With the economy improving, credit card issuers are trying harder than ever to attract new cardholders with good credit, offering extremely generous introductory bonuses to help sway you to their card. Still, with all the credit cards out there, how do you know which ones have the best bonuses? Luckily, we did the research for you. We looked at all the top rewards credit cards and found the cards with the best introductory bonuses, ranging from $400 to spend on anything you want all the way up to the equivalent of $575 in hotel stays. Check them out to find which card bonuses sound best to you.
Best Overall Intro Bonus Credit Card: Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard | APPLY NOW
This card is kind of insane when it comes to bonus features. First, you get 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months, which is $400 that the card is pretty much just giving you, and redemption is simple as you can just use the $400 to pay for any travel purchase on your credit card statement. On top of that, the Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard gives 2x the points on every purchase, which is higher than most other travel cards. And beyond that, you get another 10% bonus on any points you use for travel, so if you spend 10,000 points on travel, you get 1,000 points back. The only downside is the $89 annual fee, but even that is waived for the first year. This card took the top prize as best travel rewards credit card in our travel rewards card analysis, so chances are you’ll want to make this the most-used card in your wallet, even after you redeem the $400 intro bonus.
The Runner-Up: Chase Sapphire Preferred | APPLY NOW
This is another great all-around card, with a unique option of letting you transfer your points to other popular rewards programs. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers 40,000 bonus points just like the Barclay Arrival World Mastercard. You must spend $4,000 within the first 3 months to get the bonus. What makes this card particularly interesting is that it lets you transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio to many popular reward programs, including frequent flyer programs like United and Southwest, as well as hotel loyalty programs like Hyatt and Marriott, so you can instantly turn this intro bonus into flights and hotel rooms. In fact, according to our travel rewards card analysis, if you transferred those points to United MileagePlus, they'd be worth $580 in flights. You can also easily redeem the points for other travel, or simply take a $400 statement credit. There is a $95 annual fee but it's waved the first year.
Best Intro Bonus with No Annual Fee: Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard
Barclay Arrival World Mastercard No Annual Fee offers 20,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, equivalent to $200 to spend on any kind of travel. This is the sister card to the Barclay Arrival card mentioned above with the $400 bonus. The bonus is "only" $200 here and your ongoing rewards aren't quite as high but there is no annual fee. You'll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on travel and dining, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. Just book your travel using your card and then redeem your miles for a statement credit. If you use your miles to pay for travel, you'll get 10% of your miles back. As if that weren't enough, there is also a 12-month 0% introductory APR on purchases and no foreign transaction fees.
Best No-Fee Intro Bonus Card: Chase Freedom | APPLY NOW
The Chase Freedom card offers $200 cash back after spending $500 in first 3 months, which is the best cash back intro bonus we've seen with a no annual fee credit card. The card also offers a 15-month 0% introductory APR for purchases and balance transfers. The Chase Freedom card gives you 5% cash back within certain categories on a quarterly basis (starting January 1, it will be 5% back on gas stations, movie theaters and Starbucks stores), and 1% cash back on every other purchase, which is great because it also doesn't have a limit on cash back rewards. If you think you might need to carry a balance on your credit card but still want stellar cash back rewards, this is the card for you.
Branded Hotel Credit Cards: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express | APPLY NOW
Branded hotel credit cards are often more tricky when it comes to points, since most have different tiers of hotels and the number of points it costs to stay varies from tier to tier. So 20,000 points may get you a night at a Tier 2 hotel but not a Tier 6 hotel. Regardless, hotel credit cards are usually pretty generous with their points.
The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express (a NextAdvisor advertiser) has a great introductory offer. You get a 10,000-points bonus with first purchase and another 15,000-points bonus after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months, which is equal to about $575, according to our calculations from our travel rewards credit card analysis. You also get 4-5 points for each $1 you spend on Starwood Preferred Guest hotels and resorts. This card does have an annual fee of $65, but it is waived during the first year.
The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase also offers a great intro deal. You get 50,000 bonus points (or $450) after spending $1,000 in first 3 months, plus 1 free night stay after account approval. You also get 5 points for every $1 you spend at Marriott hotels. The annual fee is also waived for the first year, although it is $85 every year after that. Or you could try the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card. You get 2 free nights after spending $2,500 in first 4 months. It also awards a huge 10 points per $1 spent at participating hotels, which can help rack up the points. However, there is a $95 annual fee, so beware of that.
Branded Airline Credit Cards: Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World Mastercard | APPLY NOW
Branded airline cards are usually pretty generous when it comes to handing out introductory bonus points, mostly to get customers to commit to flying with their airline. But that’s good news for us.
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier cardholders can earn 2 roundtrip flights after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. As a bonus, there are no foreign transaction fees if you use the card out of country. The card also rewards its users with points that can be used on Southwest flights, international flights, hotel stays, rental cars and a variety of other options. In our 2013 Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis, these points had a strong flight redemption value of $1.72 per $100 spent.
United MileagePlus Explorer Card is a great airline card – you’ll get 30,000 miles when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months, which equates to about $510, according to our travel rewards credit card analysis. You also get 2 miles for every dollar you spend on United flights, can enjoy priority boarding, and your first checked bag is free. Plus there are no foreign transaction fees so if you travel internationally you can save a ton of money. There is a $95 annual fee, but the first year fee is waived.
Citi® Platinum Select / AAdvantage World Mastercard is a great choice for those who would like to earn free flights on American Airlines. You can earn 30,000 bonus miles (the equivalent of $510) after making $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months, as well as getting your first checked bag for free and priority boarding on American Airlines flights. Our 2013 Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis indicated a flight redemption value of $1.80 per $100 spent, which is a very strong payback. The hotel redemption value of $0.84 wasn't a good, but if you use this card primarily for flight rewards it's definitely a smart pick.
If you are a Delta flyer instead, you can try the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express. They offer 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, which equates to about $180, according to our travel rewards credit card analysis. You also get 2 points for every $1 you spend on Delta flights, priority boarding, your first checked bag is free and you’ll save 20% on in-flight meals, drinks and movies. The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year.
Gift card: If you want a gift card instead of getting cash back on your purchases, the Citi ThankYou Preferred card offers you 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,500 in the first three months. It also offers a 7-month 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers, as well as the opportunity to accrue reward points for purchases. Cardholders will earn 2 points for every dollar spent on dining and entertainment like movie tickets, amusement parks and live performances. All other purchases will earn 1 point per dollar spent. Apply now.