What Is a Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus Offer?

Here's everything you need to know about credit card bonuses before you apply

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One way to make your credit card benefits go further is to sign up for cards that have incredible bonus offers upfront. Sign-on bonuses can land you up to $750 back. Not all credit card bonus offers are created equal, so read on to figure out which sign-up bonus is right for your wallet.

Table of Contents

What Is a Credit Card Bonus Offer?

Many credit cards will offer a sign-up bonus for new cardholders who spend a specific amount in their first three months. This amount varies by card, but typically card with higher sign-on bonuses require users to spend $4,000 to 5,000 in qualifying purchases in their first three months. Balance transfers, cash advances and annual fees will not count toward this bonus minimum. Credit card sign-up bonus offers can come in the form of cash back, miles or points. For some cards, the initial point bonus will qualify them for more perks, such as the use of an airline companion pass.

Types of Credit Card Bonus Offers

Credit cards that offer sign-up bonuses will offer them in two different ways, either in cash back or points/miles. Here is the break down of both.

Cash-Back Bonuses

Cash-back bonuses can be more flexible than earning points. Typically, you won’t earn as much cash back as you would point and miles, but it is easier to spend. To redeem your cash-back bonus, just request a statement credit or have the bonus transferred to your bank account.

Points and Miles

Other cards reward you in points or miles. This can turn your sign-up bonus into a free vacation. These points/miles usually go farthest when redeeming them for travel. Some cards will allow you to redeem your points/miles for cash, account credit or gift cards, but the conversion rate isn’t always as high. Redeeming points or miles might take a little more legwork since you have to make sure you are redeeming your hard-earned points/miles for top dollar travel plans.

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Credit: Twenty20

Which Credit Cards Give You Money for Signing Up?

Rewards credit cards and branded-travel cards typically have the best sign-up bonuses. Many cards are very similar in the everyday spending rewards they offer. Therefore, they might offer an enticing sign-up bonus to attract more users. Look for a rewards credit card that not only gives you an awesome sign-on bonus, but also a card that rewards you for how you spend money. If you don’t spend a lot of money on travel, research cards that offer more rewards back on groceries and gas instead of travel.

How to Choose a Card with a Sign-Up Bonus

When choosing the best credit card for your budget, look at the sign-on bonuses. Weigh them carefully with the card’s everyday spending rewards — for example, if you are torn between two cards, which one will give you more cash back throughout the year rather than just upfront. Here are a few questions to ask when you are comparing credit cards:

Can you reach the spending threshold? 

This isn’t as simple as just going on a grand shopping spree. Calculate how much you must spend to reach the threshold and if it fits into your budget. Anyone can blow $5,000, but not everyone can afford to do so without digging themselves into debt. Your sign-up bonus will not be worth it when you have a high-interest rate that comes when you carry thousands of dollars of debt.

Is the annual fee worth it? 

If the card comes with an annual fee, weigh the fee against the perks. Cards with smaller annual fees typically come with smaller sign-up bonuses, but they also have lower spending minimums to activate the bonus also.

Is this the best offer for a particular card? 

Credit card offers come and go. Try to research other offers the card issuer has promoted within the past year. There is a good chance similar bonuses will occur again.

What is the credit card sign-up bonus really worth? It is also wise to be realistic about how you will use the sign-up bonus. If you don’t love to travel, then you will probably take a lower cash value for your bonus — i.e., your 50,000 points might only be worth $350 in cash rather than $500 in travel redemption.

Also, the promised 50,000 points a card might offer might only equate to $500 in perks when redeemed for a specific airline or hotel chain. Make sure to research the card’s bonus redemption options, so you aren’t stuck with a bonus you can’t use.

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Credit: iStock.com /LeoPatrizi

How to Maximize a Sign-Up Bonus

Once you know which credit card bonus you will be pursuing, it is time to make the most of it. Just a little more effort could land you more bonus points.

Time Your Applications Carefully

Timing is everything when it comes to credit cards. You want to apply when the card has the best offer, and you also want to apply at a time you were planning on spending more money, such as right before Christmas or right before booking a vacation. This will help you reach the spending limit faster. Make sure you have let enough time pass between similar credit card offers. For example, you must wait 24 months to receive another sign-up bonus from a Chase credit card.

Never Overspend

The desire to meet your spending limit might put you in a shopping flurry. Keep track of your spending to make sure you reach the minimum without racking up debt.

Look for Special Offers

Sometimes a card will allow you to add an authorized user for additional points. Other times, you can activate offers on your card to make your spending go even further.

Watch Out for Hidden Fees

Not every retailer lets you swipe your plastic for free. Some purchases will incur a convenience fee. These fees are common for online ticket vendors or third-party companies that allow you to pay your rent with a credit card.

Understand What Counts Toward Your Spending Threshold

Most cards will not count annual fees, transferred balances or cash advances toward the spending threshold. Many cards will also not count gift cards, lottery ticket purchases and similar purchases toward the bonus, either. Read your card’s fine print thoroughly before you spend. When in doubt, a quick chat with your card’s customer service line can help.

Be Careful About Returning Items

Any returns made on your card will not count toward your purchase total. Even if you return an item after you receive your bonus, the issuer can reclaim the bonus if your original purchases did not meet the spending requirements. This is at the discretion of the card issuer. But what if you really hate the sweater you bought? Try returning items in exchange for store credit rather than getting credit back on your card.

Are Sign-Up Bonuses Taxable?

Thankfully, most credit card bonuses are not taxable. As long as you earn your bonus through meeting a spending limit and it’s for a personal account. The same rule applies for any money, points or miles earned through everyday spending.

Individuals using credit card sign-up bonuses for business purposes should consult a tax expert to ensure they are claiming bonuses correctly. If a credit card rewards you points, miles or a cash bonus just for signing up, then your bonus would be considered taxable.

How to Compare Sign-Up Bonus Offers

Still not sure about which rewards cards are right for you? We get it. Choosing a credit card that meets your needs is important, which is why Slickdeals’ Credit Card Hub helps you compare the benefits of different cards, search credit cards by rewards categories, and explore cards by their issuers — all to find the best fit for your wallet.

Compare Credit Card Offers

EARN: Use the Best Credit Cards for Buying Groceries to Save Money at the Supermarket

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Best Rewards Credit Card Bonus Offers

When using a rewards credit card, you are able to earn cash back, points or miles for each dollar you spend. But while it’s always helpful to earn a couple of points on all of your purchases, it’s even better to snag thousands of them at once, thanks to an impressive bonus offer.

Credit card bonuses are frequently available to new cardholders in exchange for meeting certain spending requirements. The best credit card bonus offers are often worth hundreds of dollars (or more), giving you a jump-start on your cash-back earnings and easily canceling out any annual fees your issuer may charge.

Popular Sign-Up Bonuses for New Cardholders

If you are considering a new credit card, take a look at the available offers below. They could easily net you hundreds of extra dollars in rewards, perhaps even on money that you planned to spend anyway.

Review the methodology our finance experts use to evaluate the best credit card sign-up offers in various categories.

1. Best Travel Sign-Up Bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred®

2. Best Cash-Back Sign-Up Bonus: Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card

3. Best Premium Travel Sign-Up Bonus: The Platinum Card® from American Express

4. Best Airline Sign-Up Bonus: United℠ Explorer Card

5. Best Hotel Sign-Up Bonus: IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

6. Best Business Travel Sign-Up Bonus: Bank of America® Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard®

7. Best Business Cash-Back Sign-Up Bonus: Ink Business Cash℠ Card

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Credit: Twenty20

Methodology: How We Picked the Best Credit Card Bonus Offers of 2020

While the right rewards credit card for you will depend on a number of factors, these are some of our favorites right now that are also offering enviable sign-up bonuses.

We considered a number of factors when choosing these cards, including the value of the bonus, redemption options and whether or not the card charges an annual fee. To help ensure that the card is a great choice for you beyond that initial bonus, we also looked at the benefits included and the rewards rate on future purchases.

With each of these cards shown, you will enjoy either no annual fee or a fee that can easily be recouped with the benefits and/or bonuses offered.

NEXT: Best Rewards Credit Cards: Compare Offers, Sign-Up Bonuses and Rewards Earnings

We want to make sure you get the best deal! Our editors strive to ensure that the information in this article is accurate as of the date published, but please keep in mind that offers can change. We encourage you to verify all terms and conditions of any financial product before you apply. Also, please remember this content wasn't provided, reviewed or endorsed by any company mentioned in this article.

Any product or service prices/offers that appear in this article are accurate at time of publish, and are subject to change without notice. Please verify the actual selling price and offer details on the merchant's site before making a purchase.

Ryan Tronier

Ryan Tronier is a personal finance editor and writer. He has worked in journalism and publishing for nearly two decades before becoming Slickdeals' Personal Finance and Credit Card Editor. Ryan's work has appeared in publications like USA TODAY, NBC News, Sapling and Techwalla. Find him online at ryantronier.com.

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