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Earning credit card rewards points for your everyday spending is easy, especially with cards offering bonus earning on things like dining or at supermarkets.
However, the fastest and easiest way to earn a lot of points quickly — whether you’re planning a big trip but don’t have enough points yet, or you’re just looking to build up your stores — is to open a new credit card that offers a lucrative welcome bonus.
Credit card issuers like Chase and AmEx offer huge bonuses to attract customers, and while each card may have different eligibility requirements, in most cases if you haven’t had that card before, you’re good to go.
You can read more about earning new card member bonuses and how that will affect your credit score here, or scroll down to find some of the best offers available this month.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.
When you’re working to earn credit card rewards, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card.
1. The American Express® Gold Card
Welcome offer: 25,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $2,000 in the first three months. Until January 9: Get up 20% back at US restaurants within the first three months, up to $100 total.
This month, American Express launched a massive reboot of its Premier Rewards Gold card, rebranding it as the American Express Gold Card, releasing a new metal design and limited-edition rose gold version, and totally overhauling the rewards and benefits on the card. Because that wasn’t quite enough, AmEx also launched a fairly unique new welcome bonus.
The new Gold Card earns 4x points at US restaurants and on up to $25,000 per year at US supermarkets, 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline, and 1x point on everything else. Based on the fact that you can easily redeem Membership Rewards points for more than 1¢ of value each, that makes this the highest-earning card for everything food-related.
The Gold Card keeps the old card’s $100 airline fee credit each calendar year, and adds up to $120 of dining credits — split into $10 each month — at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Steak House, or participating Shake Shack locations.
New card members — those who haven’t previously had the Premier Rewards Gold — can earn a welcome bonus of 25,000 points when they spend $2,000 in the first three months. Additionally, those who apply before January 9 can get 20% back on all US restaurant charges — up to $100 total — in the form of a statement credit.
While it’s difficult to assign an exact value to Membership Rewards points, travel website The Points Guy subjectively estimates each point as worth 1.9¢. That makes the welcome bonus worth $575 — $475 for the points, and up to $100 back from restaurants. Even without factoring in the annual credit benefits, that’s more than enough to make up for the card’s $250 annual fee.
2. The Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card
Welcome offer: 100,000 Marriott/Starwood points (after spending $5,000 in the first three months). *Ends October 31.
This April, Marriott and Starwood announced that they would be merging their loyalty programs and introducing a consistent set of benefits across them — nearly two years after Marriott International acquired Starwood. The loyalty merger happened over the summer, and while a few kinks are still being worked out, the new normal is settling in.
As part of the merger, American Express, which issued Starwood’s credit cards before the merger, and Chase, which previously issued Marriott’s credit cards, agreed to keep issuing credit cards under those brands, even though the cards’ benefits would apply across both of the brands’ hotels.
In late August, AmEx introduced its first new product since the merger, the SPG Luxury card. It’s also offering a limited-time new member bonus of 100,000 points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months when you open a card before October 31 — although if you opened a Chase-issued Marriott card in the past two years, you won’t be eligible for the new bonus.
Although the new card has a $450 annual fee, it comes with a decent set of perks and benefits to make up for that.
Each year, card members can get up to $300 in statement credits for purchases at Starwood and Marriott hotels, which can apply to room charges. That effectively brings the fee down to just $150.
Additionally, each year on your card member anniversary, you’ll get a free night award that can be redeemed at any hotel that costs 50,000 points a night or less — that should cover a wide selection of properties.
You’ll also get complimentary Gold elite status, and you can earn Platinum status if you spend $75,000 or more on the card in a calendar year.
The card will earn 6x points at Starwood and Marriott hotels, 3x points at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with the airline, and 2x points on everything else.
3. Platinum Card® from American Express
Welcome Offer: 60,000 points (after spending $5,000 in the first three months).
The American Express Platinum card has one of the highest annual fees of any consumer credit or charge card — $550 — but as AmEx’s flagship product, this premium credit card offers a tremendous amount of value to offset that fee. For example, I got more than $2,000 worth of value in my first year with the card.
The card earns Membership Rewards points, the currency in AmEx’s loyalty program, which can be exchanged for statement credits or cash back, used to book travel through AmEx’s travel website, or, to get the most value, transferred to any of 17 airline and three hotel transfer partners (transferable points are among the best). Travel website The Points Guy lists a valuation of 1.9¢ per Membership Rewards point; based on that, the welcome offer is worth around $1,140.
Because $5,000 is one of the steepest spending requirements of any consumer credit card, this is an ideal time to open it — with holiday spending and travel coming up, you can take advantage of those planned expenses to meet a higher minimum required spend than you would normally be able to.
The Platinum Card earns an incredible 5x points on airfare purchased directly from the airline, and offers a $200 airline fee credit each calendar year, and up to $200 in Uber credits each card member year. It also grants the cardholder access to more than 1,000 airport lounges around the world, including Delta Sky Clubs and AmEx’s own Centurion Lounges. Other benefits include automatic gold elite status at Starwood, Marriott, and Hilton hotels, a statement credit to cover enrollment in Global Entry/TSA PreCheck, concierge service, and much more.
4. Chase Sapphire Preferred
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months).
The Sapphire Preferred is one of the most popular all-around rewards credit cards, and it’s easy to see why. This card earns 2x points per dollar spent on just about all travel and dining purchases, and 1x point on everything else. It also comes with a ton of travel and purchase protections, such as rental car insurance, trip delay coverage, and extended warranty.
The sign-up bonus — 50,000 UR points — is worth, at the very least, $500 as cash back or gift cards. However, if you book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and use points to pay, you’ll get a 25% bonus, making points worth 1.25 cents each. That means that the sign-up bonus would be worth $625.
Even more lucrative — the Chase Sapphire Preferred lets you transfer your UR points to a few different frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs. This comes in handy because, in many cases, it costs fewer points to book a trip if you go through one of those programs, as opposed to using the points as cash. You can read more about why transferring points to frequent flyer programs gets you more value here.
This all comes for a fairly standard annual fee of $95, which is waived the first year.
5. Chase Sapphire Reserve
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months).
The Sapphire Reserve is basically a beefier version of the Preferred. While the card comes with the same sign-up bonus, it earns points on everyday spending faster, nabbing a higher 3x points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases, and 1x on everything else. It also offers similar, though in many cases, enhanced travel and purchase protections.
Unlike the Preferred, the Sapphire Reserve comes with a Priority Pass Select membership, which gets you and any travel companions free access to more than 1,000 airport lounges around the world.
You can use points from the Reserve the same ways as with the Preferred, except that you’ll get a 50% bonus when booking travel through Chase, making your points worth 1.5¢ each.
The card carries a higher annual fee than the Preferred: $450. However, it also comes with a $300 travel credit each card member year. Each year, you’ll get statement credits for the first $300 in travel-related purchases you make, including things like subway fare, taxis, parking, and tolls, as well as airfare and hotels. When you subtract this credit from the annual fee, the card is effectively only $150 each year.
If you’re not sure whether the Preferred or Reserve is the better card for you, take a look at this breakdown. Also keep in mind that you can typically only earn the sign-up bonus for one Sapphire-branded card every two years.
6. Chase Freedom Unlimited
Sign-up bonus: 15,000 points or $150 cash back (after spending $500 in the first three months).
If you already have the Sapphire Reserve and are saving your points for something, the Freedom Unlimited can give your balance a nice boost. While Chase markets the card as “cash back,” it actually earns Ultimate Rewards points that you can redeem for cash (1 point = 1¢).
If you have a premium card like the Sapphire Reserve, you can pool your points from the two cards. The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5 points per dollar spent, so paired with a Sapphire Reserve, it’s a great card to use for purchases that aren’t made on travel expenses or dining.
Best of all, the card has no annual fee and often has 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After that, there’s a 16.74%-25.49% variable APR. If you have a major purchase ahead of you, that introductory offer can be useful.
While the best financial practice is to not spend more on the holidays than you can afford to pay off right away, the Freedom Unlimited’s introductory APR does provide an option to pay a major expenses off over time without paying interest. That can be useful if you’re planning out how to pay for something like an engagement ring during the holidays.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a fantastic all-around card. However, to get the most value when it’s time to spend your points, you need the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred card, too, so you can pool your points. Otherwise, points are only worth 1¢ each no matter how you use them and they can’t be transferred to airline or hotel partners.
Click here to learn more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.
7. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 miles (after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days).
Earlier this year, Barclays closed applications for one of its most popular credit cards, before relaunching the card with a new all-time highest sign-up bonus.
Then, late last month, Barclays began waiving the card’s $89 annual fee for the first year, a first for the card.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus earns double miles on every dollar spent. Miles can be redeemed for one cent each on travel purchases (applied as a statement credit to negate the cost of that purchase), or a half-cent each for cash back or gift cards. Best of all, you’ll earn 5% of your miles back every time you make a redemption.
Effectively, that means that the sign-up bonus is worth $600 toward travel, plus an extra $100 from the miles you’ll earn meeting the spending requirement.
The card comes equipped with Chip-and-PIN service, which, combined with the fact that the card has no foreign transaction fees, makes it a great option when traveling internationally.
Depending on your spending habits, it is easy to get more value from the card than what you pay for the annual fee, thanks to the 2x earning rate on all purchases. Of course, the sign-up bonus alone will cover the annual fee for more than seven years.
8. Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
Sign-up bonus: 30,000 Go Far points (after spending $3,000 in the first three months).
This new card from Wells Fargo has one of the more attractive rewards programs you’ll find from a no-annual-fee card. The new Propel card is actually a re-launch of an old product — Wells Fargo stopped accepting applications for the old card back in February, before announcing the new product and reopening applications this month.
The card earns 3x points on all travel, dining, and select streaming services (and 1x point on everything else). If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s almost the same as the popular Chase Sapphire Reserve.
There are some key differences between the cards. The Propel lets you redeem points for 1¢ each toward cash back, merchandise, travel, or more, while the Sapphire Reserve offers a range of more valuable redemption options — it’s easy to get at least 50% more value for Chase points. Plus, the Sapphire Reserve offers a number of premium perks that the Propel doesn’t, like airport lounge access, a $300 annual travel credit travel delay insurance, and more.
Of course, the Sapphire Reserve also comes with a $450 annual fee, while the Wells Fargo Propel doesn’t have a fee. Between the new member offer, and the solid earning rate on popular spend categories, the Propel makes a decent option for those who don’t travel often, or who aren’t comfortable floating a large annual fee.
9. Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card
Welcome offer: 125,000 Hilton Honors points when you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
Hilton recently announced new highest-ever bonuses on its four co-branded credit cards, which offers a fantastic opportunity to rack up points for free hotel nights.
A major benefit to the Hilton Honors rewards program is when you stay for free using points, it’s actually free — unlike many other hotels, you won’t even have to pay a resort fee. Despite some recent minor devaluations in the program, it’s turning into my go-to for hotels.
Between the 125,000-point welcome bonus, and the fact that the Ascend card offers a free weekend night’s stay when you spend $15,000 on it within a calendar year, you’ve got the makings of a nice long hotel stay without having to pay a thing.
The Ascend has a $95 annual fee, but offers some solid benefits to make up for that.
The card offers complimentary Gold status just for holding it. If you spend $40,000 on the card within a calendar year, you’ll be upgraded to Diamond status. In addition to the same benefits you’d get from Gold — such as free breakfast, room upgrades, a bonus on earned points, late checkout, and a free fifth reward night — Diamond gets you higher priority for room upgrades, executive lounge access, and more. The card also comes with 10 free day passes to Priority Pass airport lounges.
The Ascend earns 12x points on Hilton purchases, 6x points at restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets — all within the US — and 3x points on everything else.
10. Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Welcome offer: 150,000 Hilton Honors points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
The premium Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card has a hefty $450 annual fee, but it comes with so many perks, benefits, and rebates that it’s more than worth paying for Hilton loyalists.
In addition to a $250 airline fee credit per calendar year and a $250 Hilton resort statement credit each card member year, the Aspire also offers a $100 Hilton on-property credit every time you book a stay of two nights or longer at a Hilton property — you just need to book through a specific website for cardholders.
The card also offers a free weekend night reward each year — regardless of how much you spend — and a second if you spend $60,000 on the card in a calendar year. It also comes with complimentary Diamond status.
The Aspire earns a tremendous 14x points per dollar spent with Hilton, 7x points on flights booked with the airline, car rentals, and at US restaurants, and 3x points on everything else.
11. Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
Sign-up Bonus: 80,000 points (after spending $5,000 in the first three months).
The Ink Preferred is an excellent rewards credit card — the bad news is that it’s only available for small business owners. The good news is that a lot of things you might not expect actually count as small businesses, including freelancing, side gigs, and even selling things on eBay.
The card, which has a $95 annual fee, earns 3x points per dollar on the first $150,000 you spend each card member year in a few categories, including travel, shipping, internet/cable/phone, and advertising on social media sites or with search engines, such as Google Ads. Purchases after you reach $150,000, or in any other category, earn 1x point per dollar. Unless you operate a small business that’s on the larger side, chances are you won’t hit that cap.
Like with the Sapphire Preferred, you’ll get a 25% bonus when using points earned with the Ink Preferred to book travel directly with Chase. Of course, if you pool them on your Sapphire Reserve card, that bonus will be 50% instead.
The card comes with a handful of other perks, many of which overlap with the Sapphire Preferred and Reserve, such as trip cancellation/interruption insurance, primary car rental loss/damage coverage, and various purchase protections. It also comes with cell phone insurance when you use the card to pay your phone bill, offering up to $600 for each covered claim.
* This content is not provided by card issuers. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the card issuer.
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