Best Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses

Credit card sign-up bonus offers can come in the form of cash back, miles or points, and offer a great way to kick start your earning with hundreds of dollars in rewards. If you’re torn between several options, an impressive sign-up bonus can be a great incentive to tip the scales toward a certain card.

Competitive bonuses can net new cardholders extra rewards worth $100, $300 or more after making a required spend, typically within the first 3 months. The key to selecting your best choice is finding which is the most personally valuable according to how well factors like the rewards type, redemption options, bonus requirements and ongoing card value fit into your normal spending.

To help you decide, our top experts examined over 350 cards to break down the best credit card sign-up bonuses. Here are our top picks from our partners for cards with the best sign-up bonuses right now.

Credit card sign-up bonus offers can come in the form of cash back, miles or points, and offer a great way to kick start your earning with hundreds of dollars in rewards. If you’re torn between several options, an impressive sign-up bonus can be a great incentive to tip the scales toward a certain card.

Competitive bonuses can net new cardholders extra rewards worth $100, $300 or more after making a required spend, typically within the first 3 months. The key to selecting your best choice is finding which is the most personally valuable according to how well factors like the rewards type, redemption options, bonus requirements and ongoing card value fit into your normal spending.

To help you decide, our top experts examined over 350 cards to break down the best credit card sign-up bonuses. Here are our top picks from our partners for cards with the best sign-up bonuses right now.

Editor: Laura Mohammad | Writer: Garrett Yarbrough

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January 19, 2021

Best credit cards for sign-up bonuses of 2021

Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

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

Rewards Rate

3X
Earn 3X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy™.
2X
2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on other travel purchases (from airfare to taxis and trains).
1X
1X point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
30,000 Points

Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

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

Rewards Rate

5X
Earn 5 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases. Earn between 12/1/2020 and 3/31/2021 on up to $2,000 spent per month.
2X
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on all other Southwest® purchases.
1X
1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Up to 80,000 points

Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months.

Annual Fee
$69
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable
United℠ Explorer Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

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

Rewards Rate

2X
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
2X
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United
2X
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and eligible delivery services including GrubHub, Caviar, Seamless and DoorDash
1X
1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
40,000 miles

40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open

Annual Fee
$95, waived first year
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% variable
The World Of Hyatt Credit Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

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

Rewards Rate

9X
Earn 9 points total for Hyatt stays - 4 Bonus Points per $1 spent at Hyatt hotels & 5 Base Points per $1 you can earn as a World of Hyatt member
2X
Earn 2 Bonus Points per $1 spent at restaurants, on airlines tickets purchased directly from the airlines, on local transit and commuting and on fitness club and gym memberships

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Up to 50,000 points

25,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend $6,000 total within 6 months of account opening

Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable
Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Excellent

Credit Recommended (740-850)

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

Rewards Rate

3X
3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit.
3X
3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out.
3X
Earn 3X total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services
1X
1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
50,000 points

Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee
$550
Regular APR
16.99% - 23.99% variable
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

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

Rewards Rate

5X
Earn 5 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases. Earn between 12/1/2020 and 3/31/2021 on up to $2,000 spent per month.
2X
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on all other Southwest® purchases.
1X
1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Up to 80,000 points

Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months.

Annual Fee
$149
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable

Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by CreditCards.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank's website for the most current information.

All information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred® have been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.


How to choose the best credit card sign-up bonus offer

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, cards for the grocery store, 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’re worth a look. You’ll 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 signup bonuses of 2021

Best credit card sign-up bonuses

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.

Current Bonus Offer

Earn 15,000 bonus ThankYou points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening – redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com.

Pros

Cardholders carrying this no annual fee option will earn 2X ThankYou points at supermarkets and gas stations for the first $6,000 spent annually, plus 1X points on all other purchases. Points are non-expiring and there’s no limit on the amount you stack.

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.

Read CreditCards.com’s full review of the Citi Rewards+

Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card

Why it’s the best sign-up bonus credit card for Marriott guests

This no annual fee card’s features reward mightily for the Marriott guest: Earn 3X Bonvoy points at more than 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy. Also, receive 15 Elite Night Credits annually, qualifying you for Silver Elite Status. (Restrictions apply.)

Current Bonus Offer

The sign-up bonus is 30,000 points after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months, which is quite generous for a no annual fee card.

Pros

The card can be utilized on travel purchases (rewarded with 2X points) to visit destinations within Marriott’s boasted largest hotel network in the world. Also, there are no foreign transaction fees.

Cons

Marriott Bonvoy’s point valuation according to The Points Guy is 0.8 cent, although that’s better than those of IHG Rewards Club and Hilton Honors.

Read CreditCards.com’s full review of the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Why it’s the best sign-up bonus credit card for Southwest flyers

All points count toward Southwest’s famous Companion Pass, and there are no blackout dates or seat restrictions.

Current Bonus Offer

Earn up to 50,000 points after spending $2,000 within the first 3 months and an additional 30,000 points after spending $10,000 within the first 9 months.

Pros

Through 3/31/21, earn 5X points up to $2,000 a month on Southwest purchases. Earn 2X points on all other Southwest purchases, Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases. It’s 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Cons

You get 3,000 bonus points after your cardmember anniversary, which is considerably less than the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority. Also, the annual fee isn’t waived the first year.

Read CreditCards.com’s full review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

United℠ Explorer Card

Why it’s the best sign-up bonus credit card for airline travel

This card’s airline travel features are excellent, including a statement credit of up to $100 on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, priority boarding privileges and 2 one-time passes to United Club℠ each anniversary.

Current Bonus Offer

Earn 40,000 bonus miles if you spend $2,000 within the first 3 months.

Pros

You’ll earn 2X miles when spending on hotels, restaurants or United airfare and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. United also offers flexible redemption options and ticket selections.

Cons

Although you have to pay an annual fee each year ($95), it’s waived the first year, which is increasingly becoming a rarity among travel cards.

Read CreditCards.com’s full review of the United Explorer Card

The World of Hyatt Credit Card

Why it’s the best sign-up bonus credit card for hotel guests

The TPG point valuation for World of Hyatt makes this card’s value among the best – it’s 1.7 cents for every point. Add to that, you can earn 9 points total for Hyatt stays – 4X points for Hyatt hotel stays as a cardholder and 5X points as a World of Hyatt member.

Current Bonus Offer

Not only can you earn 25,000 points after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months, when you spend $6,000 within the first 6 months, you earn another 25,000 points.

Pros

The rewards don’t end with the double-bonus offer: Earn 2X points on a variety of spending, including at restaurants and on airline tickets purchased directly from airlines.

Cons

The $95 annual fee isn’t waived the first year, although the sign-up bonus is quite nice, and the hotel stay rewards are superior.

Read CreditCards.com’s full review of The World of Hyatt Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Why it’s the best sign-up bonus credit card for dining at restaurants

Earn 3X points on dining at restaurants with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, one of the highest rates for dining out there. Also, when those points are used for booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, you get a 50% boost.

Current Bonus Offer

Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months, a $750 value when booking travel through Ultimate Rewards.

Pros

A unique feature of this card is the annual $300 travel credit. Once used, you earn 3X points on all travel – an enticing rate for those mapping their 2021 vacations.

Cons

It’s tough to find fault with the Sapphire Reserve, but this card’s annual fee may give some consumers pause – it’s $550, and it isn’t waived the first year.

Read CreditCards.com’s full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Why it’s the best sign-up bonus credit card for anniversary bonus

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority’s anniversary bonus is the highest of the Southwest cards – earn 7,500 bonus points after each card anniversary.

Current Bonus Offer

Earn up to 50,000 points after spending $2,000 within the first 3 months and an additional 30,000 points after spending $10,000 within the first 9 months.

Pros

This card has a unique feature among the Southwest cards of a $75 Southwest travel credit each year, plus you’ll earn 5X points on up to $2,000 a month on Southwest purchases through 3/31/21. Earn 2X points on all other Southwest purchases, Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases. It’s 1X point on other purchases.

Cons

Although this card’s features are unparalleled among the Southwest cards, the annual fee of $149 is unwaived and one of the highest among their products.

Read CreditCards.com’s full review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Why it’s the best sign-up bonus credit card for points

While other cards have large sign-up bonuses, the Sapphire Preferred stands out – it offers a 25% bonus when you book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Current Bonus Offer

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.

Pros

In addition to the boosted rewards earned through the sign-up bonus, this card offers 2X points on worldwide travel and restaurants, as well as groceries (until 4/30/21). To take full advantage of the heightened rate toward travel with Chase Ultimate rewards, points can be pooled with other cards outside the Sapphire Preferred, such as Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

Cons

The Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee that is not waived the first year, although it offers non-travel rewards to make it more attractive during the pandemic.

Read CreditCards.com’s full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card

Why it’s the best sign-up bonus credit card for rewards

Wells Fargo and American Express give many ways to earn with the Propel: Earn 3X points on dining, travel and transit, gas station and popular streaming service purchases, plus 1 point per dollar elsewhere.

Current Bonus Offer

Providing one of the largest sign-up bonuses for a no annual fee credit card, the Propel offers 20K bonus points for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months (a $200 cash redemption value).

Pros

Your rewards won’t expire, are unlimited and there are no blackout dates. Also, points can be transferred to other Wells Fargo cards, opening doors to redemption bonuses via options like the Wells Fargo Visa Signature (50% boost when redeeming on airfare).

Cons

Because you aren’t participating in a loyalty program, you aren’t getting boosted rewards, although the redemption program is still quite generous.

Read CreditCards.com’s full review of the Wells Fargo Propel

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card

Why it’s the best sign-up bonus credit card for flat-rate rewards

You’ll enjoy an excellent 1.5% back on all purchases with the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa, plus have the opportunity to earn 1.8% in cash rewards on Apple Pay® or Google Pay™ your first 12 months.

Current Bonus Offer

This card provides cardholders the ability to earn $150 after a $500 spend in the first 3 months of card membership.

Pros

The Cash Wise Visa offers unlimited cash back earnings, no annual fee and up to $600 protection on your cellphone (after a $25 deductible) against covered damage and theft when you pay your monthly cellphone bill with this card.

Cons

This card isn’t the best option to take abroad due to a 3% foreign transaction fee. Plus, other options offer more substantial sign-up bonuses.

Read CreditCards.com’s full review of the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa

Ink Business Cash® 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 in combined purchases on office supply stores, internet, cable and phone services. Cardholders also earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent each account anniversary year on gas stations and restaurants, along with 1% on all other purchases.

Current Bonus Offer

A seemingly high price due to the typical spend of business cards, the Ink Business Cash offers a $750 sign-up bonus after spending $7,500 in the first 3 months.

Pros

The Ink Business Cash charges no annual fee, which is rare for a business credit card that offers this much value. Points can also be transferred to select Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for an added boost.

Cons

If your business expenses lie outside the 5% and 2% categories, then you might want to consider a flat-rate business rewards card like the Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card.

Read CreditCards.com’s full review of the Ink Business Cash

Compare the best credit card bonus offers

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

Best For:Credit CardSign-up BonusAnnual FeeCreditCards.com Rating
Everyday pointsCiti Rewards+® Card15,000 Points For spending $1,000 in the first 3 months $03 / 5
Marriott guestsMarriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card30,000 Points If you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months $03.1 / 5
Southwest flyersSouthwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit CardUp to 80,000 bonus points Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months. $693.7 / 5
Bonus airline travelUnited℠ Explorer Card40,000 bonus miles After you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months $95, $0 first year3.7 / 5
Hotel guestsThe World of Hyatt Credit CardUp to 50,000 bonus points Earn 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend $6,000 total within 6 months of account opening.$954.4 / 5
RestaurantsChase Sapphire Reserve®50,000 points If you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months $5504.6 / 5
Anniversary bonusSouthwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit CardUp to 80,000 bonus points Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months. $1493.8 / 5
Points sign-up bonusChase Sapphire Preferred® Card60,000 Points If you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months $953.9 / 5
RewardsWells Fargo Propel American Express® card20,000 Points If you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months $03.5 / 5
Flat-rate rewardsWells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card$150 If you spend $500 in the first 3 months $03.8 / 5
Business sign-up bonusInk Business Cash® Credit Card$750 If you spend $7,500 in the first 3 months $03.3 / 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’ll likely be required to spend a certain amount in a specified amount of time, but some offers demand a certain number of purchases or just one swipe of 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 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.”

Is a sign-up bonus worthwhile?

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

If your sign-up bonus comes via points or miles, how you redeem them matters, too. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card’s sign-up of 60,000 points to new cardholders who spend $4,000 in the first 3 months can be redeemed for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal for a 25% bonus, so 60,000 bonus points are worth $750 of Ultimate Rewards travel.

Chase Sapphire Preferred redemption options

RedemptionPoint ValueValue of 60,000-Point Sign-up Bonus
Ultimate Rewards travel portal (25% redemption bonus)1.25 cents$750
Statement credit1 cent$600
Direct deposit1 cent$600
Gift cards1 cent$600
Amazon.com purchases0.8 cents$480
Chase Pay purchases0.8 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 once you’ve reached your goal.

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.

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. It’s also important to consider the points’/miles’ contextual value, depending on your current circumstances. 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.

Are the terms of the bonus affordable?

Before attaching yourself to a new credit card to take advantage of a welcome offer, be sure the required spend fits your budget. If you have an idea of your average monthly spending, this isn’t too difficult to weigh. Overextending yourself to meet the bonus requirement isn’t a recommended practice and may lead to issues down the line, like missing a payment or a hit to your credit score.

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:

IssuerWelcome bonus policy
American ExpressYou can only earn the bonus for a particular card once in a lifetime (includes personal and small business cards).
ChaseYou 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).
CitiYou can only earn one ThankYou Rewards card sign-up bonus every 24 months after receiving a bonus, opening an account or closing an account. Personal Citi / AAdvantage cards follow the same rules but with a 48-month window.
BarclaysAccording to their terms and conditions for most cards, only first-time cardholders qualify for a bonus.
DiscoverFirst-year Cashback Match bonuses are only available for new card members.
U.S. BankAccording 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 decide if you should get a sign-up bonus credit card with an annual fee

When shopping through your options, 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. Plus, lots of annual fee cards waive the charge in their first year, allowing cardholders to take advantage of rewards without an initial cost.

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

Putting it all together…

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

At first glance, the two-year rewards are greatly lopsided. This large gap is thanks to the United Explorer Card’s sign-up bonus, an enticing feature and advantage commonly found with cards charging an annual fee (and found on some no annual fee cards but often to a lesser degree).

When looking at ongoing rewards, however, the Propel may be the better choice in the long-term. Although the first-year rewards are slightly one-sided, the Propel’s consistent rewards and lack of annual fee will bring you more year-to-year value in the future. It may be hard to deny the up-front rewards available with annual fee cards, but consumers hunting for a card for the foreseeable future might want to look towards the best no annual fee options.

How to maximize sign-up bonuses

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

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 2-4% 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.

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.

More often than not, sign-up bonuses require a new cardholder to reach a certain spend requirement to receive the bonus. Due to the required spending coming before cash back, points or miles are awarded, the bonus is nontaxable. 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.

Frequently asked questions

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

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

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

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

Is it better to get a cash or points sign-up bonus?

Discovering where you fall on the cash back vs. points debate can be the deciding factor in your card. A cash sign-up bonus is ideal for the consumer who wants simplicity, while a points or miles sign-up bonus is typically for a travel card. You’ll also need to decide what you want to do with your bonus, and whether you prefer value or flexibility.

Some bonuses 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:

Points or miles

Some cards, primarily travel cards, reward with points or miles. Usually airline cards use miles, and hotel cards use points. A mile may be worth less or more than 1 cent, depending on the card and the program.

Points and miles can be earned for brand loyalty, restaurants, general travel and other types of spending. Cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card encourage repeat customers with bonus miles, while the Wells Fargo Propel can give you a lot of redemption flexibility with options beyond airfare.

Cash back

Cash back is typically more straightforward. Gift cards and merchandise redemption can actually be quite lucrative with these cards.

With cash back, you can use your statement credit toward gifts you’ve bought at department stores, gas to visit family or camping at a national park.:

How can I spend my bonus on my credit card?

Different credit cards come with a variety of redemption options, so deciding how to spend your bonus could lead to several results:

  • Statement credit: Perhaps the least sexy, but one of the most convenient and common options. This type of redemption is easy to manage since the earned credit is usually added right into your rewards pool or automatically goes toward your card balance.
  • Online shopping checkout: Essentially reserved for cash back and points cards, some issuers allow cardholders to use their rewards while paying for online purchases at certain retailers. This can be useful if you’ve found a specific item you’re interested in. For example, Discover allows you to use your cash back rewards at Amazon.com’s checkout.
  • 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. Travel card issuers may offer gift card rewards, but it’s often inadvisable because you’re losing value redeeming rewards and miles for gift cards. Some cash back cards offer decent deals, however: with Discover you can purchase gift cards ranging from $5 to $200 (in increments of $5), with added value to each card, and the Citi Rewards+ Card rounds up points toward gift card redemptions.
  • Travel – airline and hotel booking: Redeeming for travel rewards can typically yield the highest value depending on your issuer’s redemption system.
    Airline card rewards are best used for brand-loyal 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 trip to Europe planned for next year, you can redeem for airfare, hotel, limo service and more. Similarly, 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.

How can I meet my required spend to get a sign-up bonus?

The process starts before even applying for a card, making sure you can afford the required spend to earn the bonus. Once you’ve found the right fit, there are a few ways to set yourself up for success.

The most surefire way to hit the threshold is to budget purchases ahead of time. Regular monthly expenses can often get you to your desired spend, which makes it easily attainable as long as you remember to swipe your card rather than reach for cash. Spending on any large purchases or gifts can be another way to take a chunk out of your issuer’s requirements – just don’t go overboard and put yourself in a scraping-it-together situation. If you carry alternative card options, you may have to strategically spend extra with the new card to ensure you’ll eclipse the required amount.

Points or miles

Some cards, primarily travel cards, reward with points or miles. Usually airline cards use miles, and hotel cards use points. A mile may be worth less or more than 1 cent, depending on the card and the program.

Points and miles can be earned for brand loyalty, restaurants, general travel and other types of spending. Cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card encourage repeat customers with bonus miles, while the Wells Fargo Propel can give you a lot of redemption flexibility with options beyond airfare.

Cash back

Cash back is typically more straightforward. Gift cards and merchandise redemption can actually be quite lucrative with these cards.

With cash back, you can use your statement credit toward gifts you’ve bought at department stores, gas to visit family or camping at a national park.