Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Should I Apply for a Card if I Can’t Earn the Sign-Up Bonus?

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TPG reader Nick sent me a message on Facebook to ask about getting a new credit card:

“I’d like to sign up for Chase Sapphire Preferred, but I know I won’t be spending $4,000 in 3 months. Does it make sense to get the card even without the sign-up bonus?”

Travel rewards credit cards offer a lot of value by boosting the return you get from everyday spending, and by providing other benefits like elite status and free hotel nights. However, some of the most rewarding features of these cards are the sign-up bonuses available to new account holders. The top offers tend to be worth well over $500, so I think failing to meet the spending requirements is a costly mistake.

Using Nick’s question as an example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card currently offers a bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. You can also earn 5,000 points for adding an authorized user and making a purchase in that same period. I list Ultimate Rewards points at 2.1 cents apiece in my most recent valuations, so 55,000 points is worth $1,155 in my estimation.

Whether you earn the bonus or not, you’ll get access to airline and hotel transfer partners, the primary collision damage waiver on rental cars, no foreign transaction fees and other benefits. Those are all valuable perks that make the card worth having in the long term, but you can do a lot with those points, and you’d be passing up a great opportunity to pad your Ultimate Rewards account in the short term.

If the bonus requirement seems high, you could try to boost your spending by pre-paying certain expenses. Service providers (like utilities or phone companies) often allow you to pay more than the balance due, so you can essentially put future bills toward earning the sign-up bonus. The same goes for groceries if you purchase gift cards for later use. You can even pay taxes with a credit card; you’ll incur a fee in the process, but it might be worthwhile. Just remember not to overextend your finances, and don’t make charges you can’t afford to pay off in full immediately.

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You can boost your spending in the short term by pre-paying expenses like groceries and utilities. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

If a bonus seems truly out of reach, then it’s best to just set your sights a little lower. There are plenty of worthy cards with more attainable spending requirements. For example, the Chase Freedom and the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card both offer the equivalent of 15,000 points after you spend $500 in the first three months. You won’t be able to transfer those points without a premium Ultimate Rewards card, but you can start earning points that will become more valuable when you get the Sapphire Preferred card down the line.

Another option is the Amex Everyday Credit Card, which offers 15,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. Of course, 15,000 points is a lot fewer than 50,000, but the Everyday card still gives you access to transfer partners and is a solid option for regular spending.

For more on Sapphire Preferred and other card options, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 0% Excellent Credit