Opening a new travel rewards credit card to earn a large sum of extra points or miles can go a long way toward covering future travel costs. But before you click “submit” on that application button, pause. Not all credit card bonuses are created equal.
A bonus offer advertising 100,000 extra points or miles may sound substantial, but the dollar value of welcome offers can vary greatly based on rewards program point values. Some rewards will go further than others, due to underlying flight and hotel prices (in dollars and in points), as well as other factors. What’s more, the biggest bonuses often come with steep spending requirements.
As part of “Our Money’s on Travel”—our series on getting back to travel—we’ve spelled out the questions you should ask when weighing the value of a giant credit card welcome bonus.
What’s the Bonus Offer Worth?
To show how current travel card offers compare, we’ve collected some of the highest-value bonuses available right now. The value is based on how many points or miles are in the advertised new-cardholder offers, and our calculations of how much rewards are worth in various programs, on average:
|Travel Rewards Credit Cards Offering 75,000+ Point Bonuses to New Cardholders|
|Credit Card||Bonus Offer Terms||Avg. Total Bonus Value|
|United Quest Card||Earn 80,000 miles by spending $5,000 on purchases within 3 months, plus another 20,000 miles by spending $10,000 total within the first 6 months.||$1,980|
|United Club Infinite Card||Earn 75,000 miles by spending $3,000 on purchases within 3 months.||$1,485|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||Earn 80,000 points by spending $4,000 within 3 months, plus up to $50 back in statement credits for grocery store purchases made during the first year.||$1,170 (includes the max statement credit value)|
|Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card||Earn three free nights by spending $3,000 within 3 months.||$1,050|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Earn 50,000 miles by spending $3,000 within 3 months, and another 50,000 miles by spending a total of $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months.||$1,020|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card||Earn 75,000 points by spending $3,000 within 3 months, plus up to $200 back in statement credits for eligible U.S. restaurant purchases made within 6 months.||$988 (includes the max statement credit value)|
|IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card||Earn 150,000 points plus a reward night by spending $3,000 on purchases within 3 months.||$1,110|
|The Platinum Card from American Express||Earn 75,000 points by spending $5,000 within 6 months.||$832|
|Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card||Earn 150,000 points by spending $4,000 within 3 months.||$720|
|Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card||Earn 130,000 points by spending $2,000 within 3 months.||$624|
|Hilton Honors American Express Card||Earn 80,000 points by spending $1,000 within 3 months, plus another 50,000 points by spending a total of $5,000 within 6 months.||$624|
|Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard||Earn 80,000 points by spending $3,000 within three months.||$536|
|Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card||Earn 100,000 points by spending $3,000 within 90 days.||$420|
Our research shows that hotel rewards points are worth less than most other credit card points, on average. That means hotel-branded card bonuses that look gargantuan may actually be worth a lot less than card offers advertising a smaller number of bonus points.
By comparison, points offered by issuer rewards programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards are consistently worth more than 1 cent each when used for travel. As a result, the number of points in their bonus offers more closely aligns with their average dollar values.
To determine approximately how much a travel rewards card bonus is worth, take the number of miles or points offered in a credit card bonus and multiply by the reward program’s average point value in cents, as outlined in the table below.
Here’s an example:
50,000 Delta SkyMiles x 1.44 average mile value (in cents) = $720 average bonus value
How Far Will the Bonus Take You?
Another way to determine bonus offer value is to gauge how far those extra points or miles will go when put toward a travel reservation. Like average point values, hotel and flight costs vary among travel providers. For perspective on the value of a big card bonus, here’s how far 50,000 airline miles may go when used for award flights, based on The Balance’s research:
Here’s the same comparison for 50,000 hotel points, too:
Credit card welcome offers aren’t written in stone and are subject to change. If you calculate the value of a travel card bonus and it doesn’t seem worth the effort required to get the bonus and keep the card, don’t get the card. A better offer may come along soon. Conversely, if you see a giant offer that may save you serious coin, take it because it may not be around forever.
Can You Meet the Bonus Spending Requirement?
Credit card bonus offers require new cardholders to spend a certain amount within a short period of time after opening the account. Sign-up bonus terms can vary greatly, but bigger bonuses often come with steeper spending requirements.
For example, the 80,000-mile United Quest Card bonus requires new cardholders to spend $5,000 within three months of opening their account to earn all those miles, but the 20,000-mile United Gateway Card bonus only requires new cardholders to spend $1,000 within the same time period. The Quest card bonus is larger, but so is its spending requirement.
Depending on your budget and how you use credit cards, these sign-up bonus details could put extra rewards out of reach, or encourage purchases you can’t afford. Before jumping on a large offer, make sure the spending requirement fits your budget.
The Balance created a spreadsheet template to make that process easy. Make a copy of the file, then enter the bonus offer details and your monthly spending information to trigger the calculations.
Rent and mortgage payments are monthly expenses you can’t easily pay with a credit card to help meet a bonus offer spending threshold. Because of that, we don’t factor those living expenses into the spending requirement budget. If credit card payments are an option, the convenience likely comes with a 2%-3% fee.
If you do pay rent or mortgage with your card to earn a bonus, you’ll need to calculate the fee and subtract it from the value of the bonus. If paying your rent or mortgage with a card one or two times is the only way you’ll be able to earn a very large bonus, it may be worth doing, but be sure to pay the full balance off in full every month. Otherwise, the interest costs can quickly outweigh the value of your rewards.
Are You Eligible for the Bonus?
Credit card sign-up bonuses are intended for brand new cardholders. Many major travel rewards card issuers—including American Express, Capital One, and Chase—have rules in place that prevent consumers from double-dipping in the credit card bonus offer pot. If you’ve had a travel card before and closed it—or you currently have another version of an airline or hotel card—check the fine print before getting excited about a big bonus offer.
For example, the terms and conditions of the Capital One Venture card and The Platinum Card from American Express note that previous or existing cardholders may not be eligible for the welcome bonus. Airline and hotel card terms may be even more specific, ruling out current cardholders, those with old iterations of a hotel card, and those who have cards in the same branded card suite.
Be mindful of your credit score when going after a travel credit card bonus, too. You will likely need good or excellent credit to qualify for the credit cards advertising the biggest offers. All of the travel rewards cards in The Balance’s database offering 75,000-point bonuses or more recommend applicants have at least good credit (a FICO score of at least 670).
Will You Use the Card on an Ongoing Basis?
The best travel cards not only supercharge your rewards balance, but give you benefits you’ll enjoy even after you’ve blown through the bonus. Consider how many points the card earns for every dollar spent, and whether it offers extra rewards on large purchases like travel or everyday expenses like groceries or dining out.
Perks such as free checked bags, annual statement credits for travel purchases, or various kinds of travel insurance also add to the card’s ongoing value. Many of the most valuable travel rewards cards also charge steep annual fees, but enjoying those extra perks and racking up rewards can make that cost worth the investment.
Should You Open a Credit Card To Get a Big Bonus?
Deciding whether or not to open a new travel rewards card so you can rack up extra points is really up to you and your financial situation. If you qualify for the card bonus, can meet the spending requirement, and your credit is in good shape, it may be worth it, especially if the bonus is big enough to finance a major portion of a trip you’re planning. All those rewards can help you save money on travel costs, and even help you book a trip sooner.
If you’re on the fence, weighing the card’s ongoing benefits can help you decide. Applying for a card has implications for your credit, and if you get it, you’ll have one more bill to manage and potentially more temptation to overspend. All of those factors should go into your decision.