The Ultimate Guide to Bank of America Credit Cards
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Although it’s not included in the “big 3” of credit card issuers (Chase, Amex and Citi), Bank of America offers an impressive lineup of over 20 credit cards that run the gamut from cash-back to co-branded airline cards.
Bank of America doesn’t have a single cohesive points currency like the “big 3” do, but that doesn’t mean its cards should be overlooked. It can be helpful to analyze these cards individually and see where they might fit in your wallet instead of trying to build out a grand strategy such as the Chase or Amex Trifecta. Today we’ll take a deep dive through the Bank of America portfolio to make sure you know everything you need to earn and burn (and get approved) like a pro.
Before You Apply
Although not nearly as restrictive as Chase’s infamous “5/24” rule, Bank of America does have its own system in place to limit the number of new accounts you can get approved for, often referred to as the 2/3/4 rule. You can only get approved for:
- 2 cards in a rolling 2-month period.
- 3 cards in a rolling 12-month period.
- 4 cards in a rolling 24-month period.
Note that this doesn’t apply to business cards issued by BoA, and also doesn’t count cards issued to you by another bank. If you max out all 5 of your slots with Chase, you shouldn’t have a problem turning around and applying for an offer like the targeted 40,000-mile bonus on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card. You should also know that you can’t get approved for a second version of the same card within 90 days of your first application, which means you can’t double-dip this elevated Alaska bonus to try and score a Cathay Pacific first-class award solely through sign-up bonuses.
Another point to be aware of before applying for a BoA card is that reports indicate that the issuer has begun considering your banking relationship with it when evaluating your application. This is likely to help more than it hurts (I’ve been approved for 3 BoA cards without ever having a banking relationship with BoA), and might be something to mention if you’re denied and you need to speak to a representative about reconsideration.
Bank of America is also relatively unique in that it doesn’t limit the number of times you can get a bonus from a single credit card. In fact, the fine print on the 40,000-mile Alaska offer says “Limit 1 bonus miles and Companion Fare offer per new account.” With all of this information in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most compelling BoA card offers.
BoA offers two excellent fixed-value cards with solid earning rates and bonuses for BoA banking customers. These are the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card and the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card. Here’s an overview of the two cards:
|Bank of America Travel Rewards Card||Bank of America Premium Rewards Card|
|Sign-up Bonus||25,000 points (worth $250) after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days||50,000 points (worth $500) after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days|
|Earning Rates||1.5x on all purchases, up to a 75% bonus for Preferred Rewards customers||2x on travel and dining, 1.5x on all other purchases, up to a 75% bonus for Preferred Rewards customers|
|Redemption Options||Redeem points as a statement credit to pay for eligible travel purchases (flights, hotels, cruises, rental cars, etc.)||Redeem as cash back, purchase travel or gift cards, or cash out to a linked BoA or Merrill Lynch account.|
The Bank of America Travel Rewards card is a great no-frills, no-fee option, but don’t let the $95 fee on the Bank of America Premium Rewards card fool you, as you can actually end up with $5 for keeping it open. How? It offers a $100 annual airline incidental credit (valid for charges like seat selection, lounge access, bag fees, not actual fares), which will leave you with an extra $5 left over every year if you can max it out. Add in the $500 sign-up bonus, twice as large as the $250 bonus on the Travel Rewards card, and the Premium Rewards card becomes a very easy choice to make.
It’s also worth highlighting one important difference here: While points from the Travel Rewards card can only be redeemed for statement credits to offset eligible travel purchases, points from the Premium Rewards card can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, cash back or cashed directly into a linked BoA or Merrill Lynch account. No matter how you plan on spending your rewards though, I strongly suggest you choose the cash-back option. Even if you want to book travel or buy gift cards, you should put those charges on your credit card to earn even more rewards and use your cash back to pay the bill.
With both of these cards, the highlight isn’t just the published earning rates, it’s what they can become if you qualify for the Bank of America Preferred Rewards Program. You can read all about the program here, but to qualify you’ll need:
An eligible Bank of America personal checking account AND a 3-month average combined balance of $20,000 or more in a Bank of America account and/or Merrill Edge or Merrill Lynch investment accounts.
If you meet these requirements, you’re earning rate on both the Travel Rewards and Premium Rewards card will jump to the following depending on your account balance:
|Card||Spend Categories||Regular Cardholder||Tier 1 – Gold ($20,000 – $50,000)||Tier 2 – Platinum ($50,000 – $100,000)||Tier 3 – Platinum Honors ($100,000+)|
|Premium Rewards||Travel/Dining Earnings||2x points||2.5x points||3x points||3.5x points|
|Both||Other Earnings||1.5x points||1.875x points||2.25x points||2.625x points|
A 2.625% return makes these some of the most rewarding options for non-bonus everyday spending, especially if you already bank with BoA. If not, it might be worth moving some money over, like TPG did last year when the Premium Rewards card launched. Fixed-value cards get a little more appealing every time an airline devalues its award chart or restricts premium cabin redemptions, and when you combine the above-average earning rates with the fact that you get “paid” $5 a year to keep the Premium Rewards card open, it begins to look very appealing.
BoA offers one other card worth mentioning here, although it don’t offer nearly the same value to travel junkies. This is the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card. This no annual fee cards offers 1% back on all purchases, as well as 2% and 3% on your first combined $2,500 in quarterly spending at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (2%) and gas stations (3%). New applicants will also earn a $200 bonus after spending $500 in the first 90 days. This no annual fee / 1-2-3 rewards structure is identical to some of BoA’s more unique card offerings, including the MLB card, Susan G. Komen card and the World Wildlife Fund card.
Out of BoA’s collection of cobranded credit cards, many of them (like the Allegiant Mastercard) don’t warrant a mention here. There are a few that do, though, and can provide a ton of value if used well.
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card is the only airline card I find myself actually spending money on. That’s because, since the devaluation to the earning rate of the SPG Amex cards, the fastest way to earn Alaska miles is by spending directly on the card. BoA quietly discontinued the awful Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus card a while back, leaving only the personal Visa Signature and the business card. The Platinum Plus was a truly disappointing product as it only came with a 5,000-point sign-up bonus, and BoA would sometimes give it to customers who had applied (but not qualified for) the Visa Signature. It really won’t be missed.
Whether you get the 40,000 miles after $2,000 of spending in the first 90 days offer (which appears to be geographically targeted to the West Coast), or the standard 30,000 miles after $1,000 in spending offer that’s also available on the business card, Alaska miles will open up some very exciting redemption options. TPG values Alaska miles at 1.8 cents each thanks to an incredible partner award chart, making these bonuses worth either $720 (40,000 miles) or $540 (30,000 miles). 30,000 miles is enough for a round-trip domestic economy ticket on American Airlines or a one-way economy ticket to Asia on Cathay Pacific.
If you get both the personal and business cards, you’ll have either 60,000 miles, enough for a one-way business-class ticket to Asia on Japan Airlines, or 70,000 miles, enough for a one-way first-class ticket with either Cathay Pacific or JAL. Both cards carry a $75 annual fee and come with a companion fare, which will give your companion traveling on the same itinerary as you a free coach ticket on Alaska-operated flights for no more than $99 plus taxes.
Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard
One of the newest rewards cards on the market is the Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard. Ultimately, this card is a great reminder of why transferable points have an edge over cobranded airline and hotel cards. The sign-up bonus of 25,000 Flying Blue miles after spending $1,000 or more in the first 90 days is worth a measly $300 based on TPG’s valuations.
While you’re earn Experience Points (XP) to help qualify for Flying Blue elite status, this card doesn’t offer much value in return for its $89 annual fee. You’ll earn 3x points on direct purchases from Air France, KLM and SkyTeam airlines, and 1.5x on everything else. Compare that to a card like the Blue Business℠ Plus Card from American Express (2x points on everyday spend, up to $50,000 a year; then 1x) or the Chase Freedom Unlimited (1.5% or 1.5x on everyday spend), both of which earn points that could transfer to Flying Blue, or to dozens of other airline and hotel partners.
Spirit Airlines World Mastercard
I never thought I’d see the day that a Spirit credit card made it onto the TPG website (especially since there’s no way to use those points to fly first class!) but it’s hard to ignore the potential value of the card’s new sign-up bonus. New applicants will earn 15,000 miles after their first purchase, and another 15,000 after spending $500 in the first 90 days. The annual fee is waived for the first year. Those 30,000 miles can be worth up to 12 one-way flights (which start at 2,500 miles for off-peak awards).
Spirit gets a bad reputation, but if you come prepared with reasonable expectations (about all the ways the airline will try and upcharge you, among other things), it’s possible to have a pleasant time.
Honorable Mentions: Virgin Atlantic Mastercard & Asiana Visa Signature
Neither of these cards are especially desirable in their own right, except for the fact that they give you quick access to some very valuable points. While you can earn Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles by transferring points from Chase, Amex, Citi and Marriott, the 20,000-point sign-up bonus on this card might be worth going after if you’re trying to book an ANA sweet spot first-class award.
Similarly, the 30,000-mile welcome offer on the Asiana credit card isn’t especially exciting, but if you plan on transferring points over from Marriott to beef up that balance, Asiana is an incredibly underrated way to book Star Alliance awards. The carrier does pass on some pretty aggressive fuel surcharges, but they might be worth paying for deals like Lufthansa first class, round-trip from the US to Europe, for only 100,000 miles.
The value of Bank of America’s credit cards takes a little more work to uncover. But between high-value cash back on everyday spending and one of the only cobranded credit cards worth consistently spending on, there’s too much here to simply ignore. At the very least, everyone should take a hard look at the Premium Rewards card and Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card and see if they belong in your wallet.
Featured photo by The Points Guy
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This card from Bank of America gets really interesting if you have a BofA checking, savings or investment account. Depending on the value of your combined accounts you can potentially get as much as 3.5x points on travel/dining and 2.625x points on other purchases making it the richest consumer banking bonus out there.
- Receive 50,000 bonus points – a $500 value – after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
- Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases
- If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase
- No limit to the points you can earn and your points don't expire
- Redeem for cash back as a statement credit, deposit into eligible Bank of America® accounts, credit to eligible Merrill Edge® and Merrill Lynch® accounts, or gift cards or purchases at the Bank of America Travel Center
- Get up to $200 in combined airline incidental and airport expedited screening statement credits + valuable travel insurance protections
- No Foreign Transaction Fees
- Low $95 annual fee