Many rewards credit cards offer bonus points if you spend a certain amount within your first few months of membership. Here’s how welcome offers work, and how to know when they’re worth it.
If you’re considering applying for a new rewards credit card, you may have heard the term “welcome offer” or “sign-up bonus.”
These terms mean exactly what you might think: You can earn bonus rewards, cash back or miles by signing up for a card and meeting a certain spending requirement.
But before you apply, it’s important to understand how a welcome offer works, what types of sign-up bonuses are available and how to make the most of them. Additionally, consider whether earning a sign-up bonus is truly worth it, and whether you’ll be able to meet the requirements, which usually involve spending a significant amount of money in a short time.
What is a welcome offer?
A welcome offer is a bonus offered by an issuer designed to entice a consumer to sign up for one of its cards and spend with it.
These sign-up bonuses typically range from $200 in cash back to 150,000 points or miles. Cardholders usually have three to six months to reach the qualifying spending requirement, which tends to be anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 for personal credit cards. (Some business credit cards offer sign-up bonuses worth up to $15,000.)
If you want to earn a sign-up bonus, it’s important that you charge enough on the new card to meet the spending requirement before the deadline. It’s also critical to pay off the balance to avoid interest charges, which will quickly eat into any bonus money you earn.
Additionally, note that many rewards cards with welcome offers have annual fees, which could also cut into the value of your sign-up bonus.
How a welcome offer works
If your new card has a welcome offer, you’ll get your bonus points after you’ve reached the minimum spending requirement, assuming you reached it within your issuer’s specified time period. If you’re unsure of the exact date on which it ends, review your card statement or call your bank’s customer service line. Note that the time frame typically begins the day you are approved for the card, rather than when you get it in the mail or start using it.
Most purchases generally count toward the required spending amount, though cash advances, balance transfers and “cash-like equivalents” such as money orders and cashier’s checks may be excluded. Paying your annual fee doesn’t count, either.
Cash back sign-up bonuses are typically received in the form of a statement credit or just deposited as points or cash into your rewards account. Points and miles bonuses may also appear in the rewards section of your online card account, or they can be deposited into a frequent flyer or hotel loyalty account, depending on the issuer.
Major card issuers tend to say they’ll post sign-up bonus earnings to your account anywhere from six to 12 weeks after you’ve reached the minimum spending requirement and your statement closes. However, anecdotal reports suggest it could be only a few days afterward.
Strategies for earning a welcome offer
While meeting a minimum spend requirement may seem daunting, there are plenty of ways to meet a welcome offer. Some strategies you can use to earn the bonus include:
- Use your card for all of your purchases.
- Pay your rent or mortgage, if your landlord or mortgage company allows credit card payments.
- Buy gifts for family and friends, or help them pay their expenses.
- Pay your taxes. (Note, however, that there may be a fee involved in paying your taxes with a credit card.)
- Pay school tuition or your child’s daycare expenses.
- Buy store gift cards or pre-pay for upcoming expenses, such as insurance premiums or utility bills.
- Make a down payment on a car.
- Donate to charity using your card.
You can also time your card application to a large purchase or a higher spending period (such as the holidays or back-to-school season) you’ve already been planning. If there’s something you need that costs thousands of dollars — and that you can afford to pay off within a few months — that one purchase could quickly put you over the spending requirement.
When is a welcome offer worth it?
While sign-up bonuses can be beneficial, there are some things to consider before you apply for a new credit card.
First, consider if you’re eligible for the card’s welcome offer. Many cards with generous sign-up bonuses require good-to-excellent credit to qualify. And some cards have terms that rule out people who have had other cards from the same brand or have opened too many cards in a recent period.
For instance, Chase practices what’s known as the “5/24 rule,” which prevents consumers from obtaining a Chase credit card if they’ve been approved for five or more other credit cards, no matter the issuer, within the past 24 months.
Next, think about the spending requirement — both the amount and the time frame to meet it. You don’t want to be stuck with a high balance that takes too long to pay off and costs you more in interest charges than you’d get in rewards.
Also, be sure it’s feasible for you to spend enough to hit the sign-up bonus goal by the deadline. After all, falling short by a few hundred dollars or less would be a real bummer.
Also, be sure the card’s ongoing benefits are worth it. Otherwise, you might not get enough value out of the card to justify owning it, especially if it has an annual fee. Many rewards credit cards with welcome offers also provide useful perks such as travel or dining credits, TSA PreCheck and Global Entry membership and more.
Value of the bonus points
Additionally, it’s important to determine the value of the bonus points and how much of the annual fee the points will effectively cover. Follow the “rule of three,” which states that unless the card has especially valuable rewards or benefits, aim for a sign-up bonus value that’s equal to three years or more of the card’s annual fee.
If you’re considering a co-branded hotel or airline card, consider how often you’re likely to do business with that particular travel provider. For instance, if you rarely fly Southwest Airlines, you may not have much use for a card with a welcome bonus of Rapid Rewards points. But if you use Southwest often enough to benefit from its Companion Pass, a card that helps you earn it via a bevy of bonus points may be a great choice.
Credit cards with welcome offers
There are many rewards cards on the market that offer sign-up bonuses. Here a few notable examples:
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is an excellent travel card that offers elevated rewards rates for travel, dining, streaming and online grocery purchases. You can also earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points by spending $4,000 within your first three months of membership. It has an annual fee of $95, which is lower than some other travel rewards cards that advertise welcome offers.
Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards card
This no-annual-fee card, the Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card, offers 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases, and you can earn $200 in online cash rewards if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.
United Explorer Card
The United Explorer Card offers 2X miles on hotels, restaurants and flight tickets purchased directly from United Airlines, as well as 1X miles on all other purchases. You can also earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in your first three months. The $95 annual fee is waived in the first year.
Welcome offers can be an excellent way to save money and earn rewards, but it’s important to compare the benefits and costs carefully before signing up for a new credit card.