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Comparing Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses
Updated: September 11, 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
|Best For:||Credit Card||CreditCards.com Rating||Sign-up Bonus||Required Spend||Annual Fee|
|Dining and entertainment||Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||4.6 / 5||$500||$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|
|Hotel bookings||Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||4.4 / 5||50,000 Miles||$3,000 / 3 months||$0 intro first year, then $95|
|Generous travel rewards||Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card||3.7 / 5||30,000 Points||$3,000 / 3 months||$0|
|Low spending requirement||Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||4.1 / 5||$200||$500 / 90 days||$0|
|No annual fee||Capital One® Quicksilver® Card||N/A||See Terms||See Terms||$0|
|Mobile wallet purchases||Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card||3.5 / 5||$200 Cash Back||$1,000 / 3 months||$0|
|Business spend||Ink Business UnlimitedSM Credit Card||3.6 / 5||$500||$3,000 / 3 months||$0|
|High spenders||American Express Cash Magnet™ Card||3.8 / 5||$150 + $100||$1,000 / 3 months + $6,500 / 12 months||$0|
|Rotating cash back||Chase Freedom®||3.4 / 5||$150||$500 / 3 months||$0|
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 of September 2018
The Savor strikes a sweet ratio in terms of its bonus size relative to the required spend. Its $500 cash bonus can be attained if you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. A sign-up bonus of that size usually comes with a higher spending requirement, so this offer is not to be taken for granted.
Pros: 4% back on dining and entertainment makes it a no-brainer for foodies and those who love to go to movies, sporting events, and so forth. Furthermore, you also get 2% back at grocery stores. While there is an annual fee of $95, this is waived for the first year. Finally, it bears repeating that the intro offer has a great bonus-to-spend ratio.
Cons: If you seldom order in or eat out, you'll have trouble maximizing long-term value with this card. The 2% back at grocery stores is lower than the Blue Cash products' cash back rates at U.S. supermarkets.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a 50,000-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. It partners with major airlines and hotel brands, often with a 1:1 transfer.
Pros: While other cards have a 50,000-point sign-up bonus, the Sapphire Preferred stands out because it also offers a 25% bonus when you book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. That means your 50,000 points is worth $625 with the Sapphire Preferred.
Cons: The 2X points is 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.
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 redeem through a portal after the travel event has been paid for. It also offers 2X miles on all purchases.
Pros: The Venture Rewards' jewel is the 10X miles for hotel stays through hotels.com/Venture. The Venture Rewards has no competition on this front, except for the no annual fee VentureOne Rewards, which has a lower sign-up bonus and ongoing rewards. Another new feature: Get 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 Chase card's 25% bonus when booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Weighing in at 30K bonus points for spending $3,000 in 3 months, the Propel offers by far the largest sign-up bonus 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, 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.
This card is a great combination of a higher-than-typical intro bonus amount and a lower-than-typical required spend to obtain said bonus.
Pros: $200 back for spending $500 in the first 90 days easily beats out the introductory offers of many other credit cards. Furthermore, there is no annual fee and the card earns a healthy 3% back on gas and 2% back on groceries.
Cons: There is a quarterly limit of $2,500 on combined purchases in those two categories.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Card
The Quicksilver's sign-up bonus complements the 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
Pros: This card's cash back and sign-up bonus rival those of the Freedom Unlimited.
Cons: There are cards with yet higher bonuses out there.
The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa offers a $200 bonus after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership and 1.5% back on all purchases. It also offers up to $600 protection on your cell (after a $25 deductible) against covered damage and theft when you pay your monthly cell bill with this card.
Pros: This card's industry-beating sign-up bonus sets it apart, as does the 1.8% back on mobile wallet purchases the first 12 months.
Cons: This may not be the best card for carrying balances, because it only offers 12 months for a 0% intro APR with purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 15.74% - 26.74%. Also, balance transfers only qualify for the intro rate and fees if made within the first 120 days.
The Ink Business Unlimited offers a $500 sign-up bonus after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership; and 1.5% back on all purchases made for your business. Employee cards are at no extra cost.
Pros: With competitive rewards, this card still comes with no annual fee.
Cons: If you are willing to shop around, you can find better rewards for specific business categories.
As one of the newest offerings from American Express, the Cash Magnet Card is poised to compete against other flat-rate cards with its standard 1.5% unlimited cash back. Its $250 total available intro bonus is obtainable if you are willing to meet the high required spend. The first leg is $150 for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months; the second leg is $100 for spending an additional $6,500 in the first 12 months.
Pros: $250 total is a decent-sized bonus for a card with no annual fee.
Cons: The spending requirements are considerably higher than competitors, especially the second leg. Simply put, there are more straightforward options—such as the Wells Fargo Propel's intro offer—if you are looking for a large welcome bonus.
The Chase Freedom earns you a $150 cash bonus after a $500 spend within the first 3 months of card membership along with 5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter.
Pros: You can accumulate cash back very quickly with the Chase Freedom, thanks to its unusually high 5% cash back, with opportunities to earn on purchases in different categories. It also comes with a sign-up bonus of $150 for spending $500 in your first 3 months. There is a tremendous amount of value being offered for no annual fee. If you have a Sapphire card to go along with it, the Freedom card 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: The 5% cash back is capped, applying only up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter. You also need to remember to activate each quarter.
What are sign-up bonuses and how do they work?
If you relish the idea of rewards for making purchases you were going to make anyway, take a look at cards with sign-up bonuses.
A sign-up bonus is your first incentive to open and use a rewards card, whether a travel card or a cash back product. You might earn the bonus in the form of cash back, miles, points or free hotel nights.
The advantage to getting a sign-up bonus is that you can bulk up on rewards upfront to be used as statement credits, for travel, and more. If the card has a waived annual fee, that increases the value of the sign-up bonus even more, because you are getting a bonus free and clear, provided you don't carry a balance and pay interest charges. Sign-up bonuses are a good way to build up your points or miles, augmenting your ongoing rewards. Sign-ups also allow you to earn points upfront, rather than cards that pay a bonus at the end of the first year, such as Discover it® Cash Back's match program.
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. Typically, the higher the required spend, the more lucrative the bonus.
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.
Not all bonuses are created equal. Some are more valuable than others, and some are more flexible and easier to redeem than others. In some cases, for example, your rewards might be more lucrative if you redeem for travel, rather than gift cards or merchandise, as in the case of Barclays Arrival Premier World Elite Mastercard. Also, not every new cardholder will qualify for a bonus, so, before you apply, you should read the card's fine print.
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."
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?
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 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|
|Amazon.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.
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.
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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com.
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