A welcome bonus, also called a sign-up bonus, is a convincing reason to sign up for a new credit card. Typically welcome offers will reward new cardholders with a bounty of bonus points or a lump sum of cash if you spend a particular amount within a certain period of time — say, $500 in the first three months. It’s a simple way to earn extra.
Still, a credit card issuer isn’t about to shell out bonus cash without getting something in return. What may initially seem like an alluring offer of free money can instead leave you with hefty annual fees and mediocre rewards. And since you get the bonus offer just once, you might make the mistake of spending beyond your means to try to reach the spending threshold in time. That can ensnare you in a vicious.
That noted, when you’re shopping for a, the size of the sign-up bonus — and the spending required to earn it — are factors worth thinking about. We’ve listed our favorite finds below based on the maximum value of the credit card bonus, annual fees, rewards structures and required spending threshold. You’ll also find answers to frequently asked questions about credit card welcome bonuses. Have a look.
Best overall welcome bonus card
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Annual fee: $695 (see rates and fees)
Welcome bonus: 100,000 membership rewards points
Welcome bonus value: Up to $2,000*
Spending threshold: $6,000 on purchases in first six months of card membership
Rewards: 10x points (10 points per dollar) at restaurants worldwide and when you “Shop Small” in the US during the first six months of card membership, on up to $25,000 in combined purchases; 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel; 1x on other purchases
See pay over time APR: See rates and fees
The Platinum Card from American Express has one of the largest welcome bonuses — in terms of potential redemption value — among the cards we researched. When transferred to certain affiliate travel partners, American Express’ Membership Rewards points are worth up to 2 cents per point, according to The Points Guy’s valuation, making the 100,000-point bonus (after spending $6,000 in the first six months) worth up to $2,000.
The spending threshold for the bonus is also relatively reasonable, requiring $1,000 in monthly spending on average over six months. The rewards tiers are also competitive, with restaurants worldwide, US Shop Small eligible purchases and eligible travel purchases earning significant rewards.
The main drawback with the Platinum Card is its high annual fee of $695. To get maximum long-term value out of the Platinum, you should plan to spend upward of $10,000 annually on flights and hotels and make use of the premium travel perks, including lounge access and hotel upgrades.
*The value of Membership Rewards points depends on how you redeem them. If you redeem your points through American Express, they’re worth between 0.5 cent and 1 cent per point. If you transfer your points to an affiliate travel partner, points are worth up to 2 cents apiece, according to The Points Guy’s valuations.
Best welcome bonus, low annual fee card
Annual fee: $95
Welcome bonus: 100,000 bonus points
Welcome bonus value: $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Spending threshold: Spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Rewards: Earn 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards (excluding hotel purchases that qualify for the $50 Anniversary Hotel credit). 3x points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery, takeout and dining out. 3x points on online grocery purchases (excludes Target, Walmart and wholesalers). 3x points on select streaming services. 2x on any other travel purchases. 1x points on all other purchases.
APR: 15.99% to 22.99% (variable APR)
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is currently offering its best welcome bonus yet — 100,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 within the first three months of card ownership. This signup bonus is equal to $1,250, according to Chase, when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. However, according to The Points Guy, this bonus could be worth as much as $2,000 when redeemed through Chase’s airline and hotel partners. That puts it on par with the The Platinum Card from American Express in terms of value, but the Sapphire Preferred card has a much lower annual fee.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card also offers high-level rewards tiers — like 5x points on travel booked through Chase and 3x points on dining, eligible online grocery purchases and select streaming services. You can also earn bonus points each account anniversary equal to 10% of the total purchases made the year before. That means if you spend $25,000 in one year, you could get 2,500 bonus points on your anniversary.
Best welcome bonus no annual fee card
Annual fee: $0
Welcome bonus: 25,000 online bonus points
Welcome bonus value: $250
Spending threshold: $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
Rewards: 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases
APR: 13.99% to 23.99% (variable APR)
The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card** offers a solid welcome bonus (25,000 online bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening) worth $250 in statement credits toward travel and dining purchases and no annual fee. The spending threshold on this travel card is low, requiring approximately just $334 in monthly spending during the first 90 days.
Otherwise, the Travel Rewards card offers few frills but flexible rewards points that can be redeemed as statement credits. Plus, across the board you’ll get 1.5 points for every dollar you spend.
Best welcome bonus with a low spending threshold card
Annual fee: $0
Welcome bonus: $200 cash back
Welcome bonus value: $200
Spending threshold: $500 in purchases in the first three months from account opening
Rewards: 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase; 5% on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year; 3% on dining at restaurants, drugstores; 1.5% on other purchases.
APR: 14.99% to 23.74% (variable APR)
Our top pick for cash-back rewards credit cards, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a $200 cash-back bonus after spending just $500 during the first three months — and no annual fee. It’s a nice bonus — and the Freedom Unlimited also features top-notch rewards with 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase, 5% on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores and 1.5% on other purchases.
Credit card welcome bonuses, compared
|Best overall||Best welcome bonus with a low annual fee||Best welcome bonus for a credit card with no annual fee||Best bonus with a low spending threshold|
|Card name||AmEx Platinum||Chase Sapphire Preferred||Bank of America Travel Rewards||Chase Freedom Unlimited|
|Welcome bonus||100,000 points||100,000 bonus points||25,000 online bonus points||$200 cash|
|Welcome bonus value||$500 to $2,000*||$1,020 – $2,000*||$250 (toward travel and dining purchases)||$200|
|Spending threshold||$6,000 in first 6 months||$4,000 in the first 3 months||$1,000 in purchases in first 90 days||$500 in the first 3 months|
|Rewards||10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US during the first 6 months of card membership, on up to $25,000 in combined purchases; 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel; 1x on other purchases||5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards (excluding hotel purchases that qualify for the $50 Anniversary Hotel credit). 3x points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery, takeout and dining out. 3x points on online grocery purchases (excludes Target, Walmart and wholesalers). 3x points on select streaming services. 2x on any other travel purchases. 1x points on all other purchases.||1.5x points on all purchases||5% cash back on travel booked through Chase; 5% on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 3% on dining at restaurants, drugstores; 1.5% on all other purchases|
|APR||See pay over time APR (see rates and fees)||15.99% to 22.99% variable||13.99% to 23.99% variable||14.99% to 23.74% variable|
|Intro APR||None||None||0% intro APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases||0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases|
What is a welcome bonus?
A welcome bonus is a one-time reward offered to card holders after signing up for a new credit card. Bonuses always require users to spend a certain amount within a set time period, like $500 in purchases in the first three months, in order to “unlock” the bonus.
So should I sign up for lots of credit cards to take advantage of welcome bonuses?
This is a risky and time-consuming gambit that could adversely affect your credit. Though a welcome bonus is worth considering, we recommend taking a comprehensive look at the overall value of a credit card and choosing one that fits your spending habits and financial situation.
What is considered a ‘good’ welcome bonus?
In our view, a good welcome bonus is one that doesn’t require you to contort your existing spending habits and offers a return that’s higher than the card’s annual fee. Many rewards credit cards offer a welcome bonus of $200; anything higher than that is noteworthy.
We also prefer cards with bonuses that feature other perks or multiple rewards tiers, increasing the usefulness of the card beyond the bonus.
What does the ‘x’ mean in reward rates?
The x means “times” — a way of referring to the multiple rewards points or miles you’ll get for every dollar spent. For example, a 2x mile card gives you 2 miles for every dollar spent. A 10x point card gives you 10 points for every dollar spent.
List of cards researched
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card from American Express, click here.
**All information about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.
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