6 Things to Know About Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses

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Banks are offering up to 100,000 points or miles to try their credit cards. Should you bite?

I review dozens of credit card offers each week to find the best deals. Check out more on our credit card page.

Credit card sign-up bonuses have again soared to new heights, with Chase bringing back its amazing 100,000-point offer for the British Airways Visa. Since these points can also be used on American Airlines, and the mileage required is based on the distance you fly, this bonus alone is worth eleven round-trip flights under 650 miles!

But there are other cards offering 25,000…50,000…and more in points or miles that can be redeemed for hundreds of dollars’ worth of award flights and hotel stays. I’ve earned hundreds of thousands of points and miles from these offers, but I’m always asked the same questions by friends and readers: Are these offers really worth it? And will accepting them hurt my credit?

The answers are yes and no. But like everything else in life, timing is everything. So here’s what you need to consider…

1. Are you applying for the best bonus out there?

The British Airways Visa from Chase normally offers 50,000 points as a sign-up bonus, but now that’s doubled to 100,000 for a limited time. It’s done this twice before, and just to add to the hype, there’s no specifics about how “limited” that is – one day, it’ll just end. That could be a week or a month from now. Other offers fluctuate almost as fast as the stock market.

Tip: Shop around for the best bonus offer, since there can be different deals for the same card – even at the same time.

2. What are the minimum spending requirements?

A few months ago, American Express offered their Business Gold Rewards card with a 75,000-point sign-up bonus. But those points were only awarded if you spent $10,000 within four months.

Tip: Read the fine print carefully before applying for the card. Note that your qualifying spending period usually applies from the day you open your account – not when you receive, activate, or first use the card.

3. Will you chase rewards by spending too much?

There’s an old joke among reward-card addicts that goes like this: A father sees his daughter’s credit card bill and is outraged. He confronts her – and asks why she didn’t spend more. Huge sign-up bonuses and rewards for spending are designed not just to win your loyalty, but to encourage you to spend, spend, spend.

Tip: If you’re vulnerable to spending more just to get a reward, these offers aren’t worth it.

4. Do you carry a balance?

Banks have to pay for these valuable rewards somehow, and they do so in large part by charging higher interest rates on their reward cards than they do on other cards. While the best rewards may be valued at 2 percent of spending, paying a higher interest rate can cost you much more in the long run.

Tip: If you tend to carry a balance, forget reward cards and take a look at 5 Credit Cards With Low Interest Rates.

5. How valuable are the points or miles?

Some programs are much more customer-friendly than others. For example, I usually have good luck finding round-trip domestic awards on American Airlines for 25,000 miles. But I always have problems finding Delta awards for the same amount.

Tip: Before you start earning rewards in a new program, take the time to learn how many points or miles are really needed to get you where you want to go.

6. Will signing up for a new card hurt my credit?

For most people the answer is no, especially if you don’t apply for a bunch of cards within a short time period.  According to credit score creator Fair Isaac ,”When the information on your credit report indicates that you have been applying for multiple new credit lines in a short period of time, your FICO score can be lower as a result.”

But one new credit application and inquiry probably won’t matter much. They go on to say “For most people, one additional credit inquiry will take less than five points off their FICO score.”

Tip: The top reward-card chasers like to space out their new applications to minimize the recent inquiries on their credit report.

Bottom line

These great sign-up bonuses are not too good to be true. By accepting these offers in moderation, and using your credit cards responsibly, you can earn enough points and miles to take you anywhere you want to go.

Stacy Johnson

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