers cardN/AN/A24.90%N/A$0.00
Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards (average cred0% Intro Purchase9 months19.80%N/A $39.00 
Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards (Excellent Cr0% Intro Purchase12 months12.90-20.90%$100 bonus once you spend $500 in first 3 months$0.00
Capital One Secured MastercardN/AN/A22.90%N/A$29.00
Capital One Standard Platinum Credit Card (with aN/AN/A24.90%N/A$19.00
Capital One Venture Rewards Card (Excellent credN/AN/A13.90-20.90%10,000 bonus milesAfter you spend $1,000 in first 3 months$59.00
Journey Student Rewards from Capital oneN/AN/A19.80%N/A$0.00
SonyCard Visa from Capital One0% Intro Purchase12 months13.90-24.90%5,000 bonus points after first purchaseMust make purchase within 90 days of account opening, must b$0.00
Spark Classic from Capital OneN/AN/A22.90%N/A$0.00
Spark Miles Select by Capital One0% intro purchase 6 months14.90-19.90%N/A$0.00
Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card from ChaseN/AN/A13.24%$30 gift cardMust be redeemed on or affiliated websites$0.00
BP VisaN/AN/A19.24%25 cents in rebates for every $100 in purchaseFirst 60 days, BP gas stations only$0.00
Chase Business INK0% Intro Purchase6 months13.24%Up to 25,000 bonus points10,000 after first purchase, and additional 15,000 points if you sp$0.00 
Chase Freedom Credit Card0% Intro Purchase15 months12.99-22.99%$100 (which is 10,000 bonus points) after spending $500 or more during first 3 months of account opening$0.00
Chase INK Cash for Business (Cash Back)0% Intro Purchase6 months13.24.24%Up to $250 cash back bonusGet $100 after first purchase, additional $150 after you spend $5,$0.00 
Chase SapphireN/AN/A15.24%10,000 bonus pointsSpend $500 in first 3 months$0.00
Disney Rewards Visa Card from Chase0% Intro Purchase6 months14.24%$50 Disney gift card for first-time cardmembers only after first purchase$0.00
Hess Visa Platinum CardN/AN/A19.24%10% rebate on purchases for 60 daysMaximum of $40, or purchases up to $400 — 60 days$0.00
Marriott Rewards Visa Signature Card from ChaseN/AN/A14.24%30,000 bonus points after first purchase$45.00
Slate from Chase0% Intro Purchase15 months11.99-21.99%N/A$0.00
The Priority Club Select Visa Signature card from CN/AN/A15.24%60,000 bonus pointsPoints received after first use of card, can be used for 4 free nig$49.00
United Mileage Plus Explorer card from ChaseN/AN/A15.24%Up to 40,000 bonus miles25,000 miles after first use, 5,000 extra after first purchase if you$95.00
University of Florida credit card from ChaseN/AN/A19.24%N/A$0.00
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Credit CarN/AN/A15.24%50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in first 3 months$69.00
Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards Card Mastercard0% Intro Purchase18 months11.99-21.99%N/A$0.00
Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa for College Stud0% Intro Purchase7 months12.99-20.99%N/A$0.00
Citi Forward0% Intro Purchase12 months12.99-22.99%Up to 10,000 ThankYou PointsMake $650 in purchases and sign up for Paperless Statements wi$0.00
Citi Gold Aadvantage Visa Signature CardN/AN/A15.24%25,000 American Airlines Aadvantage bonusAfter $750 in purchases in first 4 months$50.00
Citi Platinum Select Visa0% Intro Purchase18 months11.99-21.99%N/A$0.00
CitiBusiness Aadvantage MasterCardN/AN/A15.24%30,000 bonus milesSpend $750 in purchases within first 4 months$75.00
CitiBusiness World MasterCard0% Intro Purchase6 months14.24%10,000 bonus pointsMake $300 in purchases in first 3 months $0.00
The Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card from CN/AN/A14.24%40,000 bonus pointsAfter making $1,000 in purchases within 4 months of opening ac$0.00
ExxonMobil Platinum MasterCardN/AN/A19.99%N/A$0.00
Shell Platinum MasterCardN/AN/A23.99%N/A$0.00
Comerica Visa Platinum0% Intro Purchase12 months9.99-20.99%N/A$0.00
Credit One Visa PlatinumN/AN/A23.90%N/A$99.00
Discover Business Credit Card0% Intro Purchase6 months12.99-19.99%N/A$0.00
Discover Escape Card0% Intro Purchase6 months10.99-19.99%25,000 bonus miles1,000 each month you  make a purchase in first 25 months$60.00
Discover More Card0% Intro Purchase15 months10.99-19.99%N/A$0.00
Discover Motiva credit card0% Intro Purchase15 months10.99-19.99%N/A$0.00
Discover Open Road0% Intro Purchase15 months10.99-19.99%N/A$0.00
Discover Student More Card0% Intro Purchase9 months12.99-18.99%N/A$0.00
Miles by Discover Card0% Intro Purchase6 months10.99-19.99%12,000 bonus miles1,000 each month you make a purchase in first 12 months$0.00
First Premier Bank Gold MasterCardN/AN/A36.00%N/A$75.00
First PREMIER Bank Secured MastercardN/AN/A19.90%N/A$50.00
eBay MasterCardN/AN/A19.99-23.99%20% off (up to $30 back on) first purchase witValid through Aug. 31, 2012$0.00
Meijer Platinum MasterCardN/AN/A19.99-23.99%N/A$0.00
Texaco VisaN/AN/A23.99%Earn 20 cents per gallon in fuel credits for 60Only accounts approved 4/1/12 to 6/30/12 $0.00
Walmart Discover Card by GE MoneyN/AN/A22.90%N/A$0.00
HSBC MasterCard BusinessCard Card0% Intro Purchase6 months13.24%2,500 bonus points just for enrolling$0.00
Navy Federal Credit Union cashRewards VisaN/AN/A9.65-18.00%N/A$0.00
Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum MasterCardN/AN/A7.99-18.00%N/A$0.00
Nordstrom Visa SignatureN/AN/A10.90-22.9%N/A$0.00
Golf Magazine Rewards Visa Card (PartnersFirst Ba0% Balance Transf6 months12.24-22.24%1 dozen personalized Titleist Pro V1 golf ballsAfter spending $300$0.00
PenFed Visa Platinum Cashback Rewards4.99% Balance Tran24 months9.99%N/A$0.00
Pentagon Federal Credit Union Promise Visa7.49% Intro Purcha36 months for In9.99%N/A$0.00
Plains Commerce Bank Visa GoldN/AN/A12.00%N/A$0.00
PNC Points Visa0% Intro Purchase6 months intro11.99-19.99%N/A$0.00
State Farm Visa Student Credit CardN/AN/A11.24-18.24%N/A$0.00
USAA World MasterCardN/AN/A9.90-25.90%2,500 rewards bonus pointsAfter first purchase$0.00
U.S. Bank Business Platinum Card0% Intro Purchase6 to 9 months9.99-17.99%N/A$0.00
U.S. Bank College Visa Credit CardNoneNone11.99-20.99%N/A $0.00 
U.S. Bank FlexPerks Business Cash Rewards Visa C0% Intro Purchase6 months11.99-17.99%N/A$0.00
U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa SignatureN/AN/A13.99-23.99%15,000 bonus pointsWhen you spend $900 in first 90 days$49.00
Harley Davidson Signature Visa from US BankN/AN/A13.99-22.99%N/A$0.00
U.S. Bank Secured VisaN/AN/A20.99%N/A$35.00
U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Credit Card0% Intro Purchase12 months9.99-23.99%n/a$0.00
Wells Fargo Cash Back Card0% Intro Purchase6 months12.15-25.99%N/A$0.00
Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card5.9-13.9% Intro pur6 months11.15-21.99%N/A $0.00 
Wells Fargo Rewards Card0% Intro Purchase6 months12.12-25.99%N/A$0.00
Wells Fargo Secured CardN/AN/A18.99%$25$25.00
Cabelas Club Visa (World’s Foremost Bank)N/AN/A9.99-18.23%$20 in CLUB points, $10 after 5 purchases$20 must be used the day of signup, $10 received after 5 outside$0.00

See related:3 trends shaping today’s reward credit cards, Credit card bonuses playing hard to get

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