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What is a sign-up offer?

Credit card sign-up bonuses, also known as a new cardmember offer, are a one-time offer to receive extra rewards for meeting the purchase requirements in the given time frame. If you're able to spend the required amount and stay within your budget, sign-up offers are a great way to get rewards that would normally take much longer to earn.

How a sign-up bonus works

Introductory bonuses are an incentive offered by credit card issuers to get you to sign up for the card. To receive the sign-up bonus, you typically will have to spend a specified amount of money within the first few months after opening your account.

Sign-up bonus rewards

Credit card sign-up bonuses offer rewards that can come in the form of points, miles or cash back depending on the card and rewards program. Co-branded travel credit cards work similarly to general travel cards but are different when it comes to using your credit card sign-up bonus points. This is because co-branded credit cards may only allow you to redeem your points or miles to a specific hotel or airline loyalty program or for a statement credit. General credit cards allow you to use the points towards both travel and non-travel-related options.

Points

Many rewards cards offer points for your spending, so a sign-up bonus for these cards would entail earning a certain amount of bonus points for meeting the spending requirement. Cardmembers can redeem points for many different rewards, depending on the credit card. Travel credit cards, for instance, have sign-up bonuses that may be used for discounted or free flights or nights at a hotel, while standard rewards cards allow cardmembers to redeem their points within a rewards program that features deals on merchandise or even gift cards.

In addition to those redemption options, points may also be redeemed for a statement credit or cash back. If you redeem your points for a statement credit, the amount you redeemed may post to your account and decrease your card balance.

Miles

Some general travel and most airline credit cards have sign-up offers that award cardmembers with miles when they spend on the card. If you have a general travel card, you can use the miles you earn to redeem for airfare across multiple airlines, while airline credit cards are affiliated with one brand and can let you use miles for flights with that specific airline or their partners.

Although cardmembers may have many different redemption options for their miles, redeeming miles for airfare typically yields a higher value for these rewards than redeeming for other merchandise or deals.

Cash back

With cash back card sign-up bonuses, you can receive money back when you meet the offer requirements. The cash back that you receive can be a check, a deposit directly into your account or a statement credit.

Benefits of a sign-up offer

High reward value

The high rewards that come with sign-up bonuses allow cardmembers to get even more value out of their spending. With a welcome offer, you can usually receive many more points, miles or cash back than you normally would with regular spending on the card. Sign-up bonuses can sometimes amount to a free hotel stay, plane ticket and more.

Opportunity to earn bonus points

Rewards credit cards award bonus points for certain spending categories. When cardmembers spend money in these categories to earn the welcome bonus, they may be able to earn extra rewards in addition to the bonus itself. If you have a travel card that has a sign-up bonus and allows extra points for spending money at restaurants, for example, you can earn many more points if you frequently go out to eat. If you're looking to earn rewards for purchases that you already plan on making, you may want to consider selecting a card with bonus rewards points.

Factors to consider when choosing a sign-up bonus

To find a credit card with the right sign-up bonus for you, consider these factors:

Take your own preferences into account

You should sign up for a credit card that offers bonus points for categories that match your spending habits. If you regularly spend money on groceries and gas, for example, you should find a card that awards you extra points when you make purchases at supermarkets or gas stations. And if you like to travel, cards that offer rewards for airfare, hotel stays or travel-related spending will boost your earning and offer attractive redemptions.

By choosing a credit card with extra rewards for the purchases you normally make, you may not only receive the sign-up bonus but may incur more bonus points along the way. Rewards programs with spending categories may increase your ability to earn rewards point value for your purchases.

Choose a sign-up bonus that fits with your budget

A sign-up bonus with a spending requirement that aligns with your budget will make it easier for you to receive the incentive. For instance, a welcome bonus of 50,000 bonus points for spending $3,000 over the first three months is a great offer for those who will typically spend at least this much over the given time period. Meanwhile, cardmembers who choose a welcome offer that alters their spending habits may find themselves in debt and may end up paying interest and late fees that may not make the rewards card worth it. These late fees are only applicable in payments that are late.

If you have a big purchase coming up or can easily meet the spending minimum for an introductory bonus, then signing up for the card is a great way to maximize the value of your money.

What to remember about sign-up bonuses

Welcome offers are subject to change

Sign-up bonuses can change over time and great deals may only be available temporarily. Look out for promotional deals and read over the offers carefully to make sure they are still active. Some credit card companies only give out these deals for a limited time, so it's important to know how much time you have to sign up and receive the offer.

Eligibility requirements can vary

The eligibility requirements for sign-up bonuses depend on the credit card company, so you should check to make sure that you qualify for the offer before signing up for the card. You may not be eligible to earn the sign-up bonus if you're re-opening an account that you had previously closed or are using multiple credit cards with the same issuer. Prospective cardmembers can contact their credit card company to see if they qualify for the bonus.

Certain fees and transactions don't count toward the spending requirement

When making purchases to earn your sign-up bonus, make sure that you understand what fees and transactions don't count toward the spending minimum. Certain fees and costs such as foreign transaction fees, balance transfers, balance transfer fees, annual fees and cash advances might be excluded in what counts as spending to earn the sign-up offer. If you don't take these fees into account when calculating how much more you need to spend, you might think you've met the spending requirements and not receive the bonus.

The bonus is not guaranteed

Introductory bonuses are an offer rather than a guarantee, you can only earn the rewards if you meet the requirements. If you can't meet the spending minimum in the given time frame, then you may not qualify for the benefits offered. Sign-up bonuses vary, so review your options and decide what works for you.

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