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Credit card welcome bonuses are generally earned by spending a certain amount of money within a given time. They often come as cash back or points, though several other bonus types exist. Meeting minimum spend requirements without overspending may require some creative budgeting.
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Introductory bonuses, also called signup bonuses, are large rewards for spending with credit cards. If you only buy things you were going to buy anyway, these bonuses provide an easy way to get a great return on your spending.
|Bonus Cash Back||“$150 bonus cash back for spending $500 in the first 3 months”|
|Bonus Points||“50,000 bonus points for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months”|
|Statement Credits||“$100 statement credit for making your first purchase in the first 3 months”|
|Cashback Match||“Double cash back your first year” (only for Discover cards)|
|Travel Rewards: Airline Miles, Hotel Points, Free Hotel Nights||“One complimentary hotel stay for spending $3,000”|
|Other Offers||“Free shipping on your first purchase”|
Having trouble reaching the spending requirement for your bonus? Jump down to see some creative ways to meet minimum spend requirements.
Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers of May 2021See the top cards here!
Many reward credit cards offer introductory bonuses in addition to the regular spending rewards they provide. These can be very enticing, in many cases providing a 20% return on your spending, or even more. That could be from $100 to over $1,000 in some cases.
The intro bonus you get will be in addition to any regular rewards you earn from the spending categories. So if a card’s rewards program earns 2X points at gas stations or on travel purchases, for example, you’ll still get those bonus points in addition to any signup bonus.
Take note that credit card signup bonuses are typically for purchases only. Other charges to your account, like annual fees, balance transfers, and cash advances will not count toward your credit card minimum spend requirement.
Be safe! Bonus offers can be attractive, but don’t use them as a reason to get into credit card debt. You should only use these offers to buy things you were already going to buy. The exception here is if you’re really close to reaching the minimum spend and just need a bit more. Maybe splurge on some avocado toast.
There are two main types of signup bonus offer: public and private. Public offers are available to anyone, while private offers are only available to certain people.
Sometimes a card’s public offer will change. This might be for only a few months, or it might be the new regular offer. But you can’t really predict when a card’s bonus will increase, so if you see a great offer it’s generally a good idea to take it.
If you submit a card application and the public offer increases shortly afterward, you can try contacting the card issuer to request that they match the new offer.
Private offers are generally only available to the people who are presented with them. They’re usually better than the regular offer, like $250 cash back instead of $200. You can find them on the card issuer’s website, by mail, or by email.
You can always check to see if you’re pre-qualified for any credit cards, which will also show you any private bonus offers you’re eligible for.
Links to private offers aren’t usually meant to be shared. If you try to use a private offer that wasn’t meant for you, there may be an error or the card issuer might deny you the card. If you’re approved, the issuer may deny you the private bonus offer.
Most cards give you three months after account opening to reach the spending requirement. A few credit card companies, like Barclays and Bank of America, stipulate 90 days instead. And occasionally you’ll see an offer with a different time period, like two months or six months. (Technically, even the offers that say “months” in the terms are processed in terms of days.)
The clock starts as soon as you’re approved. If it’s a three-month offer, for example, don’t make the mistake of thinking you have three months from the day you receive the new credit card in the mail, or from the day you activate the card. You’ll get three months from the date you’re approved for the card.
If you don’t meet the required spending by the deadline, you typically won’t get the bonus. Some people report successfully calling card issuers and asking to have the deadline extended. This may work for you but there’s no guarantee; you’ll probably have a better chance if you call before the deadline, and have some good reasons as to why you won’t be able to hit the minimum spend.
Sometimes you’ll be approved for cards instantly, but sometimes it could take a few days or weeks. If you’re not approved instantly, it might be tough to figure out exactly when you were approved without calling customer support to ask. To play it safe, you can just use the day you applied for the card. Or you can check your credit reports to see when that particular account was opened.
Keep in mind that many credit card issuers are taking steps to prevent people from abusing signup bonuses, or using techniques like manufactured spend to accumulate rewards. Some card issuers may only allow you to get the same intro bonus once every two years (like Chase), or even just once per lifetime (like American Express).
Other issuers, such as Capital One, simply make it clear that they can choose not to award welcome bonuses at their discretion. The terms for the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card (Review), for example, include: “Existing or previous Accountholders may not be eligible for this one-time bonus.”
If you show habits like getting credit card intro bonuses only to cancel your accounts right after, or returning purchases after hitting the minimum spend, the card issuer could take back the bonus rewards, and any other rewards you earned during that time. This is known as a “clawback,” and Amex in particular is known for doing this.
Don’t abuse your relationship with any card issuer. It could reclaim the rewards you’ve earned. And it may even close your accounts — that means all of your accounts with that issuer, not just the one card you were using. Card issuers want to maintain a positive business relationship with you, but if you game the system they can shut you out.
Keep these tips in mind when seeking out and spending for introductory bonus offers.
To get your own awesome signup bonus, check out our picks for the Best Signup Bonus Offers!
This might be the most common type of introductory bonus. Many cash back credit cards have an intro bonus offer of some kind.
Here’s another kind of cash back bonus. The Chase Freedom Flex℠ (Review) occasionally offers a $25 cash bonus for adding an authorized user to your account and making just one purchase in the first three months (it also has a typical cash back bonus for spending). $25 isn’t very much, but it’s easy to get if you plan to add an authorized user.
Some cards offer points instead of cash back. These points may be worth a certain amount depending on how you redeem them, with some redemption options being more valuable than others.
Other than that, bonus point offers are pretty much just like the cash back offers above.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a travel card that many people like for the signup bonus. It provides:
You could redeem those points for 1 cent each; but redemptions for travel expenses through Chase Ultimate Rewards will get you 1.25 cents per point.
Better still, point transfers to partner airlines and hotels could yield 2 cents per point or more. So with a bit of planning around redemptions you could double the value of your intro bonus — and potentially bump that up even more.
At one point, when the Sapphire Preferred signup offer was for 50,000 bonus points, we found a private offer that included an extra bonus: an additional 30,000 points for spending a total of $30,000 on purchases in your first year with the card. But keep in mind that these types of offers aren’t available to everyone, and you may not see the same bonuses when you apply for the card.
Instead of cash back or points, a card may offer a statement credit for its introductory bonus. Instead of depositing cash back or points into your rewards account, a statement credit will simply deduct a certain amount directly from your card balance.
So if you receive a $50 statement credit, your account balance will be reduced by $50. You usually don’t need to do anything once this credit is awarded, it will reduce your balance automatically.
Discover offers a unique introductory bonus on all of its credit cards. Cardholders will get double cash back for the entire first year, with no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn.
This extra cash back will be awarded after the first account anniversary. It will appear in your account in the following one or two billing cycles.
The Discover it® Cash Back (Review), for example, offers 5% cash back in a variety of bonus categories that rotate every three months, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter (activation required). That’s up to $75 cash back per quarter, earning at the 5% rate.
The Cashback Match means you’ll end up getting an extra 5% back on those purchases at the end of the year, for a total of 10% cash back. That lets you earn up to $150 per quarter at the 10% rate, which comes to $600 cash back in your first year.
That’s a great deal, and this 10% rate is one of the best credit card offers you’ll currently find.
The Discover it® Secured (Review) is one of the few secured cards to offer rewards: 2% back at restaurants and gas stations, on up to $1,000 in spending per quarter, along with 1% back everywhere else. Even though it’s a secured card, meant for people with poor credit, these rewards will be doubled as well. In the world of secured cards, you’ll probably never find anything better than 4% back at restaurants and gas stations and 2% back everywhere else.
Many of the best travel credit cards offer nice introductory bonuses to help offset the costs of traveling. You can use these bonuses to pay for a large portion of a trip, or even to travel for free.
These offers are common on co-branded airline and hotel credit cards, which tend to provide the biggest returns on your bonus spending. However, you’ll usually need to redeem your rewards with that particular airline or hotel to get the best value.
Be sure to plan ahead when using these offers. It will take some time to meet the spending requirement, and then it will usually take one to two billing cycles for the bonus miles or points to arrive in your account.
Here are a few examples of the kinds of intro bonuses you’ll find on travel rewards credit cards.
You’ll need to redeem those points for JetBlue flights or with a partner airline to get the best value. (JetBlue miles are actually called “points” in their system, but they’re just like airline miles from other airlines).
Some good news: On top of this already generous offer, the JetBlue Plus Card delivers plenty of other ways to maximize your rewards and save money throughout your travels.
Not a JetBlue fan? There are plenty of other airline credit cards to choose from, including solid picks from American Airlines, Delta, Southwest, United, and other airlines. Many of these credit cards charge no foreign transaction fees, and some offer valuable benefits, like Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credits and discounted or complimentary access to airport lounges.
The Hilton Honors American Express Card is a typical hotel card. You’ll get:
That sounds like a lot, but Hilton points are only valued at about 0.6 cents each, so it’s about normal for a hotel intro bonus.
Some hotel cards offer free night stays as their introductory bonus, although these aren’t very common. One such card is the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card.
Update: The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card is no longer available to new cardholders. If you already had the card you can continue using it as normal.
Cardholders get two complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1–4 Ritz-Carlton hotel, for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening. This bonus will come in the form of two Free Night Stay E-Certificates, which are valid for one year.
How much is this bonus worth to you? That depends on how much you would have spent on rooms at Ritz-Carlton hotels, and this could vary quite a bit depending on the property and the quality of the room you book. Rooms in higher-tier hotels will cost more, so we recommend waiting to redeem for the best quality room you can get.
The Ritz-Carlton, Beijing, for example, is a Tier 1 property. A regular room for a single night may cost 1,688 Chinese Yuan (about $264). So two nights would be valued at $528. You need to spend $4,000 to earn those rooms, which gives you a 13.2% return on your spending. That’s not very good when it comes to travel bonuses.
But now consider a Tier 4 property, like the Ritz-Carlton, Aruba. A regular room here may cost $609 per night during the week, or $1,218 for two nights. This would give you a 30.45% return on your spending, much better than at a Tier 1 hotel.
By using your E-Certificates wisely, going for a Tier 4 hotel instead of a Tier 1, you can get more than double the return on your spending!
There are a few cards that offer bonuses that don’t quite fit into the categories mentioned above. These mostly consist of store credit cards, which offer a bonus or award that’s specific to that store.
Usually you’ll get a discount, coupon, or store credit, but in some cases it might be a bit different. Here are a few examples of the kinds of welcome bonuses you’ll find on store cards, but take note that the current offers for these cards may be different:
Store cards may seem attractive, and cashiers will often push you to sign up for one while you’re checking out. You may be tempted with an “easy” discount on your purchase. But we don’t usually recommend using store credit cards unless you’re going to consistently spend a lot of money with that particular store. Otherwise, you’ll probably get a better value with a general rewards card that you can use to earn cash back or points no matter where you shop.
Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers of May 2021See the top cards here!
You might be able to reach your minimum spend requirements with just your regular, everyday spending. But sometimes those offers might seem a bit out of reach.
There are a number of strategies you can use to meet spend requirements that might not be immediately obvious. There are ways to pay for rent, college loans, and insurance through credit cards, for example, by using an intermediary payment system. And there are other purchasing tactics that may be a bit simpler or more complex than that.
Do not spend recklessly just to get an intro bonus. In general, you shouldn’t buy anything you wouldn’t normally buy just to get a signup bonus. Make sure that you don’t charge more than you can pay off by the due date, unless you’re using a card with a 0% APR.
And, take note that card issuers have certain restrictions about what kinds of spending count toward minimum spend requirements. Insurance payments, for example, may not count.
First, we’ll go over a few payment services that allow you to pay for rent, utilities, and other services with a credit card. Then we’ll go over methods to hit minimum spend requirements, some of which use these payment systems.
Thinking of buying money orders to meet your minimum spend requirements? Think again. When you buy a money order with a credit card it will usually be counted as a cash advance rather than as a purchase, which means it won’t count towards your spend requirement. It would also usually have a fee and be subject to a very high interest rate.
There are several popular payment systems that let you pay with a credit card when cards are not usually accepted.
Take note that these companies tend to change their service terms and fees quite often, sometimes from month to month. The information here is accurate at the time of publishing, but the terms for these services may be different when you use them. So be sure to check for the latest details.
These services all charge a fee, but if you’re getting a return of 20%–50% from the intro bonus, that will cover it plus much more. You might decide that this fee isn’t worth the value you’ll get, but if you don’t have any other way to reach the minimum spend then these services should be worth it. It obviously makes sense to go with the service currently charging the lowest fee.
You can link your credit cards to these services, and they will send a payment to your intended recipient. They’ll either mail a check or send the money electronically. The funds will be taken from your credit card account as they normally would. Do not abuse the terms and conditions of any of these services, or your plan could backfire.
BE WARNED: Although most transactions processed through these services will be counted as purchases, in some cases they will be counted as cash advances. Transactions must be counted as purchases in order to qualify for the minimum spend requirement.
If you take out a cash advance you won’t earn any rewards, and interest will begin accruing immediately. This would be bad, because you’ll end up having to pay money instead of making progress towards your minimum spend. So be sure to check the terms of the payment service carefully to ensure that your transactions will be counted as purchases.
Some landlords and property management companies may accept credit cards. Otherwise, you can use one of the payment processors above.
Urbanr is designed exclusively for paying rent, although it requires a few more hoop jumps to use than Plastiq. Your landlord will need to have an Urbanr account, so it probably won’t be an option for most people.
Plastiq may be the simplest option, although it charges a slightly higher fee than Urbanr.
Ask your landlord or property manager if you can prepay rent to reach your spend requirements more quickly.
You can pay your mortgage using the payment services above (but not Urbanr).
Your health insurance provider may allow you to pay with a credit card. Fidelis Care lets you pay with a credit card for no fee, for example.
If you can’t pay directly with a credit card, you can use a payment processing service.
Hit minimum spends by using credit cards to pay for your utilities, like electricity, gas, water, waste management, and internet.
Some colleges may allow you to pay tuition with a credit card, while others will not. There might be a fee as well, but this should be less than the value you get from the signup bonus you’re going for.
If your college doesn’t take credit cards directly, you can use one of the payment services above. Or if your college charges a fee, it might be better to go with one of those services if you can get a lower rate.
Don’t charge your college tuition to credit cards unless you’re going to pay off your balance in full before being charged interest. If you’re going to maintain a balance and pay over time it would be better to use a student loan, because you can get a fixed interest rate that’s much lower than most credit cards.
If you’re paying student loans, the loan servicer may or may not accept credit cards (usually it won’t). Great Lakes, Nelnet, FedLoanServicing, and MOHELA do not take credit cards.
However, if you’re trying to hit a minimum spend requirement, you can use one of the credit card payment services above to pay your student loans for a small fee. Remember that you can prepay your loans to get closer to the requirement, you don’t need to just pay the monthly required amount.
Once again, just like when it comes to college tuition, do not simply move your student loan debt over to a credit card if you’re going to revolve a balance from month to month at a high interest rate. Student loan interest rates are typically much lower.
Car loans can’t usually be paid directly with credit cards, but you can use a credit card payment service to pay your bill. Prepay your loan to get closer to the spend requirement more quickly.
If it doesn’t allow you to pay directly, you can use a payment service.
If the insurer of your vehicle accepts credit cards, use insurance payments to help reach spending requirements. If it doesn’t accept credit cards, use a payment service.
You can pay your taxes online with a credit card. Fees are as low as 1.87% (as of publishing), which is less than the Plastiq fee.
If you’re a sole proprietor or freelancer you can prepay your taxes in advance, which would make it easier to reach spending requirements.
Charge your club and gym memberships to your card to get closer to the minimum spend each month. If they don’t allow payment with credit cards, use a payment service like Plastiq.
Kiva.org is an international nonprofit organization that provides small business loans, typically to businesses in the developing world. You can use a credit card to fund a loan and reach your minimum spending requirement.
This is a loan, so ideally you’ll get your money back. Kiva boasts a 96.6% repayment rate, so chances are good that you’ll get your money back. However, there’s no guarantee when you’ll be repaid, or that you’ll be repaid at all. So there’s a bit of a risk here.
A minimum funding of $25 is required, and the transaction will be processed through PayPal. Kiva will pay the PayPal fee. You will not earn interest on the loan you provide.
You can add trusted friends or family members as authorized users on your credit cards. Any purchases that authorized users make with their cards will count toward minimum spending requirements, and will earn rewards too.
Be sure to only add people that you trust as authorized users, who will pay you back for the purchases they make (if that’s what you want them to do).
Authorized users are not legally liable for the charges they make to the card; only the primary cardholder is.
Consider buying gift cards to reach minimum spend requirements, which you can use later on to buy whatever you need. Or you can give them as gifts.
Be aware that gift cards are not always considered eligible purchases for earning rewards or signup bonuses. In some cases, it’s possible for the issuer to claw back the bonus if it determines you got there through ineligible spending.
You can load or reload your Amazon account with a credit card to meet your spending requirement, and then use those funds whenever you shop on Amazon. This is basically like buying a digital Amazon gift card.
Many credit card issuers offer shopping portals for cardholders, where you can get additional discounts beyond whatever bonus categories your card might have. You can use these portals to find deals while going for intro bonuses, giving you an even better return on your spending.
Maybe you weren’t willing to spend $500 on a couch. But if you get a 10% discount perhaps you’ll reconsider, and then the $450 you pay will count toward the spend requirement.
Some of the major credit card issuers have shopping portals, and certain cards will give you access to them:
There are other shopping portals associated with many of the co-branded airline and hotel credit cards as well. And, of course, you can use other discount services like Rakuten and Slickdeals. There are also shopping portal aggregators like Cashback Monitor that collect all of these services in one place for easy viewing.
In some cases, the shopping portal may give you a coupon code to use at checkout. These codes may work regardless of which card you pay with, but technically you’re supposed to use the card that matches the shopping portal.
The holidays provide an easy way to spend a considerable amount of money without any guilt. Depending on the particular intro offer, a long list of gifts can get you close to or even past the spending requirement.
You can buy presents ahead of time, of course, any time throughout the year. So if you need to hit a spending requirement maybe you can do some Christmas shopping in June.
Like holidays, you can expect to spend a tidy sum on a vacation. If you’re planning a trip to the Bahamas, for example, consider applying for a travel credit card with a signup bonus a couple months or so before you go.
You can use the card to pay for the trip, earning a nice bonus from all your spending. Then, depending on the particular card, you may be able to use those rewards to pay for your recent travel expenses. Or you might need to use the rewards to book travel later on to get the best value.
When doing anything in a big group, like going out to eat with friends and family, offer to pay the collective bill and have them pay you back. You’ll get closer to your minimum spend without having to pay anything extra yourself.
Concerts are great for this because ticket prices can be pretty high. Buy the tickets for your whole group so you can sit together. Your friends will thank you for stepping up, and you don’t necessarily need to tell them how much you’re getting back from the whole deal.
If you spend money for work and are later reimbursed, make the most out of those charges by putting them on a card with a signup bonus.
This one will take more work than most of the other methods, and it requires some extra knowledge, planning, and long-term commitment. The basic strategy is to buy a lot of items in bulk to reach your minimum spend requirement, and then resell those items later on (for a profit, ideally).
You’ll need people to sell to, of course, and the means to distribute the goods. But if you can use this method effectively, it could let you reach your minimum spending requirements quickly and easily while turning a profit at the same time.
Charitable donations are tax-deductible and can also help you reach minimum spend requirements.
Credit card introductory bonuses can be extremely rewarding, in some cases offering more than a 50% return on your spending. Travel cards tend to be the most rewarding in this sense, but other rewards cards have valuable bonuses too.
While you may be able to reach spend requirements with your regular shopping habits, you might need to consider some more creative ways to use your card. The list above should give you plenty of options.
Above all, be sure not to get overzealous with intro bonuses. Don’t charge more than you can pay back in that same billing period, unless you have a 0% rate. If you carry a balance from month to month and get charged interest, that will eat into all your efforts to earn big rewards.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors American Express Card, please click here.
Brendan has been writing about personal finance for over eight years, and is now taking on the challenge of bringing high quality credit education to the masses. He makes sure that Credit Card Insider is covering the most important credit topics transparently and precisely, and that we have up-to-date reviews of credit cards so you can find cards that are right for you.
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