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How to use a sign-up bonus to pay for your summer vacation

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After a long winter, many people are looking forward to planning their summer vacation. This will be the first summer in two years where traveling will largely be unhindered by Covid-19, at least within the U.S. 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.

Is there enough time to earn a sign-up bonus for summer travel?

If you’re trying to earn a sign-up to use for travel this summer, you may have trouble hitting the spend requirement in time to book your trip. However, 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 towards your next vacation.

Best travel cards for earning a summer sign-up bonus

 Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for luxury travel with a sign-up bonus

For frequent travelers looking to earn their sign-up bonus in the form of points, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has a lucrative sign-up bonus. Once approved, cardholders can earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of having the card. Those 50,000 bonus points are worth roughly $750 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

If some of that $4,000 is spent on travel, up to $300 will be reimbursed through the annual statement credit the Sapphire Reserve awards for travel purchases. Any hotels or car rentals booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal will earn 10 points per dollar—and hotel charges will help qualify you for a $50 annual hotel credit. All that plus the $100 credit for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or NEXUS (one every four years) may justify the $550 annual fee.

Capital One Venture X: Best for travel benefits with a sign-up bonus

The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card may still be relatively new to the travel card market, but it has already made a name for itself as one of the best travel cards available. With a sign-up bonus of 75,000 miles when you spend $4,000 in the first three months, this card is a great option to offset some of your travel expenses.

Cardholders can earn 10X miles on hotels and rental cars and 5X points on flights purchased through Capital One Travel. Plus, earn 2X points on all other purchases. plus up to $200 back in statement credits on vacation rental purchases like Airbnb and VRBO made during your first year. All this, plus that generous signup bonus, will help offset the $395 annual fee.

The Business Platinum Card from American Express: Best business card sign-up bonus

If you are a business owner or frequently charge business expenses to your credit card before reimbursement, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express could be a great way to earn a large sign-up bonus on purchases you already plan to make. Cardholders can earn 120,000 Membership Rewards points when they spend $15,000 in the first three months.

This is one of the highest sign-up bonuses available if you can meet the steep spending requirement. If you’re doing serious business travel, the $695 annual fee will pay for itself with benefits like global airport lounge access, CLEAR membership, up to $1,000 in statement credits each year, and other premium benefits.

In addition to the 120,000 sign-up bonus points, you can earn 5X Membership Rewards points on flights and prepaid hotels on AmexTravel.com. This business card also earns 1.5X points on eligible purchases from US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers, software & cloud system providers and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.l

Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best for all-around travel with a sign-up bonus

While it doesn’t offer all the perks that come with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® is a solid travel card with a more modest $95 annual fee. Cardholders can earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.

Cardholders earn 5X on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3X points on dining and 2X points on general purchases. Points aren’t the only rewards that can improve your summer travel experience. The Sapphire Preferred also comes with the same trip cancellation/interruption insurance, primary car rental coverage and lost luggage insurance as the Sapphire Reserve.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards credit card: Most affordable travel card with a sign-up bonus

For travelers looking for an affordable travel card that also offers a sign-up bonus, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards credit card could be a great option to consider. With an introductory bonus offer of 20,000 miles when you spend $500 in the first three months, this card may not seem as lucrative as others on this list but it is unique in its low spending requirement and lack of an annual fee.

In addition to the 20,000 bonus miles, cardholders can earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 1.25X miles on every other purchase.

Card comparison table

Card Annual Fee Rewards Sign-up Bonus APR
Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card $550
  • 10X on hotels and rental cars (when booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards)
  • 5X points on air travel
  • 3X points on travel and dining
  • 1X points on all other purchases
50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months 17.24% – 24.24% variable APR
Capital One Venture X credit card $395
  • 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • 5X miles on flights
  • 2X miles on all other purchases
75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 in the first three months 17.24% – 24.24% variable APR
The Business Platinum Card from American Express credit card $695
  • 5X points on flights and hotels
  • 1.5X points on construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers
120,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend 15,000 in the first three months 14.99% – 22.99% variable APR
Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card $95
  • 5X on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3X on dining
  • 2X on all other travel purchases
80,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months 16.24% – 23.24% variable APR
Capital One VentureOne Rewards credit card $0
  • 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • 1.25X miles on all other purchases
20,000 bonus miles when you spend $500 in the first three months 15.24% – 25.24% variable APR

How far can points and miles take you?

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Once you earn your sign-up bonus, you can redeem 50,000 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 Sapphire Reserve can be redeemed at a rate of 1.5 cents per point and 1.25 cents per point for the Sapphire Preferred. Those points can also be transferred to any of Chase’s 14 airline and hotel partners at a 1:1 value.

Capital One Travel

Similar to travel rewards with Chase, you can get the best value for your Capital One miles when you redeem them through Capital One Travel. 75,000 bonus miles you can earn with the Capital One Venture X card are worth anywhere from $750 to $1500 when redeemed through Capital One Travel. These miles can be redeemed for a flight, but also could be used 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 120,000 bonus points you can earn with the Business Platinum Card from American Express is one of the most lucrative offers available. 120,000 Membership Rewards points are worth the most when redeemed through Amex’s travel portal and can have a value of roughly 1.5 cents per point. It’s important to note that in terms of redemption value, your best bet with Amex rewards 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.

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—like a summer trip.

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.

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 are trying to earn fits into your normal spending habits—and that you can keep earning rewards beyond the welcome bonus.

Written by
Meredith Hoffman
Credit Cards Reporter
Meredith Hoffman is a personal finance writer covering credit card news and advice at Bankrate. She is originally from Columbia, S.C., and received her bachelor's degree from the Univ. of North Carolina at Wilmington. Before joining Bankrate in October 2019, Meredith worked as the news editor of Wilmington’s local newspaper, The Seahawk.
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