12 Best Credit Card Promotions (2017): Offers, Deals & Bonuses

By: Brittney Mayer • May 25, 2017

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Several years ago, a good friend took a trip to Las Vegas for a weekend of R&R. Upon his return, I asked how the trip went; his response was a mournful sigh, a sour expression, and the all-too-common sentiment, “The house always wins in Vegas.”

As with the world of gambling, the credit card world may often feel as though the house — or the banks, in this metaphor — always wins. Between annual fees, maintenance fees, and interest fees, it can seem difficult to come out ahead. That is, unless you take advantage of the top credit card rewards program promotions.

A possible win-win prospect, credit card promotions can be good for both consumers and issuers. Not only do consumers get to save a little on their bottom line as they buy, but issuers get to charge each merchant for the pleasure of processing the purchases.

Signup Bonus | Cash Back | Points | Miles

Best “Signup Bonus” Promotions

One of the most potentially profitable promotions put out by credit card issuers is the signup bonus. In addition to the slower buildup of rewards over time you can earn with a cash back or travel card, credit card signup bonuses offer the ability to earn a lucrative lump-sum reward for using a particular card.

Of course, there is a bit of a catch: you need to meet the minimum spending requirement to earn the signup bonus. The minimum spending requirement typically ranges from $500 to $5,000, and will generally be proportional to the size of the bonus, with larger bonuses requiring more significant spending amounts.

Additionally, most signup bonuses will include a time limit during which the spending requirement must be met. On average, new cardholders will have 90 days from when they open their account to meet the spending requirement to remain eligible for the signup bonus.

Regardless of how tempting the bonus, never spend more than you can repay in a timely manner merely to obtain a signup bonus. That lump-sum reward may seem like a sweet deal at the start, but it can quickly turn into an expensive mistake if you are stuck paying interest fees on a balance you ran up to meet the spending requirement.

A $200 spending bonus can disappear in just seven months of paying interest on a $2,000 balance.

For example, consider a $200 signup bonus with a $2,000 minimum spending requirement. If your interest rate is around the national average, say 16.5%, you can expect to pay about $330 a year in interest. As the graph shows, carrying that $2,000 for about seven months will eat away your entire signup bonus.

Best “Cash Back” Promotions

Although lump-sum signup bonuses can be a great incentive to pick one card over another, it’s often the everyday rewards that will dictate your go-to credit card. And for those who want a no-nonsense rewards program, cash back rewards may be the way to go.

The average cash back program works on a simple flat-rate system, in which you can receive a percentage of your purchases back from the issuer, generally as statement credits in predetermined increments. The best flat-rate programs will offer a solid rate and unlimited cash back on every purchase.

A 1.5% cash back percentage can add up over time, but it will never outpace any interest fees.

Some cash back rewards programs are based on common spending categories, such as groceries and gas, offering larger cash back amounts for spending in those categories, but a smaller cash back amount for other types of spending. If the bulk of your purchases fall into these categories, you may actually earn more rewards with one of these programs.

Best “Points” Promotions

Another popular way to earn rewards for everyday spending is a points program. With a variety of redemption options, including cash back, gift cards, and retail goods, points are by far the most flexible of the rewards programs.

Similar to how category-based cash back programs work, cardholders earn rewards points at a specific rate depending on the location of their purchase. For instance, some cards offer one point per dollar on all purchases, but double points for purchases made in restaurants or hotels.

In many cases, the value of your points will vary based on the specific program and the method of redemption. Some programs may offer more value when points are redeemed for cash, while others offer increased rewards for redeeming points for travel.

Best “Airline Miles” Promotions

Any frequent travelers who want maximum value out of their credit card rewards might consider a card offering airline miles. And don’t be fooled by its name; most miles programs will also allow cardholders to redeem their miles for a variety of travel-related expenses, including hotels.

While many airline-branded cards will restrict where, when, and with whom you can fly, the best miles programs will offer flexibility in your booking options. Many miles credit cards will also provide other travel-centric perks, such as charging no foreign transaction fees, which can come with worthwhile savings.

Be prepared for any extra expenses when redeeming your miles for travel, as taxes and some airport fees, such as fuel charges, are usually not covered by your airline miles. You will also be responsible for any in-flight purchases you make while traveling.

Save While You Spend with the Right Deals & Bonuses

Whether you like cash back, flexible points, or travel-tastic airline miles, credit card rewards and signup bonuses can be excellent ways to get a little added value from your everyday spending. And by encouraging cardholders to use their cards more, the rewards programs are certainly good for issuers, making them as close to a win-win as you can get in the credit world.

Of course, while finding the right credit card promotion can be a big score, it can turn into a big problem if you don’t use it responsibly. The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to credit card rewards is that no matter how great the rewards program, you’ll never out-earn your card’s interest rate.

In addition to interest fees eating into your rewards, you should also keep in mind any applicable annual fees that may take a chunk out of your bottom line. A $50 annual fee can make that $10 in cash back you earned less of a great deal.

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

About the Author

Brittney Mayer

Brittney is a Contributing Editor for Digital Brands, Inc., where she uses her extensive research background to develop comprehensive guides and in-depth company profiles for BadCredit.org and CardRates.com. Brittney specializes in translating complex ideas into readable, engaging content for B2C and B2B audiences.