Is That Travel Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus Worth It?

Consider the value of all those extra points before you apply

Opening a new travel rewards credit card to earn a substantial quantity of additional points or miles may go a long way toward offsetting future travel expenditures. But before you click “submit” on that application button, stop. Not all credit card perks are made equal.

A bonus offer promoting 100,000 more points or miles may seem hefty, but the monetary worth of welcome incentives may vary substantially dependent on rewards program point values. Some incentives will go farther than others, owing to underlying airline and hotel pricing (in dollars and in points), as well as other considerations. What’s more, the highest incentives generally come with severe spending conditions. 

As part of “Our Money’s on Travel”—our series on getting back to travel—we’ve set out the questions you should ask when considering the worth of a big credit card welcome bonus. 

What’s the Bonus Offer Worth?

To highlight how current travel card deals compare, we’ve selected some of the highest-value incentives available right now. The value is based on how many points or miles are in the advertised new-cardholder incentives, and our assessments of how much rewards are worth in other programs, on average: 

Travel Rewards Credit Cards Offering 75,000+ Point Bonuses to New Cardholders

Travel Rewards Credit Cards Offering 75,000+ Point Bonuses to New Cardholders
Credit Card Bonus Offer Terms Avg. Total Bonus Value
United Quest Card Earn 80,000 miles by spending $5,000 on purchases within 3 months, plus another 20,000 miles by spending $10,000 total within the first 6 months. $1,980
United Club Infinite Card Earn 75,000 miles by spending $3,000 on purchases within 3 months. $1,485
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Earn 80,000 points by spending $4,000 within 3 months, plus up to $50 back in statement credits for grocery store purchases made during the first year. $1,170 (includes the max statement credit value)
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card Earn three free nights by spending $3,000 within 3 months. $1,050
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Earn 50,000 miles by spending $3,000 within 3 months, and another 50,000 miles by spending a total of $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months. $1,020
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card Earn 75,000 points by spending $3,000 within 3 months, plus up to $200 back in statement credits for eligible U.S. restaurant purchases made within 6 months. $988 (includes the max statement credit value)
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card Earn 150,000 points plus a reward night by spending $3,000 on purchases within 3 months. $1,110
The Platinum Card from American Express Earn 75,000 points by spending $5,000 within 6 months. $832
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card Earn 150,000 points by spending $4,000 within 3 months. $720
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card Earn 130,000 points by spending $2,000 within 3 months. $624
Hilton Honors American Express Card Earn 80,000 points by spending $1,000 within 3 months, plus another 50,000 points by spending a total of $5,000 within 6 months. $624
Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard Earn 80,000 points by spending $3,000 within three months. $536
Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card Earn 100,000 points by spending $3,000 within 90 days. $420

Our analysis finds that hotel rewards points are worth less than most other credit card points, on average. That implies hotel-branded card incentives that appear gigantic may really be worth a lot less than card offers promoting a lower amount of bonus points. 

By contrast, points granted by issuer rewards programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards are routinely worth more over 1 cent apiece when used for travel. As a consequence, the amount of points in their bonus offers more closely correlates with their average dollar values. 

To figure roughly how much a travel rewards card bonus is worth, take the amount of miles or points granted in a credit card bonus and multiply by the reward program’s average point value in cents, as stated in the chart below.

Average Value of Credit Card Rewards

Click on a button below to view the average value of various credit card rewards:

Airline Rewards Program Average Per-Mile Value (Cents)
American Airlines (AAdvantage)2.04
United Airlines (MileagePlus)1.98
Southwest Airlines (Rapid Rewards)1.50
Delta Air Lines (SkyMiles)1.44
JetBlue (TrueBlue)1.42
Hawaiian Airlines (HawaiianMiles)1.26
Alaska Airlines (Mileage Plan)0.85
Spirit Airlines (Free Spirit)0.76
Frontier Airlines (Frontier Miles)0.62

Here’s an example:

50,000 Delta SkyMiles x 1.44 average mile value (in cents) = $720 average bonus value

How Far Will the Bonus Take You? 

Another technique to estimate bonus offer worth is to measure how far those additional points or miles will go when placed toward a vacation reservation. Like average point values, hotel and airfare expenses vary across trip providers. For perspective on the value of a significant card bonus, here’s how far 50,000 airline miles may go when used for award tickets, based on The Balance’s research:

Note Credit card welcome offers aren’t set in stone and are subject to change. If you assess the value of a travel card bonus and it doesn’t seem worth the work necessary to receive the bonus and retain the card, don’t acquire the card. A better deal may come up shortly. Conversely, if you find a large deal that may save you substantial income, seize it since it may not be available long.

Can You Meet the Bonus Spending Requirement? 

Credit card bonus offers demand new cardholders to spend a specified amount within a short period of time after creating the account. Sign-up bonus conditions might vary widely, but greater incentives frequently come with stiffer spending restrictions. 

For example, the 80,000-mile United Quest Card offer needs new cardholders to spend $5,000 within three months of establishing their account to earn all those miles, whereas the 20,000-mile United Gateway Card bonus just requires new cardholders to spend $1,000 during the same time period. The Quest card bonus is bigger, but so is its spending requirement. 

Depending on your budget and how you use credit cards, these sign-up bonus features might put more incentives out of reach, or promote purchases you can’t afford. Before embarking on a significant deal, be sure the spending demand meets your budget. 

The Balance built a spreadsheet template to make that procedure easier. Make a duplicate of the file, then insert the bonus offer details and your monthly expenditure information to start the calculations.

Note

Rent and mortgage payments are monthly expenditures you can’t readily pay with a credit card to assist fulfill a bonus offer spending criteria. Because of that, we don’t consider such living expenditures into the spending requirement budget. If credit card payments are a possibility, the convenience typically comes with a 2%-3% charge.

If you do pay rent or mortgage using your card to receive a bonus, you’ll need to compute the cost and remove it from the amount of the bonus. If paying your rent or mortgage with a card one or two times is the only way you’ll be able to get a really significant bonus, it may be worth it, but be sure to pay the whole sum off in full every month. Otherwise, the interest expenses might rapidly overwhelm the value of your incentives.

Are You Eligible for the Bonus?

Credit card sign-up incentives are meant for fresh new cardholders. Many major travel rewards card issuers—including American Express, Capital One, and Chase—have policies in place that prohibit customers from double-dipping in the credit card bonus offer pot. If you’ve had a travel card previously and closed it—or you now have another version of an airline or hotel card—check the small language before getting enthusiastic about a hefty bonus offer.

For example, the terms and conditions of the Capital One Venture card and The Platinum Card from American Express specify that former or current cardholders may not be eligible for the welcome bonus.34 Airline and hotel card conditions may be even more detailed, cutting out existing cardholders, those with outdated versions of a hotel card, and those who have cards in the same branded card suite.

Note

Be aware of your credit score while going for a vacation credit card incentive, too. You will likely need exceptional or excellent credit to qualify for the credit cards offering the greatest deals. All of the travel rewards cards in The Balance’s database providing 75,000-point incentives or more suggest applicants have at least acceptable credit (a FICO score of at least 670).

Will You Use the Card on an Ongoing Basis?

The finest travel cards not only boost your points balance, but provide you advantages you’ll enjoy long after you’ve blown through the bonus. Consider how many points the card earns for every dollar spent, and if it gives additional benefits on major expenditures like vacation or routine costs like groceries or eating out. 

Perks like as free checked luggage, yearly statement credits for travel expenditures, or different forms of travel insurance further add to the card’s continuous worth. Many of the most lucrative travel rewards cards also charge expensive annual fees, but enjoying those additional features and stacking up points might make the expense worth the investment.

Should You Open a Credit Card To Get a Big Bonus?

Deciding whether or not to obtain a new travel rewards card so you may rack up more points is truly up to you and your financial circumstances. If you qualify for the card bonus, can fulfill the spending threshold, and your credit is in decent condition, it may be worth it, particularly if the bonus is significant enough to cover a major chunk of a vacation you’re planned. All those incentives may help you save money on travel prices, and perhaps help you schedule a vacation sooner. 

If you’re on the fence, assessing the card’s continuous perks will help you decide. Applying for a card has ramifications for your credit, and if you receive it, you’ll have one extra expense to handle and maybe additional temptation to overspend. All of those variables should play into your selection.