Credit card welcome bonuses are a great way to give your point balance a substantial boost. There’s nothing more thrilling than seeing a welcome bonus of 50,000 points or higher post to your account after meeting the spending threshold.
But that excitement fades a bit after your first award redemption, even more once your annual fee is due. It’s not sustainable to keep going after credit card welcome bonuses, especially considering the many application restrictions in place these days.
Luckily, there are alternatives. Here are six ways to keep earning lots of points beyond credit card welcome bonuses:
Maximize credit card category bonuses
Credit card category bonuses are one of the most lucrative ways you can keep earning lots of points on daily spending. After all, if you can maximize your expenses by earning 2-5 points per dollar spent, that can add up substantially.
The largest spending categories for most people include grocery, gas and restaurant spending. Plenty of credit cards offer bonus points in these categories that can add up over the course of a year. Here’s a look at the credit cards offering the highest bonuses in these spending categories:
While no one likes rising gas prices, it does translate to more points earned at the pump. The best credit cards for gas spending offer up to 6X rewards. Of course, not all points are valued the same and you’ll want to assess which loyalty program offers you the best value.
When in doubt, go with either cash back or transferrable rewards currencies like Citi ThankYou points. Cash back cards allow you to earn a set amount that isn’t dependent on how you redeem it. On the other hand, Citi ThankYou points could be more valuable than cash back if you take advantage of transfer partnerships.
Here are some cards to consider if you put a lot of miles on your vehicle(s):
Grocery spending is a significant expense for most people. With the right credit card, you can leverage this category for up to 6X rewards. American Express dominates this category with the most generous bonuses. You can earn 6 percent cash back on U.S. supermarket purchases (up to $6,000 per year, then 1 percent) with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express or 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent At U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases per year with the American Express® Gold Card.
If you’re wondering whether to get a travel credit card that earns points or miles, the answer depends on your preferences. Some people like the ease and convenience of cash back rewards. However, others will appreciate the flexibility of points, which can be especially valuable when redeemed for luxury travel.
Three cards to consider for the grocery category:
Whether you’re living on takeout or treating yourself to a nice restaurant every few months, dining can be a lucrative spending category for earning bonus points. Some of the best credit cards for dining offer up to 6X points when you swipe your card at restaurants, drive-throughs and other dining establishments.
Here’s a look at the highest bonuses you can earn on restaurant spending:
Add an authorized user (or two)
Whether you’re the head of a household or a business, adding an authorized user to your credit card account can help you earn tons of points beyond the welcome bonus. American Express, Bank of America and Citi all periodically offer bonus points for adding authorized users.
For example, the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard® offers 2,500 bonus points for each authorized user. You can earn points for up to two authorized users, which totals 5,000 points. That’s pretty substantial, considering Virgin Atlantic requires just 10,000 miles each way for a one-way flight between New York and London. By adding two authorized users, you’ll get halfway there.
Citi often targets its Citi Premier® Card and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® cardholders with bonus point offers of 2,500 points per authorized user. Sometimes spending requirements are attached to these bonuses, though they tend to be reasonable. To ensure you get targeted for these bonuses, you’ll want to opt-in to receive promotional offers from Citi.
American Express has historically offered the most generous bonuses for adding authorized users. This past summer, holders of The Platinum Card® from American Express were targeted for up to 20,000 bonus points when adding an authorized user who spent $2,000 within six months of being added. Once again, opting in to receive promotional offers from banks ensures that you’ll be targeted for deals like this so you can continue earning thousands of points beyond your credit card welcome bonus.
Shopping online is easy and convenient. Thanks to airline and hotel-affiliated shopping portals, it can also be rewarding. Nearly every major domestic airline (and a few hotel chains) now have shopping portals where you can earn bonus points at popular retailers. You will earn at least one extra point per dollar spent, and sometimes there are bonus incentives when you meet certain spending thresholds. These bonuses are in addition to the miles you earn on your credit card.
The best way to figure out which portals pay out the highest bonuses is to head to Cashback Monitor and enter the name of the merchant you want to shop with. Cashback Monitor will populate a list of all shopping portals and their current payouts at that merchant. Results include airline, hotel and cash back portals so you can decide which one is more lucrative.
Shopping portals can help you earn lots of miles and points beyond your credit card welcome bonus. They’re great for earning rewards on essential purchases and keeping miles from expiring if you don’t have an airline credit card.
Sign up for dining rewards
Similar to shopping portals, dining rewards programs offer a way to earn points and miles beyond your credit card welcome bonus. Ten airlines and hotels currently offer their own dining rewards programs. This is hands down one of the easiest ways to earn points and miles with minimal effort.
All you have to do is sign up for a program and register a credit card—preferably one that earns bonus points on dining. Then simply use that card to dine at participating restaurants and wait for the points to post within a few weeks. Sometimes you’ll have to fill out a brief survey about your dining experience to earn the points.
Dining rewards programs earn 0.5-8X points per dollar spent, though higher bonuses are available to frequent diners:
In addition to earning points for every dollar spent, some dining rewards programs offer first-dine bonuses of 500 to 3,000 points when you spend a specified amount within 30 days. Here’s a look at the current first-dine bonuses available through all the existing dining rewards programs:
All these dining rewards programs are part of the Rewards Network, which tracks the credit cards you register with different programs. So, while you’re free to join all these programs, you can’t register the same credit card with more than one program.
If you have multiple credit cards for dining out, simply register each one with a different program to ensure you earn bonus points with minimal effort. And remember to time your registration with a first-dine bonus promotion so you don’t miss out.
Annual spending bonuses
While credit card welcome bonuses are the most significant point haul you’ll get from a single credit card, they don’t continue beyond the first year. The good news: Some credit cards allow you to get pretty close with an annual spending bonus. If you can manage to hit a certain spending threshold every year, you can earn up to 40,000 bonus miles.
Here’s a look at credit cards that offer an annual spending bonus:
Refer a friend or family member
Having friends and family members can pay off—quite literally if you’re trying to earn more points and miles. Several banks offer bonus points to existing cardholders who refer their friends and family members. Bonuses range from $50 to 20,000 points per successful referral, though you may be targeted for higher offers depending on your credit card and standing with a particular bank.
While there are often limits on the number of people you can refer to a specific card, the total you can earn each year is often equal to a credit card welcome bonus. You can currently earn credit card referral bonuses with American Express, Capital One, Chase and Discover. To find out which banks are currently offering referral bonuses, check out our credit card referral bonus guide.
*The information about the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and IHG Rewards Premier Card have been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.