Key takeaways

  • Timing your new card application around a planned large purchase can help you earn a sign-up bonus that you can then redeem through travel rewards programs.
  • It’s important to be strategic about timing and know your own spending habits to ensure that you can meet the spending limit for the sign up bonus in time for your trip.
  • It may not be feasible to earn a sign-up bonus in time for summer travel, but using your new card to book your trip can still earn you points or miles for future use.

After a long winter, many people are looking forward to planning their summer vacation. Whether you’re flying to your favorite beach resort or driving cross-country with the family, you may be wondering if a new rewards credit card could help cover some expenses. Here’s our advice on how to earn the best credit card sign-up bonus this summer.

How long does it take to earn a sign-up bonus?

The time it will take to earn a sign-up bonus depends on the card and your spending habits. To earn a sign-up bonus, many cards require you to spend a certain amount of money within a designated time period, often three to six months. This typically ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and most cards will require you to meet the spend requirement in a few months.

If you’re trying to earn a sign-up bonus to help pay for summer travel, it’s important that you don’t overspend while trying to do so. Most sign-up bonuses will also be dependent on consistent, on-time payments, and overspending runs the risk of getting you into debt. Ensure that the sign-up bonus you are trying to meet falls within the range of your normal spending, or consider a card that awards a welcome bonus for a single purchase.

Strategies to earn your summer sign-up bonus

Know your spending habits

When trying to earn a sign-up bonus, it’s important that you don’t exceed your normal monthly spending just to earn rewards. Figure out first if a travel rewards card makes sense for you. Extra money for travel is great, but it’s not worth it if you end up in costly credit card debt. Apply for a rewards card with a sign-up bonus that you can reasonably meet to earn rewards while still maintaining a healthy credit history.

Time getting a new card around a large purchase you already planned to make

If you want to earn a big sign-up bonus but it’s costly to do so, apply for the new credit card before making a large purchase. This should be done responsibly, so make sure your purchase is for something you’re already planning.

Use one trip to pay for another with travel rewards

Planning multiple vacations this summer? Maybe you have one big summer trip planned but also plan to travel later in the year. If you use your new card to book your travel, you will likely be able to earn your bonus points or miles to use for your next trip — especially if you’re applying for one of the best travel credit cards.

Paying for your next vacation with your new card allows you to earn your sign-up bonus without overspending. And if you book travel with a card that rewards travel purchases, you’ll end up with extra miles to put toward your next vacation.

Play the points and miles game

For many avid travelers getting the best value out of their credit card points and miles is somewhat of a game. There are typically rules and exclusions and ways to make points go further for every travel card. If you have a specific sign-up bonus you are trying to hit, do your research and make your points go further towards your next trip.

How far can points and miles take you?

Let’s look at examples from a few popular travel rewards programs:

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Once you earn your sign-up bonus, you can redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards to book your next trip. To put that into perspective, 51,465 points may buy a round-trip economy fare between New York (JFK) and Paris in May. Points you earn with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® can be redeemed at a rate of 1.5 cents per point and 1.25 cents per point for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card when you redeem for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal. Those points can also be transferred to any of Chase’s 14 airline and hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio and potentially for more redemption value.

Capital One Travel

Your Capital One miles can be redeemed through Capital One Travel or as statement credit to cover travel purchases. They can also be transferred to one of several travel partners. The 75,000 bonus miles you can earn with the Capital One Venture X Rewards card after spending $4,000 in the first three months are worth $750 when redeemed through Capital One Travel or for statement credit to cover travel expenses, whether for a flight or to cover rental car expenses if you are planning a road trip.

American Express Membership Rewards

If you are looking for a card to cover your business expenses, the 150,000 bonus points you can earn after spending $20,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months with The Business Platinum Card® from American Express is one of the most lucrative offers available. Those 150,000 Membership Rewards points can be redeemed through Amex’s travel portal or transferred to one of Amex’s partners. It’s important to note that in terms of redemption value, your best bet with the Amex portal is to book a flight rather than a hotel. Membership Rewards points are only worth 0.7 cents per point when applied to a hotel’s room rate, but a full 1 cent per point for flights.

The bottom line

With summer just around the corner, booking that next vacation is top of mind for many people. If you are looking for a good travel card that offers a sign-up bonus, you’re in luck because there are many to choose from. Just make sure the bonus you’re trying to earn fits into your normal spending habits — and that you can keep earning rewards beyond the welcome bonus.