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TPG reader San-Eou sent me a message on Facebook to ask about credit card sign-up bonuses:
“I recently signed into my United account and noticed a 50,000-mile offer for the Explorer Card (instead of the regular 30,000). How do I know when this offer will disappear? Should I sign up now even though I wouldn’t use the miles until December of 2016?”
Credit card sign-up bonuses are a great way to boost your loyalty account balances, and I make a point of applying for special limited-time offers whenever they’re available. That said, many of the top bonuses come and go periodically, and knowing which ones are likely to return will help you decide whether you can afford to wait.
The United MileagePlus Explorer Card has a standard bonus of 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months. However, Chase and United routinely sweeten the deal to 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months. MileagePlus members are sometimes targeted for the higher bonus after logging in, and Chase releases a similar public offer from time to time.
That means there isn’t the same urgency to apply right away like there is with certain other cards. For example, the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard currently offers 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months, but earlier this year that bonus was increased to 75,000 miles. Those who applied in the summer and early fall were able to score an extra 25,000 miles — enough for a round-trip domestic flight. We’ve actually seen an even higher bonus on that card previously, but that was several years ago, and the chances of it returning precisely when you’re ready for it are slim.
The United Explorer card is worth getting for both the bonus and the benefits, especially if you don’t already have United Premier elite status. You’ll get priority boarding and a free checked bag for yourself and a companion traveling with you on United-operated flights and two United Club passes each year. You can also unlock United award availability to make redeeming your miles easier.
That means there’s even more incentive to wait if you don’t plan to fly soon. The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, so if you get the card a little further down the line, you can test out those benefits and get a sense of whether you want to keep the card in the long term prior to your flight next year.
The bottom line is that card issuers don’t always make it clear how long an offer will last. That’s partly why I publish my monthly list of the top travel rewards credit card offers. It’s a good resource to see what’s new in any given month, but getting familiar with the cards and bonuses that appear on that list most frequently can also help you judge which ones demand your immediate attention.
If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at email@example.com.