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Big credit card welcome bonuses are one of the easiest ways to accrue points and miles quickly. When you charge your household spending on a newly acquired credit card for a few months, you’ll watch your rewards balance jump.
But the welcome bonus offers on issuers' websites aren’t always the highest out there. Here are three ways to ensure you get the highest credit card welcome bonus possible:
1. Sign up for mailing lists to get targeted offers
No one likes spam, which is why most of us habitually opt out of receiving promotional offers from banks and rewards programs. But that could lead you to miss out on big welcome bonuses. The solution? Set up a secondary email account for your bank and rewards accounts. That way, all the promotional emails won’t clutter up your main inbox — but you can still get notified of special offers when they come around.
For example, you may receive mailers for higher offers on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, while the public offer is lower: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
You may even receive offers from banks like Chase and AmEx that lack restrictive language. Either way, if you want higher credit card welcome bonuses, opting in to receive promotional offers from both banks and reward programs is one way.
2. Get referred by a friend
Several banks allow cardholders to earn referral bonuses in the form of cash or points. Sometimes these bonuses are higher than the publicly available offer from the banks. For example, recently there were reports of a 15,000-point welcome bonus available on the The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express via the referral channel. The public welcome bonus is the following: Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
It’s always a good idea to check with a friend or do a quick Google search for “[card name] refer-a-friend bonus” in order to find any better offers.
3. Know the rules and wait for better offers
AmEx, Chase and Citi have all implemented restrictions regarding credit card approvals and how many times welcome bonuses on a single card can be earned. It’s important to be aware of these rules so you don’t miss out on the highest welcome bonus possible:
American Express restricts welcome bonuses for their credit cards to one per lifetime. For example, if you’ve received a welcome bonus for the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card and a couple of years later a bigger bonus comes around, you are not eligible to get it again.
On the other hand, you're still eligible for the welcome bonus on the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership. Terms Apply.) or any other card — assuming you haven’t received those welcome bonuses before, either.
This once-per-lifetime rule is a major reason why it's smart to consider waiting for a truly great offer. That’s especially advisable if you don’t have an immediate use for a certain rewards currency.
Chase's 5/24 rule limits new card approvals to those who have had fewer than five credit card applications in the last 24 months. This includes credit card applications at different issuers. So if you’ve applied for one credit card from each of the major issuers (AmEx, Chase, Citi, Discover, Bank of America) within the last 24 months, you’re at 5/24 and thus ineligible to be approved for a new Chase card.
How is this relevant to getting the highest welcome bonus possible? With this restriction in place, you don’t want to waste five card applications on small bonuses. Be strategic and apply for your Chase cards first, and then keep track of your credit card application history for future reference.
This past summer, Citi added new language to its terms restricting credit card welcome bonuses to one per 48 months. The restrictions for ThankYou Point-earning credit cards are just 24 months. This is the welcome bonus you could get with a Citi Prestige® Card: 50000 Another ThankYou Point-earning card is the Citi Premier® Card, which comes with the following sign-up offer: Earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
If you have to wait four years for a new welcome bonus, you might as well hold out for a big one. This is where opting in for promotional offers could really come in handy, because you may be targeted for a bigger bonus than the publicly available offer. And if you’re on the market for a big AAdvantage point bonus, you’ll be glad to come across a higher offer.
» Learn more: Citi Premier review: Potentially lucrative for travelers
The bottom line
With these tips in mind, go out there and get the biggest welcome bonus possible. While we don’t recommend earning points speculatively since rewards programs do get devalued from time to time, it’s a good idea to have enough rewards in each airline and hotel program for emergency redemptions. A big credit card welcome bonus, especially from a bank rewards card, can help you check that box.
The information related to the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, Citi Prestige® Card and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
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