Best Credit Card Bonuses for New Cardholders of November 2023


Nov 9, 2023
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NerdWallet's Best Credit Card Bonuses for New Cardholders of November 2023

Best Credit Card Bonuses for New Cardholders From Our Partners

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$200 cash rewards bonus

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Chase Ultimate Rewards® points

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$200 cash back

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Capital One Miles

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No-annual-fee travel points

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American Express Membership Rewards

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$250 statement credit

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Cash back match

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Southwest Airlines

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Hilton Hotels

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World of Hyatt

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General travel card

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Marriott Bonvoy Hotels

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Delta Airlines

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IHG Hotels

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$250 cash back

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United Airlines

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Alaska Airlines

How do credit card sign-up bonuses work?

Credit card issuers use sign-up bonuses to encourage people to apply for a card and then, once approved, get in the habit of using it. The term "sign-up bonus" is a bit of a misnomer because in most cases, you don't get a bonus simply for signing up. You earn it by putting a certain amount of spending on your card in the first few months. That's why some issuers use a term like "welcome offer" or "new cardholder offer" rather than "sign-up bonus."

With a typical sign-up bonus, the time frame for earning the bonus is usually three to six months. The clock starts when you're approved for the card. The more valuable the bonus, the more you'll usually have to spend during that time in order to earn it. For example, a cash back card might offer a bonus of $150 to $200; to earn it, you might have to spend $500 or $1,000. A travel or airline credit card might offer points or miles worth $750 or even $1,000 but will require spending of $3,000 or more. Sign-up bonuses are typically all or nothing — you either spend enough to earn the bonus, or you don't. You won't get half the bonus for spending half the required amount.

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Discover cards are a notable exception to the "all or nothing" nature of credit card bonus offers. Instead of a set bonus amount, the size of your bonus depends on how much you use the card over the first 12 months your account is open. At the end of that period, the issuer matches all the rewards you've earned. For example, here's how Discover describes the bonus offer on the popular Discover it® Cash Back card: "INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300."

Once you hit the required spending amount, you'll get your bonus. With some cash-back cards, the bonus might immediately appear as a credit against purchases on your monthly statement. In most cases, though, the bonus shows up in your rewards balance, alongside the points, miles or cash back you earn from your spending. You can then redeem your bonus however and whenever you want.

Credit card companies usually set rules about what kind of spending counts toward earning the sign-up bonus. Purchases of goods and services will count. Balance transfers, cash advances and wire transfers will not, nor will purchases of cash equivalents like gift cards, money orders or casino chips. In other words, you can't earn a sign-up bonus by "buying money" and then paying off your balance with that money.

What credit card has the best sign-up bonus?

The "best" offer for new cardholders is a moving target for a couple of reasons.

First, bonuses are paid in different kinds of "currency" — cash, statement credits, frequent flyer miles, hotel points and more. That makes it hard to compare bonus values directly. Second, credit card issuers frequently roll out special offers. A card that usually dangles 50,000 points or miles as a bonus might kick that up to 75,000 or 100,000 for a limited time to try to entice people to apply. Targeted offers — that is, those sent out to select consumers rather than advertised to the public at large — can be even more lucrative.

That said, here are some things to keep in mind about bonus offers:

  • Travel credit cards tend to offer bigger bonuses than cash back credit cards. Bonus offers on most cash back cards top out at around $200. Travel cards can have bonuses worth $500 or more. However, travel card bonuses come as points or miles that might not be as easy to redeem as $200 in cash.

  • Cards with annual fees tend to offer bigger bonuses. When a card charges an annual fee, the issuer knows it needs to sweeten the offer to get you to choose that card over one that charges nothing. So annual-fee cards pay richer rewards, provide better perks — and carry bigger bonuses. For example, the popular Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card charges a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees) and has this offer: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, on the other hand, has a much more modest offer: Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel. But in exchange, it has a $0 annual fee (see rates and fees).

  • Points and miles are not all created equal. A bonus of 40,000 miles on a Delta Air Lines credit card has a different value from a bonus of 40,000 miles on a Southwest Airlines card. And 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are worth more (much more) than 50,000 Hilton Honors points. Apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult with points and miles because they aren't portable like cash — you can only use them in the ways allowed by the program that awarded them. See our page on point and mile values for more information.

At NerdWallet, we often say that there is no single "best" credit card — just the best card for you. It's the same with bonus offers. The best sign-up bonus is the one that is of greatest value to you.

How many credit card sign-up bonuses can I earn?

There's no overall limit to how many times you can earn credit card sign-up bonuses. However, individual card issuers may have rules in place to keep you from earning a bonus on a particular card or "family" of cards more than once. The idea behind such rules is to keep people from applying for the card, earning the bonus, canceling or downgrading the card, then applying anew and earning another bonus. Read the terms and conditions of any bonus offer to see what restrictions are in place.

What credit card sign-up bonuses are the easiest to get?

Generally speaking, cash back credit cards have lower spending requirements for earning their bonuses. Depending on the card, you might be able to snag a bonus of $150 or $200 by spending as little a $500.

Is a credit card bonus taxable income?

Legally speaking, credit card rewards — including bonuses — are not income. Instead, the IRS considers them a discount or rebate on purchases made with the card. Therefore, they're not taxable.

This tax treatment is an additional reason why credit card bonuses must be earned through spending, and why the required spending amount is larger than the bonus itself. If you spend $1,000 and get a bonus of $150 for doing so, you don't "come out ahead" — you've still made $850 in net purchases. You've saved some money, but you haven't made any money.

Contrast this with the bonuses you can sometimes earn for opening a checking or savings account at a particular bank. With these promotions, you do come out ahead. Follow the bank's rules (which usually involve depositing a certain amount and/or setting up direct deposit, among other things), and you get "free money." As such, it's usually taxable as interest.

• • •

To view rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, see this page.

To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, see this page.

Last updated on November 9, 2023


NerdWallet's credit cards team selects the best credit cards in each category based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include fees, promotional and ongoing APRs, and sign-up bonuses; for rewards cards, we consider earning and redemption rates, redemption options and redemption difficulty. A single card is eligible to be chosen as among the "best" in multiple categories. Learn how NerdWallet rates credit cards.

Frequently asked questions

A sign-up bonus is a promotion offered by a credit card issuer to entice you to apply for a card and begin using it regularly. The term "sign-up bonus" is a bit of a misnomer because in most cases you don't get the bonus just for signing up; you have to earn it by spending money. That's why some issuers use terms like bonus offers, welcome offers or new-cardholder offers.

Sign-up bonuses give you a lump sum of cash back or a large number of points or miles if you spend a certain amount using the card in a specified time period, usually the first few months after opening the account. After you complete the required spending, the bonus is applied to your account. Separate from that lump-sum bonus, or in addition to it, some credit card sign-up offers include a more valuable rewards structure for a limited time. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers new cardholders both a cash bonus and a higher rewards rate at grocery stores in the first year.

Typically, new cardholders must complete a certain amount of purchasing on their new card within a few months to earn a sign-up bonus, whether in cash-back, points or miles. For example, earn $150 in cash back by spending $500 on the card in the first three months of card ownership. When a card's bonus offer includes elevated rewards rates for a limited time, those higher rewards are typically in place immediately when you open the account.

The value of a sign-up bonus depends on the type of card. Travel credit cards and small-business credit cards tend to have the highest bonuses. Cards with annual fees typically offer higher sign-up bonuses. Cash-back bonuses are usually lower but easier to earn.

A competitive marketplace dictates the value of bonuses, but values differ widely based on the type of credit card offer and even the time of year. For cards with an annual fee, we think a good bonus will have a value exceeding three years of annual fees, unless the card includes especially valuable perks.

Bonuses on popular credit cards can range in value from $25 to more than $1,000. As a general rule, new cardholders are required to complete a certain amount of spending on the new card before earning the bonus. With cards that award bonuses in points or miles, the values can differ widely.

Not usually. Most bonuses have a spending requirement to earn the bonus, whether making a single purchase or spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the first few months of card ownership. The bonus is paid after the requirement is met.

As the name would suggest, cash-back credit cards usually pay their bonuses in cash, as opposed to points or miles. The “cash” might be in the form of a credit on your statement (which reduces the amount you owe), a deposit into a bank account, or even a mailed check.

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