Travel Tuesday Top 10: Most Valuable Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses for Travelers
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
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.
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.)
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.
2. Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in 3 months. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
Valuation: I valued 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
3. CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard: 50,000 American AAdvantage miles when you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. $95 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.
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.
5. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card (personal): 50,000 Rapid Rewards points after $2,000 spent within the first 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 Card 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.
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.
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!