The best credit card sign-up bonuses of September 2021

Written by: Jeanine Skowronski | Edited by: Tracy Stewart | Reviewed by: Antonio Ruiz-Camacho
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September 23, 2021

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Sign-up bonuses are a prominent feature of the best credit cards, particularly travel, cash back and general purpose rewards credit cards. The best sign-up bonuses offer a generous amount of rewards for a reasonable amount of spending. During the height of the pandemic, many issuers scaled down these offers. Now, as things begin to open up, issuers are hoping to entice new cardmembers by offering their very best sign-up offers.

Why trust us? We looked at over 300 cards to determine which credit card sign-up offers have the highest value. When making these determinations, we consider the value of the sign-up bonus, spending requirements, rewards programs, fees as well as annual percentage rates. All of our cards are assessed independently by our editors based on their individual research, expert analysis and other factors.

Sign-up bonuses are a prominent feature of the best credit cards, particularly travel, cash back and general purpose rewards credit cards. The best sign-up bonuses offer a generous amount of rewards for a reasonable amount of spending. During the height of the pandemic, many issuers scaled down these offers. Now, as things begin to open up, issuers are hoping to entice new cardmembers by offering their very best sign-up offers.

Why trust us? We looked at over 300 cards to determine which credit card sign-up offers have the highest value. When making these determinations, we consider the value of the sign-up bonus, spending requirements, rewards programs, fees as well as annual percentage rates. All of our cards are assessed independently by our editors based on their individual research, expert analysis and other factors.

Best credit cards for sign-up bonuses of 2021

BEST FOR CASH BACK
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Our rating:4.5 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

5%
Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
5%
Earn 5% on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®.
3%
Earn 3% on dining and drugstores.
1.5%
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
$200 Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 23.74% variable
BEST FOR MARRIOTT GUESTS
Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card
Our rating:3.5 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

14X
Earn up to 14X total Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy® with the Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Card.
2X
2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on other travel purchases (from airfare to taxis and trains).
1X
1X point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
60,000 Points For a Limited Time Only! Earn 60,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable
BEST FOR WELCOME OFFER + TRAVEL CREDITS
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Our rating:4.6 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Excellent

Credit Recommended (740-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

10X
Earn 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5X
Earn 5X total points on air travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3X
Earn 3X points on other travel and dining.
1X
Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro bonus
60,000 points Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Annual fee
$550
Regular APR
16.99% - 23.99% variable
BEST FOR BONUS AIRLINE TRAVEL
United℠ Explorer Card
Our rating:3.5 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

2X
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United purchases
2X
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining including eligible delivery services
1X
1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro bonus
40,000 Bonus Miles Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
Annual fee
$95, waived first year
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% variable
BEST FOR SIGN-UP BONUS + ANNUAL BONUS
Citi Rewards+® Card
Our rating:3.2 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

2X
Earn 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter.
1X
Earn 1X ThankYou® Points on All Other Purchases.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
20,000 points For a Limited Time, earn 20,000 bonus points after you spend $1,500 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $200 in gift cards at thankyou.com
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)
BEST FOR HOTEL GUESTS
World of Hyatt Credit Card
Our rating:4.0 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

9X
Earn up to 9 points total for Hyatt stays – 4 Bonus Points per $1 spent at Hyatt hotels & 5 Base Points per $1 from Hyatt as a World of Hyatt member
2X
Earn 2 qualifying night credits towards tier status every time you spend $5,000 on your card.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
Earn up to 60,000 points Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 More Bonus Points by earning 2 Bonus Points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 Bonus Point, on up to $15,000 spent
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable
BEST FOR SOUTHWEST FLYERS
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
Our rating:3.8 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

3X
Earn 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.
2X
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases.
1X
Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
40,000 points Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Annual fee
$69
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable
BEST FOR ANNIVERSARY BONUS
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
Our rating:3.6 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

3X
Earn 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.
2X
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases.
1X
Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
40,000 points Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Annual fee
$149
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable
Back to top

All information about the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card and the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.


A guide to credit card sign-up bonus offers

Receiving a windfall of points so soon after opening your account can be a boon, but don’t forget you have to earn those points by meeting the issuer’s required spend threshold in a specified amount of time. Are those points valuable enough to justify the expense? There are many factors to be considered before arriving at an answer, and they will vary depending by card as well as the financial habits of the person using it.

In this guide, we will look at:


Comparing the best credit card bonus offers

After looking at all of the credit cards with sign-up bonus offers, here are our selections for the top offers on the market right now:

Credit cardBest forSign-up bonusAnnual feeCreditCards.com rating
Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit cardFlat rate cash back + sign-up bonus$200 online cash rewards After spending $1000 in purchases in the first 90 days $03.3 / 5
Chase Freedom Unlimited®Cash back$200 After you spend $500 in the first 3 months $04.5 / 5
Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit CardMarriott guestsLimited Time Offer: 60,000 Points If you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months of account opening $03.5 / 5
Chase Sapphire Reserve®Welcome offer + travel credits60,000 points If you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months $5504.6 / 5
United℠ Explorer CardAirline travel40,000 Miles After you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open $95, $0 first year3.5 / 5
Citi Rewards+® CardSign-up bonus + annual bonusLimited Time Offer: 20,000 Points For spending $1,500 in the first 3 months of account opening, redeemable for $200 in gift cards at thankyou.com $03.2 / 5
World of Hyatt Credit CardHotel guestsUp to 60,000 bonus points Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn up to 30,000 more bonus points with 2 bonus points per $1 spent on purchases that earn 1 point up to $15,000 in the first 6 months $954.0 / 5
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit CardSouthwest flyers40,000 Points After you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $693.8 / 5
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit CardAnniversary bonus40,000 Points After you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $1493.6 / 5

best credit card signup bonuses of 2021

Editor’s picks: Credit card sign-up bonus details

Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card: Best for flat rate cash back + sign-up bonus

Bonus offer: $200 online cash rewards after spending $1000 in purchases in the first 90 days.

Why we picked it: This new release offers a competitive sign-up bonus of $200 in online cash rewards after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. If you’re an existing Bank of America customer with assets in eligible savings, checking or investment accounts, you could benefit from this cash back credit card, which offers 1.5% back on all purchases, plus a potential 25% to 75% rewards boost for Preferred Rewards members (actual value of the boost varies, depending on how much you have across your eligible Bank of America accounts).

Pros: In addition to the unlimited 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases, you can earn $200 online cash rewards after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. Cardholders can also take advantage of a promotional APR (0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers made in the first 60 days for 15 billing cycles, then 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR) and there is no annual fee.

Cons: If you carry a balance beyond the introductory 15 month billing cycle period and you could end up paying quite a bit in interest, particularly if you fall under the higher APR range. You’ll need at least $20,000 across Bank of America and/or Merrill accounts to be eligible for any Preferred Rewards boost.

Who should apply? Existing Bank of America customers with at least $20,000 across eligible savings, checking or investment accounts may want to take advantage of the rewards boost the bank offers through its Preferred Rewards program.

Read our full Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Best for cash back

Bonus offer: Earn $200 after spending $500 in your first three months.

Why we picked it: The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers one of the top cash back sign-up bonuses on the market with one of the lowest required spends. No other cards exceed the offer, though a few do match it.

Pros: The Chase Freedom Unlimited has a competitive base rewards program: 1.5% cash back on general purchases, plus 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5% cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2022), 3% on dining (including takeout and eligible food delivery services) and 3% on drugstore purchases. You can also earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart®) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. Plus, there’s no annual fee.

Cons: The Freedom Unlimited is a flat-rate cash back card, so if you tend to spend a lot in one or a few specific spending categories, you could conceivably earn more with a rotating or tiered cash back credit card. (See the best cash back credit cards for more options.)

Who should apply? Moderate spenders looking for a strong cash back bonus, given the card’s low required spend; you need to spend, on average, $167 per month to earn the offer.

Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card: Best for Marriott guests

Bonus offer: For a limited time, earn 60,000 points after a $2,000 spend within the first three months of account opening.

Why we picked it: We estimate the current welcome offer is worth around $480 in Marriott stays, given Marriott points are worth about 0.8 cent each. That welcome offer is quite generous for a no annual fee hotel credit card.

Pros: This card mightily rewards Marriott guests: It can be utilized on travel purchases (rewarded with 2X points) to visit destinations within Marriott’s boasted largest hotel network in the world. Plus, you earn up to 14X Bonvoy points (up to 10X from being a Marriott Bonvoy Member, 3X on participating hotels and 1X from Marriott along with Silver Elite status, which comes as a benefit of being a cardmember) at more than 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy and receive 15 Elite Night Credits annually, qualifying you for Silver Elite Status. (Restrictions apply.)

Cons: This card’s rewards are tailored to loyal Marriott customers, so if you don’t frequent the hotel chain, a different credit card (and sign-up bonus) is likely warranted.

Who should apply? This is a card for frequent Marriott patrons who want to skip the annual fee associated with a premium Marriott card, like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card.

Read our full Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for welcome offer + travel credits

Bonus offer: Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 within your first three months. You’ll also get a free one-year membership to Lyft Pink and DoorDash’s DashPass (activate these offers by March 31, 2022 and Dec. 31, 2021, respectively)

Why we picked it: That sign-up bonus has a $900 value when booking travel through Ultimate Rewards, where you get a 50% redemption boost.

Pros: As part of the card’s base rewards program, you earn 10X total points on hotels and car rentals purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5X total points on air travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 3X points on all other travel purchases (after you earn the card’s annual $300 travel credit). You can also earn 3X points on dining at restaurants. You’ll also get up to a $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit every four years.

Cons: The travel benefits come at a price, specifically the card’s $550 annual fee, so make sure you travel enough to justify that cost before applying.

Who should apply? This top travel credit card is a prime choice for frequent travelers who spend enough to justify its high annual fee, particularly if you’re looking for a welcome offer that can fund a future trip.

Read our full Chase Sapphire Reserve review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

United℠ Explorer Card: Best for airline travel

Bonus offer: Earn 40,000 bonus miles if you spend $2,000 within the first three months.

Why we picked it: If you meet the required spend and redeem your miles for Saver Awards, that bonus amounts to about $608 in airfare, (assuming an average United mile value of 1.52 cents each).

Pros: The card’s base travel rewards are competitive: You earn 2X miles when spending on hotel stays, dining or United purchases and 1X miles on other purchases. You also get a statement credit of up to $100 on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, priority boarding privileges and two one-time passes to United Club℠ each anniversary.

Cons: If you don’t frequently fly United, you might be better served by a different airline credit card. There’s a $95 annual fee, though it’s waived the first year.

Who should apply? This is a great card for frequent United flyers. (If you don’t fly United, consider a different airline credit card.)

Read our full United Explorer Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Citi Rewards+® Card: Best for sign-up bonus + annual bonus

Bonus offer: For a limited time, earn 20,000 ThankYou points if you spend $1,500 in your first three months of account opening, redeemable for $200 in gift cards at thankyou.com.

Why we picked it: This card features a decent sign-up bonus and an annual bonus for redeeming rewards: Cardholders receive 10% points back on the ThankYou points they redeem (up to 100,000 points per year).

Pros: The card’s base rewards program lets you earn 2X ThankYou points at supermarkets and gas stations for the first $6,000 spent annually (then 1X points) and 1X points on all other purchases. Plus, the card carries a unique feature in that it automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase. You’ll also get 10% back on the ThankYou points you redeem, up to 100,000 points per year. There is no annual fee.

Cons: There are higher cash back sign-up bonuses out there. There are also a few cards that offer a higher return on similar bonus categories.

Who should apply? Consider this card if you make a lot of small purchases and can benefit from its round-up feature.

Read our full Citi Rewards+ review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

World of Hyatt Credit Card: Best for hotel guests

Bonus offer: Earn up to 60,000 bonus points with a tiered sign-up offer that gives you 30,000 points after you spend $3,000 in your first three months and up to 30,000 more points by earning 2X points on purchases that usually earn 1 point on up to $15,000 in your first six months.

Why we picked it: If you can meet that high required spend associated with the second tier of the bonus ($15,000 in your first six months), your earned points could be worth up to $1,200 in hotel nights, depending on how you spend them. (We estimate World of Hyatt points, on average, are worth around 2-cents each.)

Pros: The rewards don’t end with the bonus offer: You earn 2X points on a variety of spending, including at restaurants and on airline tickets purchased directly from airlines. You also receive a free night at a category 1 to 4 Hyatt hotel and can earn a second free night at the same type of hotel each year you spend $15,000.

Cons: The $95 annual fee isn’t waived the first year. If you don’t frequent Hyatt hotels, you may be better served by a different hotel credit card.

Who should apply? Hyatt loyalists who spend enough to receive the full bonus offer can really accelerate reward earnings with this card.

Read our full World of Hyatt Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: Best for Southwest flyers

Bonus offer: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in your first three months.

Why we picked it: We’ve estimated that bonus to be worth around $640 in Southwest travel, given we currently value Southwest Rapid Rewards points at around 1.6 cents apiece.

Pros: As base rewards, you’ll earn 2X points on Southwest purchases, Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Plus, you’ll receive 3,000 bonus points each year on your account anniversary.

Cons: The card carries a $69 annual fee, which isn’t quite covered by the anniversary bonus. (We estimate the anniversary bonus is worth around $48, using the 1.6-cent value per point mentioned above.) If you don’t fly Southwest, this card isn’t for you.

Who should apply? Frequent Southwest fliers can accelerate their rewards earnings with this card, though they might also want to consider the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, which charges a $99 annual fee, but offers a higher anniversary bonus.

Read our full Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: Best for anniversary bonus

Bonus offer: Earn 40,000 points after they spend $1,000 on purchases in your first three months.

Why we picked it: This bonus, which mirrors the one attached to the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, offers a lot of value for frequent Southwest flyers, especially when you factor in the card’s base rewards and additional benefits.

Pros: For base rewards, you earn 2X points on Southwest purchases, Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases and 1X point on other purchases. You also receive a $75 Southwest travel credit each year, a unique feature among Southwest cards. Plus, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority’s anniversary bonus is the highest of the Southwest cards: You earn 7,500 bonus points after each card anniversary.

Cons: The card has a $149 annual fee, not waived the first year, so you’ll need to carefully consider whether you patronize Southwest enough to truly reap this card’s benefits.

Who should apply? This premium Southwest credit card has a lot of benefits frequent flyers will enjoy, but make sure you can justify its higher annual fee. Learn how to determine what Rapid Rewards credit card is right for you.

Read our full Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

What is a credit card sign-up bonus and how do they work?

A sign-up bonus is a limited-time offer that many rewards credit cards feature (including travel credit cards and cash back credit cards). These promotions, also sometimes called “welcome offers,” give new cardholders a chance to earn extra rewards in the form of cash back, miles, points, free hotel nights or more. To get these rewards, they’re generally required to spend a certain amount in a specified time period in order to receive the bonus, but some offers stipulate a certain number of purchases or activate after just one swipe of the card. Typically, the higher the required spend, the more lucrative the bonus. In recent years, sign-up bonuses have become an increasingly popular way to entice new cardholders.

“A trend I’ve observed is that issuers are competing for consumers’ business based mostly on sign-up bonuses and rewards for ongoing spending,” says Ted Rossman, CreditCards.com industry analyst. “Whether you’re interested in travel or cash back, you can take advantage of offers that can put $500, $750 or even more into your wallet.”

Pros and Cons of credit cards with sign-up bonuses

While sign-up bonus offers can be truly valuable, it’s important to evaluate your situation before going after one.
Pros

  • Usually worth hundreds of dollars in cash back or travel purchases
  • Sign-up bonuses offer quick gratification and can earn you a large sum of rewards shortly after opening your account
  • Limited-time offers from the issuer can yield even more rewards

Cons

  • If your credit card has low credit requirements, a sign-up bonus usually isn’t offered
  • Some cards offer hefty sign-up bonuses but have so-so ongoing benefits
  • Sign-up bonuses can encourage overspending as they require you to spend a certain amount within a specific timeframe to qualify

How to choose a sign-up bonus card

When choosing a card, it’s important to weigh how accessible the required spend is versus when you want to receive the intro bonus. For example, the Discover it® Cash Back card’s Cashback Match bonus matches the cash back you earned at the end of your first year, while the Chase Freedom Unlimited earns you $200 back after spending $500 within the first three months.

Who should get a sign-up bonus card?

Before applying for a credit card with a sign-up bonus, make sure it fits in with your existing spending habits and evaluate all facets of the card. A credit card with a great sign-up bonus offer might be great if you:

  • Have good to excellent credit: Sign-up bonuses are one of the premium perks that come with a credit card if you have a higher credit score. Make sure your credit fits the requirements of the card you sign up for as your credit score might take a small hit in the process.
  • Spend on a budget: If you regularly spend within your means and have a history of paying your balance in full each month, a lucrative sign-up bonus can be quite rewarding.
  • Seeking the right credit card: If you’re hunting for the right card that fits your needs and it ticks all your other boxes, a sign-up bonus can be exactly that, a bonus.

Who should skip a sign-up bonus card?

A card with a large sign-up bonus isn’t the perfect fit for everyone. You should second-guess getting a sign-up bonus card if you are:

  • Still building your credit: Responsible credit card use is a key strategy for building your credit score and you will likely have a higher APR on a new credit card. In this case, it’s important to focus on securing a card with a lower APR and a smaller or no annual fee.
  • Unable to pay off your credit card balance in full each month: If you have a remaining balance at the end of the month you will face interest payments. Instead, go for a card with a lower interest rate instead of focusing on the sign-up bonus, which often comes with a high spend requirement.
  • Only considering signing up for a card because of the sign-up bonus: When evaluating whether a new credit card is right for your situation, take a holistic approach and ask yourself whether it provides long-term value besides the initial bonus.

Should you get a new card just for the sign-up bonus?

It may not be the best idea to get a new credit card primarily for the sign-up bonus, although there are exceptions. Ideally, you want to look at ongoing rewards and other perks, such as airport lounge access, extended warranties or cellphone insurance.

“Figure out how you spend your money and what you value most,” says CreditCards.com Industry Analyst Ted Rossman. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all decision. Most people prefer simplicity and have a few cards – think 3, not 23.

“Card issuers have grown tired of the sign-up bonus arms race and customers who churn through bonuses,” says Rossman. “They’d rather keep you spending with incentives on dining, transportation and streaming. Sign-up bonuses are great, but don’t lose sight of the big picture. Constantly opening and closing cards can hurt your credit score, too. The best credit card rewards strategies mix introductory bonuses with long-term value.”

How to decide if you should get a sign-up bonus credit card with an annual fee

You shouldn’t automatically nix a card with an annual fee. If you do the math, you’ll often find that annual fee cards – due to larger sign-up bonuses and higher rewards redemption rates – offer the best value, even with a fee. Plus, some annual fee cards waive the charge in their first year. Still, you need to be sure you can afford to pay a fee and that you’ll redeem the rewards in a timely manner to make the fee worth it.

Let’s take a look at the value of a no annual fee card versus an annual fee competitor to determine the impact of each over two years. We’ll compare the travel and dining rewards value available from the United Explorer Card ($95 annual fee – waived the first year) and the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card (The Wells Fargo Propel American Express card is no longer available). The United Explorer Card’s miles are worth 1.3 cents, according to TPG’s points valuation, and the Propel’s points are worth 1 cent each. Let’s evaluate return based on someone who annually spends $2,000 on travel expenses, $1,800 on dining and $5,000 on other purchases, while hitting their sign-up bonus along the way.

CardSign-up bonusRewards rateRewardsAnnual feeTotal minus annual fee
United Explorer Card – Year 140,000 miles* x .013 = $5202X miles on travel (hotel stays and United purchases) and dining, 1X elsewhere($2,000 x 2) + ($1,800 x 2) + ($5,000 x 1) = 12,600 miles x .013 = $164$95 waived first year$684
United Explorer Card – Year 22X miles on travel (hotel stays and United purchases) and dining, 1X elsewhere($2,000 x 2) + ($1,800 x 2) + ($5,000 x 1) = 12,600 miles x .013 = $164$95$69
Wells Fargo Propel – Year 120,000 points** x .01 = $2003X points on travel and dining, 1X elsewhere($2,000 x 3) + ($1,800 x 3) + ($5,000 x 1) = 16,400 points = $164$0$364
Wells Fargo Propel – Year 23X points on travel and dining, 1X elsewhere($2,000 x 3) + ($1,800 x 3) + ($5,000 x 1) = 16,400 points = $164$0$164

*United Explorer Card earns 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months

**Wells Fargo Propel earns 20,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months

At first glance, the two-year rewards are lopsided. This large gap is thanks to the United Explorer Card’s sign-up bonus. As such, when looking at ongoing rewards, the Propel may be the better choice in the long-term. Although the first-year rewards are slightly one-sided, the Propel’s consistent rewards and lack of annual fee will bring you more year-to-year value in the future. It may be hard to deny the upfront rewards available with annual fee cards, but consumers hunting for a card for the foreseeable future might want to look towards the best no annual fee options.

How to maximize sign-up bonuses

Signing up for the right bonus at the right time can help you take your sign-up bonus the extra mile. Here are some tips to squeeze more value out of your sign-up bonus:

Look for special offers

Sometimes issuers offer sign-up bonuses to targeted groups of cardholders that are larger than the offers advertised on their sites. Visit the issuer’s site often, check your mail or call the issuer directly to find out if you qualify for a special offer.

Keep an eye on the bonus after you sign up

Some issuers will award you the larger bonus amount if the offer increases after you sign up for the card. If the bonus goes up before the promotional period expires, call your issuer to see if you can qualify for the larger bonus.

Sign your spouse up for the same card

Many issuers will allow couples (married or otherwise) to sign up for the same card separately. Yes, even if your spouse is already an authorized user on your account, you can earn twice the number of bonus points!

Time your applications carefully

You’ll need to keep issuers’ policies – such as Chase’s 5/24 rule and American Express’s once-in-a-lifetime limit on welcome bonuses – in mind when deciding which cards to apply for. For instance, if you know that an issuer puts a limit on the number of new accounts you can have in a certain time frame, you might want to apply for those cards first.

Watch out for hidden convenience fees

Avoid using your card to pay for products or services that charge a fee to use credit cards. For example, some utility companies and providers, such as contractors or plumbers, may charge you a convenience fee of 2-4% to pay by card. See if you can meet the minimum spending requirement without paying fees.

Know what counts toward the minimum spend

If you read the sign-up bonus terms and conditions, you’ll likely find that the annual fee, your balance transfers, and the purchase of travelers checks or other “cash-like” items, don’t count toward your minimum spending total.

Be careful about returning items

If you return an item that you purchased with your card, be sure to subtract the amount from your total spending. Otherwise, you could accidentally fall short of the spending threshold and miss out on your card’s bonus.

Don’t get sucked into debt

What good is a few hundred dollars’ worth of bonus points if you also end up thousands of dollars in debt? Before you spring for a sign-up bonus, make sure you can afford the spending threshold. And aim to pay your monthly balances off in full, lest you lose lucrative points, miles or cash back to interest!

In the news: Chase Sapphire cards offer sign-up bonuses up to 100,000 points

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offer two of the most valuable sign-up bonuses among travel rewards cards, thanks to the value and flexibility of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. The Sapphire Reserve card offers 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months, while the Sapphire Preferred card offers a whopping 100,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two cards is that the Sapphire Reserve is a premium travel rewards card that charges $550 annually, while the Preferred card charges $95 per year.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Preferred cards’ sign-up bonuses do not change frequently. The Sapphire Reserve card – which premiered with a 100,000-point sign-up bonus in August 2016 – has updated its sign-up bonus only twice since then to 50,000 points and now to 60,000 points. The Sapphire Preferred card recently increased its sign-up bonus by 20,000 points and is now offering 100,000 points – the highest bonus in the card’s history.

In addition to a sign-up bonus, Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a referral bonus worth up to 100,000 points each year. Chase’s “Refer-a-Friend” promotion gives Sapphire Preferred cardholders 20,000 points for each person they refer who is approved for the card – up to five people per year.

The Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve sign-up bonuses are only available to new cardholders who have not received a new cardmember bonus for any Sapphire card in the past 48 months. Also, Chase only allows you to own one Sapphire card at a time, so you are not eligible for the bonus if you are already a Sapphire cardholder. Of course, you have to qualify for the cards first, which means you need a credit score in the excellent range (at least 740).

Read more about the Sapphire cards here.

How we picked the best credit card bonus offers

We evaluated credit cards with welcome offers to identify the top bonuses currently on the market. The major factors we considered include:

  • Value of bonus: We looked at the amount of rewards associated with specific welcome offers, how much that amount might be worth within that card’s rewards program and whether the amount stood out among competitors.
  • Required spend: Welcome bonuses aren’t usually automatic; In most cases, you’ll need to spend a certain amount of money on the card to get your extra points, miles or cash back. We considered whether the required spend was reasonable for the card’s target audience and whether it was comparable to or better than other cards in its category.
  • Base rewards: We considered the amount of points, miles or cash back you could earn beyond a credit card’s welcome offer and whether the base rewards return rate was equally lucrative. In other words, we considered a card’s long-term value.
  • Fees: You’ll want to minimize costs, so we evaluated any sign-up bonus against common card fees, including the annual fee, penalty fees and foreign transaction fees. Note: An annual fee isn’t always a deal-breaker. We have more details below on how to calculate whether to opt for an annual fee credit card with a good sign-up bonus.
  • Annual percentage rates: You generally want to avoid carrying a balance on a rewards credit card, given they tend to carry higher APRs than, say, a low-interest credit card. However, we still considered where a card’s APR range fell relative to the current credit card industry standard.

Not sure what welcome offers you might qualify for? Our CardMatch tool can show you what credit cards you may qualify for without hurting your credit score.


Frequently Asked Questions