How much of a reward do you need to apply for a credit card?

Update: This offer for Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard® is expired, but there’s currently an opportunity to earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within first 90 days of having the card. Learn more about the special offer here.

While there are plenty of credit cards worth acquiring for the long term benefits they provide (be it points on everyday spend or an annual bonus), there are also some cards that are worth getting exclusively for the sign-up bonus. After all, most of us aren’t huge credit card spenders, so if we’re going to rack up hundreds of thousands of points a year from credit cards, it needs to be mostly from sign-up bonuses and not everyday spend.

There’s no doubt that credit card sign-up bonuses have been on the decline the past year or two. There are still some stellar offers out there, though it’s no longer the days where just about every card comes with a 50,000+ point sign-up bonus, and anything less is laughable

So I’m curious to hear what you guys think — how much of a bonus do you have to be offered to apply for a credit card exclusively for the sign-up bonus? I guess the “cost” of applying for a card is the temporary loss of (at most) a couple of points on your credit score, reaching the minimum spend, and the effort it takes to apply for the card and cancel it.

Admittedly the answer probably depends on which credit bureau your score is pulled from and how much the minimum spend is on the card, though I think we all have a general threshold, which is subject to change based on circumstances.

Right now I think my threshold is the equivalent of $400 in “value.” This can come in the form of $400+ cash back (as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard® is offering), or miles I value at a similar amount. Of course if there’s an annual fee on a credit card for the first year that would have to be subtracted from the “value” you’re getting out of the card.

The reason I’m posing this question is because I’ve been going back and forth on applying for the Alaska Signature Visa card. The card offers a 25,000 mile sign-up bonus, and I value Alaska miles at 1.5 cents each. That’s $375 of “value,” though there’s a $75 annual fee, bringing it down to $300. That being said the card comes with a $99 coach companion certificate, which I surely value at around $100 or so, putting the card right around my threshold. Even though the Alaska card is churnable (meaning you can sign-up for it multiple times), I still haven’t actually picked it up, which is why I’ve been pondering the question.

So I’m curious, what’s your threshold for applying for a credit card exclusively for the sign-up bonus?


  1. my threshold is $350 (and $1k spend max) but i consider Alaska card to be the exception because of how churnable it is and it requires no min spend. i simply need to shower on the plane next time i fly to middle east… hehe

    for cards that require more than $1k in spend the reward has to be at least $500.

  2. I am struggling with that exact question on that exact card. I’ve seen 40k bonuses so I might hold out for now.

  3. Ha, I’ve received multiple Alaska card offers. Still undecided as well.
    Like the miles, just not sure how I could use them out of my home airport.
    To answer your question, 50,000 with no first year fee is a no brainer. Anything less strongly depends on carrier/hotel.

  4. It depends on specific needs and how many hits my credit report has had in the last 6 months. Since I’m at the edge of too many, I’m reluctant to do more.

    I stooped the the Priority Club card, because I want specifically to stay at the Changi Crowne Plaza, which seems overpriced, but the bonus will cover the two stand alone nights I need while I transit Sin on the way to Male and back.

    $400 is about right, but I also look at cash flow, so cards that aren’t fee free are less appealing.

    I will still churn the Citibank HHonors Card because even though the 50k points is not sufficient, it’s sooo easy to do.

  5. @Lucky, is the coach companion ticket upgradeable? That’s why I find the AA coach companion ticket worthless.

  6. @ beachfan — Yep, it’s both upgradable and eligible for mileage accrual. So as far as companion certificates go it’s quite valuable, in my opinion.

  7. I think you also need to subtract Alaska’s ridiculous “award fee” from the value of their offers. I value Alaska miles at less than 1.5 cpm, so with the immediate annual fee, the 25k offer is a pass for me. 35k+, I’d do. Not to mention, the high opportunity cost of an Experian inquiry.

  8. I think the question of this particular card in question is more qualitative than quantitative. Lucky, you’ve expressed previously in this blog a coy allure to the card chiefly to help build AS miles for redemptions on partner airlines. Also, that you’ve never had the card, albeit the numbers are what they are, it sounds like you’re inclined to pull the trigger if only for the experience of seeing how it goes for a year or so – which, in the spirit of our collective adventure using miles and points and your job as a barometer of “the game” is commendable. So, go for it – cuz, really, at the end of the day it won’t hurt any.

  9. Book a ticket on the Alaska Airlines web site as a guest to get the $100 statement credit after $1k spend offer which will offset the $75 annual fee. You should see the offer on the checkout pages before you pull the trigger (sometimes the ticket price has to be over a certain amount for it to show up). Plus you have 24-hours to cancel the ticket and get a full refund if for some reason you change your mind about the flight 😉

  10. Lucky,

    I’d have said $500+ without thinking about it, but perhaps I’d go as low as $400.

    But I did pick up a Chase Ink Cash or something like that that was only 25k. They had pre-approved me and there was no spend requirement, so I grabbed the easy points from the business line. I’m not sure I would have done that on a personal line, however, as there are more cards.

    Funny side note: My mom called me the other day *ecstatic* that she saved $30 off her Amazon purchase… from grabbing the Chase-issued affiliated credit card. I told her big mistake — you have to be careful with your Chase applications, they have a major presence in the market place, and have some of the best offers. IMHO, that’s the worst card she could have gotten.

    I asked her to call me next time — why was she so excited over a $30 grab when she could have gotten a $400 grab with a little elbow grease?

  11. Ever since Alaska made the companion fare only valid for Coach fares, the value has significantly decreased for me. I am thinking of downgrading to Business Visa or their basic card. The Bus Card is only $50/yr and has same benefits. The basic card has no annual fee fee but no companion fare and only 1-for-$1 points on all purchases.

  12. Wow, I wondered the same. The HH reserved provided two solid nights at top categories which is hands down 600+ and gold status. That is a winner for me, and a keeper. The Hyatt one, provides with two top quality hotel nights but that is it. Not a keeper.

    I have skipped the PC and Carlson since the sign on bonus is low and at times you can even get it for 600 USD. ( greedy, aren’t I ?)

  13. Correction: You can get Carlson/PClub for less than 280.00 during a sale. So for me the sign on bonus must be greater than 600.00 ( greedy 🙂 )

  14. My “goal” is $500+, although which credit report makes a big difference. However, in the past, my first churn year I got 19 cards and went for a few Alaska’s BoA Hawaii, Bank of Hawaii and Virgin Atlantic to convent to Hilton points and cancelled each of the above within 30 days of the annual fee posting and did not pay any annual fee. I would not do that again, as they were not worth the credit pulls and lower average credit relationship score hit. I might do an Alaska because I have 75K miles and 100K would give me nice options. At .6 for Hilton, my Hawaiian airlines were worth $420 [without paying the annual fee] – not enough for me in the future;)

  15. I don’t have a per se rule, but $500 is my geneeral guideline. If I need something immediately, though, and can get it by signing up for a credit card, I won’t get too worried. For example, I had an overnight in YVR planned, and I really wanted to use the Fairmont, because I had to be in the transborder terminal early the next morning. The rate was $270 per night. I got the two night free Chase card. Since the card has an annual fee of $95, it means I’d have to get about $325 in use out of the second free night voucher to hit my $500 guideline, give or take. Even though I don’t have a plan, there are some great Fairmonts in the world, so I figure I’ll get about that in value out of the card. Maybe not quite. Maybe more. Either way, I don’t need to do a sophisticated analysis, because I knew I needed that airport free night, and needed it relatively quickly, or it would cost me $270 out of pocket. Saving $270, plus having a free night cert in my back pocket, was good enough and close enough for a credit hit plus annual fee, because I had that immediate need.

  16. To me the number of points and the rack rate are only half the story. The other half is how close the points get you to your next goal. I guess the minimum I’ve signed up for recently was the 32,000 point AGR card bonus that cost me nothing more than a stick of gum to unlock. Probably useless to most of you but I enjoy traveling by rail when I have the time for it. The smallest airline card was the 40,000 point USDM card. Most everything else was 50,000 points or more.

  17. I think it is worth mentioning that points are different than dollars. So for me a $400 payout like the NFL card is always a no brainer. miles are more fuzzy and under 50k is annoying.

  18. One other thing to add, I guess — some cards are worth it even without any sign up bonus or a modest one. Two examples: A Kohl’s credit card, which gets you access to 30 percent off coupons, or the 5x citi TY preferred card which comes with only a 6k bonus (worth about $80), but which can very quickly become worth much more.

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