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While most people are focused on staying cool at a beach or pool during these dog days of summer, I’d like to note that now is an ideal time to sign up for a new credit card with an eye toward holiday travel. Yes, there are still 142 days until Christmas, but it can take months to earn a sign-up bonus. You’ll also want to build in some advance booking time. If anything, it’s actually a little late in the game.
The best credit card bonuses typically require new cardholders to spend a few thousand dollars in their first three months with the new card. The rewards generally appear shortly after the customer hits that threshold, often on the next statement date.
It’s very important, of course, to avoid overspending. The best way to hit a credit card sign-up bonus spending threshold is with money you would have spent anyway. And make sure to pay in full and on time to avoid interest and protect your credit score.
Credit card sign-ups have been booming. Originations are up 26 percent over the past year, according to TransUnion. It’s a competitive market; you can use that to your advantage.
Here are some of my favorite travel card offers that are available right now:
The Citi Premier® Card is offering 80,000 ThankYou points to new customers who spend $4,000 within three months of opening the card. Those are worth $800 in travel booked through Citi and potentially much more if you utilize transfer partners such as Avianca, Emirates, Flying Blue (Air France/KLM), JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and many others. Our sister site The Points Guy (TPG) values Citi ThankYou points at 1.8 cents apiece, meaning this welcome bonus is potentially worth $1,440. You might even be able to exceed that with some creativity and flexibility.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card gives new cardholders 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after they spend $4,000 in first three months. Those are worth $750 in travel booked through Chase, perhaps even more if you go down the transfer partner path. TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2.0 cents apiece because of lucrative partners such as Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and others.
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is dangling 75,000 miles in front of new cardholders who spend $4,000 in their first three months with the card. These can offset $750 in travel or potentially stretch even further via transfer partners that include Aeroplan (Air Canada), British Airways, Etihad, Qantas, Turkish Airlines and more. TPG values Capital One miles at 1.85 cents each.
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card has a different structure, awarding new cardholders 3 Free Night Awards (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
Other aspects to consider
Each of these cards charges an annual fee of $95. There are plenty of other compelling travel cards on the market, some with higher annual fees and some with no fees. Don’t forget about cash back, either. Even though our focus right now is on holiday travel, cash back is a very popular credit card reward. Who couldn’t use more cash, right?
Another key consideration is your ongoing spending. While a sign-up bonus is great, you should also seek a new card that emphasizes areas in which you spend a lot of money (for instance, travel, dining and so on).
Finally, consider the card’s other perks as well. For example, the Bonvoy Boundless card gives a free night worth up to 35,000 points every year after your account anniversary. The Venture card has an up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit. And the Sapphire Preferred has an up to $50 annual hotel credit for eligible stays booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
The bottom line
As long as you’re spending money you would have spent anyway, and paying in full to avoid interest, signing up for a new credit card can provide you with a substantial sign-up bonus — plus better rewards on your ongoing spending. Travel costs have been spiking along with prices on just about everything else. Earning rewards from a new credit card could be another useful inflation-busting strategy as we head toward the always expensive holiday season.
Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to help.