A welcome bonus can earn you hundreds of dollars just for signing up for a new rewards. Charge a certain amount within a certain timeframe — say, $500 in the first three months — and you’re rewarded with a lump sum of cash or a bounty of bonus points.
Credit card companies don’t hand out cash for nothing though. What might look initially like an amazing offer of free money can end up ensnaring you in a cycle of debt, tethered to a credit card with hefty annual fees and mediocre rewards. And since you only get the bonus once, increasing your spending only to unlock it can be a perilous move.
That noted, when you’re shopping for a new credit card, the size of the welcome bonus — and the spending required to earn it — can be pivotal factors worth considering. We’ve profiled our favorite finds below based on the potential maximum value of the bonus, required spending threshold, annual fees and rewards structures — and provided some answers to frequently asked questions about welcome bonuses. Have a look.
Best overall credit card welcome bonus
Annual fee: $95
Welcome bonus: 100,000 miles
Welcome bonus value: $1,000 to $1,700*
Spending threshold: $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening; or earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months
Reward rates: Unlimited 2x miles (2 miles per dollar) on every purchase
APR: 17.24% to 24.49% (variable)
The Capital One Venture Rewards credit card has not only one of the largest welcome bonuses among cards we researched, it has a secondary bonus for lower spenders and a comparatively modest $95 annual fee. The tiered bonus structure is rare, and few cards with a $100 or lower annual fee have such a large bonus. As such, we think this card offers an unparalleled value.
This card has a high spending threshold, however, which means you’ll need to consistently spend roughly $1,670 on average every month for a year. And this is the potential catch: If you end up spending even $100 more per month than you normally would — just to unlock the bonus — you’re effectively canceling out the value. A consolation: You can still earn 50,000 miles after spending only $3,000 on purchases during the first three months.
*The value of Capital One miles depends on how you redeem them. If you redeem your miles through Capital One, either as a statement credit or for travel, they’re worth 1 cent each. If you transfer your miles to an affiliate travel partner, they can be worth up to 1.7 cents apiece, according to The Points Guy’s valuation, depending on the specific flight or hotel stay.
Best overall welcome bonus (runner-up)
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.
Annual fee: $550 (see rates and fees)
Welcome bonus: 75,000 membership rewards points
Welcome bonus value: $500 to $1,500*
Spending threshold: $5,000 on purchases in first six months of card membership
Rewards: 10x points (10 points per dollar) at US gas stations and US supermarkets during first six months, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases; 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel; 1x on other purchases
See pay over time APR: See rates and fees
The Platinum Card from American Express has one of the largest welcome bonuses — in terms of potential redemption value — among the cards we researched. When transferred to certain affiliate travel partners, American Express’ Membership Rewards points are worth up to 2 cents per point, according to The Points Guy’s valuation, making the 75,000-point bonus (after spending $5,000 in the first six months) worth up to $1,500.
The spending threshold for the bonus is also relatively reasonable, requiring $834 in monthly spending on average over six months. The rewards tiers are also competitive, with US gas stations, US supermarkets and travel purchases earning significant rewards.
The main drawback with the Platinum Card is its high annual fee of $550. To get maximum long-term value out of the Platinum, you should plan to spend upwards of $10,000 annually on flights and hotels and make use of the premium travel perks, including lounge access and hotel upgrades.
*The value of Membership Rewards points depends on how you redeem them. If you redeem your points through American Express, they’re worth between 0.5 cents and 1 cent per point. If you transfer your points to an affiliate travel partner, points are worth up to 2 cents apiece, according to The Points Guy’s valuations.
Best welcome bonus for a credit card with no annual fee
Annual fee: $0
Welcome bonus: 25,000 bonus points
Welcome bonus value: $250
Spending threshold: $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
Rewards: 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases
APR: 13.99% to 23.99% (variable)
The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card offers a solid welcome bonus worth $250 in statement credits and no annual fee. The spending threshold is low, requiring just $334 in monthly spending during the first 90 days.
Otherwise, the Travel Rewards card offers few frills but flexible rewards points that can be redeemed as statement credits. Plus, across the board you’ll get 1.5 points for every dollar you spend.
Best welcome bonus with a low spending threshold
Annual fee: $0
Welcome bonus: $200 cash back
Welcome bonus value: $200
Spending threshold: $500 in purchases in the first three months from account opening
Rewards: 5% on travel booked through Chase; 3% on dining at restaurants, drugstores; 1.5% on all other purchases
APR: 14.99% to 23.74% (variable)
Our top pick for cash-back rewards credit cards, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a $200 cash-back bonus after spending just $500 during the first three months — and no annual fee. It’s a nice bonus — and the Freedom Unlimited also features top-notch rewards with 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores and 1.5% on all other purchases.
Credit card welcome bonuses, compared
|Best overall||Best overall, runner up||Best welcome bonus for a credit card with no annual fee||Best bonus with a low spending threshold|
|Card name||Capital One Venture Rewards||AmEx Platinum||Bank of America Travel Rewards||Chase Freedom Unlimited|
|Welcome bonus||100,000 miles||75,000 points||25,000 points||$200 cash|
|Welcome bonus value||$1,000 to $1,700*||$500 to $1,500*||$250||$200|
|Spending threshold||$20,000 in first 12 months (for 100K bonus miles); $3,000 in the first 3 months (for 50K bonus miles)||$5,000 in first 6 months||$1,000 in purchases in first 90 days||$500 in the first 3 months|
|Rewards||2x miles on every purchase||10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets during first 6 months, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases; 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel; 1x on other purchases||1.5x points on all purchases||5% cash back on travel booked through Chase; 3% on dining at restaurants, drugstores; 1.5% on all other purchases|
|APR||17.24% to 24.49% variable||See pay over time APR (see rates and fees)||13.99% to 23.99% variable||14.99% to 23.74% variable|
|Intro APR||None||None||0% intro APR for 12 months for purchases||0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases|
What is a welcome bonus?
A welcome bonus is a one-time reward offered to card holders after signing up for a new credit card. Bonuses always require users to spend a certain amount within a set time period, like $500 in purchases in the first three months, in order to “unlock” the bonus.
So should I sign up for lots of credit cards to take advantage of welcome bonuses?
This is a risky and time-consuming gambit that could adversely affect your credit. Though a welcome bonus is worth considering, we recommend taking a comprehensive look at the overall value of a credit card and choosing one that fits your spending habits and financial situation.
What is considered a ‘good’ welcome bonus?
In our view, a good welcome bonus is one that doesn’t require you to contort your existing spending habits and offers a return that’s higher than the card’s annual fee. Many rewards credit cards offer a welcome bonus of $200; anything higher than that is noteworthy.
We also prefer cards with bonuses that feature other perks or multiple rewards tiers, increasing the usefulness of the card beyond the bonus.
What does the ‘x’ mean in reward rates?
The x means “times” — a way of referring to the multiple rewards points or miles you’ll get for every dollar spent. For example, a 2x mile card gives you 2 miles for every dollar spent. A 10x point card gives you 10 points for every dollar spent.
List of cards researched
- Capital One Venture Rewards
- AmEx Platinum
- Bank of America Travel Rewards
- AmEx Blue Cash Everyday
- Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- American Express® Gold Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Citi Premier
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
- Capital One Savor
- Chase Freedom Flex
- Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards
- Amazon Prime Rewards
- Discover it Cash Back
- US Bank Altitude
- Capital One SavorOne Cash
- IHG Rewards Club Premier
- Wells Fargo Cash Wise
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card from American Express, click here.
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