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.
Check out our picks for the Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers!
|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”|
What Are Introductory Bonus Offers?
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 more. That could be from $100 to over $1,000 in some cases.
Every card has its own intro bonus with its own terms, although many are similar. In most cases you need to reach a minimum spending requirement on purchases to get a certain bonus, although there are other cards with different types of offers.
The intro bonus you get will be in addition to any regular rewards you earn from the spending categories. So if a card earns 2% cash back at gas stations, for example, you’ll still get that cash back in addition to any signup bonuses.
Take note that credit card signup bonuses are for purchases only. Other charges to your account, like annual fees, balance transfers, and cash advances will not count toward your minimum spend requirement.
Public and Private Signup Offers
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 apply for a card 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. Links to private offers aren’t meant to be shared. If you try to use a private offer that wasn’t meant for you, there will be an error or the card issuer might deny you the card.
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.
How Long Do I Have?
Most cards give you 3 months after account opening to reach the minimum spending requirement. A few issuers, 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.
The clock starts as soon as you’re approved. If it’s a 3-month offer, for example, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have 3 months from the day you receive your new card in the mail, or from the day that you activate the card. You’ll get 3 months from the date you’re approved for the card.
If you don’t meet the required spending by the deadline, you 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 of this working 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 for the card 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.
Don’t Abuse Intro Bonus Offers
Keep in mind that many credit card issuers are taking steps to prevent people from abusing these signup bonuses, or using techniques like manufactured spend to accumulate rewards. Some card issuers only allow you to get the same intro bonus once every two years (like Chase), or even just once per lifetime (like American Express).
If you show habits like getting credit card signup 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. They could reclaim the rewards you’ve earned with them. And they may even close your accounts with them — that means all of your accounts, not just the one card you were using. They want to maintain a positive business relationship with you, but if you game the system they can shut you out.
So be sure to carefully check the terms of introductory bonuses to make sure you know how they work. There are many ways to legitimately reach a minimum spending requirement, as we discuss below, so you should have plenty of options.
How to Use Intro Bonus Offers Effectively
Keep these tips in mind when seeking out and spending for introductory bonus offers.
- Examine your options: There are many cards with intro bonuses out there. You’ll find multiple offers that require the same amount of spending, but offer more or less rewards. Remember to check the other card terms, too; the intro bonus isn’t the only important feature.
- Keep track of your offer: Take note of your particular bonus offer when you apply for a new card. You can take a screenshot or just jot it down. These offers can change over time, so if you search for the same card later you may see a different offer. You’ll always get the specific offer that you apply for, although you can contact the card issuer to request that they match a new offer.
- Don’t run out of time: Keep track of when you’re approved for your card so you know exactly how long you have to meet the minimum spending requirement. There are free tools like Google Calendar to let you set alerts. If you’re running out of time, you can try calling for an extension.
- Get creative with your spending: If you can’t reach your minimum spend requirement through normal, everyday spending, look into other options. There are some ways to use credit cards to pay for services that don’t normally accept credit cards, and other tactics to help you reach spending requirements.
- Spend more than the minimum: Don’t stop right at the minimum spend requirement. Spend a bit more just in case you miscalculated, or if you need to make a return.
- Use your rewards in the most valuable way: Cash back cards are pretty simple: you just get that much cash back. But if you’re earning rewards points or airline miles, you might have several redemption options, offering more or fewer cents per point.
- Think far ahead when travel planning: If you want to use your bonus rewards for an upcoming trip, keep in mind that it will usually take at least one or two billing cycles to get the points after reaching the minimum spend. That’s in addition to the time it takes you to reach the minimum spend.
- Don’t abuse the card terms: Be sure to read the terms of your offer very carefully. In some cases, especially with the major credit card issuers, you can lose your bonus if you violate the terms, and they might even close all of your accounts with them.
- Don’t go into debt because of intro bonus offers: Don’t charge more than you can pay off by the due date. We recommend always paying off your statement balance in full each month to avoid interest charges and to keep your credit scores up.
To get your own awesome signup bonus, check out our picks for the Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers!
Types of Introductory Bonus Offers
Bonus Cash Back
This might be the most common type of introductory bonus. Many cash back cards have an intro bonus offer of some kind.
Intro cash back offers are very simple. Take the Bank of America® Cash Rewards Card (Review), for example. It provides $150 cash back rewards for spending $500 in the first 90 days after account opening.
That’s a 30% return on your spending, which is pretty good.
Other cards might require even less spending to get a bonus. The Chase Freedom Card (Review) occasionally has an offer of $25 bonus cash back for adding an authorized user to your account and making just one purchase in the first 3 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. Most rewards cards from Chase have this authorized user offer.
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 (Review) is a travel card that many people like for the signup bonus. It provides 60,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months after account opening. If you redeem those points through Chase Ultimate Rewards for 1.25 cents each, that means you’re getting a total of $750 in value, for a return of 18.75% on your spending. But if you transfer those points to get a better rate, like 2 cents per point, you’d get $1,200 in value, or a 30% return on your spending.
At one point, when the Sapphire Preferred signup bonus offered 50,000 bonus points, we had actually found a private offer for the card 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.
If you’d met the spending requirement for each offer, that would have been a total of 80,000 points for spending $30,000 in a year (with at least $4,000 of that being in the first 3 months). At 1.25 cents each, that comes to $1,000, for a 3.33% return on your spending. At 2 cents per point, you’d get a $1,600 value, for a 5.33% return on your spending.
This isn’t a very large return in total, after the second bonus. But if you were going to spend that $30,000 anyway, this could have provided an extra $1,600 in your bank account at the end of the year. And that’s in addition to all the points you’d earn from the Sapphire’s bonus categories.
Instead of cash back or points, a card may offer statement credits for its introductory bonus. Instead of depositing cash back or points into your rewards account, a statement credit will simply subtract 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.
The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express for example, provides a $50 statement credit for making a Delta purchase within the first 3 months. This credit is pretty lenient, although it’s still a bit restrictive compared to some other offers, which might just require any purchase at all, from any merchant. Cardholders also get 30,000 bonus miles for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months with this card.
Cashback Match by Discover
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.
For example, the Discover it® (Review) offers 5% cash back in a variety of bonus categories that rotate every three months, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter. That’s up to $75 cash back per quarter, earning at the 5% rate. From April to June in 2018, the 5% category was grocery stores.
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.
Other Discover cards get this doubling bonus too. The Discover it® Miles (Review) normally offers 1.5X miles per purchase (equivalent to 1.5% cash back). But you’ll end up getting a total of 3X miles per dollar after your account anniversary, for 3% cash back on every purchase — an excellent offer for a no annual fee card.
The Discover it® Secured Card (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.
Travel Rewards: Airline Miles, Hotel Points, and Free Hotel Stays
Most travel credit cards offer a nice introductory bonus 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 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 you some time to meet the spending requirement, and then it will 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 cards.
The JetBlue Plus Card, issued by Barclays, is an airline card that’s co-branded with JetBlue. It comes with 40,000 bonus miles for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, along with a host of other airline perks.
If you value a JetBlue mile at 1.3 cents, that comes to $520 — a 52% return on your spending, which is about as big as intro bonuses get. But you’ll need to redeem those miles for JetBlue flights to get the full $520 in value. (JetBlue miles are actually called “points” in their system, but they’re just like airline miles from other airlines).
The good news is that, 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.
The Hilton Honors Card from American Express provides 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. 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 signup bonus.
At 0.6 cents each those points are worth $450, for a 45% return on your spending. You’ll need to redeem your points through Hilton to get that rate.
Free Hotel Stays
Some hotel cards offer free night stays as their introductory bonuses, although these aren’t very common. One such card is the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card.
Cardholders get two complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel, for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 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 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.
Other Bonus Offers
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 signup bonuses you’ll find on store cards:
- SaksFirst World Elite Mastercard® (Review): $25 Saks gift card after your first purchase with the card outside Saks.
- Kohl’s Charge Credit Card (Review): Save 30% on your first online or in-store purchase at Kohl’s with the card.
- Macy’s American Express Card (Review): Save 20% on Macy’s purchases on the day you’re approved and the day after, up to $100 in savings.
- My Best Buy™ Visa (Review): Either get 10% back on Best Buy purchases for your first day, or choose a flexible financing option.
- Victoria’s Secret Angel Card (Review): Get $15 off your first purchase after becoming a cardholder.
- Gap Visa Credit Card (Review): Save 20% and get free shipping on your first purchase with the Gap or affiliated stores.
To find the right bonus offer for you, check out our top picks for the Best Credit Card Signup Bonus Offers.
How to Meet Introductory Minimum Spend Requirements
You might be able to reach your minimum spend requirements just with your regular, everyday spending. But sometimes those offers might seem a bit out of reach.
However, 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.
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.
Payment Processing Services
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 go to use them. So be sure to check for the latest details whenever you use any of them.
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 with the lowest fee, but the fees will change from time to time so you may need to do some research to find the best deal.
- Plastiq: 2.5% transaction fee, can be used to pay almost any bill, recipient does not need a Plastiq account.
- PayPal: 2.9% transaction fee plus an additional fixed fee, recipient must have a PayPal account.
- Venmo: 3% transaction fee, recipient must have a Venmo account.
- Urbanr: 1.5% transaction fee, only used for paying rent, landlord must have an Urbanr account, doesn’t accept American Express.
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 very 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.
Methods to Meet Minimum Spending Requirements
Some landlords and property management companies may accept credit cards. Otherwise, you can use one of the payment processing services above.
Urbanr and RoomiePay are both designed exclusively for paying rent, although they require 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. RoomiPay only requires ACH information, but they currently only accept a limited number of people per month.
Plastiq may be the simplest option, although they charge a slightly higher fee than Urbanr and RoomiPay.
Ask your landlord or property manager if you can prepay rent to reach your spend requirements more quickly.
Take note that Plastiq does not currently allow you to pay mortgages using Visa or American Express cards. Mastercard and Discover cards can be used.
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.
If you’re paying student loans, the loan servicer may or may not accept credit cards (usually they 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.
Car Down Payments
Some auto dealerships may allow you to pay the down payment for a car with a credit card. Verify with the dealer that this transaction will be processed as a purchase, not a cash advance.
If they don’t allow you to pay them 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 they don’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%, 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.
Fund A Loan to a Small Business
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 96.9% 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.
Add Authorized Users
You can add trusted friends or family as authorized users on your credit cards. Any purchases that authorized users make with their cards will count towards 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). As the primary cardholder, you will be liable for all charges made to the card, including those made by authorized users.
Authorized users are not legally liable for the charges they make to the card; only the primary cardholder is.
Buy 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.
Load Amazon Account
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.
Discount Shopping Portals
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 your minimum spend, 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 towards the spend requirement.
Some of the major credit card issuers have shopping portals, and certain cards will give you access to them:
- Amex Offers: Most American Express credit and charge cards provide access.
- Citi Easy Deals: Some Citi credit cards provide access, like the Diamond Preferred® Card (Review) and Simplicity® Card (Review).
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: Some Chase credit cards provide access, like the Freedom Card (Review) and Sapphire Preferred Card (Review).
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 Ebates 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 lot 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 nice sum of money 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 month 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 have, 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.
Group Activities (Like Dining or Concerts)
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 the convenience, 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.
Buy in Bulk and then Resell
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 if possible).
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.
There are many types of signup bonuses. The most common have minimum spending requirements and give you basic cash back or points, while some others are a bit different. You may need to consider several redemption options to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.
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. If you carry a balance from month to month and get charged interest, that will eat into all your efforts to earn big rewards.
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