Rewards credit cards entice consumers with travel points, cash back for swipes and unique perks like cell phone protection and free baggage check at airports. While these longer-term rewards and benefits are important to consider when opening a credit card, you should also pay attention to the sign-up bonus, sometimes called a welcome offer.
The best credit card sign-up bonuses can put serious cash in your pocket just for using the card for everyday expenses. Each bonus will have its own terms, usually something like:
Earn X amount of cash, points or miles for Y amount of dollars spent in Z amount of months.
How much can you earn? That depends on the card. Credit card sign-up bonuses can reach 100,000 points or $800 cash back — or more. Sometimes, to get the best credit card sign-up bonuses on offer, you’ve got to be willing to pay a higher annual fee or spend more money with the card in a short amount of time.
Choosing a credit card solely for the sign-up bonus may not be the best long-term plan, but if you’ve got a healthy mix of credit cards in your wallet already and want to open another exclusively for the welcome perks, it might not be a bad idea. Not sure where to start? We’ve assembled a list of the seven best credit cards with sign-up bonuses to guide your search.
The Best Credit Cards with Sign Up Bonuses
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best Overall Credit Card for Bonuses
Discover it Cash Back: Best Cash Back Credit Card for Sign-Up Bonuses
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best Travel Credit Card for Sign-Up Bonuses
United Quest Card: Best Airline Credit Card for Sign-Up Bonuses
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card : Best Hotel Credit Card for Sign-Up Bonuses
The Platinum Card from American Express: Biggest Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus
Chase Freedom Flex: Easiest-to-Earn Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Referral and anniversary bonuses
Higher point value for travel purchases
High rewards points for travel and food
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a great all-around credit card. For just $95 a year, you’ll unlock one of the best travel credit cards available. To earn 60,000 bonus points, just spend $4,000 in purchases in the first three months from account opening. Each point is worth 1 cent, so that’s a $600 value.
But when you redeem your points for travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, they’re worth 25% more. That means your 60,000 bonus points could be worth $750 toward your next big vacation.
Beyond the sign-up bonus, you can expect 15,000 bonus points every time you refer a friend to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, up to 75,000 points a year. You’ll also get bonus points every account anniversary equal to 10% of your total purchases that year. So if you spend $50,000 with the card, that’s 5,000 bonus points on your anniversary.
And the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card certainly incentivizes you to spend. You’ll earn:
5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards (excluding hotel stays that qualify for the annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit)
3x points on online grocery shopping (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs)
3x points on dining (including dining out, delivery services and takeout)
3x points on select streaming services
2x points on travel purchases made outside Chase Ultimate Rewards
1x point per dollar on all other eligible purchases
You’ll also get up to $50 in statement credits every year when you book hotel stays directly through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Discover it Cash Back
Unlimited Cashback Match bonus program
Up to 5% cash back
No annual fee or foreign transaction fees
The Discover it Cash Back is one of the top cash back rewards credit cards, not just because of its great bonus program but also because of its unique rotating cash back rewards. For 2022, cardholders earn 5% cash back in select categories depending on the month:
January to March: 5% cash back at grocery stores, gyms and fitness clubs
April to June: 5% cash back at Target and gas stations
July to September: 5% cash back at restaurants and when spending via PayPal
October to December: 5% cash back on Amazon and when spending via digital wallets
The 5% cash back is capped at $1,500 in purchases in the relevant category per quarter. Consumers earn 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases, year-round.
Since the bonus program doubles your cash back total for the entire first year from account opening, you can earn a significant chunk of change — and all for no annual fee. But it’s not just annual fees; you won’t pay any foreign transaction fees for swiping abroad either.
The Discover it Cash Back isn’t the only Discover credit card to offer this unique sign-up bonus. Consumers who open a Discover it Student Cash Back card or even the Discover it Secured Credit Card can access the same Cashback Match. That’s why we named the latter the best secured credit card for borrowers with bad credit.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
75,000 bonus miles
Multiple travel perks
No foreign transaction fees
You’ll find travel credit cards offering more perks and higher rewards rates than the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card — but they usually come at a higher annual fee. We love how much this credit card offers for what’s considered a low annual fee ($95) in the travel credit card arena. You’ll get two free lounge visits every year, automatic Hertz Five Star Status and up to a $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
More importantly, you can earn 75,000 bonus miles for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Plus, you can earn 5x points when booking hotels and rental cars through Capital One Travel — and unlimited 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
With no foreign transaction fees, 24-hour travel assistance, rental car insurance and travel accident insurance, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card should be in every serious traveler’s wallet.
United Quest Card
$125 annual United purchase credit
United anniversary award flight credits
With the United Quest Card, you can earn 70,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first three months from account opening. You can also earn 10,000 bonus miles for every referral — up to 100,000 bonus miles a year. But the United Quest Card offers value far beyond welcome offers and referral bonuses.
For starters, you’ll earn a $125 statement credit each year for United purchases made on the Quest Card. Beyond that, you can expect to earn:
3x miles for every dollar spent on United Airlines purchases (after the $125 in statement credits)
2x miles for every dollar spent on all other travel purchases, including airfare, hotels, rental cars, cruises, rideshare, tolls, trains, local transit and more
2x miles for every dollar spent on dining, which includes eligible delivery services
2x miles for every dollar spent on select streaming services
1x mile for every dollar spent on all other eligible purchases
Cardholders also get 5,000 miles back after taking a United or United Express flight booked with miles — up to two times a year. That’s up to 10,000 extra miles just for booking the United flights you probably planned to purchase anyway.
Finally, you won’t be charged a foreign transaction fee for swiping your United Quest Card abroad, and you’ll get two free checked bags for every trip ($320 in savings for every round trip you book).
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
Up to 17x points at Marriott
Free Night Award each year
To earn the sign-up bonus from the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, just make $3,000 in purchases in the first three months from account opening. If you do, you’ll receive 100,000 bonus points, good for roughly $900 in hotel stays with Marriott. You can also rack up 40,000 bonus points for each referral, up to 200,000 bonus points a year.
Beyond the sign-up bonus, the Boundless card offers a tremendous rewards rate — when you spend at Marriott hotels. Again, hotel cards really only make sense for frequent travelers loyal to hotel chains. If you regularly stay at a Marriott, however, this card can pay off big time. You’ll earn:
Up to 17x points for spending on Marriott hotels
6x points for booking hotels with the card
10x points from being a Marriott Bonvoy member
1x point from Marriott with Silver Elite Status (you get this perk for being a cardmember)
3x points for every dollar spent on groceries, gas and dining (up to $6,000 spent)
2x points for every dollar on all other eligible purchases
Another perk of this card: You get one Free Night Award each year on your account anniversary, valid for one night at any hotel with a redemption level up to 35,000 points.
The Platinum Card from American Express
Abundance of statement credits
High rewards points on travel purchases
Access to travel counselors
Let’s address the elephant in the room: At $695 a year, the Platinum Card from American Express is the most expensive credit card on our list. But you’ll get a lot more perks and bonus points with this card than you would with any other card that we ranked.
For starters, you’ll get 125,000 bonus points after you spend $6,000 on purchases in the first six months from account opening. Points are good for purchases with more than 500 leading brands in dining, travel, entertainment and shopping.
You’ll earn more than just the bonus points, too. Here’s how the Platinum Card’s rewards rate breaks down:
5x points for every dollar spent on flights (up to $500,000 spent each year)
5x points on prepaid hotels (booked through AmexTravel.com)
1x points on all other eligible purchases
But this card is about so much more than bonus points and rewards points. Here are just some of the perks you’ll get from the Platinum Card:
Up to $100 reimbursement for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
$200 annual airline fee credit for expenses such as flight changes and checked bags
$200 annual hotel credit on prepaid Fine Hotels and Resorts
$15 monthly Uber Cash (plus an extra $20 in December) for rideshare and Uber Eats
$20 monthly digital entertainment credit (The New York Times, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Audible, Peacock and SiriusXM)
$25 monthly credit for eligible Equinox club memberships
$155 annual Walmart+ credit
$100 annual statement credits for purchases made at Saks Fifth Avenue
$189 back each year for CLEAR membership
Altogether, that’s nearly $1,700, more than double the annual fee. Plus, with the Platinum Card, you won’t ever pay a foreign transaction fee, you’ll get special status with multiple hotel chains, and you’ll get access to the Global Lounge Collection (more than 1,400 around the world).
Chase Freedom Flex
Up to $800 welcome bonus
Revolving 5% cash back categories
No annual fee
The Chase Freedom Flex is a great no-frills cash back credit card. Earning the standard $200 sign-up bonus is easy; just spend $500 in the first three months. But what sets this bonus offer apart from similar offers (the Capital One Quicksilver’s $200 bonus is just as easy to earn) is the additional 5% grocery cash back bonus offered through the first year. With 5% cash back on every grocery purchase up to $12,000, you can add $600 to your full sign-up bonus offer within the first year.
Speaking of 5% cash back, the Chase Freedom Flex always has some kind of 5% cash back offer. For 2022, cardholders earn 5% cash back per the following schedule:
January to March: 5% cash back at grocery stores (excludes Walmart and Target) and on eBay purchases
April to June: 5% cash back on select streaming services and on Amazon purchases
July to September: 5% cash back at movie theaters, car rental agencies and gas stations, as well as on select live entertainment
October to December: 5% cash back at Walmart and purchases via PayPal
Cardholders always earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, plus 3% cash back on restaurant and drugstore purchases and 1% cashback on all other eligible purchases.
The Chase Freedom Flex doesn’t boast a bunch of special travel perks, and you’ll pay a foreign transaction fee when swiping abroad. But overall, this card is a great cash back option, and earning the bonus requires little effort. Plus, you can earn up to $500 a year in referral bonuses ($100 per referral).
What Is a Sign-Up Bonus?
A sign-up bonus on a credit card is a reward that consumers can earn by meeting some basic criteria within a set number of months from opening the card. Once the consumer has met the requirements, they’ll earn a bonus, usually in the form of cash, points or miles.
Credit card issuers use sign-up bonuses to entice new consumers to apply for a credit card. These bonuses are typically only available on rewards credit cards, like cash back credit cards and travel credit cards, meaning they’re aimed at borrowers with good to excellent credit scores.
A credit card issuer may also refer to its sign-up bonus as a sign-up offer, welcome bonus or welcome offer.
Credit card sign-up bonuses are mostly formulaic: Earn X amount of cash (or points or miles) when you spend Y amount of money on the card in Z amount of months. Some of the best credit card sign-up bonuses include additional incentives, like extra cash back for the first year in certain spend categories or even cash back matches for the first year.
Types of Sign-Up Bonuses
Welcome offers are usually straightforward, but some credit card issuers get more creative with their sign-up bonus programs. Here are some of the common sign-up bonuses you may encounter when shopping around for credit cards:
Standard Sign-Up Bonus
The most straightforward credit card welcome offer is the promise of a set amount of cash, miles or points for a set amount of spending in a set amount of months.
For example, the Capital One Quicksilver card offers one of the most straightforward bonus programs available: Spend $500 in the first three months, and you’ll earn a $200 bonus.
Discover’s suite of rewards credit cards is famous for Discover’s unique bonus program. Rather than earn your reward after a few months, you’ll have to hold out for a whole year — but it’s totally worth it.
In these matching bonus programs, credit card issuers like Discover offer an unlimited bonus match. Whatever you earn in cash back during your first year, the credit credit issuer will double, dollar-for-dollar.
We named the Discover it Cash Back card to our list of the best credit cards with sign-up bonuses for its Unlimited Cashback Match program, but other rewards cards in the Discover family offer this program as well. For example, students should consider the Discover it Student Cash Back. In fact, we just named it the overall best student credit card available.
Some credit card issuers may offer a bonus on top of the standard sign-up bonus. This typically looks like extra cash back or points in specific spend categories for a set amount of time.
For example, the Chase Freedom Flex, which earned a spot on our list of the best credit cards for sign-up bonuses, is currently offering a $200 bonus for $500 in purchases within the first three months and 5% cash back at grocery stores for the first year (up to $12,000 spent). The latter is worth an additional $600.
Though it’s less common, some credit card issuers may offer double bonuses. You’ll earn a set amount of cash for meeting one level of criteria — and then a second bonus if you meet a second set of criteria.
Take the United Business Card, for example. This airline credit card is designed for business travelers who regularly fly United, so it has a limited audience — but the welcome bonus is enticing for those who fit the bill. You’ll get 75,000 bonus miles if you spend $5,000 in the first three months and then another 75,000 bonus points if you spend $20,000 total in your first six months.
Less commonly, a credit card may come with an instant bonus upon approval. While you won’t find offers like this from Chase, Capital One, Citi or American Express, retailers are more likely to incentivize card sign-ups with approval bonuses.
For example, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card offers a $100 Amazon gift card the moment you’re approved.
Sign-up bonuses aren’t the only type of credit card bonus. For example, in addition to the welcome offer, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers referral bonuses (up to 75,000 points a year) and an anniversary bonus (10% of your total purchases for the year).
Pros and Cons of Credit Cards With Welcome Offers
Welcome offers on credit cards can put extra cash in your pocket, but they may also encourage increased spending and add to your credit card debt. Weigh the pros and cons of credit card sign-up bonuses before applying.
Extra cash: Whether the bonus payout is in cash, points or miles to redeem for a future purchase, it’s money that you didn’t have before — and depending on the card, the bonus could be big.
Incentivized spending: Because bonuses usually require spending in the first few months from account opening, they get you in the habit of using the card, which helps you earn even more perks.
Credit score improvement: If you use your rewards credit card responsibly (maintain a low credit utilization by paying it off in full every month), you should see an increase in your credit sco
Credit score improvement: If you use you pay off your rewards credit card every month, you should see an increase in your credit score.
Other perks and rewards: The best credit cards with sign-up bonuses usually have great long-term value via rewards and special perks, statement credits and other benefits.
Credit score requirement: Sign-up offers are great, but you’ve got to have a good enough credit score to qualify. Most credit cards with welcome bonuses require good or excellent credit.
High APR: In general, rewards credit cards carry a higher interest rate. If you carry a balance from month to month, the credit card debt can grow quickly.
Overspending: To earn your bonus, you may have to spend more on the card than you otherwise would in that timeframe.
Short-term benefit: Choosing a credit card solely based on its sign-up bonus may be a bad move. Consider: Card A may offer an extra $100 over Card B, but Card B may offer more long-term value.
What to Look For in a Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus
The actual bonus amount — and the steps required to earn the bonus — are the number one thing you should consider when choosing a credit card solely for its welcome bonus. But don’t stop there: You should also consider a card’s fees, rewards and interest rate.
When you’re researching the best credit cards for sign-up bonuses, you’ll obviously want to find a card with a generous welcome offer. If you’re considering travel cards that pay out points or miles instead of cash back, make sure you understand the value of those points and miles.
And don’t just look at the bonus amount. When considering similar cards, review what each card requires for you to earn the bonus. If one welcome offer is easier to obtain than the other and the cards are otherwise similar, go with that option.
A sign-up bonus can be enticing, but you should consider the long-term value of a credit card before opening. For example, if the card has a high annual fee and you won’t use it enough to get continued value after the bonus, it’s not a good fit for your wallet.
Some rewards credit cards have no annual fee, but their cash back or travel points tend to be lower than what you’d get with a card charging a fee. That holds true with welcome bonuses as well. If you’re willing to pay an annual fee, the bonus is likely to be larger.
Just remember: The welcome bonus is a one-time thing, but you’ll have to pay that annual fee each year. Make sure that the credit card offers enough long-term perks to justify any fee.
It’s not just the annual fee you should consider. If you travel abroad often, find a card that won’t charge a foreign transaction fee every time you swipe. And if you’re considering a balance transfer to consolidate debt, you’ll want a card with low balance transfer fees.
If you’re really serious about a balance transfer, however, don’t prioritize a sign-up bonus. Instead, check out our list of the best balance transfer credit cards to find one with a 0% intro APR and low fees.
Credit card sign-up bonuses offer a one-time value. Some bonuses are big enough to make a serious (but temporary) impact on your finances, but after you’ve spent the money, you’re back at square one.
To make sure you’ll continue getting value out of your credit card, look for one with a stellar rewards rate. If you travel often — especially if you prefer luxury hotels and first-class flight accommodations — consider a travel card with points or miles. Otherwise, a cash back credit card that rewards everyday purchases may be right for you.
Not all credit cards are created equal. Read the fine print to see what additional perks they offer. For example, some credit cards on our list offer referral bonuses while others have amazing statement credits for expenses like Disney+ and airfare. Choose a card with a great sign-up bonus — but don’t forget to compare the other perks as well.
In general, rewards credit cards carry higher-than-average interest rates. If you think you’ll struggle to pay off your card in full each month, don’t bother with a rewards card. Otherwise, that interest will quickly outweigh any sign-up bonus you earn early on.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Sign-up Bonus Credit Cards
We’ve found the answers to the most commonly asked questions about sign-up bonus credit cards.
Credit card sign-up bonuses offer great value: You can earn extra cash, points or miles just for spending money as you normally do. However, you should also consider a credit card’s annual fee, rewards rate, foreign transaction fee and APR before applying. A shiny sign-up bonus may offer great value at the start, but you want a credit card that delivers value in the long term.
You won’t generally pay taxes on credit card sign-up bonuses because the IRS considers credit card bonuses as rebates rather than earned income. Other credit card rewards, however, may be taxable just like interest in a bank account — but you can count on the credit card issuer to send you a 1099 form each tax season for any money you need to pay taxes on.
You can open multiple credit cards with sign-up bonuses, though it’s not a good idea to open multiple cards at once because of the hard inquiries on your credit report for each application. In general, you should wait at least six months between each credit card application to avoid lasting damage to your credit score.
Contributor Timothy Moore is a writer and editor in Cincinnati who covers banks, loans, insurance, travel and automotive topics for The Penny Hoarder.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.