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There are many ways to earn points, but if you’re just getting started, the credit card signup bonus or welcome offer is a critical part of your strategy for saving on your next trip. In today’s post, we’re going to cover how a signup bonus works and everything you need to know to start building your points balances.
Why Do Banks Offer a Signup Bonus?
Travel rewards cards are a lucrative business for the big banks. The competition for the best customers is fierce, so credit-card issuers use a signup bonus (also known as a “welcome bonus” or “welcome offer” depending on the card issuer) to attract new card members.
You can think of these offers as an upfront payment that the bank makes to you at the start of your relationship. The bank is hoping you'll remain a cardmember for a long time, and they'll recover the cost of acquiring your business over the course of the relationship. Many of the best rewards cards are a great long-term value, so this is a win-win situation. Pass go, collect $200.
What is a Credit Card Signup Bonus?
There are lots of different kinds of signup bonuses (we’ll get into more examples in a minute), but the most simple and common format gives you a limited time window to spend a certain amount of money on your new card. In exchange, the bank awards you a one-time bonus—usually points, miles, or cashback.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 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
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022
- 5X points on travel purchased through Chase
- 3X points on dining at restaurants worldwide
- 3X points on eligible streaming services
- 3X points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs)
- 2X points on all other travel
- 1X point per dollar spent on all other purchases
In the case of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, one of the top cards we recommend to points and miles beginners, the current offer is 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- $300 Cash Back after you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
- 4% cash back on dining, entertainment, and popular streaming services, plus 3% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
- Plus, earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023
- No foreign transaction fees
- 4% cash back on dining
- 4% cash back on entertainment
- 4% cash back on popular streaming services
- 3% cash back at grocery stores
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
- Plus, earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023
The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card is a good example of a cashback welcome offer. Instead of awarding points, you'll get a one-time credit of $300 applied to your statement after you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.
In either case, the new cardmember bonus will give you a huge head start on using rewards for your next trip. Before we move on, here are a few terms you'll see often on the AwardWallet blog.
How Does the Minimum Spend Work?
The amount you need to spend to earn your credit card bonus is called the “minimum spending requirement.” If you don’t meet this requirement within the timeframe, you won’t get the bonus points.
Important: The clock starts ticking on your time to meet the minimum spend the day you are approved for the card—not the day you receive the card in the mail or activate it. This means you may actually lose a week or two while you're waiting for your card to arrive. If you expect to complete your minimum spend close to the deadline, it's a good idea to call the number on the back of your card to confirm the exact timeline.
Tiered (Multi-Part) Minimum Spends
Most often, a welcome offer will come with a straightforward spending requirement as discussed above, but some offers use a tiered structure. For example, you might be able to earn part of the total bonus offer with a lower spending requirement with the option to earn even more points for reaching a more ambitious spending target.
- Earn unlimited 2% cash back on every purchase, everywhere-with no limits or category restrictions
Generally, the second tier of these offers is cumulative. In the example above, you need to reach $50,000 in total spending within the first six months to earn the full $1,000 cash back—not $50,000 in addition to the $5,000 requirement for the first $500 cash back. This can vary, so be sure to read the offer carefully to make sure you know the requirements and deadlines.
How Do I Meet the Minimum Spend?
The biggest key to earning your sign-up bonus without creating extra stress is to pick an offer that falls within your normal spending patterns. Your goal should generally be to meet the minimum spend with purchases you would make anyway (rather than increasing your spending to earn a bonus). You may need to switch any bills you have on autopay, like cable, phone, internet, and subscription services, to your new credit card.
If you worry about being able to meet the minimum spending requirement, then consider timing your credit card signups for when you have a large purchase to make. New tires, medical or dental procedures, shopping for gifts, etc. are all examples of purchases outside of the norm that may help you to meet a more ambitious minimum spend.
If you need a little extra spend to get yourself to the finish line, consider buying gift cards to places you normally shop (like your local grocery store, gas station, Amazon, etc.). This strategy lets you pre-pay for future purchases on your new card. Then, you can spend down the value on those gift cards at your own pace. If you do this, be careful and make sure you can pay off the bill in full each month—credit card interest will negate the value of any rewards you earn.
Need more ideas? Check out our dedicated post on how to meet minimum spending requirements.
Earn a Signup Bonus After Making Your First Purchase
It's worth noting that not all cards require you to meet a minimum spending requirement to earn a lucrative bonus. Although far less common, some cards award the bonus after you make your first purchase. If you have limited expenses you can put on a rewards card, this can be a great way to boost your rewards balance. Buy yourself a pack of gum and get ready to start planning your next trip.
Important: Make sure to pay attention to the timeframe in which you need to make the first purchase. Although these offers don't come with a traditional minimum spend, there is usually a deadline to qualify for your bonus.
- Get $25 back as statement credits on inflight WiFi on American Airlines operated flights.
- Receive 25% inflight savings when you use your card for food and beverages on American Airlines operated flights.
- Earn a companion certificate each anniversary year, good for 1 guest at $99 (plus taxes and fees) if you spend $20,000 on purchases and your account remains open for 45 days after your anniversary date.
- Earn 2X miles on American Airlines purchases
- Earn 1X miles on all other purchases
Many of the best rewards cards come with an annual fee. In some cases, that fee will be waived for the first year as part of the credit card bonus offer. This gives you the opportunity to get the signup bonus and try out the card for a year for free. After that first year, you can decide if it is worth it for you to keep the card and pay the annual fee.
In other cases, the annual fee will be billed to your account at the time you're approved for the card. This adds to your cost of opening a new account, but any signup bonus that is worth considering will more than compensate for an upfront annual fee. Often, the benefits you get for holding a card will far outweigh the annual fee, making it worthwhile to keep for the long term. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card card offers a free one-night stay every year on your account anniversary. If you stay with Marriott at least once per year, it should be easy to get more value from your free night than the $95 annual fee.
- Earn 3 Free Nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after qualifying purchases.
- New Benefit! Earn 3X Bonvoy points per $1 on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on grocery stores, gas stations, and dining.
- New Benefit! Earn 1 Elite Night Credit towards Elite Status for every $5,000 you spend.
- 1 Free Night Award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary.
- Earn up to 17X total Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy® with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Card.
- 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Receive 15 Elite Night Credits annually, automatic Silver Elite Status each account anniversary year, and path to Gold Status when you spend $35,000 on purchases each calendar year.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- 6X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
- 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on all other purchases
There are also cards that come with annual fees that are much higher, from $250-$550. These cards come with benefits like access to airport lounges, statement credits towards travel purchases, hotel or airline status, more comprehensive travel insurance, the ability to earn more points on certain purchases (like 3x the points on dining purchases) and more! These cards aren’t for everyone but, if you are able to utilize the benefits, then they can be well worth the annual fee.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 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.
- Earn 5x total points on air travel and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 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, 50,000 points are worth $750 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
- Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
- 10X points on Lyft rides through March 2022
- 10X points on hotels and car rentals purchased through Chase
- 10X points on Chase Dining (including prepaid reservations and prepaid takeout purchased through Chase)
- 5X points on airfare purchased through Chase
- 3X points on all other travel
- 3X points on dining at restaurants
- 1X points on all other purchases
Types of Signup Bonuses
Besides points and miles, you may encounter other types of credit card bonus incentives. These could be statement credits after making purchases with certain merchants, subscriptions or memberships, elite status with a partner loyalty program, or free hotel nights.
Below are a few historical examples.
- Hilton's co-brand cards have offered a free weekend night in addition to bonus points
- Hyatt's co-brand cards have offered two free nights
- Southwest's co-brand cards have offered a one year Companion Pass
- American Express has offered a one year WeWork Membership
- Delta's co-brand cards have offered $100 or more in statement credits when you make a Delta purchase.
Please note that these examples are for illustrative purposes only; they do not represent the current offer for the cards mentioned.
Timing is Everything
Although it's cliché, the right timing can make a huge difference in the number of points or miles you can earn from welcome bonus offers. Most cards have a standard signup bonus or welcome offer that is in effect for most of the year. But periodically, many of them will run a limited-time, increased welcome offer.
For example, the American Express® Gold Card typically awards 25,000 to 35,000 points. But right now, this card is running a much better offer which earns significantly more points.
- Rose Gold is here to stay. Card Members can choose between a Gold or Rose Gold Card.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® Points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
- $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms Apply.
- Rates & Fees
- 4X Membership Rewards® Points at restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
- 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X)
- 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com
- 1X on other purchases
- Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
This cycle between standard and increased offers is common for almost every rewards card. If you are patient, these limited-time offers are great opportunities to maximize your points! We cover these offers on the AwardWallet blog, so add us to your favorite RSS reader to make sure you never miss a better-than-normal deal. We also send one-to-two emails per week featuring especially noteworthy offers. Create a free AwardWallet account (if you don't have one already) and make sure your notifications settings include promotional offers.
While it's always best to snag these limited-time offers when they're available, it may be possible to get the bank to match a recent offer if you miss an opportunity. If you have signed up for a credit card within the past 90 days, and you notice the bonus has gone up, contact the credit card company and ask if they'll match the higher bonus. This doesn't always work, but many of our readers have reported success.
Not All Points Have the Same Value
Be careful when comparing offers that earn different types of rewards—all points are not created equal. You may see an offer for 100,000 Hilton Honors Points and see another offer for 60,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points. Your mind wants to tell you that the Hilton offer is better because a welcome offer of 100,000 points is more than 60,000 points. However, Chase Ultimate Rewards are much more valuable than a Hilton Honors points. Typically, Hilton points are valued at ~0.5 cents each, while a Chase Ultimate Reward point is valued at around 2 cents each.
Frequently Asked Questions
When will my signup bonus post?
Each credit-card issuer handles this a little differently. Typically, your bonus will post within a few weeks after the statement closes on the month you meet the spending requirement. Your statement closing date is the day your bank creates your bill for the previous month's charges. Any purchases made after this date will end up on the subsequent billing statement.
You might assume you'll see your bonus post soon after meeting the spending requirement, but you may end up waiting for a month or more if you cross the spending threshold at the beginning of a new statement cycle. You can get your bonus faster if you're able to time your spending to make sure to reach the requirement right before your statement closes.
Will opening cards hurt my credit score?
In general, opening a new card won't hurt your credit score in any significant way. In fact, there is a good chance that a new card will actually improve your score in the medium to long term. In the short term, however, a credit card application will result in a hard inquiry on your credit report which will ding your credit a few points. In most cases, you'll only see a hard inquiry with one of the three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, or Transunion, so two of the three should be unaffected. (Capital One is a notable exception; they post an inquiry to all three bureaus for new applications.)
Your credit is a huge asset in your quest for points and miles, so take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the factors that impact your score, and especially how they are weighted. Here's the short version:
The most damaging thing to your credit score is to miss payments. As long as you pay your card on time each month you'll be in great shape. The second most important factor in your credit score is credit utilization. Credit utilization is the amount of available credit you are using. It's ideal to have a lot of available credit and use only a small percentage for purchases.
Can I get a signup bonus more than once?
The major banks have tightened their application rules in recent years to discourage folks from earning multiple bonuses for the same card. While this is still technically possible with some cards, it's generally not a good idea. If you're just starting out, there are plenty of great card products that can help fuel your travel adventures for years to come.
If you already have a portfolio of rewards cards, check out our guide to application rules and restrictions before applying for your next card. In some cases, holding one card may make you ineligible for another card.
Building a strong portfolio of cards is a marathon, not a sprint. A credit-card sign-up bonus can be an awesome way to boost your rewards balances, but there are lots of other factors to consider when picking a new card. You'll earn far more points in the long run if you wait to take advantage of limited-time offers. But make sure to choose offers that fit your normal spending patterns. If can't meet the minimum spending requirements, you won't earn a bonus.
Remember that some types of points are worth more than others, so don't fall into the trap of picking the biggest bonus without considering your future travel plans. For more help with building your strategy, check out our beginner's guide to award travel planning.
For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: American Express® Gold Card (Rates & Fees)
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