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The big credit card bonuses of last year aren't the new normal — here's why you should move quickly in 2022

March 04, 2022
8 min read
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To say that last year had its ups and downs would be a massive understatement. While guidance around everything from masks to testing to showing proof of vaccination changed several times throughout the year — oftentimes to the dismay of many Americans — it was an undeniably incredible time to sign up for a rewards credit card, as big welcome bonuses were regularly available.

With travel demand and consumer priorities in flux in 2021, the rewards credit card issuers came in hot with some of the best sign-up bonuses we’ve ever seen.

For example, the $95 per year Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which had already been around for well over a decade, ran its first-ever 100,000-point welcome offer in 2021. That offer lasted almost half of last year but is now back down to a normal level of 60,000 points after meeting $4,000 in spending in the first 3 month of account opening.

The $95 per year Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card also ran a 100,000-point offer of its own last year, though with a higher spending requirement.

In fact, throughout 2021, we saw record-high bonuses available across a large number of travel rewards cards. As a result, rewards cards that didn't throw out impressive bonuses last year generally didn't get as much attention as those that did.

Although no welcome bonus offer sticks around forever, we have noticed a clear trend so far in 2022: The stratospheric credit card sign-up bonuses of last year have largely come back down to Earth.

If you missed out on 2021's above-average offers, don't despair. There are still some outstanding welcome bonuses out there, though they're coming around less frequently and rarely last as long as they did last year.

Here’s why we recommend pouncing quickly when you see a credit card bonus you like, plus a roundup of the top offers currently available.

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The rise of the welcome bonus in 2021

For the last 15 years, if not longer, rewards credit card bonuses trended upward.

And while 100,000 miles in many programs today will not go as far as 100,000 miles would 10-15 years ago, the value of the average card welcome bonus offer has outpaced the rate at which travel currencies devalue. As a result, it's common to see some welcome bonuses increase year over year as they compete with each other for attention.

However, what we saw last year was unlikely to be a new floor for welcome bonuses.

Travel wasn't top of mind for many people the last couple of years thanks to COVID-19, so credit card issuers had to not only put out a decent welcome bonus but a big, eye-catching bonus that would convince a large swath of consumers to act.

These record-breaking bonuses not only included the previously mentioned (and now expired) 100,000-point offers for the mid-level Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture Rewards cards. Additional jaw-dropping offers also came up, such as one that awarded 180,000 bonus Hilton Honors points for the mid-tier Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, another that gave 150,000 bonus United miles for a United business card and a third that provided five award nights for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, among other options.

It was very common for an increased bonus to soar well past $1,000 in value last year when looking at TPG's own points and miles valuations. Not only that, but you didn't usually need to move immediately on these offers to cash in. For example, the record-setting 100,000-point Sapphire Preferred offer lasted all the way from June to October 2021.

What is happening to card bonuses this year

Fast forward to now: It's no longer 2021 (thank goodness), and the patterns we saw last year with card bonuses are quickly changing as we head deeper into 2022.

Both the Capital One Venture and Sapphire Preferred cards have come back to the more familiar territory of 60,000 bonus points or miles. The Citi Premier® Card is also back to its usual 60,000-point level after awarding 80,000 points until early 2022. The temporary ability to transfer Citi ThankYou points to American Airlines miles did not carry over to 2022 either, ending its short-lived appearance in November 2021.

However, this story isn't just an ode to the bygone bonuses of yesteryear. There are still some great credit card bonuses available, including ones worth at least $1,000 in the first year, by our calculations. They are just a little different than what we saw last year.

Big bonuses to act on in 2022

The Venture X can get you into the fantastic Capital One lounge — but time's running out for the new welcome offer. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

While there are exceptions, the biggest bonuses of this year are largely coming from cards that fall into a few different buckets. Cards that are offering limited-time offers include the very premium products with high annual fees greater than $500, the business-oriented options targeting those with small businesses and the new products that are trying to attract consumers for the first time.

A perfect example of this latter option is the still-new Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, which has an introductory offer of 100,000 miles after you spend $10,000 within the first six months of having the card. The offer also carries with it $200 in statement credits for vacation rentals booked with companies like Airbnb and Vrbo in the first year of account opening. This was a new card launch with a huge bonus that came out in late 2021, but we now know that this bonus is ending in less than two weeks — on March 14.

If you are looking for a still-available big offer on a very premium card product, I'd point to The Platinum Card® from American Express, which is still offering 100,000 points after you spend $6,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership. And while some lucky targeted individuals may have access to larger bonuses via CardMatch, even that large bonus recently dropped the 10 bonus points per dollar spent side of its offer on some purchases.

The TPG welcome bonus crystal ball was unfortunately damaged when we accidentally put it in checked baggage, but my best guess is that the big bonuses of 2022 won't last as long as the ones in 2021.

The hottest offers of the year will likely come, make their appearance known, hit their acquisition targets and then disappear back into the points ether at a much faster pace than we've seen recently. And some are even publicizing these shorter windows.

The Southwest credit card offers that convey a special Companion Pass fit clearly into that category. After initially launching on Feb. 11, they have a published end date of March 14, 2022. This limited-time window allows those in the know to score a fantastic bonus without resulting in too much exposure for the issuer.

And even the new Delta card offers that launched yesterday will only be around until April 13, 2022 — just under six weeks. That's a noticeable drop from last fall's limited-time offers, as those stuck around for nearly two months.

Official application link: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Bottom line

The loyalty programs and related rewards credit cards are quickly evolving in a world that is starting to transition from the pandemic years to life after COVID-19.

One trend that's clearly changing is the shockingly high sign-up bonuses we saw on a consistent basis last year. Unless some prolonged, unexpected turns occur worldwide this year, it's unlikely we'll come across similar offers in 2022.

My best advice is to act fast on any card offer that grabs your attention. If you really want it, get it quickly and don't look back. Odds are high that it will vanish into thin air faster than you may expect.

Featured image by Getty Images/EyeEm
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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