Reach for the top: 9 of the most lucrative credit card bonuses we’ve ever seen
At any given time there are dozens of valuable credit card sign-up bonuses that can help get you on your way to a points-fueled vacation.
Some cards are incredibly consistent with the sign-up bonuses they offer, such as the Citi Premier® Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 80,000 ThankYou points (worth $1,360 based on TPG's valuations) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
That consistency isn't bad, as the Citi Premier is an attractively priced card with some great bonus categories. However, it’s the best-ever, limited-time, may neve return welcome bonuses that will really move the needle on your award account balances.
When we see these lucrative sign-up bonuses, one thing inevitably follows. People hesitate on applying for these cards for one reason or another, and the offer ends. In many cases, once these "too good to be true" bonuses expire, they never come back. The people who waited too long are left kicking themselves, thinking about all the value they left on the table.
Today, we'll take a look at some of the most over-the-top valuable sign-up bonuses in credit card history, including a few that are currently available and can potentially unlock several thousand dollars of award travel.
This includes a record-breaking offer of 100,000 bonus points on the ever-popular Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
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Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Best-ever sign-up bonus: Earn 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Current sign-up bonus: This card is currently offering its best-ever sign-up bonus of up to 100,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. TPG values this offer at a whopping $2,000.
Card benefits: For over a decade, the Chase Sapphire Preferred had a fairly consistent welcome bonus of 50,000-60,000 points, so the current 100,000-point bonus is a big, unprecedented boost.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is an almost unanimous recommendation for a starter rewards card. It gives access to lucrative travel rewards without a high annual fee. Cardholders earn 5x total points on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on dining, including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out, 3x points on select streaming services, 3x points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs), 2x points on all other travel, 1x point on all other purchases. These points are easy to use with top airline and hotel programs such as United and World of Hyatt and can also be redeemed for 1.25 cents apiece through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal or Pay Yourself Back program.
The card also comes with some valuable benefits, including 12 months of DashPass membership, primary insurance when you rent a car, trip delay reimbursement, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, baggage delay reimbursement and no foreign transaction fees.
Read our review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Best-ever sign-up bonus: Earn 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Current sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Card benefits: While in many ways it was the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card that gave award travel its mass appeal, it was the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the 100,000-point welcome bonus that may have been the tipping point. That short-lived 100,000-point offer was too stupendously valuable to ignore. Even if you didn't want to take the time to learn the ins and outs of transfer partners, those 100,000 points could be redeemed for $1,500 of travel directly through the Chase portal — with no work.
The card generated a huge amount of hype, so much so that Chase even temporarily ran out of the metal needed to make it. While the 100,000-point offer is gone and likely to never be seen again, the current 50,000-point bonus (worth $1,000 based on TPG valuations), as well as the ongoing benefits of the Sapphire Reserve, continue to make it a fan favorite.
The Sapphire Reserve's $550 annual fee is mostly offset by a $300 annual travel credit, which is automatically applied to a wide range of purchases including airfare, hotels, Uber, public transit, parking fees and more. Sapphire Reserve cardholders also enjoy a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, 3x points on travel (after spending the $300 credit) and dining purchases, unmatched travel protections and access to an excellent concierge service. Limited-time benefits include one year of complimentary Lyft Pink (must activate by March 31, 2022), at least one year of complimentary DashPass (must activate by Dec. 31, 2021), up to $60 in DoorDash credits (through Dec. 31, 2021) and up to $120 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access membership (through Dec. 31, 2021).
While the card might not be as much of a no-brainer decision without the 100,000-point offer, these perks can be tremendously valuable for a card that only costs $250 a year out of pocket (after factoring in the travel credit).
Read our review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Southwest Companion Pass offer
Best-ever sign-up bonus: Up to one year of the Southwest Companion Pass and 30,000 Rapid Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Current sign-up bonus: Earn up to 100,000 bonus points. Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 50,000 more bonus points after spending $12,000 total on purchases in the first 12 months.
Card benefits: While it's easy to look at 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points and explain how they can be worth $2,000 or more thanks to a wide range of valuable airline and hotel transfer partners, the best-ever bonus we've seen on all three personal Southwest cobranded credit cards offered an unlimited amount of free travel. This offer has come and gone several times over the years, with it last being available in March 2021.
These cards are subject to Chase's 5/24 rule, meaning that you'll be automatically rejected if you've opened five or more credit cards in the last 24 months. You also won't be eligible if you currently hold a Southwest personal credit card, or have received the welcome bonus on one in the last 24 months.
With identical bonuses across the Priority, Premier and Plus cards, you're free to pick the product that offers the right combination of annual fee and benefits for you. You can check out this guide for a head-to-head comparison of the three cards, but here's a quick overview of the important differences:
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card||Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card||Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card|
|Anniversary points bonus||3,000 Rapid Rewards points||6,000 Rapid Rewards points||7,500 Rapid Rewards points|
|Earning rates||2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases, 2 points on local transit and commuting (including rideshare), 2 points on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming, then 1 point per dollar on everything else.||3 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases, 2 points on local transit and commuting (including rideshare), 2 points on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming, then 1 point per dollar on everything else.||3 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases, 2 points on local transit and commuting (including rideshare), 2 points on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming, then 1 point per dollar on everything else.|
|Other perks||N/A||N/A||$75 annual Southwest travel credit
Four upgraded boardings per year (when available)
25% back on inflight drinks and Wi-Fi
|Tier qualifying points||N/A||Earn up to 15,000 TQPs a year, 1,500 for each $10,000 spent||Earn up to 15,000 TQPs a year, 1,500 for each $10,000 spent|
|Foreign transaction fee||3%||None||None|
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Best-ever sign-up bonus: In 2011, the Venture card offered to match your miles earned, up to 100,000 miles, after you sent proof of any airline miles you’d earned on an airline credit card. They've since followed that up several times by awarding 2x the number of points you earned on a rewards credit card that year (up to 100,000).
Now, the card is back with another opportunity to earn up to 100,000 miles, albeit with slightly different terms.
Current sign-up bonus: Earn 100,000 miles after spending $20,000 on purchases within the first 12 months of account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of the account opening.
Card benefits: The Venture Rewards Card is currently offering its best-ever sign-up bonus of up to 100,000 miles. Thanks to the ability to transfer Capital One miles to airline and hotel partners, this bonus can yield you $1,700 in value based on TPG's latest valuations (not provided by the issuer). Plus, you still have the opportunity to earn the card's standard bonus if you don't reach the full spending requirement.
Even if you don't transfer your miles to partners such as Avianca and Etihad, your 100,000 Venture miles would still be worth $1,000 toward erasing travel purchases from your statement credit. The card also offers a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit (up to $100), travel accident insurance, secondary auto rental coverage, extended warranty protection and no foreign transaction fees. This card has a $95 annual fee.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
Best-ever welcome offer: Earn up to 150,000 Membership Rewards points: 100,000 for spending $5,000 in the first three months and another 50,000 for spending $15,000 total in the first three months. There also was a 250,000-point tiered bonus on the card in the past, but it was extremely tightly targeted and required an extremely large amount of spending in three months, so we'll focus on the best-ever offer that most people might have been eligible for.
Current welcome offer: Earn 120,000 bonus points after spending $15,000 on qualifying purchases within your first three months of card membership. TPG values this offer at $2,400.
Card benefits: Amex's once-per-lifetime welcome bonus policy (per card) means that it's especially important for you to time your application to receive the highest possible welcome bonus. While some people are currently being targeted for a 125,000-point welcome offer on the personal The Platinum Card® from American Express (offer subject to change at any time), over the years there has been an even better offer available to targeted customers for the Business Platinum Card from American Express, either in the mail or online. The exact terms of the offer might have varied based on when you were targeted, but generally speaking, you were able to earn 150,000 Membership Rewards points (worth $3,000 based on TPG valuations) by spending $15,000 in the first three months.
This offer hasn't been around for a while now, to the point that I wouldn't hold out any hope of it coming back. So, if you're eyeing the Business Platinum, you should take advantage of the current 120,000-point welcome offer.
The Business Platinum has a $595($695 if application is received on or after 1/13/2022) annual fee (see rates and fees), partly offset by an up-to-$200 annual airline fee credit, an up-to-$400 Dell technology credit for U.S. purchases, and a number of other great perks. Even with such a high annual fee, the Business Platinum card is a very compelling product, offering access to Amex's growing global collection of Centurion lounges, a 50% points bonus on purchases of $5,000 or more, Gold elite status with both Marriott and Hilton, and a host of other perks. Enrollment required for select benefits.
Capital One Spark Miles for Business
Best-ever sign-up bonus: Twice now, we've seen the Capital One Spark Miles for Business offer a gigantic welcome bonus of up to 200,000 miles, including 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months and another 150,000 miles after spending a whopping $50,000 total in the first six months.
Current sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 miles after spending $4,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Card benefits: With a fixed earning rate of 2 miles per dollar spent, the Capital One Spark Miles for Business is one of the best business cards for everyday spending. TPG values Capital One miles at 1.7 cents each, meaning you're looking at an earning rate of 3.4% on all purchases if your way of redeeming miles is in line with ours.
Since launching its collection of transfer partners a few years back, Capital One has continued to expand the list and improve transfer ratios. The Spark has a $95 annual fee that's waived for the first year, and also offers a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100).
American Express® Gold Card
Best-ever welcome bonus: Time for a little points-and-miles history lesson: Back in 2011, new cardholders were able to bump their bonus on the old Amex Premier Rewards Gold card from 15,000 to 75,000 points (with a $0 introductory annual fee) with just a phone call and an offer code. This was a huge deal not only for award travelers, but for many award travel blogs, with the offer taking off and helping pave the way for the success of both TPG and Mommy Points.
Current welcome offer: The Amex Gold Card is offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership. That said, you may be eligible for a higher offer of 75,000 points through CardMatch (offer subject to change at any time).
Card benefits: Amex refreshed and renamed the Amex Gold card in late 2018, making it a decidedly dining-focused card. You now earn 4 points per dollar at restaurants and 4 points per dollar on the first $25,000 spent each calendar year at U.S. supermarkets (then 1x), plus 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with the airline or through American Express Travel. Other perks include up to $120 in dining credits each calendar year, allotted as up to $10 per month in statement credits, when you use your card at restaurants including Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar, and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.. and up to $120 in annual Uber Cash (up to $10 monthly; must add card to the Uber app to receive the benefit) in the U.S. Enrollment required for select benefits.
Read our review of the Amex Gold Card.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
Best-ever sign-up bonus: 100,000 AAdvantage miles, plus a $200 statement credit, after you spend $10,000 in the first three months.
Current sign-up bonus: 80,000 miles after you make $5,500 in purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Card benefits: The Citi AAdvantage Executive offers cardholders full Admirals Club membership with the ability to bring up to two guests, and this guest benefit extends to authorized users as well. You can add up to 10 authorized users, meaning with one card, 33 people can get into American Airlines' airport lounges, since each cardholder can bring up to two guests. The card has a $450 annual fee, but thanks to its Admiral Club access and other benefits such as a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit (up to $100), it can be well worth it.
It's been several years since we saw this 100,000-mile offer, and it was certainly a popular one. It's highly probable that the days of 100,000-mile offers on this card are over.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Best-ever welcome bonus: 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Through early 2021, TPG readers were also able to get a free one-year subscription to ExpertFlyer Premium, worth up to $100. (ExpertFlyer is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures.)
Current welcome offer: 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. TPG values this offer at $900.
Card benefits: While the welcome bonus is great, it's the benefits that make this card shine.
For starters, it comes with Hilton Diamond status for as long as you hold the card and you’ll earn 14 points per dollar on spending at participating Hilton hotels (a 8.4% return based on TPG valuations). It also comes with benefits like a weekend award night every calendar year (plus a second weekend night when you spend $60,000), up to $250 in Hilton resort statement credit, up to $250 in annual airline fee credit and Priority Pass airport lounge access, which help offset its $450 annual fee (see rates and fees). And that's before even considering the limited-time coronavirus-related benefits.
The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
If you want even more Hilton points, the less expensive Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is currently offering 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.
It's not unusual for credit cards to offer slightly elevated welcome bonuses from time to time. However, some offers out there deserve a spot in the history books, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred's current 100,000-point bonus. Remember that the 100,000-point offer on the Chase Sapphire Reserve didn't last very long so if you want to take advantage of this record-breaking bonus, you should do so sooner rather than later.
With travel ramping up again, now's the perfect time to give your points balance the boost it needs.
Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.
For rates and fees of the Business Platinum Amex card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Aspire card, please click here.