Whether you’re pursuing airline miles, hotel loyalty points, flexible rewards, or simple-to-redeem cash back, the biggest bang for your buck is almost always found in a credit card’s signup bonus. These signup bonus offers, which are normally doled out after you meet a set of predefined requirements, are often worth $500 or more.
Although signup bonus offers aren’t all created equal, many work similarly. As you search for the best credit card signup bonus offers out there, here are a few things you should know:
- Scoring a signup bonus usually requires hitting a minimum spending requirement. Although some credit card signup bonus offers award you with the bonus after you make a purchase or simply sign up for the card, the vast majority require you to hit a minimum spending requirement within a certain length of time (e.g., spend $3,000 within 90 days).
- You may have to pay an annual fee. While some cards offer a huge signup bonus, many of them charge an annual fee just for being a cardholder. In some cases, this fee may be waived the first year. As you consider a new rewards card and signup bonus offer, you should consider how paying that annual fee will impact the amount of rewards you earn.
- Other requirements may apply. In addition to meeting a minimum spending requirement, you may have to perform other tasks to earn your signup bonus. For example, if you’re trying to earn a signup bonus for a co-branded hotel loyalty credit card, earning the bonus will mean signing up for that loyalty program if you haven’t already.
The Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers of 2016
While securing a hefty signup bonus is fairly easy if you know what you’re looking for, it can be hard to find the winners among the hundreds of offers that are available. That’s why we created this complete list of all of the best signup bonus offers available in 2016:
Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers: Flexible Rewards
While some cards offer airline or hotel-chain points that can only redeemed with a specific brand, others offer flexible rewards that can be used to book all types of travel – either by booking through an online travel portal, by booking with your card and redeeming for travel credit, or by transferring your points to a number of popular hotel or airline loyalty programs. Here are our top credit card signup bonus offers for flexible rewards:
Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers: Airline Cards
Airline cards offer points that can be redeemed for airfare, seat upgrades, and other travel perks. Planning a trip soon? A good signup bonus in this category can score you a free roundtrip ticket or more. Here are the best co-branded airline signup bonus offers currently on the market:
Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers: Hotel Cards
Like airline credit cards, co-branded hotel credit cards offer points that can be redeemed for free hotel stays, room upgrades, and more. The following offers represent the best of all of the hotel card signup bonus offers currently on the market:
Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers: Cash Back Cards
If you don’t like to travel, earning straight-up cash back might be more your style. These signup offers are some of the best among the true cash back cards currently on the market:
Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers: Business Cards
Credit card signup bonus offers aren’t just for individuals; they’re for businesses too. If you own a small business, have a side hustle, or are self-employed, you could qualify for any of these lucrative business card signup bonus offers:
Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers: Summed Up
Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers Dos and Don’ts
Although many of the top offers are lucrative in their own right, it’s important to understand how to make the most of these offers without hurting yourself financially. Here are some basic tips that can help you do just that:
Do consider how meeting a minimum spending requirement will affect your finances. Since most credit card signup bonus offers require you to spend a certain amount of money on the card within a limited time, it’s important to make sure that the spending goal is attainable before you sign up. If your spending is relatively low, steer clear of bonus offers that ask you to spend more than you would otherwise.
Do keep your overall credit health in mind. Since opening new credit cards (and closing old ones) can have a negative effect on your credit, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of either action. In other words, sign up for cards when it’s to your benefit, but stop once you’ve reached a point where your credit score might feel a negative impact.
Do pay your bill in full every month to avoid paying interest. Paying interest on your purchases while simultaneously pursuing rewards is never a good idea. If you expect you’ll need to carry a balance, you should nix the idea of trying to earn a signup bonus altogether, and opt for a low-interest credit card instead.
Do use your credit card as part of a comprehensive financial plan. Without a plan, a new credit card could wreak havoc on your finances. Before you sign up for a new credit card, you should put a plan in place to make sure your new line of credit is working in your favor.
Do pursue signup bonuses with a strategy in mind. A hefty signup bonus won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to use it. Before you pick one bonus over another, make sure to explore each loyalty program so you know what your points will be worth. These posts can help:
- Best Hotel Rewards Programs of 2016
- Best Frequent Flyer Programs of 2016
- Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2016
Don’t open too many cards just for the signup bonus. As we’ve written before, getting a new card will result in a hard inquiry with at least one of the three credit reporting agencies. While one hard inquiry might have minimum impact on your credit score, having several could cause your score to tumble substantially. So while you may earn more rewards by signing up for a handful of offers at once, you could potentially hurt your credit.
Don’t commit to a minimum spending requirement you can’t handle. When choosing among credit card signup bonus offers, it’s important to consider how meeting any applicable minimum spending requirement will work with your “real-life” finances.
For example, if you don’t normally spend $3,000 on regular bills and expenses during a three-month period, what makes you think you can do it safely to earn a signup bonus? If the minimum spending requirement on a card puts it out of your comfort zone, you’ll be better off if you opt out instead of signing up.
Don’t carry a balance or pay interest. For some people, credit cards are a tool of mass destruction. And no matter how hard they try not to, they always manage to rack up a credit card balance that is bigger than they anticipated. If you’re one of those people – or if you just plan to carry a balance in general – you’ll be a lot better off if you steer clear of rewards cards and opt for a card with no annual fee or the lowest interest rate possible instead.
Don’t forget to factor in annual fees. While some cards offer crazy-huge signup bonus offers, many offer correspondingly large annual fees. In order to extract the most value out of any offer, it’s important to understand your card’s annual fee, when it’s due, and how it related to the overall value you receive from the card.
Don’t use rewards as an excuse to overspend. If you’re someone who tends to get carried away with credit, it’s easy to see a shiny, new credit line as an excuse to overspend. You’re not doing yourself any favors if you go this route, however. By overspending to earn more rewards, you’re actually putting yourself in a worse financial position than where you started.
Credit cards can be a valuable tool if used wisely, and signup bonus offers can be extremely lucrative if pursued with a thoughtful strategy in mind. However, it’s important to fully understand how these offers work if you truly want to maximize them.
The most important thing to remember is to use credit cards to your advantage, but don’t let them use you. If you find yourself spending more just to get a bonus, or worse, getting into debt, you’ll probably be better off avoiding credit cards and signup bonus offers altogether.