Comparing Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses
Updated: December 1, 2019
Sign-up bonuses abound in today’s rewards credit card market and are a prominent feature of the best credit cards. Cash back cards, co-branded travel cards, general-purpose travel cards – the choices can seem limitless.
A sign-up bonus can often be a signal that the card has better ongoing rewards, so they are worth a look. You’ll also want to study the card’s minimum spending requirement and the timeframe in which you need to spend it. We looked at over 350 cards with sign-up bonuses to determine which offers have the highest value. Along with our top picks, you'll find information on some of the factors that went into our analysis, how to maximize your sign-up bonus redemption, and more. Here, we look at:
Whether you want to understand just what are sign-up bonuses or how they differ from cards with no sign-up bonus, we can help.
Best credit card sign-up bonuses
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Why it's the best sign-up bonus credit card for miles: With a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus, the Venture Rewards has a good return for its spend of $3,000 within the first 3 months. The sign-up equals $500 in travel, which you may redeem through a portal after the travel event has been paid for.
Pros: The Venture Rewards offers strong rewards of 2X miles on all purchases, as well as a credit of up to $100 for TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry.
Cons: While the sign-up bonus is comparable to that of the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Venture Rewards doesn't enjoy the CSP's 25% bonus when booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Why it's the best sign-up bonus credit card for no annual fee: There's no annual fee, saving you a little money each year. Additionally, the Quicksilver offers no foreign transaction fee.
Pros: This card competes with other flat-rate cash back cards with a $150 sign-up bonus after a $500 spend within the first 3 months of card membership and 1.5% back on all purchases.
Cons: If you tend to favor such categories as groceries or gas in your spending, it may be worthwhile to consider a card that rewards more for select categories, such as the Bank of America Cash Rewards.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Why it's the best sign-up bonus credit card for rewards: Weighing in at 30K bonus points for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months (a $300 cash redemption value), the Propel offers one of the largest sign-up bonuses for a no annual fee credit card.
Pros: Its outsized bonus amount is accompanied by a bold 3X rewards rate on categories that will benefit a large swathe of consumers: travel, dining, gas stations, rideshares, and select streaming services.
Cons: Streaming services that earn 3x points are limited to a select few, albeit very popular ones: Netflix, Hulu, Spotify Premium, Apple Music, Pandora, and Sirius XM Radio.
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card
Why it's the best sign-up bonus credit card for flat-rate rewards: In addition to the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa card's $150 bonus after a $500 spend within the first 3 months of card membership, you'll enjoy an excellent 1.5% back on all purchases.
Pros:This card's industry-beating 1.8% back on qualified digital wallet purchases the first 12 months sets it apart. It also offers up to $600 protection on your cell phone(after a $25 deductible) against covered damage and theft when you pay your monthly cell phone bill with this card.
Cons: Although the 0% intro APR offers on qualifying balance transfers and purchases are for 15 months (then 15.49%-27.49% variable APR), balance transfers only qualify for the intro rate and fees if made within the first 120 days.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Why it's the best sign-up bonus credit card for points: The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a 60,000-point sign-up bonus after a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership and 2X points on worldwide travel and restaurants.
Pros: While other cards have large sign-up bonuses, the Sapphire Preferred stands out because it also offers a 25% bonus when you book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. That means your 60,000 points are worth $750 with the Sapphire Preferred. Chase also partners with major airlines and hotel brands, often with a 1:1 points transfer.
Cons: The 2X points are only on worldwide travel and restaurants, while the Venture Rewards offers 2X miles on all purchases. This means if you aren't much of a traveler, the Sapphire Preferred may not be the best option. The CSP has a $95 annual fee that is not waived.
Ink Business CashSM Credit Card
Why it's the best sign-up bonus credit card for business: This card offers high value for businesses with substantial expenses. There is 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent each year on office supply stores, internet, cable, and phone services.
Pros: The Ink Business Cash offers a $500 sign-up bonus for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, a relatively low spending requirement. The Ink Business Cash charges no annual fee, which is also rare for a business credit card that offers this much value.
Cons: There is a minimum of 2,000 points required for redemption.
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card
Why it's the best sign-up bonus credit card for cash: The sign-up bonus stands at a standard $200 back for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, which is on par with introductory offers of many other credit cards.
Pros: This card has a solid intro bonus amount and a required spend that's on the lower side. Furthermore, there is no annual fee and the card earns a healthy 3% back on your choice of category and 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs.
Cons: There is a quarterly limit of $2,500 on combined purchases in those three categories.
Why it's the best sign-up bonus credit card for rotating cash back: The rewards earning is among the best available, with 5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories after activation, on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. If you hold a Chase Sapphire card, you can transfer your points from the Freedom to that card to then redeem for greater value.
Pros: The Chase Freedom card's sign-up bonus is $150 for spending $500 in the first 3 months, terms that are quite common among credit cards with no annual fee.
Cons: Keep in mind that you will have to activate your bonus categories each quarter. While the rotating categories make for lucrative rewards, it is one more thing to keep track of.
Citi Rewards+℠ Card
Why it's the best sign-up bonus credit card for everyday points: This card has an unusual feature in that it automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase.
Pros: Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening – then it's redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com.
Cons: The required spend on the sign-up bonus is double that of comparable cash back cards, and the ongoing rewards on supermarkets can be beaten by the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Why it's the best sign-up bonus credit card for unlimited cash back: The Chase Freedom Unlimited has a straightforward 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no annual fee and a nice little sign-up bonus.
Pros: You can accumulate cash back very quickly with the Chase Freedom Unlimited considering the card has no annual fee. If you have a Sapphire card to go along with it, the CFU is an effective means of gathering Chase Ultimate Rewards points which can then be transferred to your Sapphire account for high-value redemption through Chase's travel portal.
Cons: While the flat-rate cash back is good for consistent earning, other credit cards such as the Chase Freedom offer higher cash back on certain bonus categories.
Compare the best credit card sign-up bonus offers of December 2019
After looking at all of the credit cards with sign-up bonus offers, here are our selections for the top 10 offers on the market right now:
|Best For:||Credit Card||Sign-up Bonus||Required Spend||Annual Fee||CreditCards.com Rating|
|Miles sign-up bonus||Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||50,000 miles||$3,000 / 3 months||$95, $0 in first year||4.2 / 5|
|No annual fee||Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card||$150||$500 / 3 months||$0||3.4 / 5|
|Rewards||Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||30,000 Points||$3,000 / 3 months||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Cell phone protection||Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card||$150||$500 / 3 months||$0||3.8 / 5|
|Points sign-up bonus||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||60,000 Points||$4,000 / 3 months||$95||3.9 / 5|
|Business sign-up bonus||Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card||$500||$3000 / 3 months||$0||3.3 / 5|
|Cash sign-up bonus||Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||$200||$1,000 / 90 days||$0||3.4 / 5|
|Rotating cash back||Chase Freedom®||$150||$500 / 3 months||$0||3.1 / 5|
|Everyday points||Citi Rewards+℠ Card||15,000 Points||$1000 / 3 months||$0||3 / 5|
|Unlimited cash back||Chase Freedom Unlimited®||$150||$500 / 3 months||$0||3.8 / 5|
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), giving you the chance to earn as much as $750 or even more in exchange for a required spend. You might be required to spend a certain amount in a specified amount of time, make a certain number of purchases or make at least one purchase with the card. Typically, the higher the required spend, the more lucrative the bonus.
You might earn the bonus in the form of cash back, miles, points or free hotel nights. A sign-up bonus is sometimes called a welcome offer, but they are essentially the same thing. Depending on the type of card, you can then redeem the bonus for a specified reward, such as cash back, or you may have a variety of options for redeeming the bonus – such as cash back, travel, merchandise or gift cards.
Sign-up bonuses are one of the favorite features of savvy card enthusiasts, and credit card issuers have taken note. "There are incredibly attractive sign-up bonuses available right now," 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. A trend I’ve observed is that issuers are competing for consumers’ business based mostly on sign-up bonuses and rewards for ongoing spending. Other perks like price protection and extended warranties are being rolled back, with issuers citing lack of consumer appetite, but consumers are very hungry for points and miles, and issuers are delivering."
Types of sign-up bonuses
Not all bonuses are created equal. Some are more valuable than others, and some are more flexible and easier to redeem than others. It depends on the type of card and the type of rewards.
Are you looking for cash back, points or airline miles/hotel points? You need to decide what you want to do with your bonus, and whether you prefer value or flexibility.
Points or miles
Some cards, primarily travel cards, reward with points or miles. Usually airline cards use miles, and hotel cards use points. While a mile may be worth 1 cent, they can be worth less or more, depending on the card and the program. That's why it's a good idea to do your research and make sure it's a card you're going to use.
Points and miles can be earned for brand loyalty, restaurants, general travel, and other types of spending, with cards like the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express encouraging brand loyalty. A points-based bonus, such as that of the Wells Fargo Propel, can give you a lot of options and flexibility.
Cash back is typically more straightforward. Gift cards and merchandise redemption can actually be quite lucrative with these cards. A solid cash back card is the Quicksilver.
With cash back, you can use your statement credit toward gifts you've bought at department stores, gas to visit family or hotel stays in the city for New Year's.
Sign-up bonus vs. no sign-up bonus
There aren’t a lot of downsides to getting a card with a sign-up bonus – a bonus is basically cream on top of your regular card rewards. However, there are a few reasons you might choose a card with no sign-up bonus. Here’s a summary of the advantages of each:
Advantages of a card with a sign-up bonus
- Overall rewards value tends to be much higher, especially in the first year
- Likely has ongoing rewards
- Can fund a large award more quickly
Advantages of a card with no sign-up bonus
- No temptation to overspend in order to meet a spending threshold
- Often no annual fee
- Long-term value may be higher (though, not always the case)
Is a sign-up bonus worthwhile?
With that said, a sign-up bonus can be an excellent way to earn a lot of rewards in a short amount of time. Earning a bonus is almost always worth it, if you can outmatch the card’s annual fee (which is usually the case), and if you redeem the bonus in a timely manner.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card's sign-up of 60,000 points to new cardholders who spend $4,000 in the first three months can be redeemed for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal for a 25 percent bonus, so 60,000 bonus points are worth $750 of Ultimate Rewards travel.
Chase Sapphire Preferred redemption options
|Redemption||Point Value||Value of 60,000-Point Sign-up Bonus|
|Ultimate Rewards travel portal (25% redemption bonus)||1.25 cents||$750|
|Statement credit||1 cent||$600|
|Direct deposit||1 cent||$600|
|Gift cards||1 cent||$600|
|Amazon.com purchases||0.8 cents||$480|
|Chase Pay purchases||0.8 cents||$480|
However, if you don’t redeem the bonus in the first year and continue to hold the card without using it, your rewards value drops nearly a $100 each year, due to the card’s annual fee. And if you don’t redeem the bonus at all, the value of your bonus amounts to $0, because credit card points have no value outside of the rewards that you redeem them for.
It may seem obvious that you need to use your points to get value out of them, but cardholders do sometimes sign on to a card for its sign-up bonus, only to squander the bonus because they aren’t able to use it in time. Before you apply for a card to earn a sign-up bonus, it’s best to study the card’s rewards program and have a plan for redeeming the bonus.
What is the typical sign-up bonus and spending threshold?
Sign-up bonuses are a popular tactic for attracting new cardholders to apply for a card and our data indicates that most rewards credit cards offer a sign-up bonus of some sort. Of the 130 rewards cards we have reviewed, only 17 of them don’t offer a sign-up bonus.
Also, the data show that point- and mile-based cards tend to offer larger sign-up bonuses than cash back cards (with larger spending thresholds). The median bonus for points and miles cards in our database is 25,000 miles or points with a median spending threshold of $2,000. In comparison, the median bonus for a cash back card is only $100 with a $500 spending threshold.
In other words, if you want to earn a large sign up bonus, you’ll want to look at point- and mile-based cards, but … you’re going to need to spend a lot to earn the bonus, and you’ll have less flexibility on redeeming the bonus than you would with cash back.
How to choose a card with a sign-up bonus
Maybe your first impulse is to sign up for the offer with the largest bonus attached to it, but there’s more to it than that. Here is what you consider in trying to find the best sign-up bonus for you.
Can you reach the spending threshold?
Before you get carried away by a sign-up bonus with a lot of zeros floating behind, you need to consider whether you can afford to spend enough to reach the spending threshold in time without driving yourself into debt. With the Venture and Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card, the threshold for both is $3,000. That means that you need to spend that amount before your first 3 months end.
Is this the highest bonus you can earn on the card?
Don’t just spring for the first offer that you find – do some research. Depending on the card, the amount of the sign-up bonus can fluctuate over time, so you should check the card’s bonus history to see if the offer is at a high point or if it is likely to increase soon. Also, you should check around to see if you can qualify for a special offer with a larger sign-up bonus.
What is the bonus worth?
As it happens, the Savor's sign-up bonus is $300 while the Venture Rewards' sign-up bonus is 50,000 miles, although a points or miles value can be worth more or less than 1:1. The value of a point is not constant. Points from different issuers have different values, and even points from different cards from the same issuer can vary in value. To make it even more complex, points can gain or lose value over time, as issuers add or subtract options. So take a look at what the points/miles are worth and what you can get with the bonus before you apply for it, and then keep an eye out for any announcements from the card’s points program.
Do you want to pay 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 values – offer the best value, even with a fee. But you need to be sure you can afford to pay a fee and that you’ll redeem the rewards in a timely enough manner to make the fee worth it.
Issuer intro bonus policies
Before you apply for a card hoping to snag a giant bonus, you should take a look at the card’s terms and conditions to make sure you qualify to earn a welcome bonus. Many issuers will not award a bonus if you’ve previously owned the card. And some issuers – including Chase with its “5/24” rule – won’t give you a bonus if you’ve signed up for too many cards recently. Here’s a summary of intro bonus policies:
|American Express||You can only earn the bonus for a particular card once in a lifetime (includes personal and small business cards).|
|Chase||You can reapply for the same bonus 24 months after earning the bonus and closing the card. You are not eligible for a sign-up bonus if you’ve opened more than five accounts in the past 24 months (including authorized user accounts but not including business card accounts).|
|Citi||You can only earn one sign-up bonus per card brand every 24 months (e.g., Citi Prestige card).|
|Barclays||According to their terms and conditions for most cards, only first-time cardholders qualify for a bonus.|
|Bank of America||No restrictions on earning a sign-up bonus more than once.|
|Discover||No restrictions on earning a sign-up bonus more than once.|
|U.S. Bank||According to terms and conditions, cardholders who have previously had an account for the same type of card won’t qualify for a bonus.|
How to maximize sign-up bonuses
Signing up for the right bonus at the right time and taking care in how you reach the minimum spending threshold can help you take your bonus the extra mile. Here are some tips to squeeze more value out of your sign-up bonus:
1. 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.
2. 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 introductory period expires, call your issuer to see if you can qualify for the larger bonus.
3. Sign your spouse up for the same card
Many issuers will allow you and your spouse to sign up for the same card separately – yes, even if your spouse is already an authorized user on your account – which means you can earn twice the number of bonus points.
4. 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.
5. 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, 3 or 4 percent fee to pay by card. See if you can meet the minimum spending requirement without paying fees.
6. Know what counts toward minimum spend
If you read the sign-up bonus terms and conditions, you’ll likely find that the annual fee, balance transfers made to the card, and the purchase of travelers checks or other "cash-like" items, don’t count toward your minimum spending total.
7. 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.
8. 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.
What should I spend my sign-up bonus on?
Airline card rewards are best used for airline flights, although there are many general-purpose travel cards that allow you to redeem points for most travel-related events. That means if you have a Christmas holidays trip to Europe planned, you can redeem for airfare, hotel, limo service and more.
It's pretty much a guarantee that the best way to use your hotel card's rewards is with hotel stays. Hotels usually offer tiers, where the higher-end hotels or resorts will use up your points more quickly, but that's OK if you treasure the exclusive experience.
Perhaps the least sexy, but one of the most convenient, is the statement credit. Most common among cash back cards, this type of redemption is easy to manage, as in the case of the Savor and Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card cards, which automatically load your sign-up bonus into your rewards pool, from which you can move your cash back to your statement or get a check cut.
Merchandise or gift card
Some cards reward generously for purchases made through their shopping portal, while others may not reward so well for merchandise or gift cards. That's why it's best to check before making a redemption.
Are sign-up bonuses taxable?
Although credit card issuers often use sign-up bonuses to lure customers to apply for new cards, it is unlikely that those bonuses will ever be taxed. The distinction between spending to get rewards and simply getting a bonus for switching or applying for a card comes into play here. Sign-up bonuses typically require a new cardholder to reach a certain spend requirement to receive the bonus. Therefore, the bonus becomes nontaxable since spending is required before cash back, points or miles are awarded. To be on the safe side, we recommend that you comb through the program’s terms and conditions prior to opening a new credit card or bank account.
Robin Ratcliff is the managing editor for reviews on CreditCards.com. Before CreditCards.com, she worked as a analyst and editor, and still brings that same analytical rigor to her card recommendations today. You can reach Robin at email@example.com. Tracy Brackman is a credit card news editor at CreditCards.com, writing breaking news stories on card updates and new card launches. You can reach Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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