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What is the best travel credit card for sign-up bonuses?

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    To find the best travel credit card sign-up bonus (also known as a new cardmember bonus), be sure to read all of the details for the travel credit cards you're considering. Many travel credit cards provide sign-up bonuses for new cardmembers that can help you earn rewards faster, but the requirements for bonus rewards and their real-world value will vary from one card to the next.

    How sign-up bonuses work: general travel credit cards

    General travel credit cards are not associated with a specific hotel or an airline and provide rewards in the form of either points or miles. Travel credit cards commonly provide sign-up bonuses for new cardmembers when they meet these requirements:

    Reach the minimum spend requirement

    Getting a sign-up bonus will require you to spend a certain amount on the new card — $3,000 or $4,000 is a standard range, but some premium cards may set a higher threshold.

    Make purchases within the card's sign up bonus spending period

    You must reach the required spending amount within a certain number of months of becoming a cardmember, typically three to four months from your date of account approval, but timing will vary by offer.

    Wait for your rewards points or miles to reach your account

    Bonus points or miles will be credited to your account after you reach the spending threshold. You may have to wait two or three months to receive your bonus.

    General travel cards may require you to use your rewards in the card issuer's rewards program — but some cards permit transfers to hotel or airline loyalty programs. You may even be able to execute a 1:1 transfer to your loyalty program of choice, which means your points won't lose any value when you use them with certain hotels and airlines.

    How sign-up bonuses work: Hotel or airline credit cards

    Hotel or airline credit cards, also known as co-branded travel credit cards, work similarly to general travel cards: awarding points or miles for your spending, plus bonus rewards for new customers. However, co-branded cards differentiate from general travel cards when it comes to using your credit card sign-up bonus points for travel redemption.

    Hotel and airline cards provide sign-up bonuses when you:

    Make purchases and reach the minimum spend requirement within the card's sign up bonus spending period

    As with general travel cards, you'll have to spend a certain amount as a new cardmember to qualify for a bonus award. Note that this doesn't have to be hotel or airline spending — most purchases will qualify.

    You'll have to reach the spending threshold in a certain time frame with a hotel or airline card, as with a general travel card. Three months is a common time frame but may vary by offer.

    Wait for your rewards points or miles to reach your account

    Bonus points, miles and other rewards will be credited to your account once you meet the requirements of the offer.

    One main difference between general travel credit cards and co-branded credit cards is how you can use your sign-up bonus. Co-branded credit cards associated with a specific hotel or airline may only allow you to redeem your points or miles to a specific hotel or airline loyalty program. With general travel cards, these points don't have to be used toward a specific hotel or airline. They can be used toward general travel, but there are also other redemption options outside of travel.

    How to maximize your travel credit card sign-up bonus

    No matter what kind of travel credit card you're using, getting a sign-up bonus requires you to reach the spending threshold within the required timeframe. Here's how to make that happen:

    Read the card terms and conditions carefully

    Be sure you understand how much you need to spend and how long you have to reach that bonus threshold before signing up for a travel credit card.

    Add an additional user to the card

    Many travel credit cards let you add one or more authorized users to your account. Their spending could help you get your travel credit card sign-up bonus sooner.

    Time your spending correctly

    Credit card issuers are often strict about the timing of your spending. If your charges don't post within the allotted time frame, they're unlikely to count toward your sign-up bonus threshold — so be sure you reach your target before the window expires.

    Consider using a new card for a large one-time expenditure

    Big expenditures, such as an appliance or a hotel stay, can help get you to your card's required spending amount.

    If you want to take advantage of a sign-up bonus, consider looking at your pre-qualified offers whenever you have a big expense planned. Whether you're spending on a vacation or a home renovation, using a new credit card can earn you some major rewards if you can quickly meet the minimum spend by your first charge on the card.

    How to find the best travel credit card sign-up bonus

    You can usually find pre-qualified offers in your mail or if you log in to any of your existing credit card websites. Search for the best sign-up bonuses available to you, then look at the type of card and ask yourself these questions:

    • What is the annual fee if any?
    • How does its APR compare to your other cards?
    • What are the reward point bonus categories and do they align with your expected purchases?
    • If you earn the sign-up bonus, what are your redemption options?
    • What other perks and benefits are included with the card?

    By evaluating and comparing the elements of each rewards credit card, you can find the sign-up bonus that is most valuable and the travel credit card that best suits your spending and lifestyle. With a smart selection, you might be able to turn a large expense into something rewarding.

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