Comparing Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses
Updated: June 4, 2018
Sign-up bonuses abound in today’s rewards credit card market. 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.
CreditCards.com's best credit card sign-up bonuses available in June 2018
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. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card tops our list with its generous 50,000 point sign-up bonus of valuable Ultimate Rewards points. We also included several cards with good cash back intro bonuses, like the Wells Fargo Cash Wise card.
Details on the best credit card sign-up bonus offers
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One Venture Rewards card has a pretty simple sign-up bonus and rewards rate that is easy to remember. The sign-up bonus is 50,000 miles (with $3,000 in spend in first 3 months) and each mile is worth 1 cent, so it's worth $500 in total. The redemptions work through their "purchase eraser" feature, so once you make a travel purchase, you can use the feature to redeem miles for a simple statement credit. What makes the Venture card so much more valuable is the fairly new partnership with Hotels.com. Venture card holders get 10x miles on purchases at hotels.com/venture, and when you pair that with the Hotels.com rewards program, you essentially get 20% off every booking - easily the best hotel booking deal out there.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
This 50,000 point sign-up bonus is worth $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards (after $4,000 in spend in the first 3 months). Plus, you can earn another 5,000 points for addign an authorized user (who makes a purchase in the first 3 months), and another 5,000 points per approval with their referral program (up to 50,000 points per year). Bottom line - there are a lot of ways to earn bonus points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. These are some of the most valuable points on the market right now and the Ultimate Rewards portal has an abundance of travel and transfer partners available. With the $95 annual fee also waived in the first year, this card is a no brainer for beginner travel and points enthusiasts.
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
The Wells Fargo Cash Wise is one of the best cash back sign-up bonuses out there (for consumer cards), at $200 with $1,000 in spend in the first 3 months. You can redeem it for a simple statement credit. The regular rewards rate is pretty standard at 1.5% cash back on all purchases. They throw in a kicker in the first 12 months, bumping up the cash back rate to 1.8% on mobile wallet purchases. At no annual fee, this card is an easy choice if you prefer the cash sign-up bonuses for simple statement credits in favor of points and frequent flyer miles.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
The Chase Freedom Unlimited comes with a modest sign-up bonus of $150 that is very easy to hit with just $500 in spend required in the first 3 months. The regular rewards rate is 1.5% cash back on everything, but where the real value in this card lives is pairing it with a Chase Sapphire product like the Preferred or Reserve. If you have a Sapphire product, you can transfer cash back to Ultimate Rewards points, so you can be earning 1.5 points per dollar spent instead. If you spend $10,000 a year on your Chase Freedom Unlimited, that's worth 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points ($315 in value) versus the $150 in cash back that you would get with the normal cash back rate.
The Chase Freedom sign-up bonus mimics its sibling, the Chase Freedom Unlimited: $150 bonus for $500 in spend in the first 3 months. The downside is that this card can't be paired with a Sapphire product to earn valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points. However, you can get a really good 5% cash back rate at rotating bonus categories every quarter. If you can stick to the schedule and remember to activate the bonus categories each quarter, this card becomes a lucrative addition to the card rotation in your wallet (and with no annual fee).
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is among the top tier of travel rewards card and has a great sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points for $4,000 in spend in the first 3 months. When you redeem your rewards through their travel portal, your points increase their worth to 1.5 cents per point (a $750 value). With a $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass for lounge access, fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and many other benefits, the $450 annual fee melts away quickly. The regular rewards rate on this card is 3x points on travel and dining purchases and 1x on everything else.
Ink Business CashSM Credit Card
The Ink Business Cash card recently upped their sign-up bonus to $500 (with $3,000 in spend in the first 3 months) and we are loving it - this is one of the best business card sign-up bonuses out there! Best of all? It has great regular rewards rates and no annual fee, so you can keep it in the regular rotation in your wallet without any worries. You get 5% cash back on the first $25,000 in spend each year at office supply stores and on internet/cable/phone services. And then you get 2% back (with the same stipulations) at gas stations and restaurants. The Ink Cash is also a card that you can transfer your cash back to Ultimate Rewards points if your have another Chase card that already earns Ultimate Rewards. See our above example for how much more that can be worth than just normal cash back rewards.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
For regular American Airlines flyers, this card is a must have. The sign-up bonus is very generous at 60,000 AAdvantage miles after $3,000 in spend in the first 3 months. In addition to the sign-up bonus, you get a free checked bag for yourself and up to 4 people on your same reservation, priority boarding (group 5), and 25% off in-flight food and drink purchases. The rewards include not only 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases but also 2x miles on gas stations and restaurants, and 1x miles everywhere else.
Ink Business PreferredSM Credit Card
This is one of the biggest sign-up bonuses out there right now, with 80,0000 Ultimate Rewards points at your grasp with $5,000 in spend in the first 3 months. If you redeem for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal, the bonus alone is worth $1,000 (not to mention the points you earned on the $5,000 in required spend to get there). For small businesses, this card also has great ongoing rewards categories. You get 3x points on travel, shipping, advertising, and internet/cable/phone services up to $150,000 in purchases each year. In addition, it comes with cell phone insurance (when you use it to pay your employees' cell phone bills) and primary rental car insurance, which definitely comes in handy. If you also hold the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can up your redemptions and redeem points for 1.5 cents per point through the Chase travel portal.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
For Membership Rewards points, this welcome bonus is as good as it gets for American Express's consumer cards. You earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points for $5,000 in spend in the first 3 months. Although it comes with a high $550 annual fee, the Platinum Card comes with a number of extra benefits that really cut into that cost and make it worthy of a card you can regularly spend on. You earn 5x points on airfare booked directly through the Amex travel portal and there are over 20 airline and hotel transfer partners available in the portal. You can also get a $200 annual Uber credit, $200 airfare credit, and a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. And last but not least, you also get the highly coveted Centurion Lounge and Priority Pass lounge access.
What are sign-up bonuses and how do they work?
A sign-up bonus is an incentive offered by a rewards credit card – often in the form cash back, miles, points or free hotel nights – for opening and using the card.
In order to earn the sign-up bonus, you usually have to meet a spending requirement of some sort – spending a certain amount in a specified amount of time, making a certain number of purchases or making at least one purchase with the card. Depending on the type of card, you can then redeem the bonus for a specified reward (e.g., cash back) or you may have a variety of options for redeeming the bonus -- such as cash back, travel, merchandise or gift cards.
Not all bonuses are created equal. Some are more valuable than others, and some are more flexible and easier to redeem than others. Also, not every new cardholder will qualify for a bonus, so, before you apply, you should read the card’s fine print.
A sign-up offer will usually include the following features:
- Bonus amount – The amount of the bonus – usually a specific amount of cash or specific number of bonus points. Occasionally, a sign-up bonus doesn’t have a number affixed to it. For example, some hotel cards offer a free night certificate in lieu of bonus points.
- Spending requirement – The amount that you have to spend to earn the bonus.
- Time to reach the spending requirement – The amount of time you have to reach the spending requirement – for example, three months to spend $1,500.
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.
What to consider when choosing 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.
What kind of bonus do you want?
Are you looking for cash back, points or airline miles/hotel points? Cash back is the simplest option. A points-based bonus will give you a lot of options and flexibility. Airline miles – while often extremely valuable – can be complicated and difficult to redeem. Finally, hotel points are often inflated -- thus making the bonus seem larger than it actually is – but can still be very valuable, if you are OK with using your points strictly for hotel stays within a specific hotel chain.
In other words, you need to decide what you want to do with your bonus, and whether you prefer value or flexibility.
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.
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?
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 sign-up 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 sign-up 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 sign-up 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 ThankYou Preferred, Premier and Prestige cards).|
|Barclays||According to terms and conditions for most cards, only first-time cardholders qualify for a bonus (however, you may be able to earn the bonus more than once).|
|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. Sign up when the bonus is at its highest point
Credit card issuers frequently adjust the bonus amounts on many of the credit cards. You should look at the history of the bonus for that card, to see if it changes frequently, and if it’s likely to increase any time in the near future.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 if you and your spouse both sign up for the same card.
5. 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 sign-up 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, in case you cancel them and want to reapply to earn the bonus later down the line.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
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)
As an example, let’s compare the Capital One VentureOne card to the Citi Double Cash card. Both are no-annual-fee cards. The VentureOne card offers a 1.25 miles per dollar rewards rate and a 20,000-mile sign-up bonus (once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening), with points that are worth 1 cent when you redeem them for travel. The Citi Double Cash card offers a higher rewards rate of 2 percent cash back on all your purchases – 1 percent when you make a purchase and 1 percent when you pay your bill on time – but no sign-up bonus.
In the first year, the value of the VentureOne card is much higher, due to its sign-up bonus. Here’s what you would earn with each card based on $15,900 spend in the first year:
Rewards value in the first year ($15,900 spend)
Capital One VentureOne
Citi Double Cash
|($15,900 x 1.25%) + (20,000-mile bonus x 1 cent) = $398.75||$15,900 x 2% = $318|
But, over a five-year period, the value of the Citi Double Cash card is better, due to its higher rewards rate:
Rewards value over five years ($15,900 spend)
Capital One VentureOne
Citi Double Cash
|(5 years x ($15,900 x 1.25%)) + (20,000-mile bonus x 1 cent) = $1,193.75||5 years x $15,900 x 2% = $1,590|
So, if you plan to hold the card for a long period, a card with a 2 percent rewards rate and no sign-up bonus may be the better way to go. You’ll need to do some math to figure out which is the better option.
Is a sign-up bonus worthwhile?
A sign-up bonus can be a good 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 offers 50,000 points to new cardholders who spend $4,000 in the first three months. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal for a 25 percent bonus, so 50,000 bonus points are worth $625 of Ultimate Rewards travel. The Preferred card charges a $95 fee, but it’s waived the first year, so, if you can meet the spending threshold and use the bonus before the annual fee comes around, you can get more than $600 in value out of the card in its first year.
Chase Sapphire Preferred redemption options
|Redemption||Point Value||Value of 50,000-Point Sign-up Bonus|
|Ultimate Rewards travel portal (25% redemption bonus)||1.25 cents||$625|
|Statement credit||1 cent||$500|
|Direct deposit||1 cent||$500|
|Gift cards||1 cent||$500|
|Anazon.com purchases||0.8 cents||$400|
|Chase Pay purchases||0.8 cents||$400|
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.
Best credit card sign-up bonus offers of June - editor's ratings and reviews
|Best For:||Credit Card||CreditCards.com Rating||Sign-up Bonus||Required Spend||Annual Fee|
|Hotel bookings||Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||4.4 / 5||50,000 Miles||$3,000 / 3 months||$0 intro first year, then $95|
|Flexible travel rewards||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||4.2 / 5||50,000 Points||$4,000 / 3 months||$0 intro first year, then $95|
|Mobile wallet purchases||Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card||3.5 / 5||$200 Cash Back||$1,000 / 3 months||$0|
|Flat-rate cash back||Chase Freedom Unlimited®||3.4 / 5||$150 Cash Back||$500 / 3 months||$0|
|Rotating bonus categories||Chase Freedom®||3.4 / 5||$150 Cash Back||$500 / 3 months||$0|
|Airport lounge access||Chase Sapphire Reserve®||4.8 / 5||50,000 Points||$4,000 / 3 months||$450|
|Everyday business expenses||Ink Business CashSM Credit Card||3.4 / 5||$500 Cash Back||$3,000 / 3 months||$0|
|Free checked bag||Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®||4.3 / 5||60,000 Miles||$3,000 / 3 months||$0 intro first year, then $99|
|Business spend||Ink Business PreferredSM Credit Card||3.9 / 5||80,000 Points||$5,000 / 3 months||$95|
|Annual travel credits||The Platinum Card® from American Express||2.8 / 5||60,000 Points||$5,000 / 3 months||$550|
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