The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Best Credit Card Signup Bonuses of 2021

Best Credit Card Signup Bonuses

credit card advice

Eric Bank
By: Eric Bank
Posted: January 25, 2021
Advertiser Disclosure

If you’re about to apply for a new credit card, you’ll do well to familiarize yourself with the best credit card signup bonuses. These bonuses can put money in your pocket quickly, either directly as cash or through money-saving points and miles. The best bonuses can be worth many hundreds of dollars — all you have to do is meet the card’s introductory spending goal.

Signup bonuses are ideal when you’re contemplating a major expense, whether it’s getting new kitchen appliances, planning a wedding, or traveling on vacation. After all, you know in advance that these purchases are going to be expensive. A good signup bonus helps you achieve the American dream — getting more for your money!

Cash Back | Points | Air Miles | Business | FAQs

Best Cash Back Credit Signup Bonuses

Just the thought of the phrase “cash back bonus” is enough to put a smile on my face. Consider the cash back bonus category as a direct discount on your initial card purchases or as a small nest egg you can nurture for big things yet to come.

In some cases, credit cards in the cash back bonus category can be worth even more when you use them in conjunction with a card’s reward program.

  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
N/A
14.99% - 23.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

The signup bonus offered by the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card requires only a modest amount of spending. The bonus is actually denominated in Ultimate Rewards points that you can redeem directly for cash, gift cards, or travel booked through the Chase Travel Center on a $0.01/point basis. For example, a bonus of 20,000 points can be cashed in for $200, directly deposited into your checking or savings account, or applied as a statement credit.

For even more flexibility, you can use your bonus in the Chase Pay with Points program (at a higher or lower point-to-dollar rate) for eligible purchases from third-party providers of products and services. If you also own a Chase Sapphire card, you can transfer your points to that account, thereby multiplying their value by 1.25X or 1.50x when used for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Chase Freedom Flex℠ Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
N/A
14.99% - 23.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

The modest signup bonus available from the Chase Freedom Flex℠ card takes the form of Ultimate Rewards points that you can cash in at the rate of $1/100 points as a deposit to your bank account or applied as a statement credit. You can also redeem your points via the Chase Ultimate Rewards program for gift cards and travel.

If you prefer, you can use your points directly at a higher or lower rate in the Chase Pay with Points program for eligible purchases. Your bonus is worth more if you can transfer it to a Chase Sapphire card and use it for travel via the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), plus 1% on all other purchases
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.49% - 25.49% variable APR after that
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
N/A
15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

The cash back signup bonus from the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is modest and simple — just plain old cash, no points to mess with. The money will be deposited as a statement credit to your account within two billing cycles after you qualify for the bonus. You can also redeem the bonus as a check or for gift cards.

You can also use your cash back bonus to shop at Amazon.com. Or link your card to PayPal and apply your cash back to eligible online purchases at Apple, Target, Home Depot, and millions of other merchants. Moreover, you can stretch your cash back further via the Capital One Shopping tool that automatically applies the best available coupon codes and alerts you to better prices.

Best Points Credit Card Signup Bonuses

Points are versatile — you can use them directly for combined purchases and travel or convert them to cash. Points are often associated with a top-rated travel credit card that features generous signup bonuses in exchange for substantial spending during the introductory bonus period (typically three months). You are most likely to receive mile rewards from cobranded airline cards.

POINTS & GIFTS RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.7/5.0
  • Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,250 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
15.99% - 22.99% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

My personal favorite, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, requires substantial spending in the first three months to earn the generous signup bonus. That bonus takes the form of Ultimate Reward points that you can immediately cash in at the rate of $1/100 points. However, you may prefer to extract extra value from your points via the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.

Specifically, your points are worth 1.25X more when used for travel arranged through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can also exchange your points for IHG® Rewards Club points to earn free stays at their hotels and resorts. If you prefer, you can use your points at Shop through Chase merchants, including at the Apple Ultimate Rewards Store.

The Platinum Card® Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

POINTS & GIFTS RATING

★★★★
4.4

OVERALL RATING

4.7/5.0
  • Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 6 months of Card Membership
  • Earn 10X Membership Rewards® points on eligible purchases on your new Card at U.S. Gas Stations and U.S. Supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. Also earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on prepaid hotels (booked and paid in advance) on amextravel.com. Earn 1X points on all other eligible purchases. Terms apply.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue or saks.com on your Platinum Card®
  • Select one qualifying airline and then receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year when incidental fees, such as checked bags and in-flight refreshments, are charged by the airline to your Platinum Card® Account plus $100 hotel credit to spend on qualifying dining, spa, and resort activities. Qualifying activities vary by property.
  • Platinum Card Members have unlimited complimentary access to all locations of The Centurion Lounge
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A (Charge Card)
$550
Excellent

The Platinum Card® from American Express offers one of the highest signup point bonuses in the business, which makes sense given its steep annual fee. The value of an AMEX Membership Rewards point varies from 0.5 to 1 cent each, depending on the type of reward, the channel you use, and the merchant. In general, the points are worth the most when you redeem them for gift cards and travel.

This card gives you redemption options galore, including Pay with Points when checking out at participating stores, Cover Your Card Charges to pay for previous purchases, or booking flights, car rentals, cruises, and prepaid hotel reservations. If you prefer, you can transfer some or all of your Membership Rewards point balance to a partnering frequent-traveler program.

POINTS & GIFTS RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.7/5.0
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. Through December 31, 2021, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $900 toward travel
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.99%-23.99% Variable
$550
Good/Excellent

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is all about superlatives, from its generous signup bonus to its steep annual fee. Interestingly, the bonus is slightly smaller than the one from its junior sibling, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, but the points are worth more (1.5x) when used for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, you can convert 50,000 points on this card to $750 in eligible travel.

In the Pay Yourself BackSM promotion, your points are worth 1.5X more when applied as a statement credit against existing purchases in select rotating categories. You can transfer your points 1:1 to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs (such as those from United, British Airways, Marriott, and Hyatt, among others). You can also use your points for shopping via Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Best Air Miles Credit Card Signup Bonuses

Air miles cards come in two types. The first is a general-purpose rewards program that can be used with different airlines. The miles you earn are issued by the rewards card company and may be transferable to a partner’s loyalty program.

The second type is a cobranded card aligned with a specific airline. The miles are the same ones issued by the airline’s frequent flyer program. The type of card that’s right for you depends on your location and travel preferences.

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Redeem on travel—including flights, vacation rentals, car rentals and more. Plus transfer your miles to over 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.24% - 24.49% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card appears to offer a very competitive signup bonus for a card with a moderate annual fee (and no foreign transaction fee). And the ratio of initial spending to bonus miles beats that of several competitor points cards. However, the value of the miles depends directly on the cost of the travel you purchase via Capital One. To calculate the number of miles you need for a travel purchase, multiply the purchase cost by 100.

For example, if you want to buy a $400 ticket, you will need to redeem 40,000 miles. The question then becomes how much travel that $400 ticket buys, which ultimately determines the true value of the miles. You can also apply your miles retroactively for up to 90 days through Purchase Eraser, redeem them for cash or gift cards, or transfer them to participating travel loyalty programs.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.6/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases and up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants on your new card in your first 3 months
  • Earn 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your card up to 4 times/year
  • Earn 3X miles on Delta flights and Delta Vacations® -- all other purchases earn 1 mile per $1
  • Complimentary access into Delta Sky Club® plus two Delta Sky Club One-Time Guest Passes each year
  • Receive a domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+®, or Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express card
  • $550 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
15.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
$550
Excellent

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is a premium cobranded card with a premium annual fee. It offers a generous sign up bonus consisting of SkyMiles and Medallion Qualification Miles when you spend a moderately high amount on purchases during the first three months after you open the account. I won’t even attempt to explain the airline’s Byzantine rewards scheme other than to say that the more you fly, the more miles you’ll earn and the more valuable each mile becomes.

If flying isn’t a priority for you right now, you can redeem your SkyMiles for a Delta gift card that can be used for any future Delta flight. Magazine readers will be happy to know that you can buy subscriptions using SkyMiles. You can also gift your miles to others, transfer them to other SkyMiles members, or donate them to a charitable organization that partners with Delta.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Earn 75,000 bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months
  • Earn 3X miles on Delta purchases and hotels, 2X miles at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and U.S. supermarkets, all other purchases earn 1 point per $1
  • Get your first bag free on Delta flights booked with your card
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your card
  • Receive either a statement credit available every 4 years after you apply for Global Entry ($100) or a statement credit available every 4.5 years after you apply for a five-year membership through any Authorized Enrollment Provider for TSA Pre✓® (up to $85) with an eligible Card
  • $250 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
15.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
$250
Good/Excellent

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card offers a complex signup bonus composed of SkyMiles and Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) when you spend a moderate amount on purchases during the bonus period. SkyMiles can be redeemed for Delta flights, whereas MQMs can help you earn or improve your Medallion Status. The higher your status, the more value you get from your SkyMiles.

The card charges a moderately high annual fee in return for a valuable array of benefits. You can use the Pay with Miles feature in 5,000-mile increments (worth $50 each) to pay for flights, either using miles alone or in combination with cash. If you prefer, you can cash out your SkyMiles for Delta gift cards or use them to make purchases via the online SkyMiles Marketplace.

Best Business Credit Card Signup Bonuses

Business owners must work extra hard nowadays just to stay afloat. One source of support is a business credit card with a generous signup bonus. The bonus money can make large purchases more affordable and conserve some much-needed cash for the company.

BUSINESS CARD RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.7/5.0
  • Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring.
  • With Zero Liability you won't be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information.
  • Redeem points for cash back, gift cards, travel and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
15.99%-20.99% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card will shower you with an industrial-sized pile of points if you can ante up the large spending requirement for the signup bonus. This card, sporting a moderate annual fee, is a Chase product that, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, inflates point values by 25% when redeemed for travel purchased via the Chase Ultimate Reward program. That means 100,000 bonus points can purchase travel worth $1,250.

You can also redeem your points for cash, gift cards, and purchases made through the Pay with Points program or directly from merchants. The redemption value of points varies with the reward option you choose. For cash and gift cards, that value is $1 per 100 points.

Ink Business Cash® Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

BUSINESS CARD RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.6/5.0
  • Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year
  • Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year. Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring.
  • With Zero Liability you won't be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information.
  • No Annual Fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 12 months
N/A 12 months
13.24% - 19.24% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

If points leave you cold, you may warm up to the Ink Business Cash® Credit Card from Chase. The signup bonus, though still solid, is only half that from the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card. Take note that under the covers, your reward is actually denominated in good old Chase Ultimate Reward points that you can easily convert into cash.

The points you receive from this card (unlike those from the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card) don’t acquire additional value when used for travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Otherwise, your redemption options are the same — cash, gift cards, travel purchases, and purchases of products and services. If you happen to also have a Chase Sapphire card, you can transfer this card’s points to it and earn the 25% or 50% boost in travel purchase power.

American Express® Business Gold Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

BUSINESS CARD RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Earn 70,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Gold Card within the first 3 months of card membership
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points on the 2 categories where your business spends the most each billing cycle, including airfare purchased directly from airlines, U.S. purchases for advertising in select media (online, TV, radio), U.S. purchases made directly from select technology providers of computer hardware, software, and cloud solutions, and U.S. purchases at gas stations, restaurants, or for shipping. Applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases from these 2 categories each calendar year.
  • Earn 1X Membership Rewards® points on other purchases
  • Book your flight with American Express Travel using Membership Rewards® Pay with Points and get 25% of those points back
  • $295 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A (Charge Card)
$295
Excellent

The American Express® Business Gold Card comes with a moderately high annual fee and a newly enlarged signup bonus denominated in Membership Rewards® Points. If you book an airline flight using points with American Express Travel, 25% of those points will be rebated back to you, up to 250,000 points per year.

If you prefer, you can transfer your points to the loyalty programs of various travel and hotel partners. Alternatively, you can use the Pay with Points program to purchase items at Amazon.com, Best Buy, Ticketmaster, and other retailers. You can also use your points to buy gift cards and gift certificates from American Express and other merchants or apply your points to cover eligible purchases.

1. What is a Credit Card Signup Bonus?

Signup bonuses were spawned in a credit card marketing department. They are a one-time bonus of cash, points, or miles for new cardholders, and are contingent on meeting certain spending requirements within a specified time frame. Because signup bonuses can earn you solid rewards, they are a powerful marketing tool to attract new card membership.

Signup bonuses make the most sense when you are contemplating a big-ticket purchase of products or services. The only downside we can see is it motivating you to buy something you don’t really need and can’t really afford just to take advantage of the credit card bonus offer. Remember that with signup promotions, you’ll always have to spend more on purchases than you’ll receive back in bonus rewards.

However, we expect that many consumers periodically face large expenses, and the cash back or other rewards they receive through a signup bonus is free money that softens the blow. Your task is to identify the right card for your upcoming spending, be it a wedding, a fancy vacation, or an appliance-buying spree at the big box store.

Note the relationship between the size of signup bonuses and the card’s annual fee. You should expect bigger signup bonuses from cards demanding a $595 annual fee than from cards asking $250 or $95.

Remarkably, our top-rated Chase Freedom cards offer a signup bonus (admittedly a modest one) despite a $0 annual fee — a good deal considering signup bonuses are gone in a flash, but annual fees are forever.

Bear in mind that only net purchases (that is, purchases minus returns) count toward fulfilling your signup bonus spending requirement. Spending that doesn’t help you satisfy the bonus spending target includes balance transfer transactions, cash advances, fees, penalties, and certain purchases (such as lottery tickets and money orders).

If you love to travel or have to travel for business, then you may favor the signup bonus offer from a travel credit card — one that offers rewards in the form of points or miles. Don’t be misled by the fact that all Chase cards provide rewards that are denominated in points. The Chase cash back cards easily turn your points into dollars and are not particularly geared toward travelers.

Another Chase peculiarity, this one concerning the Sapphire twins, is that the Preferred card charges a much lower annual fee than does the Reserve card yet offers a larger signup reward. Needless to say, the Reserve card compensates with a much larger array of benefits.

2. How Do You Get a Signup Bonus On a Credit Card?

It’s simple — just spend the required amount on purchases during the bonus period (almost always lasting three months — or 90 days — from the opening of the account) to receive the card’s signup bonus offer.

How to Earn a Credit Card Signup BonusBy purchases, we mean eligible purchases of products and services, excluding cash advances, balance transfers, interest and fee payments, gift certificates, money orders, gambling expenses, and other blacklisted items.

Signup bonuses are only for new cardmembers. You may be excluded from a signup intro bonus if you recently collected one from another card by the same issuer.

While most signup bonus offers expire three months after account opening, you may occasionally run into cards with different or multiple time horizons to achieve the bonus, or cards that additionally reward you for your first eligible purchase with the card.

You do not have to contact the card issuer to obtain your bonus. The bonus will automatically appear in your card account when you meet the spending threshold, even if it’s before the 90-day period.

3. Which Credit Card Has The Best Signup Bonus?

Designating a signup bonus as the best is a subjective judgment. Does it merely offer the biggest signup reward, or does the card’s annual fee play a part? What role does simplicity play — the signup bonuses for the Delta Amex cards seem generous, but you need a Ph.D. in pointology to untangle Medallion Miles, Medallion Segments, and SkyMiles.

We have to admit that Chase has really gotten the hang of signup bonuses. Our favorite is the credit card bonus offer for new cardmembers from the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. As previously mentioned, its reward is larger than that from the more expensive Chase Sapphire Reserve® (in truth, a really lovely card if you can afford it).

But we’ve got to give props to Chase for its no-annual-fee twins, Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Chase Freedom Flex℠. Yes, their signup bonuses are modest, but they are a nice addition to a pair of high-value and versatile cards. The Ink business cards from Chase are also winners.

Finally, we think that Chase has figured out some little marketing secret by denominating rewards for all of its (non-cobranded) cards in Ultimate Reward points, even in cards advertised as a cash back credit card. By putting everything on a point basis, Chase is able to let you transfer points among the multiple Chase cards you may own.

This feature pays off when you transfer points from, say, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ or the Ink Business Cash® Credit Card to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card — doing so makes the points 25% more valuable when redeemed for travel via the Chase Ultimate Rewards website.

If you love to fly Delta, we really can’t gainsay the signup bonuses offered by the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card. But why do they give me a headache every time I try to make sense of the different mile types?

It’s not Amex’s fault — it seems some genius over at Delta HQ dreamt up its frequent flyer scheme after downing the fourth martini at a three-martini lunch.

Amex makes amends with its much simpler American Express® Business Gold Card and The Platinum Card®. Both offer good signup bonuses and many options on how to redeem your rewards.

Capital One is always a solid contender in the signup bonus sweepstakes and makes an excellent showing with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. Neither complicated nor dramatic, these two cards offer nice signup bonuses that will please most consumers.

4. Which Credit Cards Give You Money For Signing Up?

Signup bonuses take the form of cash, points, or miles. Cards offering signup bonuses are typically aimed at consumers with good credit, although exceptions exist.

That is, some cards for less-than-good credit may offer a signup bonus and not all cards for good credit offer one.

In this review, we’ve categorized signup bonuses by how they’re denominated, but we have to admit that this can be misleading. It’s true that the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a cash bonus for a signup, but the other two cards in the cash category, Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Chase Freedom Flex℠, denominate their signup bonuses in points that can be easily converted to cash.

The marketing language for the two Chase cards creates confusion by highlighting how much cash you’ll earn if you satisfy the signup bonus requirements.

In the end, we consider the fact that the Chase cards offer rewards in points rather than cash back to be a mere technicality when it comes to categorizing its signup bonus since it advertises cash as the signup reward.

Sapphire Preferred and Business Preferred Cards

The cards on this list that offer the highest bonus value are both from Chase — the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card.

Cards that offer point-based signup bonuses usually give you the choice of taking the intro bonus in cash. That’s certainly true for the two Chase Sapphire cards.

However, it appears that you can’t directly cash in the signup points from The Platinum Card® from American Express, although you can use them to purchase gift cards.

In the air miles category, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card lets you cash in your signup miles in the form of a check. However, you can’t cash out miles earned with the two Amex Delta SkyMiles® cards, although you can use the miles to buy gift cards.

Likewise, you can’t cash in the signup points issued by the two American Express business cards except in the form of gift cards. However, there is no problem cashing out the signup points you earn on the Ink Business Cash® Credit Card from Chase.

5. Do All Cards Offer a Welcome Bonus?

While signup, or welcome, bonuses are pretty much standard on cards for good and excellent credit, they are not universally available on other types of cards. Cards aimed at fair- or poor-credit consumers most likely won’t offer signup bonuses. On the contrary — some cards for bad credit charge you a one-time signup fee.

As a rule, secured credit cards do not offer signup bonuses — it wouldn’t make sense for cards that require you to make a cash deposit. Some, but by no means all, student credit cards offer welcome bonuses. One that does is the Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students.

Many cards offer 0% introductory APR promotions on purchases and/or balance transfers, either in addition to or in lieu of signup bonuses. However, plenty of cards offer neither.

When your prime motivation for getting a new rewards card is the signup bonus, you can compare cards on the basis of how much cash (or gift card value, if cash isn’t available) they offer and how much you are required to spend on purchases to earn the bonus. You can look at the total amount of money you’ll receive, but you may prefer to look at the ratio of money you must spend versus the bonus you’ll receive.

For example, a card that offers a $200 bonus for $500 in purchases has a bonus return of 40%.

Whether you choose a card based on the size of the bonus or the percentage of purchase money returned, don’t forget to factor in annual fees. You can quickly put together a five-year spreadsheet showing the difference between the annual fees you’ll pay and the signup bonus you’ll receive. You may find you’re better off with a modest bonus from a no-annual-fee card than you would be with a high-bonus, high-annual-fee card.

6. How Can I Spend My Bonus On My Credit Card?

Most cards that offer a signup bonus give you multiple ways to spend the bonus. As discussed earlier, many of these cards offer a cash bonus available in one or more ways: As a check, a deposit to your bank account, or as a statement credit. Some cards that offer point or mile bonuses allow you to quickly convert the rewards to cash.

Many cards are designed to work in combination with the issuer’s rewards website, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One Rewards Center, and American Express Membership Rewards. These sites facilitate the use of your rewards in a variety of ways. One of the most popular ways to use rewards is for travel.

American Express Membership Rewards Website

Many rewards are designed to work with the card issuer’s rewards website and can be redeemed in a variety of ways.

Travel rewards can cover a variety of costs, including flights and flight upgrades, hotel stays, car rentals, and cruises. Often, you must book your travel purchases through the issuer’s website to get the benefit. Some cards give their points or miles extra punch when used for travel, including inflating the value of the reward or offering a partial rebate of points or miles.

Almost all cards with signup bonuses let you use your rewards to purchase gift cards and certificates from the issuer and/or from independent merchants. Many also allow you to apply rewards to purchase goods and services from online and brick-and-mortar merchants. A few high-minded issuers let you donate your rewards to charity or to give them to other individuals.

In general, rewards don’t expire as long as the account remains open. However, you’ll occasionally encounter issuers that cancel your rewards if you don’t use your card within a given period.

7. Can You Get Multiple Bonuses From the Same Issuer?

Issuers are not fond of offering the same cardholder multiple bonuses. To that end, many insert a wait time (including never) before you are eligible for another bonus.

For example, Capital One routinely includes this little tidbit regarding card membership in their fine print: “Existing or previous Accountholders may not be eligible for this one-time bonus.”

If you want to collect the welcome bonus from your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, know that you’ll be turned down if you currently own another Sapphire card or if you have received a signup bonus from a Sapphire card in the last 48 months. The waiting period is 24 months for the Chase Freedom cards.

American Express doesn’t allow you to get more than one signup bonus if you own multiple cards in the same lineup. There are separate lineups for Amex charge cards and Amex credit cards, so they don’t affect each other with respect to bonus rewards. Also, Amex won’t give you a signup bonus if it has given you a new card within 90 days of your current application.

On a related subject, card issuers have no sense of humor when you try to game the signup bonus. For example, American Express will strike down your bonus, and possibly your card, if you:

  • Applied for multiple cards to obtain welcome offers not intended for you.
  • Cancel or downgrade your account within the first 12 months after account opening.
  • Cancel or return purchases you made to meet the spending requirement for the bonus.

Virtually all issuers require that your account be open and not in default at the time you try to collect your signup bonus.

8. Does Paying Bills Count as Purchases On Credit Cards?

The rules regarding signup bonuses are very similar among various issuers. Those rules require that you spend a threshold amount on purchases within a specified period to qualify for the signup bonus. You don’t have to actually pay for all those purchases before the bonus deadline, but you must not be in default.

Paying certain bills with your credit card does indeed count as purchases. Examples include rent, insurance premiums, utilities, cable, and medical bills.

However, be on the lookout for billers that charge you an extra fee for paying with a credit card. For example, some third-party services will let you pay your rent using a credit card, but only after paying a fee (often as high as 5%). Unless you earn a higher reward on these payments than the fee you’re charged, this strategy is a loser.

Other card uses that do not count as purchases include:

  • Any checks that access your account
  • Balance transfers
  • Cash advances
  • Casino gaming chips
  • Fees of any kind, including an annual fee
  • Foreign currency
  • Interest
  • Lottery tickets
  • Money orders
  • Race track wagers or similar betting transactions
  • Traveler’s checks
  • Unauthorized or fraudulent charges
  • Wire transfers or similar cash-like transactions

Many experts advise that you not use your credit card to pay bills unless you can pay the entire balance each month. By doing so, you avoid interest charges — essentially, an interest-free loan. Failing to pay the full balance will cause your bills to pile up, possibly putting you into financial distress.

Perhaps you’ve come across a payment strategy known as manufactured spending, where you first use your credit card to buy gift cards or money orders to pay bills that otherwise would not count as purchases. This complex strategy often triggers fees, and some card issuers may revoke your account if you overdo it.

It may not be illegal, but manufactured spending is considered by many card issuers to be fishy.

9. What is the 5/24 Credit Rule?

Chase’s 5/24 Rule puts limits on how many credit cards you can own and still qualify for a new Chase card. Specifically, the rule states that you cannot get a new Chase card if you’ve opened five or more new cards within the last 24 months.

Importantly, the limit applies to all credit cards, not just ones issued by Chase. The 5/24 Rule can deny you a Chase card even if you have excellent credit.

If you are absolutely crushed because the 5/24 Rule is keeping you from a Chase credit card, you can plead your case by calling the Chase reconsideration line at 888-270-2127 (personal cards) or 800-453-9719 (business cards). This approach may work if one of the five cards you got in the last 24 months was as an authorized user.

Chase is not alone in credit card account restrictions. Citibank employs the 8/65/95 Rule, which states that you must wait:

  • 8 days before you apply for a second card after applying for another Citi card
  • 65 days before applying for a third Citi card
  • 95 days before applying for a second Citi business card

This rule applies only to Citibank credit cards.

If you’d like an American Express card, beware of the 4/4 Rule limiting you to four Amex charge cards and four Amex credit cards. Being an authorized user on an Amex card does not impact your eligibility for a signup bonus.

Capital One is quite strict, limiting you to no more than two of its credit cards at any one time.

10. What is Credit Card Churning?

If you repeatedly apply for new credit cards simply to earn the signup bonuses, you just may be a card churner. It’s a notorious technique for accumulating cash, points, and miles from credit cards you don’t plan to keep beyond some minimum period.

Card churning can have its challenges:

  • You must have enough cash to satisfy the spending requirements for the signup bonus. This can frequently be thousands of dollars.
  • You may end up making unnecessary purchases or falling into debt because of your churning activity.
  • If you have trouble managing your bill paying, having multiple credit cards may lead to missed payments that reduce your credit score.
  • Credit card issuers don’t like churning, and if you overdo it, you may be blacklisted from getting any new cards.

You may consider a strategy just short of churning in which you apply for a new card only when an issuer offers a special signup bonus promotion. These promotions often involve bigger signup rewards for a limited period to attract new customers. This strategy requires your patience until an attractive signup promotion appears.

Some card issuers have modified their signup bonus policies to discourage churning. For example, travel credit cards from Barclays Bank reward you with a heap of bonus points after spending a moderately high amount in one year. Moreover, you can earn additional bonus points by spending another quantum of money on purchases within the year.

For cards that charge an annual fee, churners frequently use their new cards for just under one year. They then cancel the card just before the annual fee comes due again. If you combine this with a card that waives its annual fee for the first year, you’ll be milking the system for all it’s got.

A variation on the one-year cancellation tactic is to negotiate a fee waiver at the end of the first year. The idea is simple: Call the card issuer and tell them you’ll cancel your card unless it waives your annual fee for the next year or two. This only makes sense if you really like the card and want to own it even after exhausting any introductory promotions.

A similar strategy is possible for issuers of credit cards with and without annual fees. You could sign up for the free card to collect its welcome bonus and then downgrade to a no-fee version before the one-year anniversary. But watch out — some issuers may revoke your signup bonus if you cancel or downgrade within one year.

Churning can hurt your credit score. Every time you apply for a new credit card, the issuer does a hard pull of your credit report as part of the evaluation process. A hard pull can reduce your credit score by five to 10 points, and the damage can be more severe if you apply frequently within a short time period.

11. Are Signup Bonuses Taxable?

Signup bonuses, and indeed all credit card rewards, are generally considered non-taxable if you first have to spend money to get the reward. The spending necessary to qualify for a signup bonus allows classification of the bonus as a non-taxable rebate or discount on your qualifying purchases.

However, you may occasionally encounter a credit card that gives you an automatic signup bonus even if you don’t make any purchases. This bonus can’t be treated as a rebate and therefore qualifies as taxable income.

For example, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card offers an instant Amazon gift card that can be considered taxable income, according to CNBC.

Before dialing your CPA in a panic, keep in mind that there is a $600 threshold before a card issuer must issue a 1099-MISC reporting your taxable bonus. The Amazon gift card amount is way below the limit, so there is no downside to accepting the reward.

Form 1099-MISC

Your card issuer may send you a 1099-MISC form reporting your taxable bonus if it was for an amount above $600.

However, if you do receive a 1099-MISC form from a card issuer as part of a rewards program, don’t just ignore it. Rather, speak with your tax advisor and, if so advised, add the amount to your taxable income. The effect will probably be minimal and certainly much less disruptive than a tax penalty for failing to report the income.

12. How Do I Avoid Credit Card Overspending?

Credit card rewards and welcome bonuses, in particular, may encourage some consumers to spend too much on their credit cards. While the rewards can be highly attractive, card interest on unpaid balances can be punishing.

The average credit card APR is close to 20%, equal to $200 interest charged on an average annual card balance of $1,000. If overspending on your card is a real concern, consider adopting these seven tips:

  • Only spend what you can pay off: A good rule of thumb is to curtail spending that you can’t pay off in the current billing cycle. This way, you’ll avoid carrying any balances that generate interest charges. Many cards allow you to set spending limits and alert you when you exceed them. Commonly available mobile apps can keep you informed about your credit card and bank account balances. This makes it easier to treat your credit card like a debit card, refraining from charging more than your bank account balance after also leaving enough money to pay your other bills.
  • Control your impulses: If you see something you just have to have, wait three days. If you still can’t live without it, go ahead and add it to your monthly credit card budget. The waiting period helps you practice impulse control, something that is more important than ever because web browsers and social media use sophisticated ad targeting aimed directly at you. For instance, as you surf the internet, you may see ads pop up for products you recently searched on Amazon.com but didn’t buy. Amazon employs this kind of personal ad targeting to encourage spending on products you have shown interest in.
  • Track your spending: A budget (you do have a budget, don’t you?) is only worthwhile if you track your actual spending and compare it to your budgeted amounts. By tracking your spending, you’ll have an excellent picture of where all the money goes. You should first make a list of required spending items like rent and utilities, and then your discretionary items such as dining out, clothes shopping, and entertainment costs. This setup helps you understand what you can afford to spend during the month. Your budget reflects your priorities. Spend according to your budget to achieve your goals while avoiding overspending and credit card interest.
  • Don’t be tempted by jumbo signup bonuses: Bonuses that promise you 100,000 points when you spend $5,000 within three months may seem tempting, but that’s a big chunk of change to fork over. You may have to stretch out repayment over many months, coughing up interest that reduces the net value of those bonus points. It’s one thing if you already had planned to spend $5,000 on your kitchen renovation, in which case the signup bonus simply reduces your net cost. It’s something else entirely to spend all that money simply to earn the points. The former makes sense, the latter does not.
  • Couple signup bonuses with 0% APR offers: If you face a looming big-ticket purchase, your best play is to get a credit card with a high credit limit, a generous signup bonus, and a long 0% introductory APR for purchases. Introductory periods of 15 to 18 months are readily available, giving you plenty of time to stretch out your payments interest-free. Many credit cards for good to excellent credit offer both kinds of promotions. These promotions are synergistic, rewarding you for a large eligible purchase that you can then finance for free. Check our card summaries to quickly identify credit cards offering both types of promotions.
  • Be wary of store credit cards: Typically, these cards have a welcome bonus in which you get a sizable discount for purchases made on the day you open the account. However, many of these cards have high variable APRs that can wipe out any savings on financed purchases.
  • Replace your credit card with a prepaid card: This may seem like the nuclear option, but did you know that some prepaid cards offer rewards? For example, the PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® lets you earn cash back and periodically sends you personalized offers. Because a prepaid card is similar to a debit card, using it avoids interest charges and late fees, as you can only spend the card account balance.

The money you save when you don’t overspend can be used for more important purposes, like your retirement nest egg and your kid’s college fund. Remember that your credit card is a tool, not a suicide pact.

13. Can I Qualify for a Credit Card With a Good Signup Bonus?

The cards with the best signup bonuses are squarely aimed at consumers with very good to excellent credit, encompassing FICO scores from 720 to 850. With the average credit score hovering around 711, it’s quite possible to raise your score into the very good bracket.

Here are some steps you can take to boost your credit score:

  • Pay your bills on time: Thirty-five percent of your FICO score derives from your credit history — that is, whether you’ve paid your bills on time. So many score-destroying events flow from missing payments, including collections, defaults, even bankruptcy. Derogatory information can remain on your credit reports for up to 10 years, visible to potential employers, landlords, and creditors. By paying on time without fail, you should see your credit score improve in as little as six months. If you’re having trouble paying your bills, consider meeting with a professional credit consultant for personalized assistance.
  • Reduce your card balances: Your credit utilization ratio (i.e., credit used divided by total credit approved) accounts for 30% of your FICO score. CURs above 30% hurt your credit score, but you can improve your score by paying down your CUR below 20%. One way to pay down your debt is to consolidate your credit card balances through balance transfers.
  • Fix your credit reports: Your credit score suffers when your credit reports contain inaccurate or incomplete negative information. You can fix your credit reports on your own or through a credit repair company. Either way, your goal is to clean up your Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax credit reports, which can quickly boost your credit score.
  • Moderate your card applications: It can hurt your credit score if you frequently apply for credit cards and loans. Each application triggers a hard inquiry of your credit report that reduces your score. Try to limit your credit card applications to once or twice per year.
  • Mix up your credit: Your FICO score will improve if you have a good mix of credit sources, including revolving accounts, installment loans, student loans, mortgages, and car loans. The scoring system rewards you for demonstrating your ability to handle multiple types of credit responsibly.
  • Don’t close old accounts: The age of your credit history plays a small role in determining your credit score. It’s better to leave old credit card accounts open and use those cards at least once a year.
  • Check out Experian Boost: You can help improve your credit score by subscribing to Experian Boost. This is a program that adds your Netflix, phone, and utility payments to your credit reports and to the calculation of your credit score. In effect, Boost rewards you for paying these bills on time.

A higher credit score can open many doors. You’ll be eligible for better credit cards, lower interest rates, and greater access to loans. In addition, a clean credit report can help you land a job, rent an apartment, and open a utility account.

Paying attention to your credit profile can deliver significant benefits for your career, wealth, and lifestyle.

The Best Credit Card Signup Bonuses Can Net You a Lot of Money

Signup bonuses are a great way to cut your expenses. They are, in effect, rebates on the purchases you make to qualify for the bonus.

Whether they take the form of cash back, miles, or points, signup bonuses allow you to use big-ticket purchases to generate rewards for current or future use.

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