The most lucrative credit card bonuses we’ve ever seen

Nov 24, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

At any given time there are dozens of valuable credit card welcome offers that can help get you on your way to another free vacation. If you’re not currently working on a minimum spend requirement, it shouldn’t be hard to peruse the top card offers and find one you’re eligible for that fits with your personal travel goals.

Some cards are incredibly consistent with the welcome bonuses they offer, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which is currently offering a welcome bonus of either 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points (worth $1,200 based on TPG’s valuations) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.

That consistency isn’t bad, as the Sapphire Preferred is an-almost unanimous recommendation for a starter rewards card. But it’s the best-ever, limited time, never-ever-coming-back-again welcome bonuses that will really move the needle on your account balances.

When we see these lucrative bonuses, including a few currently available ones that range in value from several thousand dollars to a potentially unlimited amount of free travel, 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, and 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 welcome bonuses in credit card history, including a few offers you still have time to take advantage of.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Best-ever welcome offer: Earn 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months

Current welcome offer: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months

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 it launched with that brought the rest of the stragglers in off the sidelines. 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 the cards. 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’s 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, and access to an excellent concierge service.

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).

Southwest Companion Pass Offer

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - DECEMBER 12, 2018: A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet takes off from San Antonio International Airport in Texas. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet takes off from San Antonio International Airport in Texas. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Best-ever welcome offer: 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 welcome offer: 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

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.

These cards are subjected 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
Annual fee $69 $99 $149
Anniversary points bonus  3,000 Rapid Rewards points 6,000 Rapid Rewards points 7,500 Rapid Rewards points
Earning rates 2x on Southwest flights and hotel and car rental partners; 1x everywhere else 2x on Southwest flights and hotel and car rental partners; 1x everywhere else 2x on Southwest flights and hotel and car rental partners; 1x everywhere else
Other perks N/A N/A $75 annual Southwest travel credit. Four upgraded boardings per year (when available)

20% 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

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 a stupid-high 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 75,000 bonus points after spending $15,000 on qualifying purchases within your first three months of Card Membership

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 100,000-point welcome offer on The Platinum Card® from American Express, 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’s valuations) by spending $15,000 in the first three months.

This offer hasn’t been around for quite a while now, to the point that I wouldn’t hold out any hope of it coming back. If you’re eyeing the Business Platinum, you should take advantage of the current 75,000-point welcome offer. The Business Platinum has a $595 annual fee (see rates and fees), partly offset by an up to $200 annual airline fee credit, an up to $200 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.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

(Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eden Batki/The Points Guy)

Best-ever welcome offer: 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’ve earned on an airline credit card. The next year they followed it up by awarding 2x the number of points you earned on a rewards credit card that year (up to 100,000).

Current welcome offer: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.

Card benefits: Too bad the Venture Rewards Card didn’t have transfer partners when the 100,000-mile match offers were going around, as that would have yielded you $1,400 in value based on TPG’s latest valuations.

Without the option to transfer miles to partners like Avianca and Etihad, your 100,000 miles would 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). This card has a $95 annual fee.

American Express® Gold Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

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 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 35,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. You could also be eligible for a 50,000-point offer after meeting minimum spend requirements through CardMatch or a referral link (offer subject to change at any time).

Card benefits: Amex refreshed the Amex Gold Card in late 2018, and made it a decidedly dining-focused card. You’ll now earn 4x points on dining worldwide and 4x points on the first $25,000 spent each year at U.S. supermarkets; then 1x, plus 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline or through amextravel.com. Other perks include up to $120 in dining credits each year, allotted as up to $10 per month in statement credits when you use your card at restaurants including Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Seamless and participating Shake Shacks, and an up to $100 annual airline fee credit. The card has a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees), and no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

Best-ever welcome bonus: 100,000 AAdvantage miles plus a $200 statement credit after you spent $10,000 in the first three months

Current welcome offer: 50,000 miles after you make $5,000 in purchases in the first three months

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 like 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 the 100,000-mile offer, and it was certainly a popular one.

Bottom line

While it’s not unusual for credit cards to offer slightly elevated welcome bonuses from time to time, some of these offers deserve a spot in the history books. While the days of the 100,000-point offer on the Sapphire Reserve are never coming back, there are still some jaw-dropping best-ever offers you can take advantage of.

For rates and fees of the American Express Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Business Platinum Amex card, please click here.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.