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Travel Tuesday Top 10: Most Valuable Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses for Travelers

by on March 19, 2013 · 16 comments

in American Express, Chase, Citi, Credit Cards, Delta, Top 10

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2013 has started off as a pretty solid year for credit card sign-up bonuses. This year has brought some amazing deals via sites like CreditCard.com’s Card Match Tool, which has recently offered now expired 100,000-point Amex Platinum and 50,000-point Amex Premier Reward Rewards Gold deals. Word on the street is that more lucrative bonuses are in store as the economy picks up and consumers are starting to feel comfortable spending again.

This past week I did a round of credit card applications and spent a lot of time examining which of my current cards I want to keep and which cards I wanted as part of my credit card arsenal. I currently have 17 open credit cards so I have a lot of the basics covered, but I thought I’d put together an overall list of the offers that I think are the best on the market right now. But before you apply for any of these potentially lucrative deals, make sure you read my post on understanding your credit, since maintaining good score is key to being able to get the very best offers.

The Rankings

No one card is perfect for everyone, so I’ll do my best to peg an overall value of the offer and card potential and also give some variables that may make the card more or less valuable to you so you have the information you need to make the best decision for your circumstances.

Your valuations will differ from mine. That’s because each redemption is different. It really all depends on what you spend money on and what you hope to use your points for. So please feel free to share your comments, but understand I’m not trying to guarantee anyone they’ll get exactly these values. It’s really about how savvy you are with your points – both earning and redeeming them. I tried to values these points conservatively, and a lot of people will be able to get a lot more than what I’ve outlined below – and I welcome your feedback on your own use of points.

Here’s a quick list of my current rankings and then you can continue reading below for details on each card and how I reached my valuations. (Disclosure: Four of the 10 are my affiliate links and I appreciate if you do decide to use my links if you get a card since it’s what keeps this site running.)

Ink Bold & Plus are all about the 5x spend category, big bonus and waived annual fee

Ink Bold & Plus are all about the 5x spend category, big bonus and waived annual fee

1. Chase Ink Bold and Ink Plus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in 3 months. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
Valuation:
Since points can be redeemed at 1.25 cents each for travel and you’re accruing at least 55,000 points by meeting the spending requirement, you will get at least $687.50 in value. If you have a business and the spending is within your reach, you can max out the 5x and 2x spending categories for a potential total of 350,000 points in total per card. So if you were to spend $50,000 on each bonus category with one of these cards, you’d earn 300,000 bonus points plus the 50,000-point sign-up bonus (in addition to the 100,000 “base” points), equivalent to $4,375. I value Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents per point since I get great values redeeming for premium rewards with United and Hyatt in particular. So by maxing out all the card benefits, you’re looking at $7,000 in value. Overall, though, the value range will be $687.50-$7,000 depending on how much spending you can put on each card. Remember, though, it’s possible to have both cards – I do myself – and you can always get one now and one down the road and double your earning potential.

Citi AA cards have new perks, like mileage rebates and flight discounts.

Citi AA cards have new perks, like mileage rebates and flight discounts.

Update: Most Citi AAdvantage 50K offers have expired as reported in this FlyerTalk thread, though there is a live offer for the Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard® for 50,000 miles after $3,000 spent within the first 3 months.

Offer Expired: December 13, 2012

2. Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®: 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in 4 months. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
Valuation: I value American AAdvantage miles at approximately 1.9 cents each, so the 50,000 sign-up bonus off the bat is about $950 in value (its enough for a one-way business class award from US to Europe, for example). Let’s say you maxed out both the spending to earn the $100 flight discount plus 10,000 AAdvantage miles back if you redeem 100,000 miles on itineraries for another $190. Finally, if you check bags two times a year for two people, that’s $25 per bag, so $100 total. The value you’re looking at is around $1,340
Note: The application pages don’t state the bonus, but I just got the Citi Business 50k bonus (see below) and Citi confirmed the 50,000 miles, statement credit and lounge passes. See this Flyertalk thread for more info.

Update: The currren offer on the CitiBusiness®/AAdvantage® World MasterCard® 40,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of cardmembership This is an unverified offer as seen on FlyerTalk.

Offer Expired: December 13, 2012

3. CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®: 50,000 American AAdvantage miles when you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first 4 months. $75 annual fee, waived the first year.
Valuation: With the 50,000 mile sign-up ($950) and category spending bonuses and 5% annual mileage bonus (minus the annual fee) and a companion certificate I’d value at about $300 (minus the fees) by maxing out the $30,000 in spend, I’d put the value around $1,300.
Note: The application pages don’t state the bonus, but I just got this card and Citi confirmed the 50,000 miles, statement credit and lounge passes. See this Flyertalk thread for more info.
mb platinum amex
4. Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum Card: 50,000 points after $1,000 spent within the first 3 months. $475 annual fee.
Valuation: I value Amex Membership Rewards points at 1.8 cents apiece, so 50,000 points = $900. Lounge access really depends on how much you use it, but conservatively I’d put it at $350, plus $200 in airline credits, $100 Global Entry rebate, $75 for Starwood Gold and $100 a year in FHR benefits for a rough total of $1,525 – $475 annual fee = $1,250. Note: You can get this card and bonus even if you have an existing Platinum card open. I just got this card and will switch to it since the benefits are nearly identical and this card comes with a 50,000-point bonus.

Update: This offer is no longer available. View the current offer for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card here.

5. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Cards (personal and business): 50,000 Rapid Rewards points after $2,000 spent within 3 months. Annual fee of $99.
Valuation: Wanna Get Away fares get you 1.8 cents per point in value at most. So 50,000 points is $900. The Southwest Companion Pass is difficult to value, but even if you use it just four times a year to save $250 per itinerary, that’s $1,000 in value. I know people who use these passes for over $2,000 in value per year, and if you can snag the Companion Pass now, it will essentially be good for almost 2 years (until the end of 2014), so you’re easily looking at between $900-$5,000 in value.

6.  Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature with Two weekend night certificates after $2,500 in eligible purchases within the first 4 months. $95 annual fee.
Valuation: Those two free weekend nights are good at any Hilton property in the world including top-tier Waldorf Astorias. If you use them smartly, you could be getting easily $350 per night out of them. Then let’s say you max out the $40,000 spend to get Hilton Diamond status you’d be getting all the valuable perks elite status confers like free internet and breakfast, plus another free weekend night certificate (another $350). Even though Hilton is devaluing their program, the free nights and annual fee night at $10,000 in spend make the value of this card easily $1,000 in the first year.

Club Carlson is the hot new thing in the hotel world offering lucrative promos and credit card

Club Carlson is the hot new thing in the hotel world offering lucrative promos and credit card

7. Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature and Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa Signature: 85,000 bonus points – 50,000 upon first purchase, additional 35,000 when you spend $2,500 in 90 days. Annual Fee: $75 on the personal; $60 on the business.
Value Ranges: A top Radisson Blu free night is 50,000 points and costs around $250 or up, so I would conservatively peg the value of each point at about 0.5 cents. That would make the 85,000-point sign-up bonus worth $425. However, since the second award night is free on two-night stays and you would accrue 12,500 regular spend points (bringing the total haul to 92,500), the real sign-up bonus is more like 144,500 points (2 nights at a 50,000 point a night property) or $722.50.  Other Carlson hotels like Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn, Country Inn & Suites tend to be lower end properties, so in my opinion the number of aspirational properties and lucrative redemptions are limited compared to other chains. Gold status is worth about $50 in my opinion and the elite qualifying nights are worth an additional $100 to me. Including the 40,000-point renewal bonus of $200 minus the $75 annual fee, I’d put the overall value of these cards at around $997.50.

8. Chase Sapphire Preferred: 40,000 points after $3,000 spent within 3 months. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
Valuation:
The 43,000 bonus points you’d earn meeting the minimum spending requirement plus the bonus are worth a minimum of $537.50 when redeemed for travel with pay with points. However, I’d put Hyatt and United redemptions at 2 cents per point, so you’re looking at $860 at least, and if you spend a lot of money on travel and dining, like I do, the 2.14 points per $1 total earning on those (including the 7% annual benefit) puts your earning potential even higher.
Delta Amex

9. Creditcard.com’s Card Match Tool Offer for the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express: 45,000 miles when you spend $5,000 in 6 months – see offer details in this post.
Valuation: I value SkyMiles at about 1.3 cents a piece, so 45,000 = $585, but the perks alone on this card, like free checked bags for up to 9 people per reservation can add up quickly. If you can maximize the perks (mostly if you don’t have Delta elite status, but fly them often) it is conceivable to easily get $800 in value from the card.

10. Check your mail or frequent flyer account for targeted offers - they are often the most lucrative! This year I’ve heard of many people getting 100,000-point sign-up bonus offers for both personal and business Platinum Cards from American Express ($2,175 value). I also just jumped on a United Explorer limited-time 65,000-point potential bonus which I value at  approximately $1,300. I was targeted when logging into united.com, so never assume all offers targeted to you are inferior!

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.

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  • DASL

    Mercedez Benz offer clearly states that it is not valid for existing Platinum card holders so error in your part?

  • Steven

    For Club Carlson the “total haul” should be 97,500 I believe.

  • Guest

    The terms of the offer are badly written. First it says that bonus is not available to customers who have had the product (meaning, one would assume, the MB version of the Platinum) in the past 12 months. But a few sentences later, in regular text, it clearly states the the offer is not valid for customers who have an AMEX platinum card (meaning, one would assume, any platinum card). TPG: let us know if you actually get this bonus, or have to fight for it. I’ll hang onto my $475 until then.

  • thepointsguy

    The T&C state Participating partners and available rewards are subject to change without notice.

    1.Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months.

    I know people who have gotten the bonus who have had the current Platinum card… will let you know what happens

  • Jacob

    TPG,

    Do you actually still see the AMEX Gold 50k MR after $1k in 3 Months? It no longer shows on mine, and other people have posted on other blogs that the card is no longer showing? Anyone else?

  • thepointsguy

    Just got confirmation that the offer was pulled… blogging about it now and will update this post with another offer

  • Jacob

    TPG, Do you still see the AMEX 50k MR after 1k in 3 months? I no longer see it on mine (cleared my history, etc). Others have posted on other blogs they no longer see the offer as well. Anyone else?

  • Jacob

    Thanks, darn though! Was hoping to get in on this. (sorry about the duplicate post)

  • Guest

    Thanks! If that’s the case, I’d be tempted to follow your strategy.

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  • pawtim

    What about the British Airways Visa card? It offers 50,000 British Airways Avios points for spending just $1000 within the first three months. It seems like you were pushing that one very hard for a while, and then at the beginning of this month you suddenly stopped. I just recommended it to a couple of my friends today, who expressed an interest in flying from Boston to Ireland for vacation. The sign-up bonus would get people TWO round trip tickets! http://www.britishairways.com/travel/credit-cards/public/en_us

  • thepointsguy

    I love the BA Visa, but the sign-up bonus just got cut in half back to 50,000 (which is why I stopped promoting it). I think it is worth to wait until it jumps back to 100,000 before getting it.. but I do think Avios are extremely valuable when you know how to maximize them.

  • Tim

    Under the old offer, that 100,000 points was only for people who spent a whopping $20,000 on the credit card in a year!! Most folks never thought it was worthwhile to put that much spending on the card, so they went for the 50,000, as is currently available. In practical terms, the current offer is just as good as that expired offer for most people. I definitely think it should be on your list.

  • Kyle

    It’s not on his list because his commissions were cut as well.. they were cut across the board for bloggers. It shows where his true intentions are.

  • Bobby Longhorn

    TPG, The links for 2. Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage Visa Signature Card and Citi Select AAdvantage American Express: don’t work! Could the offer have expired?

  • Van

    Why do you say United is worth 2% for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card?

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