If you’re in the market for a rewards credit card, chances are you either have a specific award redemption in mind or just want to give your points balance a boost in case of a spur-of-the-moment trip. A big welcome bonus is a great way to achieve this, and there are many options to choose from.
However, with several issuers imposing restrictions on welcome bonus eligibility, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the rules so you don’t miss out on any big welcome bonuses. Here are some card issuer rules you should be aware of:
American Express imposes a once-per-lifetime restriction on welcome bonuses. In other words, you can’t get a welcome bonus for the same card more than once. That’s why it’s best to get in on big welcome bonuses when they come around. Since you’ll only qualify for it once, you may as well hold out for the biggest one possible.
A quick Google search is a good way to determine what the highest bonus has been for a particular card. This may not work out well for people who like to speculatively stock up on points, but it is conducive to a more sensible approach for acquiring new credit cards.
The Chase 5/24 rule is simple and straightforward: If you’ve applied to five other rewards credit cards in the last 24 months (from any bank), Chase will not approve you for a new card. There's a simple strategy for dealing with this restriction: Get a Chase card first if you have other cards in mind.
Whether you’re just starting out with rewards credit cards or looking to stock up on points, one good strategy given the 5/24 rule is to get your desired Chase card first. Whether it’s the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you should apply for these cards before any others to make sure you remain compliant with the 5/24 rule.
Once you’ve been approved for a Chase card subject to 5/24, you can then move on to applying for any other credit cards. Of course, you’ll want to keep in mind restrictions imposed by American Express and Citi as well.
Earlier this year, Citi added language to some of its credit cards restricting welcome bonuses for the same card to one per 48 months. In other words, if you apply for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® this year, you won’t be eligible to earn its sign-up bonus again for another four years.
This is less restrictive than the Chase 5/24 rule, but it’s nonetheless disappointing if you’re looking to stock up on Citi ThankYou points through a new welcome bonus (without waiting upwards of four years).
On the other hand, the Citi Prestige® Card and Citi Premier® Card welcome bonuses are only restricted to once every 24 months. That’s great, since Citi ThankYou points are much more versatile in that they can be transferred to 15 different airline partners.
» Learn more: The 4 best Citi transfer partners (and 7 to avoid)
The bottom line
These credit card issuer restrictions make it more difficult to obtain big credit card welcome bonuses spontaneously. But the rules can still be manageable with a little bit of planning. The key takeaway is to be strategic about applying for rewards credit cards: Get the cards with the most restrictive rules first, and try to hold out for the biggest bonus possible if you don’t have an immediate need for the points.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: My credit card strategy: Making simplicity rewarding Citi Premier review: Potentially lucrative for travelers Find the best travel credit card for you