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Best credit card welcome bonus for September 2021

It's not just the size of a bonus that matters -- but how much you have to spend to get it.

A welcome bonus, also known as a sign-up bonus, is a compelling reason to sign up for a new credit card. Usually welcome offers will reward new cardholders with a lump sum of cash or a bounty of bonus points if you spend a certain amount within a specific period of time -- say, $500 in the first three months. It's an easy way to earn extra rewards

Still, a credit card issuer isn't about to shell out bonus cash without getting something in return. What may initially seem like a tempting offer of free money can instead leave you with mediocre rewards and hefty annual fees. And since you get the bonus offer just once, you might make the mistake of spending beyond your means to try to reach the spending threshold in time. That can trap you in a vicious cycle of debt.

That noted, when you're hunting for a new card, the size of the sign-up bonus -- and the spending required to earn it -- are factors worth considering. We've listed our favorite finds below based on the maximum value of the credit card bonus, annual fees, rewards structures and required spending threshold. You'll also find answers to frequently asked questions about credit card welcome bonuses. Have a look.

Best overall welcome bonus card

See Rates and Fees Terms Apply
Card Highlights
Intro BonusEarn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
APRSee Pay Over Time APR
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
Annual Fee$695
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Additional Details
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Our Take

The Platinum Card from American Express has one of the largest welcome bonuses -- in terms of potential redemption value -- among the cards we researched. When transferred to certain affiliate travel partners, American Express' Membership Rewards points are worth up to 2 cents per point, according to The Points Guy's valuation, making the 100,000-point bonus (after spending $6,000 in the first six months) worth up to $2,000.

The spending threshold for the card bonus is also relatively reasonable, requiring $1,000 in monthly spending on average over six months. The rewards tiers are also competitive, with restaurants worldwide, US Shop Small eligible purchases and eligible travel purchases earning significant rewards. 

The main drawback with the Platinum Card is its high annual fee of $695. To get maximum long-term value out of the Platinum, you should plan to spend upward of $10,000 annually on flights and hotels and make use of the premium travel perks, including lounge access and hotel upgrades. 

*The value of Membership Rewards points depends on how you redeem them. If you redeem your points through American Express, they're worth between 0.5 cent and 1 cent per point. If you transfer your points to an affiliate travel partner, points are worth up to 2 cents apiece, according to The Points Guy's valuations.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Best welcome bonus, low annual fee card

Card Highlights
Intro BonusEarn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
APR15.99% - 22.99% Variable
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • Earn 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3X points on dining.
  • Earn 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
Annual Fee$95
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Additional Details
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Balance Transfer APR15.99% - 22.99% Variable
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees $0
Penalty APR Up to 29.99%
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3X points on dining.
  • Earn 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.

Our Take

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is currently offering its best welcome bonus yet -- 100,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 within the first three months of card ownership. This signup bonus is equal to $1,250, according to Chase, when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. However, according to The Points Guy, this bonus could be worth as much as $2,000 when redeemed through Chase's airline and hotel partners. That puts it on par with the The Platinum Card from American Express in terms of value, but the Sapphire Preferred card has a much lower annual fee. 

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card also offers high-level rewards tiers -- like 5x points on travel booked through Chase and 3x points on dining, eligible online grocery purchases and select streaming services. You can also earn bonus points each account anniversary equal to 10% of the total purchases made the year before. That means if you spend $25,000 in one year, you could get 2,500 bonus points on your anniversary.

Best welcome bonus no annual fee card

Card Highlights
Intro Bonus25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
APR13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases
Additional Details
Balance Transfer Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Balance Transfer APR13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Penalty APR up to 29.99% APR
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire

Our Take

The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card** offers a solid welcome bonus (25,000 online bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening) worth $250 in statement credits toward travel and dining purchases and no annual fee. The spending threshold on this travel card is low, requiring approximately just $334 in monthly spending during the first 90 days.

Otherwise, the Travel Rewards card offers few frills but flexible rewards points that can be redeemed as statement credits. Plus, across the board you'll get 1.5 points for every dollar you spend. 

Best welcome bonus with a low spending threshold card

Card Highlights
Intro BonusEarn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
APR14.99% - 23.74% Variable
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Earn 5% on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
Additional Details
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Balance Transfer APR14.99% - 23.74% Variable
Foreign Transaction Fees 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
Penalty APR Up to 29.99%
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Earn 5% on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Our Take

Our top pick for cash-back rewards credit cards, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a $200 cash-back bonus after spending just $500 during the first three months -- and no annual fee. It's a nice bonus -- and the Freedom Unlimited also features top-notch rewards with 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase, 5% on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores and 1.5% on other purchases.

FAQs

What is a welcome bonus?

A welcome bonus is a one-time reward offered to card holders after signing up for a new card. Bonuses always require users to spend a certain amount within a set time period, like $500 in purchases in the first three months, in order to "unlock" the bonus. 

So should I sign up for lots of credit cards to take advantage of welcome bonuses?

This is a risky and time-consuming gambit that could adversely affect your credit. Though a welcome bonus is worth considering, we recommend taking a comprehensive look at the overall value of a credit card and choosing one that fits your spending habits and financial situation.

What is considered a 'good' welcome bonus?

In our view, a good welcome bonus is one that doesn't require you to contort your existing spending habits and offers a return that's higher than the card's annual fee. Many rewards credit cards offer a welcome bonus of $200; anything higher than that is noteworthy.

We also prefer cards with bonuses that feature other perks or multiple rewards tiers, increasing the usefulness of the card beyond the bonus. 

What does the 'x' mean in reward rates?

The x means "times" -- a way of referring to the multiple rewards points or miles you'll get for every dollar spent. For example, a 2x mile card gives you 2 miles for every dollar spent. A 10x point card gives you 10 points for every dollar spent. 

List of cards researched

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card from American Express, click here.

**All information about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

More credit card advice

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