In the interest of full disclosure, One Mile At A Time earns a referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through some of the below links. These are the best publicly available offers that we have found for each card. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Please check out my advertiser policy for further details about our partners, including American Express, Chase, and Citi, and thanks for your support!
One of the keys to traveling the world for next to nothing is credit cards. Virtually all airlines and hotel chains have co-branded credit cards that allow you to accrue points in your preferred program. Not only do credit card companies offer huge sign-up bonuses just for being approved for a card, but they also offer bonus points for spending in certain categories.
I earn around a million miles a year through credit cards, about half of which come strictly from the sign-up bonuses earned by being approved for a credit card and completing a minimal amount of spend. The other half I earn through maximizing everyday spend (allowing me to earn anywhere from 2x to 5x points per dollar) and taking advantage of every bonus promotion available to me. Every year I redeem these points for a handful of first class trips around the world.
There are a lot of misconceptions about how credit scores work, as most people believe that applying for a credit card will negatively impact their credit score. Credit scores are made up of the following components:
- 35% of your score is made up of your payment history
- 30% of your score is your credit utilization
- 15% of your score is your credit history
- 10% of your score is made up of the types of credit you use
- 10% of your score is your request for new credit
When you apply for credit cards you get hit with an inquiry, which falls in the category of requests for new credit. You’ll temporarily be dinged 2-3 points on your credit score, though that falls off within two years. Meanwhile virtually all the other components of your credit score can improve as a result of applying for a credit card, meaning your credit score can actually go up as a result of applying for more cards. As long as you keep your credit utilization low and make your payments on time, you shouldn’t see a negative impact on your credit score from applying for cards. My credit score is actually much better now than it was before I started applying for lots of credit cards, and I apply for about a dozen a year.
With that in mind, I figured I’d share what I consider to be some of the “must have” cards available now.
Current offer: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within three months
Annual fee: $450
Why it’s a great offer: This card was launched in August, and is possibly the hottest credit card offer we’ve ever seen. The card has a massive sign-up bonus, and on top of that has lots of perks that make it valuable long term.
Most notably, the card offers triple points on dining and travel, and also offers a $300 annual travel credit. The travel credit is issued per calendar year while the annual fee is charged per cardmember year, meaning you’ll potentially get $600 in travel credits before your second year’s annual fee is due.
I value Ultimate Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, so to me the 100,000 points are worth $1,700. On top of that you can potentially come out $150 ahead on the travel credit in the first year (since you can get $600 and the annual fee is just $450), meaning I give this sign-up bonus a value of ~$1,850.
Current offer: Earn up to 100,000 Membership Rewards points — earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000, and an extra 50,000 points after spending an additional $10,000 on purchases in the first three months
Annual fee: $450
Why it’s a great offer: While the minimum spend requirement is big, a sign-up bonus of up to 100,000 points is huge. Taking advantage of this offer could even make sense if you only plan on spending the $5,000 within three months to earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points.
This card comes with so many great perks, including a $200 annual airline fee credit (before you pay your second year’s annual fee you can receive two of those), access to Boingo hotspots, 10 Gogo passes, access to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, access to Delta SkyClubs, a Priority Pass Select membership, access to Amex Centurion Lounge, a Global Entry fee credit, and Gold elite status in both Hilton HHonors and Starwood Preferred Guest/Marriott.
However, the cherry on top is that having this card will increase the value of all your Membership Rewards points, as you’ll be able to get up to two cents each when redeeming them towards the cost of an airline ticket. This is a great new benefit, and how I plan on using most of my Amex points going forward.
Current offer: 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 within three months from account opening
Annual fee: $95
Why it’s a great offer: The Ink cards have extremely generous category bonuses which help sole proprietorships and small businesses maximize points on everyday credit card spend. This card is brand new, and offers 3x points on the first $150,000 spent annually in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year.
So this is a card that’s good for both for the sign-up bonus and for everyday spend. I value Ultimate Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, so to me the sign-up bonus is worth ~$1,265 after subtracting the annual fee.
Redeem Ultimate Rewards points for travel in Korean Air first class
Current offer: Three complimentary nights at any Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after spending $5,000 within three months, plus 10,000 bonus points after adding an authorized user and having them make a purchase within the first three months
Annual fee: $450
Why it’s a great offer: This card has a fantastic increased sign-up bonus at the moment, which gives you three complimentary nights at any Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton property. The exact value of that bonus depends on what you plan on redeeming those nights for, but suffice to say that three nights at most Ritz-Carlton properties aren’t cheap, whether you’re looking to redeem within the US or internationally.
Also keep in mind that anecdotally this card will be easier to be approved for than the Sapphire Reserve, since it’s not subject to Chase’s “5/24” rule.
Current offer: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within three months, plus an additional 5,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you add an authorized user to the card that makes a purchase within three months
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Why it’s a great offer: Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to Korean Air, United, Hyatt, and many other programs. The card is also great for everyday spend given that it offers double points on dining and travel. I value the sign-up bonus on this card at ~$935.
Redeem Ultimate Rewards points for the Park Hyatt Maldives
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 within the first three months
Annual fee: $175 (waived the first year)
Why you should consider applying: This is one of the best small business cards out there in terms of the bonus points it offers, given that you earn bonus points in the following five categories:
- Airfare purchased directly from airlines
- U.S. purchases for advertising in select media
- U.S. purchases at gas stations
- U.S. purchases for shipping
- U.S. computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers
You can pick in which category you want to earn 3x points, and then in the other four categories you earn 2x points.
On top of that, this is a fantastic sign-up bonus for a card that doesn’t have an annual fee the first year. I value Membership Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, so to me the sign-up bonus is worth ~$850.
Current offer: Earn 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that’s enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit; get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem for travel statement credits
Annual fee: $89 annual fee waived for the first year
Why it’s a great offer: This sign-up bonus is 25% bigger than usual, and it’s the best offer we’ve ever seen on this card. This is one of the best travel cashback credit cards, as you essentially earn the equivalent of a ~2.1% return on everyday spend, which can be applied towards travel purchases. Add in the great sign-up bonus, and this is a very compelling card.
8. Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Current offer: Personal — 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months; Business — 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months
Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
Why it’s a great offer: Starpoints remain the most valuable points currency out there to me, and are a great value for both hotel redemptions and airline mileage transfers. I value Starpoints at 2.2 cents each, so this sign-up bonus is worth $550 to me. With the upcoming merger between Marriott and Starwood, who knows how much longer this card will be around.
Redeem Starpoints at Al Maha in Dubai
Current offer: Two free weekend nights at most Hilton family properties after spending $2,500 within four months
Annual fee: $95
Why it’s a great offer: These free night certificates are redeemable all the way up to Category 10 properties, potentially making this sign-up bonus worth the equivalent of 190,000 HHonors points.
So in terms of buying power, the value of these certificates has hugely increased compared to the buying power of HHonors points. Furthermore you get HHonors Gold status for as long as you have the card, which gets you free breakfast and/or club lounge access. As far as I’m concerned that’s the most useful hotel elite benefit there is. That’s a great deal just for paying the very reasonable annual fee.
Use your free weekend nights at the new Conrad Bora Bora
Current offer: 60,000 Avianca LifeMiles after first card use when using promotion code AVSPWE at the time of application
Annual fee: $149
Why it’s a great offer: This is a brand new card offer, and interestingly the card is issued by Banco Popular, which is otherwise a fairly unknown issuer in the U.S. mainland. LifeMiles are great for premium cabin redemptions on Star Alliance airlines, so this is a great card to pick up for the bonus miles. Personally I’m waiting for to read some more data points on peoples’ luck applying, just to be sure I get approved when I go and apply.
Redeem LifeMiles for Avianca 787 business class
Anyway, those are my top credit cards based on sign-up bonuses this month.
If you have any questions or other cards you think have great sign-up bonuses, let me know in the comments section!
Non-Affiliate Product Disclaimer: The information for the Chase Sapphire Reserve has been collected independently by One Mile At A Time. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.