The best credit card sign-up bonuses of 2019

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In a Nutshell

We selected four credit cards that offer strong sign-up bonuses to go with other valuable perks. Good news for jet-setters: Travel rewards cards generally score the highest marks here.

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At a glance: The best credit card sign-up bonuses for 2019

Category Card name Sign-up bonus
Premium travel Chase Sapphire Reserve® 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Travel Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Airline Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
Hotel Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

 


Credit card sign-up bonuses can be tempting, but before you apply, make sure to find a card that makes sense for you — even beyond the bonus.

If you’re shopping for a new credit card, it’s likely you’ve seen some appealing sign-up bonuses. While these bonuses can net you a ton of value in the short term, remember — they’re not the be-all and end-all.

The most valuable card for you will generally be the one that earns you the best rewards on your regular purchases after the sign-up bonus is long gone. You’ll also want to make sure you can redeem those rewards in a way that makes sense for you.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the pros and cons of each card.


Best sign-up bonus in the premium travel category: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

From our partner

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

From cardholders in the last year

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What’s the sign-up bonus?

Chase Sapphire Reserve®offers 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. The sign-up bonus is worth $750 when redeemed toward travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Who’s it for?

People who don’t mind spending a lot to save on travel.

Why we like it

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is one of our favorite premium travel cards, because it offers generous rewards that could help pay for your next trip.

We already mentioned the 50,000-point sign-up bonus, but you’ll also earn three points for every $1 you spend on dining, and one point per $1 on all other purchases. Your points are worth 50% more when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals or cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, which is what turns the sign-up bonus into $750 toward travel.

To sweeten the deal, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® includes a $300 statement credit each year for travel purchases, a credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every four years to help you breeze through airport security, and a complimentary Priority Pass™ Select membership, which gives you access to more than 1,000 airport lounges around the world after a quick one-time enrollment.

How to maximize the benefits of Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Watch out for

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® comes with a $450 annual fee.

To qualify for the sign-up bonus, you must spend a minimum of $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, which comes out to more than $1,300 per month. That’s a hefty chunk of change, so make sure it fits into your budget before springing for this card’s sign-up bonus.

Best sign-up bonus in the travel category: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

From our partner

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

What’s the sign-up bonus?

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. The sign-up bonus is worth $750 when redeemed toward travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. 

Who’s it for?

People who like to travel, but don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars on an annual fee.

Why we like it

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the little sister of the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, offering a few of the same benefits, but at a lower annual fee.

The big difference is that with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, your points are worth 25% more when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals or cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards® vs. the 50% more you get with the premium Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll receive two points for every $1 you spend on travel and dining, and one point per $1 on all other purchases.

Watch out for

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card charges a more affordable annual fee: $95 of card membership. But in exchange for the lower annual fee, you miss out on some of the premium benefits that come with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, like the annual travel credit and Global Entry credit, and Priority Pass™ Select membership.

And you’ll have to spend at least $4,000 on purchases during the first 3 months from account opening to qualify for the 60,000-point sign-up bonus. So if you don’t regularly spend more than about $1,330 per month, you might want to look for another card. Remember, it’s never a good idea to spend more than you can afford just to earn a sign-up bonus.

Best sign-up bonus in the airline category: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

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What’s the sign-up bonus?

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

What are your credit card points and miles worth?

Who’s it for?

Frequent flyers who are loyal to Southwest Airlines.

Why we like it

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card can help you save money on domestic flights.

Credit Karma–calculated point valuations found that Rapid Rewards® points were worth up to 1.97 cents apiece as of May 2018. So when you combine the 40,000-point sign-up bonus with the two points you earn for every $1 spent on Southwest Airlines® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases, you might have enough points to pay for multiple domestic flights.

What’s more? If you earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year, you’ll receive the Southwest® Companion Pass for the remainder of the year in which you earned it and the entire calendar year after that. With the Companion Pass, you may designate one person to fly with you on every Southwest® flight you take without paying the price of the additional ticket (you pay only taxes and fees, starting at $5.60 one-way).

Watch out for

If you get this card, make sure you like flying Southwest and don’t mind paying the card’s $99 annual fee.

Unlike travel rewards cards that allow you to redeem your points a number of different ways, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers value when you redeem for Southwest® flights.

Keep in mind, your points will expire if you let your Rapid Rewards® account go dormant. To keep it active, you must earn qualifying points at least once every 24 months. Fortunately, there are many ways to earn points, such as booking a flight on Southwest, spending money on your Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, or even buying points.

Best sign-up bonus in the hotel category: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card

From our partner
See Details, Rates & Fees

What’s the sign-up bonus?

The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card currently offers 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Who’s it for? 

Travelers who are loyal to Marriott and would rather sleep at a hotel than an Airbnb. 

Why we like it

The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card is so rewarding you may be able to get weeks’ worth of hotel stays without paying a dime.

You already know about the sign-up bonus, but you’ll also earn six points for every $1 you spend at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, along with two points per $1 for all other purchases.

Marriott is launching a new rewards program, and beginning in 2019, you’ll be able to book a Category 1 hotel on an off-peak night for as few as 5,000 points.

But it gets better.

You’ll receive another Free Night Award (valued up to 35,000 points) each year after your account anniversary. While you can’t combine the free anniversary night with your regular rewards, this is a great perk that keeps on giving long after you collect on the sign-up bonus. 

Watch out for

The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card carries a $95 annual fee.

To qualify for the sign-up bonus, you must spend at least $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, which comes out to about $1,667 per month. Let’s put it this way: If you think the spending requirements for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® are too high, this card is likely to make you uneasy.

That said, if you enjoy staying at hotels, then the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card has a lot to offer. Marriott, the big-name hotel chain, offers thousands of hotels for you to choose from, including Starwood Preferred Guest® and Ritz-Carlton® hotels. You’ll be able to earn and redeem your credit card points at more than 6,500 hotels around the world in more than 127 countries and territories.

If you prefer to do your traveling in style, then the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card and its rewards might be a good fit for you. But if you feel more comfortable staying in someone’s home or crashing at a hostel, then you might want to consider another rewards card on this list.


Tips for making the most of your sign-up bonus

Understand points and miles

Seeing thousands of points or miles offered as a bonus for a travel card can be dizzying.

But what are those points or miles actually worth? Well, it depends on a number of factors, including the rewards program and the credit card. And then there’s the matter of how you redeem your credit card points or miles.

If you choose a travel rewards card, it pays to be smart about how you redeem your rewards.

As David Slotnick, the credit card expert behind the blog The City Miler, points out, “It’s possible to get even more value with certain cards by transferring them to partnering frequent-flyer programs.”

The best frequent flyer programs

Doing the research takes some work, but checking a couple of different options when redeeming points for travel may save you a bundle.

Stay financially responsible

Typically, you’ll only qualify to receive a card’s sign-up bonus after you spend a certain dollar amount on purchases within a set period of time (for example, within three months from account opening).

Before applying for a rewards credit card, make sure you’ll be able to meet the minimum spend to qualify for the sign-up bonus or welcome offer. If spending, say, $3,000 within a three-month window doesn’t fit within your budget, maybe that particular card isn’t for you. (Or maybe you should wait to apply until you need to make a large purchase.)

While sign-up bonus rewards can be appealing, they’re generally not worth it if they stretch your budget too far. And if you end up carrying a balance and accruing interest or fees, you could end up canceling out the value of the bonus altogether.


Bottom line

Getting a credit card with a sign-up bonus can be a great way to splurge on a vacation or put a little extra cash in the bank. But putting in a bit of time and research can help you get the most value out of the perks.

And if you don’t see an especially appealing offer, your best bet may be to wait for the right one to come along.

As Slotnick says, “There’s no way to know if there will ever be a better offer, but high offers usually come in summer and around the holidays.”