Bonus points, miles and cashback make these credit card offers some of the best cards for new cardholders. CardRatings editors compare the best credit card sign-up bonuses and promotions.
Top credit card bonuses and limited time offers
- CardName – Best Overall Credit Card Bonus Offer
- CardName – Best Credit Card Bonus for Travel Rewards
- CardName – Best Credit Card Bonus for No-Annual-Fee Travel Rewards
- CardName – Best Credit Card Bonus for Cash Back
- CardName – Bonus for Gas Rewards
- CardName – Best Credit Card Bonus for Grocery Rewards
- CardName – Best Credit Card Bonus for Premium Travel Rewards
- CardName – Best Credit Card Bonus for Cash-Back Business Card
- CardName – Best Credit Card Bonus for Business Travel
- CardName – Best Bonus for Students
The credit card bonus offer is flashy, exciting, enticing… and quite possibly fleeting.
That’s right, credit card bonuses can and do rise and fall, which means that applying for a new card at the right time could mean a substantially higher bonus for you. Likewise, missing the window of a limited time offer could mean your bonus opportunity is half of what it could be. This is why we are bringing you the best credit card offers from our partners, so you never miss a beat.
And excellent bonuses aren’t just for personal/consumer cards; small business owners can get in on the bonus offer situation as well.
These offers are the best of the best, but that doesn’t mean they all come with annual fees. Don’t overlook the best sign-up bonuses for no-annual-fee credit cards that we’ve listed here as well.
Let’s get started.
Best overall credit card bonus
Best credit card bonus for travel rewards
Best credit card bonus for no-annual-fee travel rewards
Best credit card bonus for cash back
Best credit card bonus for gas rewards
Citi is a CardRatings advertiser
Best credit card bonus for groceries
American Express is a CardRatings advertiser
Best credit card bonus for premium travel rewards
Best credit card bonus for business cash back
Best credit card bonus for business travel
Best credit card bonus for students
What is a credit card sign-up bonus?
A credit card sign-up bonus is just what it sounds like, that is if you think it sounds like a reward that a credit card gives you as a welcome gift for applying and using the card.
A credit card sign up offer is basically a marketing tool, designed to entice you to sign up for the credit card - instead of a competing card. That doesn't take anything away from the fact that credit card sign-up bonuses are often pretty generous, and if you see one that suits you, you should definitely consider it.
Still, you do want to look at everything the card has to offer and picture whether it's something you'll be excited about using six months or a year or two from now and not be too dazzled by the credit card sign-up bonus alone.
Think of it as the credit card flirting with you. It's the entire package you should look at, and not just the credit card's opening moves. For instance, does the credit card have a strong rewards program - or just an enticing welcome bonus? Does the credit card offer perks such as cell phone protection and roadside service or trip cancellation? Is there an annual fee, and is it reasonable, or do you feel like you'll never get enough points, miles or cash back to really justify paying it? You don't want to get into a relationship with a credit card and later regret it.
Typically, for signing up and meeting the minimum spend, you'll be given cash back, points (which you can usually later redeem for cash or maybe something else, like gift cards) or miles, which you can later use to get a free or much cheaper airline ticket. In order to earn these bonuses though you typically have to spend a certain amount of money with the card in a specific time frame, so be sure the requirements are reasonable for you.
Not every credit card offers a sign-up bonus, but a lot of them do - and fortunately, often a flashy sign-up bonus is a sign that you're looking at a good credit card.
How does a sign-on bonus work?
It's almost always the same with every credit card that offers a sign-up bonus. You usually have three months to spend a certain amount of money - say, $5,000 - and then as long as you do it within the allotted time frame, which isn't always three months, but usually, you'll receive $200 cash back or 30,000 airline miles or whatever the offer is.
For instance, just as an example, the CardName currently offers new cardholders 60,000 points once spending $4,000 in the first three months of opening an account. Those points are worth $600 in cash or $750 towards travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
But the bottom-line is, sign-on bonuses are usually pretty easy to get. Sometimes you have to spend a fair amount, like $4,000, and sometimes not all that much, like, $500, to earn the bonus.
Sometimes a credit card will even offer two bonuses, of sorts - cash back, miles or points after the first few months of opening an account, and then maybe on your anniversary of signing up, it'll give you some other rewards. The CardNamediscontinued, for example, offers new cardholders a bonus opportunity of 50,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first three month. Then, on an ongoing basis, earn a nice 6,000-point bonus after your card member anniversary each year.
Are sign-up bonuses paid up front?
No, sign-up bonuses are not paid up front. Credit card companies give you a specific number of months to earn your sign-up bonus. You may think that once you have met the outlined threshold, you can get your rewards right away. Unfortunately, that's not usually the case. After earning your rewards, it may take up to six to eight weeks for them to be credited on your account.
What is a good sign-up bonus?
A good sign-up bonus allows you to maximize the benefits of the card. Companies offer sign-up bonuses to convince consumers to carry their card, and these bonuses may take several forms. In some cases, you may get cash back back for spending a certain amount of money in the first months of having the card, which is outlined by the credit card company. Other bonuses may come in the form of points or miles, or even limited time offers like a 0% introductory APR period.
When it comes down to it though, a good credit card welcome bonus is a bonus that you can realistically earn, and use. A card offering 100,000 bonus miles with an airline you never fly, for example, likely won't benefit you much. You should never choose a credit card based solely on its welcome offer, but if a card you are considering does have a welcome offer, be sure it's one that's realistic for your lifestyle and spending habits.
What is the best credit card bonus?
The CardName currently offers one of the most valuable bonuses, worth $750 if you redeem your points through Ultimate Rewards for travel. Because it is at the higher end of sign-up bonuses, CardRatings experts consider it the best credit card bonus. However, this card also comes with several other valuable features that make it well worth carrying.
Keep in mind, though, that there is an annual fee of AnnualFees, so it has to offer a valuable bonus to help new cardholders offset the fee a little. If you don’t see yourself using the benefits the card offers or if for some reason you won’t be able to take advantage of the credit card bonus, this may not be the card for you.
The best credit card bonus for you might be lower in value and only worth $150, but on a card with a lower or no annual fee. Also, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month or the interest you pay could end up costing you more than any credit card bonus is worth.
What are the easiest sign-up bonuses to earn?
Generally, credits cards that offer lower bonus amounts, as well as lower spending thresholds required to qualify for those bonuses, are easier to earn than those cards with higher bonuses. Cards that have high bonuses also usually have high spending requirements– and usually higher available lines of credit– so they tend to be for consumers with excellent credit histories.
If you only average, say, $200 a month spend on your card, it's going to be quite difficult, and probably unrealistic for you, to try and earn a $500 welcome bonus that's earned once spending $3,000 within three months, for example. If you regularly spend $1,000 or more on your credit card each month though, a bonus like this should be no problem for you to earn.
How to earn a credit card bonus
At the surface, earning a sign-up bonus is pretty straightforward: Spend X number of dollars before the deadline and see your reward roll in.
But what if spending $3,000 or more dollars in a three-month time span isn't in your typical budget? Should you just give up on earning the bonus? Worse, should you go into debt just to earn it? Even if that spending is in your budget, what other factors do you need to think about?
Before you give up on earning a bonus or start spending wildly just to earn it, consider these tips:
- Before applying for a card, consider your spending plans for the next several months. If you really want to earn a credit card spending bonus, applying for a card right before you plan to go on a "spend as little money as I can" diet for a few months is not a good idea. Take a look several months out and make sure that you aren't anticipating any sort of major events or circumstances that would require you to drastically reduce the spending you'll be able to do on a credit card. For example, if you're in "save up to buy a car" mode, now might not be the right time (However, be sure and check out the best credit cards for gas rewards once you're in your new ride).
- Think about your expenses in bulk. Most people have at least a few regular big-ticket expenses that they pay on a few times a year or maybe even monthly. If you can swing it, consider paying a full year of your car, renters or home insurance on your card. Or perhaps you can pay for an annual subscription to your favorite streaming service or wholesale club rather than paying monthly. Do you or your kids have a tuition bill coming up? Pay for it with your card. Depending on the bill, one payment might be enough to meet your bonus spending threshold, or consider combining several of these to meet the mark.
- Make a contribution to a favorite charity. These days, many charities offer the opportunity to make contributions via your credit card. Perhaps now is the time for you to give. Remember, it does cost charities (and every merchant) a percentage to accept credit cards; if you're giving to a charity with your card, consider upping the amount you give by a few percentage points to cover that processing cost.
- Don't, we repeat, DON'T go into debt. The fastest way to make a credit card bonus decrease in value is to pay interest on the amount you spent just trying to earn the bonus. If you can't pay for what you're putting on the card, no amount of rewards or bonuses is going to be worth it. Ensure whatever you're spending on the way to earning that bonus is something you can pay off each billing cycle (or is covered by an intro 0% APR period, in which case ensure you can pay off the charges before that intro period ends).
Are credit card bonuses taxable?
If you earned credit card rewards by spending money, then no, these rewards aren't taxable. Generally, if you are earning cash back on a percentage of your purchases, for tax purposes the money you get back is considered a rebate or discount, so that is not taxable. However, if you earn a bonus without spending anything, you may need to report that bonus as income as it isn't tied in any way to spending. Because credit card companies almost always require you to meet some sort of spend threshold before earning a bonus though, this situation is very rare. Occasionally though, there will be some sort of bonus offer where you can earn a bonus just for being approved for the card. So, in those rare situations, it's important to take into consideration the tax implications that bonus could have. Also, if you have a business card, since the purchases you make are tax deductible, any cash back that you receive on those purchases could reduce the amount of the deduction you are allowed to write off.
For further information, please see our guide to credit cards and taxes.
To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards featured in this post, please visit the following links: CardName (See Rates and Fees)
For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.