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Comparing Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses
Updated: December 1, 2018
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.
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||4.0 / 5||$500||$3,000 / 3 months||$0 intro first year, then $95|
|Flexible travel rewards||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||4.1 / 5||50,000 Points||$4,000 / 3 months||$0 intro first year, then $95|
|Generous travel rewards||Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card||3.9 / 5||30,000 Points||$3,000 / 3 months||$0|
|Mobile wallet purchases||Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card||3.1 / 5||$200 Cash Back||$1,000 / 3 months||$0|
|High sign-up bonus||Citi PremierSM Card||3.8 / 5||50,000 Points||$4,000 / 3 months||$0 intro first year, then $95|
|Low spending requirement||Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||3.5 / 5||$200||$500 / 90 days||$0|
|Hotel bookings||Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||4.3 / 5||50,000 Miles||$3,000 / 3 months||$0 intro first year, then $95|
|Small business spend||Ink Business UnlimitedSM Credit Card||3.6 / 5||$500||$3,000 / 3 months||$0|
|No annual fee||Chase Freedom Unlimited®||3.2 / 5||$150||$500 / 3 months||$0|
|Luxury travel perks||Chase Sapphire Reserve®||4.6 / 5||50,000 points||$4,000 / 3 months||$450|
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. Capital One's Savor Rewards card tops our list with its generous $500 sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. 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 December 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.
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. Chase also partners with major airlines and hotel brands, often with a 1:1 points transfer.
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.
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.
The Citi Premier Card earns you 50,000 points after a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership; 3X points on travel and at gas stations; 2X points on dining out and entertainment; and 1X point on all other purchases.
Pros: This card is something of a hybrid between the Sapphire cards. The rewards on travel rival that of the Sapphire Reserve, but it also offers 3X points at gas stations as well. Then, the sign-up bonus is actually worth $625 when travel is booked through ThankYou Travel Center, similar to the Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Cons: The regular APR is high, with a variable APR of 16.49%-25.49% – because of this and the lack of a 0% intro APR offer, this is not the best card for carrying balances.
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.
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. 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.
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 15.99% - 26.99%. Also, balance transfers only qualify for the intro rate and fees if made within the first 120 days.
The sign-up bonus stands at a solid $200 back for spending $500 in the first 90 days, easily beating out introductory offers of many other credit cards, which typically offer $150 for the same required spend.
Pros: 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. 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.
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.
Pros: The Venture Rewards offers strong rewards of 2X miles on all purchases. However, its crown 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. On November 13, 2018, a limited time offer was made available on Capital One and The Points Guy, featuring an increased sign-up bonus of 75,000 miles for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months.
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.
The Ink Business Unlimited offers a $500 sign-up bonus after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership.
Pros: Even with competitive rewards like 1.5% back on all purchases made for your business, this card still comes with no annual fee. Employee cards are available at no extra cost.
Cons: If you are willing to shop around, you can find better rewards for specific business categories.
This card competes with the Chase Freedom Unlimited 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.
Pros: There's no annual fee. Additionally, the Quicksilver offers no foreign transaction fee, something you won't get with the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
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.
Earn 80,000 points after a $5,000 spend within the first 3 months, a large sign-up bonus for business owners.
Pros: If business travel is a thing you do, the Ink Business Preferred's 3X points on travel is worthy of your attention. You'll also get 3X points on select business categories such as shipping purchases; internet, cable and phone services; and advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines. Add to that, your points get a 25% boost when you book through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Cons: Unfortunately, the $95 annual fee is not waived the first year.
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 that's a travel rewards 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.
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 and general travel, and more. The introductory bonuses can be up to 100,000 points and more, such as the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, with a 125,000-point intro bonus after only a $2,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership.
Usually, travel cards are best redeemed for travel, whether with the brand the bank partners with or with other bank partners.
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 okay with using your points strictly for hotel stays within a specific hotel chain.
Cash back is typically more straightforward. With cash back cards, your sign-up bonus can be up to $500, as in the case of the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership. Gift cards and merchandise redemption can actually be quite lucrative with these cards, and sometimes, as in the case of Bank of America, you can get a boost for depositing your cash back in a Bank of America account.
With cash back, you can use your statement credit toward gifts you've bought at department stores, gas to visit family or hotel stays to 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)
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.
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.
What kind of bonus do you want?
First, look at whether you want to get a sign-up bonus with points, miles or cash back. For example, two of the best current bonus offers come from Capital One's Venture and Savor cards; the Venture Rewards card earns you miles while the Savor Cash Rewards card earns you cash back.
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 the Savor, 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, both Savor and Venture Rewards' sign-up bonuses come to $500 in value, 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 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 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 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 intro 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.
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, such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, which allow you to redeem for most travel-related events. That means if you have a ski trip planned in December or January, you can redeem for airfare, condo, 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 SavorOne 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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