Best Sign-Up Bonus Credit Cards of October 2019

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Credit card issuers offer sign-up bonuses as an incentive to apply for an account and use it regularly. Depending on what you’re looking for in a card, it’s possible to get a sign-up bonus worth hundreds of dollars, and some go upwards of $1,000.  

If you’re looking for a credit card with a lot of upfront value, here are our top choices based on how much you can earn.

Editors' Picks

Best Overall

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

Our Rating Among Sign-up Bonus Cards
4.9
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.74% - 26.74% variable
Annual Fee $99
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2X miles for every one dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earn 1X miles for every dollar spent on all other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

This card is our top pick overall and best among airline credit cards, too, for a couple of reasons. First, our analysis shows that AAdvantage miles have a high value—as much as 2.95 cents apiece. What’s more, you’ll earn an impressive 60,000 miles ($1,770 in value) after making just one purchase in the first 90 days and paying the $99 annual fee—compared to the thousands you have to spend on other cards to earn a bonus. You’ll also receive a $99 companion certificate every year that you spend $20,000 on the card, plus free checked bags, priority boarding, and more.

Best Hotel Card

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card

Our Rating Among Sign-up Bonus Cards
4.6
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.99% - 24.99% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 6X points for every $1 spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2X points everywhere else.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

If you want a big bonus and ongoing value, this card has it. You’ll get 100,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months—that’s worth about $980 when you transfer the points to American Airlines, based on our analysis. And while the card charges an annual fee, you’ll get a free night’s stay every year worth up to 35,000 points. Other perks include silver elite status, elite night credits, and more.

Best for Flexible Travel Rewards

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Our Rating Among Sign-up Bonus Cards
4.5
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.99% - 24.99% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

The card’s 60,000-point sign-up bonus—which you’ll earn after spending $4,000 in the first three months—is worth $750 when you use your rewards to book travel through Chase. You may be able to beat that 1.25 cents-per-point valuation, though, if you transfer your rewards to one of Chase’s partners. For example, you can get 1.57 cents per mile in average value on flights with United Airlines and its partners, according to our research. The card charges an annual fee, but it’s relatively low.

Best Travel Card With No Annual Fee

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Our Rating Among Sign-up Bonus Cards
4.2
Hilton Honors American Express Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.49% - 26.49% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate 7 points per $1 for eligible Hilton purchases. 5 points per $1 for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations. 3 points per $1 for all other eligible purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

Fee-averse travelers can still get a fair amount of value with this option. You’ll earn 75,000 points after you spend just $1,000 in the first three months. The only catch is that Hilton points are worth about 0.34 cents apiece on average, according to research by The Balance. So the bonus is worth roughly $255. But with no annual fee, automatic silver status, and high rewards-earning rates, the card is still a solid choice for Hilton enthusiasts.

Best for Cash-Back Rewards

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Our Rating Among Sign-up Bonus Cards
4.0
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.74% - 25.74% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 15 Months
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

The $150 sign-up bonus you can earn after spending $500 in the first three months is equal to what some other no-annual-fee cash-back cards offer, but the Quicksilver wins out on other features. First, you earn a good flat rate of cash back, rather than having to keep track of different earning rates for different kinds of spending. Secondly, it has solid zero-interest promotional deals for purchases and balance transfers. Plus, it has a handful of perks and no foreign transaction fee, which means it could be a good card to take on trips abroad.

Find Your Credit Card Match

We believe the rate at which you earn rewards, as well as the overall cost of the card, are the most important factors to consider when choosing a rewards card, but we know you might have different priorities. See what suits you best.
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What Are Sign-Up Bonuses & How Do They Work?

Sign-up bonuses are incentives that rewards credit cards offer to encourage consumers to open a new credit card account. They can be in the form of cash back, points, or miles, or as a discount on a store credit card.

Depending on the card, you may get the offered bonus as soon as you’re approved, after you make your first purchase, or—most commonly—after you spend a certain amount within a specified period. 

Credit card sign-up bonuses can be a great way to gain value from a credit card fast. While some cards offer sign-up bonuses with less than $100 in value, others offer cash back, points or miles worth hundreds of dollars—sometimes in excess of $1,000. 

Credit card issuers sometimes change the sign-up bonuses on their cards. Depending on when you apply, you may get a limited-time offer that’s worth more than the card’s typical incentive.

What Are the Different Types of Sign-Up Bonuses?

You can break sign-up bonuses down by the type of rewards you earn:

Cash Back

If you’re applying for a cash-back credit card, you’ll typically receive the sign-up bonus as a direct deposit, statement credit, or paper check. Cash-back sign-up bonuses are usually represented as the actual cash value you’ll receive.

Points or Miles

Some credit cards, primarily travel cards, offer sign-up bonuses in the form of points or frequent flyer miles. Depending on the rewards program, however, the value of each point or mile can vary. This means that a larger sign-up bonus in terms of points or miles doesn’t necessarily mean more value.

Store Discount

Some cards, usually store credit cards, give you a sign-up bonus in the form of a discount, which applies to your first purchase with the card or to your immediate purchase if you apply at the cash register.

Pros & Cons of Sign-Up Bonuses

Focusing on getting the best credit card sign-up bonus can be a good thing, but there are also some drawbacks to thinking only of the short term.

Pros

  • You can get hundreds of dollars of value fast

  • Value can help negate the card’s annual fee

Cons

  • You may miss out on other features

  • Temptation to overspend

Pros Explained

  • You can get hundreds of dollars of value fast: Most of the best credit card sign-up bonuses require you to spend a certain amount of money in the first few months with the card. Once you meet that requirement, you can get hundreds of dollars worth of cash back, points, or miles to use whenever you want.
  • Value can help negate the card’s annual fee: Many cards that offer big sign-up bonuses also charge annual fees. If you want to “test drive” a card before choosing whether to hold onto it long-term, the card’s sign-up bonus may cover the cost of the annual fee several times over while you make your decision.

Cons Explained

  • You may miss out on other features: If you focus solely on a credit card’s sign-up bonus, you may miss out on valuable rewards and benefits that come with another card. For example, one card may have an excellent sign-up bonus but a mediocre ongoing rewards program and few extra credit card perks. If you’re planning on keeping a card for a long time, look at it holistically instead of focusing on just one feature.
  • Temptation to overspend: If you’re required to spend thousands of dollars to qualify for a sign-up bonus, it could tempt you to spend more than you normally would. Before you apply for a credit card, check your budget to make sure you can meet the minimum spending requirement with your normal spending habits.  

How to Choose a Card Based on Bonus 

There’s no single best credit card sign-up bonus for everyone, so you’ll need to consider a few things before you make a decision:

  • Your spending habits: If you don’t spend a lot each month, it may not be worth trying for a sign-up bonus that requires that you spend thousands of dollars in the first few months. Check your budget and consider cards that won’t cause you to overspend.
  • Real bonus value: Figuring the value of a cash-back sign-up bonus is simple, but it can get more complicated with travel rewards cards. Check out our list of best travel cards to find links to reviews that contain point-valuation information. That can help you determine the real value of a particular bonus.
  • Your preferences: While some cards offer higher sign-up bonuses than others, there may be other features that are deal-breakers for you. Check each card’s annual fee and the options you have for redeeming your rewards. If you prefer cash back, for example, a travel card with less flexible redemption options with may not be worth it to you, even if it has a higher sign-up bonus.

Some of the best credit card sign-up bonuses require that you have good or excellent credit. If your credit history needs some work, it's best to focus on that first before applying for a card you're unlikely to be approved for.

How to Redeem Rewards

Rewards redemption options can vary by credit card, but here are some general options you might get based on the type of credit card you choose:

Cash Back

You can typically redeem cash-back rewards as a statement credit, direct deposit, or paper check. With some cards, you may also be able to use rewards to buy gift cards, shop online, book travel, and more.

General Travel

These credit cards usually allow you to either use your points or miles to book travel through the card issuer’s travel portal, or book travel directly with any travel merchant and use your rewards to get a statement credit for that purchase. You may also have the option to transfer your points or miles to other travel loyalty programs for more flexibility.

Co-Branded Airline or Hotel

Rewards earned with airline and hotel credit cards are deposited into a loyalty program account with the co-branded partner. If you have an airline card, you may be able to use your points or miles for several things, but you’ll usually get the most value with free flights. The same goes for hotel credit cards, which typically get the best value when you redeem points for free hotel stays.

Store

If you have a store credit card, you may be able to redeem your rewards as a certificate for use with the retailer, a credit for online or in-store purchases, gift cards or even cash back.

Methodology

At The Balance, it's our mission to give you unbiased, comprehensive credit card reviews. To do this, we collect data on hundreds of cards and score more than 55 features that affect your finances.

Our reviews are always impartial: No one can influence which cards we review, the way we present them to you, or the ratings they receive.

About This List

We reviewed more than 100 credit cards that offer one-time bonuses to new cardmembers, and 4 cards made cut for this list.

What We Score

We look at the number of points or miles earned in a sign-up bonus, and convert those bonuses to a dollar value using our analysis of credit cards rewards programs and Americans' travel habits. We also evaluate bonuses based on the amount of time a cardholder has to earn the bonus and how much they have to spend to earn it.

Beyond that, we evaluate cards' rewards-earning rates, regular APR, rewards flexibility, and perks. For more information about how The Balance evaluates credit cards, see our full credit card review methodology