Are Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses on the Decline?

by on January 11, 2012 · 71 comments

in American Express, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Credit Cards

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here

Update: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card sign-up bonus offer is now reduced to 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.

If you read many other frequent flyer blogs, I’m sure you’ve heard that Chase recently inserted “Limited Time Offer” into their marketing copy for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. While this isn’t completely newsworthy – I mean all of these credit card offers are technically “limited time offers,” it was weird that they randomly added it out of the blue. I did some digging with my contacts at Chase and apparently no decision has been made when the 50,000 point sign-up bonus will end, but their best guess is “sometime in March.” Take that for what it’s worth – it could come sooner or later, but nothing is guaranteed. The 50,000 point sign-up bonus has been running since May 15, 2011 and as with all amazing deals, they must come to an end.

Amex, Citi and Capital One have also drastically reduced many of their key card sign-up bonuses over the past couple months, so it got me thinking: are the days of monster credit card bonuses over for the time being? Or are the card companies simply taking a breather before launching a new, even more competitive round of bonuses? I certainly hope for the latter, but looking at the trend of the key card issuers, I’m not too sure:

American Express used to have huge sign-up bonuses in the first half of 2011, but things have since cooled down:
Platinum Card: Went from a 50,000 point bonus from January through April, 2011 and then to 25,000. There have been targeted offers since, but no standard 50,000 sign-up. FYI there is a new Mercedes-Benz Platinum card, with a $475 annual fee, that is offering a 50,000 point sign-up bonus.

Premier Rewards Gold: 15,000, but used to be limited time offers of 25,000-30,000 and the targeted bump bonus of 75,000 last summer (which ended September 6, 2011).

Business Rewards Gold: Launched with a 50,000 point offer in August, then a special 75,000 offer on November 3 and then stealthily decreased overnight to 0, where it has remained.

Citi is known for running rogue offers that they don’t promote (and probably don’t even know about)
American Airlines Visa and Amex cards: Went from 100,000 to 75,000 to 50,000 in October of 2011, where it has remained.

ThankYou Premier went from 20,000 to 50,000 with an annual fee to 20,000 to 50,000 without an annual fee, which is their current offer (update: the bonus has been decreased to 30,000 points). End date TBD, but it’s the best we’ve seen with the $125 annual fee waived for the first year (so essentially $633 in free travel – I will be applying for this card in my next round of applications).

Capital One has always been the most conservative of the issuers (I mean they pull all three credit bureaus for each application!), but they shocked us all in 2011 with a 100,000 point offer:
The Venture card went from 100,000 in April/May to 25,000 in May and then to 10,000 in December 2011. There have been rumors of a 100,000 point return, but I’m not holding my breath.

Chase: The leader in the miles and points game has had the least amount of deductions in sign-up bonuses.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Which is my favorite card and in my opinion, currently the best all around deal on the market. 50,000 points after spending $3,000 spend within 3 months and a yearly 7% bonus on all points earned, essentially making the standard earning 1.07 points per dollar spent. You earn double points on all travel (airfare, hotel, cruises, taxis, subway, parking etc) and dining so those spend categories earn 2.14 points per dollar. Points can be transferred to United, British Airways, Korean, Southwest,  Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club and Amtrak.
Historical sign-up bonus: 20,000 raised to 50,000 in May 2011 and Chase just updated the language to say, “Limited Time Offer” this week. End date: Unknown, but potentially March 2012.

Ink Bold: 50,000 points after $5,000 spend within the first 3 months- $95 annual fee waived for the first year. Lots of changes with this card- it went from 25,000 to 50,000, then they discontinued the card and launched a new 50,000 point offer. Now that the equivalent Amex (Business Rewards Gold) has a 0 point sign-up bonus, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this card drop to 20,000- 25,000.

Note: You can get a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Ink Bold on the same day for a total of 100,000 points, but you will have to call the Chase reconsideration line to get either or both of them approved (the system will auto-reject more than 1 application every month, but since one is business and one personal many TPG readers have been able to get both. See this post for getting approved for Sapphire and this one for my experience getting Bold- however, I did not do them on the same day).

British Airways: 100,000 in December 2009 and April/ May 2011… down to 50,000.  No movement since.

Southwest Premier: 20,000 to 50,000 with a $99 annual fee to 25,000 to 50,000 with a $69 annual fee.

I’m not trying to be alarmist with this post, but more take a minute to analyze where we stand so we can all evaluate our strategies going forward in 2012. As much as I’d like to hope “what goes down, must come up,” I’m not 100% sure that’s the direction credit card sign-up bonuses will be taking in the short term. (Check out this post to see my lineup of future card applications to take advantage of the best deals available).

However, I don’t have a doom and gloom view on the long-term prospects of earning miles and points via credit cards. As the economy continues to pick up, I think the card companies will compete even harder to gain creditworthy borrowers. I also think the decrease in bonuses towards the end of 2011 reflected the fact that many of the marketing budgets had been exhausted, so I hope to see some robust new offers in 2012 as new plans and budgets are put into place.

Remember, the airlines are selling billions of dollars in miles and the card companies are making even more billions on transaction fees, interest rates and annual fees. Until something fundamentally changes with the way our credit system works and how merchants are charged for transactions, I don’t see the credit card mileage game changing.

Disclaimer: Many of these links are my affiliate links, which means I get a commission if you apply and get approved – which is what keeps this site running and my bills paid as a full-time blogger. However, my goal is to provide the best deals and will use an external link when a better deal exists. If you know of a better deal, please feel free to comment or email me and I’ll update the post.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Previous post:

Next post:

  • oldmanpeabody

    Good summary, TPG. This is what I feared when I applied for the United card – that I’d end up missing out on Sapphire Preferred (which I had never done earlier). If I applied for United in the last week (like many others, based on the FT and other boards), when’s your best bet on applying for Sapphire and maximizing my odds of approval? I’ll obviously wait a minimum of a month, but would you think I’d have a good chance if I apply end of February (I’ve currently got United and Continental and that’s it for Chase cards) or should I push for 60 days? Thanks!!

  • Vimaury

    Do you recommend applying for the Southwest personal and business at the same time to get the Companion Pass?

  • Flyer Fun

    “Remember, the airlines are selling billions of dollars in miles and the card companies are making even more billions on transaction fees, interest rates and annual fees. ” AND, the value of miles is going down as airline after airline devalues. As a currency, airline miles are inflating and therefore offers will have to increase to have the same impact.

  • David

    Good post. Whats your past experience with the warning given before an offer is pulled? I mean sometimes the offers have specific expiration dates, but on something like the Citi 75k offers, was there advance notice or did it just end suddenly? Info like that is very helpful in trying to decide when to apply for something.

  • davidr

    FYI my daughter received a targeted offer in the mail today for the Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card with 50,000 bonus points for $1000 spend first three months, “can be redeemed toward $500 in gift cards”, first year fee waived, $15,000 bonus points when you spend $30,000 each year. The “gift card” language in the offer is puzzling, i.e. is this the only permitted use of the points, or just one of the alternatives. Any thoughts?

  • Benthelefty

    I got my first Chase card in July (SW), then Sapphire in August, then BA in October. I had to use the reconsideration line for the last 2, but each time it was fairly easy to get it approved. After the 30 days you should be good to go. Use sound logical reasoning for wanting to have the card (no foreign transaction fees) and the reps are great!

  • Benthelefty

    sounds like a good deal. A really good deal. The issuers use the “gift card” language because that’s probably a common redemption by many people; it’s decent value but of course you can transfer those points for flights and other more lucrative exchanges. You’d be free to use the 50k points however you wanted!

  • Benthelefty

    I think it’s the ebb and flow of marketing $$. Like you said, the end of the year things slow down, but I think they’re going to pick back up!

  • deltaGOLDflyer

    I would love to see Chase bring back the Priority Club business card. Also the bonus points for a checking account again. I think we may find a few points somewhere! ;-)

  • tassojunior

    Also the BofA Alaska 40K and VirginAtlantic 50K, plus the Barclays Lufthansa 50K links all recently went dead.

  • Crazypalooza

    TPG: I need to respectfully disagreee with you. Amex just brought the Platinum back to 50K -available to anyone(see ft & fw) and in December current premier rewards gold, could send out referals to anyone for 25K . They just brought Southwest back to 50K…I don’t see the writing on the wall anywhere.

  • Anonymous

    The 50k Amex platinum link circulating is not real- multiple Tpg readers have confirmed Amex is not honoring it. If you go to you will not find a public 50k offer for platinum

    As for premier rewards I mentioned that targeted offer included up to 30k and southwest 50k is also listed in the post

  • Kaos

    Has “limited offer” been added to Ink Bold as well?

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    I’m pretty sure AmEx exhausted their marketing budget last year. It used to be that you could call up and beg for tons of points, and the CSRs would happily give them out to you. Now, it’s widely reported on FT that CSRs no longer have the ability to give out points, and that those decisions must be made from higher up. Ouch.

  • Anonymous


    I thought the offers in 2011 were almost *too* good. 100,000 miles for a sign-up is ridiculous. Although, with BA, they have such high taxes and fees on their awards that it makes sense for them to push that program. Their subsequent delvaluation/change-to-Avios was not unexpected, I was just surprised it happened as quickly.

    Makes me wonder if AA is going to pull a similar stunt.

  • James

    It is funny you mention that AMEX Gold PR targeted offer for 50,000 points your daughter got in the mail today because I too got one yesterday. Too bad I already bit and got one in November 2011 :-P.

    Hopefully this is just a [good] sign of things to come.

  • CorinneL.

    Hi Brian,
    Speaking of sign-up bonuses I was reading on Million Miles that the United Mileage Plus card has a sign up of 50,000 miles, but the link and sign-up bonus of that value only appear if you have miles sitting in the United Mileage Plus frequent flyer program. I have been a loyal Continental customer and have the OnePass Plus card. I would like to take advantage of the United bonus offer before the companies are totally merged and my card gets switched to the United Mileage Plus credit card and I lose out on the sign up bonus. My annual fee comes up next month…do I call Chase and say I would like to open a United Mileage Plus credit card to start a relationship with that airline and then transfer my remaining balance from the OnePass to the Mileage Plus? How does Chase handle something like this? As usual the 50,000 bonus is applied after the first purchase regardless of how much it is which is a plus to not have to meet spend requirements. I would also have to transfer 1,000 points to a Mileage Plus program from my Chase Ultimate Rewards prior to applying, but that’s the least of my worries. Help!!!

  • Pingback: The Problem with Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses | The Victory Lap()

  • The Travel Abstract

    What is the deal with everybody being depressed today? Every single blogger is talking about this same issue.

    Don’t drink the kool-aid TPG. You are one of the good guys!

    This game is full of Peaks and Valleys.

    I think everybody is hungover from the insane deals of 2011. I hope that 2011 was the signal of a new standard that continues into 2012 but give it awhile it has only been 11 days into the new year.

  • Mae

    My husband just got approved for the plat and received his card. He completed the spend the same week and just yesterday received an offer for the business plat of 100k w/ 5k spend in 5 months. Tempting….

  • bluto

    I think the Chase AARP 5% offer is gone, too. And I think the Asiana cards are not offered anymore either. These weren’t huge signup bonuses but the good cards do seem to be dwindling a little.

  • Crazypalooza

    I am able to send the referal link directly from my amex account for the 50k so not sure why that wouldn’t be real. It should be accessable to all plat members by logging in directly to amex, so I don’t believe it to be targeted.

  • infomofo

    I feel pretty lucky. I got in on AA Citi cards at their height, Amex Plat at it’s height, and PRG at its height. I thnk if anything this makes me feel pretty good about the offers I’ve leveraged, almost all thanks to reading your blog! I don’t think you’re being doom-and-gloom, you’re just giving context to the current state of credit card offers. Thanks for keeping it all in perspective, and we are all eagerly following your blog to hear about the next great deal.

  • Anonymous

    From my view the decline is a view into the future. The banks hate the churning, but to keep up with eachother it’s a practice they must condone. I’ve been in this business since the ’70′s and the word is within two years earning points will revert back to the original idea Tom Plaskett introduced at American in 1980 – you will have to fly. The affinity cards will still exist, but it will not be possible to earn a half-million miles buying washers and dryers. I could be and hope I’m wrong, but the word I’m hearing is the bonus days are nearing an end. Churn ‘em now while you can.

  • PJ

    anybody is sure if the CitiThanks points reward is clear of IRS implication ?

  • PJ

    a no brainer to me :) have fun MR are still very alive when transferred to Aeroplan to book on Continental ( united) yes with $9 US facility fees
    catch their trasnfer bonus those MR points are still as good as close to gold.
    I did hop on Plat for 100K with fees last august in time to trasnfer a lot of points out into CO
    tempted to transfer my family members’s MR to BA since for short hops and coast to coast AVIOs Rock.. you can hop on AA EWR to LAX with allowable 2 checked in luggages and now AMEX is running 30 % trasnfer bonus ie less than 19.5 K to fly coast to coast NON STOP on AA and NO $75 quick ticket fees unless i am mistaken

  • PJ

    SWA 50K is a gift :) make sure you dont get stopped for ” too many applications with Chase” if so call chase reconsideration line 1 888 245 0625 lol

  • Noobtraveler

    I can see the Sapphire 50k dead soon. Makes sense, but I’m optimistic that there are some newer bigger bonuses coming!

  • Newbie

    My wife received a targeted Thank You Premier offer for 80K points. Jumped on that one.

  • purplnurpl

    Consumer debt increased for the first time since the recession. People are using their credit cards again. Look to see the end of monster signups until the next economic pullback.

  • Afsdfas

    the Amex Green card is good for getting a quick 10k if you need to get to 50k or something to get a txfr bonus

  • PJ

    got my last card from chase in mid Novemver- had to trun in BA card for Sapphire Preferred ; waiting to get United for 50K to add on to my Chase collection: Sapphire Preferred 2 Freedom cards Hyatt Southwest)
    other sweet deals in my eyes: Citi 50K thanks- (too bad i dont get 80K or 100K target offers; one neighbor got 100K for with 5K spend the other family MR and Mrs all got 80K for 2.5 K SPEND )
    nothing wrong with BA 50K with $95 fees ) Southwest 50K is another good gift. SPG card ( 25K) is decent with/witout getting 5K to refer a family memeber to appply I am also looking at the AMEX Hilton for 40K + 20K simply put: getting 1% cash rebate is the last thing you want to fall back these days.
    if you have good credit take out as many signon bonus offers as you can if you are cited with too many applications or a card you already have get a trusted person to apply for you ( in my case : two daughters and one son in law) .. I admit i already have 3 SW sign on bonus 2 SPG more than one Sapphire Preferred now working to get on United 4@50..

  • Flyer Fun

    Similar to you, I have a Continental One Pass MC. I went to the link in United. Signed up through the link. About a week later, I received an email stating that I was approved and confirming the 50K bonus. I have not received the card yet which is going through snail mail.

    Not sure they will merge cards, as I have a MC with Continental and a Visa with United.

  • Anonymous
  • marzman

    Can someone please explain why I don’t get ANY targeted offers except from crappy Capital One? Can I sign up for these somewhere?!

  • Anonymous

    On the other hand UA went from “40″ (25) to “60″ (50) so its not all doom and gloom! :)

  • CorinneL.

    Well I know the OnePass has a Visa Signature and a World Mastercard version. I have the World Mastercard as well. I don’t know how they pick and choose who gets the Visa Signature and who gets the World Mastercard though. So, you didn’t have a problem with getting the United Mileage Plus card? Did you have to switch miles into the Mileage Plus account prior to applying? Also, keep in mind I have had the One Pass cc for almost three years now. Just got the Chase Sapphire Preferred w/ 50k bonus in September…hoping it won’t affect their decision with the app. I figured I would call instead of apply online, possibly get declined and then have to go through the reconsideration line!

  • Guest
  • Rich Bakken

    Just curious if anyone knows how quickly the Sapphire Preferred bonus is posted to accounts after the $3k in spend is reached?

  • Anonymous

    That’s all I ever get — and worse, like 3 a day :P

  • Anonymous

    That really doesn’t seem like a good use of a credit inquiry. If you have pretty much any MR card, you can loan yourself 10K points no problem, and if you have a Platinum you can loan yourself 60K. That way you can get the points you need, pay back Amex over time, and save that credit inquiry for a WAY higher bonus. It’s not worth applying for anything under 50K unless it’s an SPG…

  • Jim R.
  • Asdfasdf

    i’ve had zero problems getting any card I want and scored 2M pts last year.

    and credit score is 800

    so yeah, if you need ANOTHER 10K, just throwin it out there

  • Asdfasdf

    There aren’t multiple bloggers. They all say the same crap. They all have friends that say “you should start a blog, youre AMAZING, zomg!” and they all crossreference.

    The biggest benefit is TPG doesn’t moderate comments (yet…)

  • Asdfasdf

    last year you could bump gold & plat both to 75k or 100k depending on your mood and the rep’s mood, so you are wrong and the TPG is absolutely right

    25k is khrap

  • swat16

    I got a targeted Amex Business Gold yesterday for 50K after a $5K spend. Not too exciting but it was the first targeted offer I ever received from Amex.

  • calbear77

    I got approved for both SW cards in November and had to call the reconsideration line both times, so it’s hardly a hurdle. I used both cards for the first time on Jan 2nd, and transferred 30K Marriot points to my SW account for the other 10K, so I’m hoping to have my companion pass by the beginning of February. I’m glad I had the gusto to wait until the new year.

    Now that SW is an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, the only benefit to having the SW branded cards is that the points might count toward the companion pass. As far as I know, the points directly from SW cards don’t count toward A-list or A-list preferred.

    One bonus that I signed up for was that Delta 45K offer from last month, which was apparently the best Delta offer in some time.

    I sure hope the gravy train continues. It’s working out really well for me. :)

  • calbear77

    The line I use every time without fail is that I’m trying to maximize the benefits I get from different types of spend. Also, if it’s an airline card that allows free checked bags like Delta’s card, you don’t need another excuse. :)

  • The Wanderer

    I’m hoping that this is just a lull in the big bonus sign-ups. I would hate to think that I got into this game in the last year of big bonuses. Also, I have finally convinced a couple of friends that this is the way to travel, so I need some good cards as I get them started. Won’t have a problem this month, but here’s hoping for some big offers again in April for their next churn.

  • saurabh samdani

    hmm.. interesting topic to ponder about

  • Anonymous

    Mine was posted with the next statement. That’s when all changes to my point balance seem to take effect, including Ultimate Rewards Mall stuff. It shows up in the transaction list a few days after the URM transaction (and I get a little email letting me know) but they don’t become available until the start of the next billing period.

  • Anonymous

    As always, earn and burn :)

  • Anonymous

    I see where you’re coming from, but really… you can just buy 10K miles direct from Amex for $250. And they’re probably worth more like $125. Is that little money really worth an inquiry, an extra line of credit on your file, all the trouble of keeping track of the card, making the minimum spend, and calling in to close it? Honestly $125 is not nearly enough for me to go through the hassle. Call me when it hits $500 :P

  • Anonymous

    Aeroplan you can also still fly SWISS, Turkish, Singapore, UA and CO without fuel surcharges but that’s about it unfortunately, which is really unfortunate (:P).

    However there’s still tons of fun stuff you can do with MR. Transfer bonuses of almost 50% are pretty typical to Delta, and you can use those miles to book 150K roundtrips to Australia on V Australia, 100K to Europe on AF/KL or Jet and 120K to Asia on Korean, China, China Southern and China Eastern.

    Or, for extra fun, transfer to ANA and book Etihad First to the Emirates (140K round trip, tons of availability). Or, Virgin Atlantic from JFK to LHR for 63K round trip in Business. Those are way cooler than Aeroplan :P

    Or, to BA and you can fly about a billion short-hauls ;)

  • Anderson317

    Can you apply for the Chase Sapphire Preffered and the Chase Southwest card at the same time to get 100,000 Southwest miles, or do you need to wait for a certain amount of time for Chase to approve both cards?

  • David

    You can get 80,000 points Priority Club cards currently from Chase. No need for 2 30k cards!

  • PJ

    you can bet AT THE NIGHT statement is cut for the cut off date of the month. ie you don thave to wait until the morning after ; the most updated system on this planet ; when they promise you 50K you can bet on your house 5oK is going to show up

  • PJ

    and50K on first purchase no spend to get the first 50K

  • PJ

    ie to get even with $95 fees in worst case

  • deltaGOLDflyer

    @David – sure (some 80k, 60k others – I have it up on my blog) but if the BIZ card was up you could get 30 or as you point out 80k more with that card and if the checking was still around another 15k! :-)

  • MJLouise

    Well I’m still having to budget and space out my applications :D so I’d say the applications aren’t all gone. Trying to choose between Chase 50K United, 50K SW, 80K Priority Club, and whatever the Marriott offer is. Just got approved for a two-browser trick on Citi Hilton 40K + 50K, so trying to space out my apps to get the Capitol One Venture card if/when it appears.

  • David

    I mean hey – more points are more points, but I don’t think I would use a credit inquiry and grab another card from Chase just for 30k Priority Club. Would need to be minimum 50-60k for me. If it was 30k airline miles, I’d consider it, lightly.

  • deltaGOLDflyer

    I think we are agreeing with each other in circles as I want a 60-80k biz card back and the checking at any points!

  • Asdfasdf

    Wow, Green card 50k offer here:

  • Pingback: My Experience with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card | Field Of Burch()

  • jlsmsp

    Sorry. This is where I meant to post this…

    I am relatively new to this whole credit card points thing but it appears to me that the American Express Platinum is now doing a 50,000 bonus for signing up. Am I wrong?? Anyone know if this deal is legit??

  • Anonymous

    Same here. Citi actually send several targeted offers to my wife, but we took the 80K.

  • toomanybooks

    Points from Southwest Visa spend are Companion-pass qualifying. Transferred in from UR are not. Significant difference for many.

    Every $10k spend on Southwest Premier Visa gives 1500 Tier-Qualifying points. Limit 10x per year.

  • Guest

    Hey I am not sure if this is legit but I used this link and got 50,000 points already pending in my account. Also if you sign up for extended payment option after your approved you get a free 5,000 miles. I would get on this offer fast becuase amex is known to change/cancel offers with no warning.

  • StM

    TPG – Just wanted to let you know that I applied for an Chase Ink Bold Business card through your referral link. This was the 50K for $5k spend in 3 month offer and is what I saw when signing up. When I called to activate, they told me that it was 25K points with any spend and an additional 25K after $10K spend. While they had no problems changing to the 50K/$5K offer, this might be a “gotcha” for some who don’t listen carefully to the terms and conditions when activing the card. Thanks for your useful blog!

Print This Page