What Was the Most Amazing Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus That You've Ever Earned? - Roundup #13

Jason Steele
May 22, 2018
Jason Steele CardCon

The credit card sign-up bonus is one of the most useful perks a bank can offer for customer acquisition. However, not all bonuses are created equal, and over time, theses bonuses have grown and grown. For Issue #13 of the Credit Card Reviews Industry Expert Roundup, Jason Steele explores this topic:

What Was the Most Amazing Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus That You've Ever Earned?

This week's contributors are Angelina Aucello, Shawn Coomer, Gary Leff, Lee Huffman, Andy Shuman, and Jason Steele:

Angelina Aucello - Founder of Angelina Travels

While the Chase Sapphire Reserve blew off the socks of many with its generous 100,000 point welcome offer, two of my favorite credit card bonuses were a bit obscure, but hopefully not forgotten. One offer that truly got me hooked was the 100,000 British Airways Visa back in 2011. With that sign-up bonus, I was able to fly on a Cathay Pacific First Class ticket from New York to Asia with unlimited stopovers before British Airways changed their program and routing rules. I’ll never forget that I was able to get over $20,000 in flights with just one credit card!

I was also a huge fan of the Club Carlson credit card when it first was introduced. Not only did it come with a generous welcome bonus, but it had one of the most compelling card benefits one could ask for - a BOGO offer for redemptions. Card holders got a free night on every points redemption. I’ve redeemed countless 2 night stays for the price of one and truly maximized the benefit all top-tier Radisson Blu properties around the world before the benefit was eliminated. Let’s not forget how easy it was to accumulate Club Carlson points back in their day with their generous mattress-run worthy promotions! The good old days!

Shawn Coomer - Founder of Miles to Memories

While I have been able to get a number of incredible sign-up bonuses over the years, I think my favorite has to be the 150K bonus I received on the Amex Business Platinum card a couple of years ago. These days a 150K bonus on the Business Platinum card is rare, but for a brief time this incredible offer was opened up to the public and as a small business owner I was able to take advantage. Between the bonus and all of the card’s perks it is possibly the most valuable sign-up bonus I have ever received.

When factoring in the value of a sign-up, I look at the overall value of the bonus plus the benefit I receive from the card’s perks. In this case I paid a $450 annual fee which was more than offset by the bonus which I value at more than $2,000. The card also came with a $200 incidental travel credit, hotel elite status and lounge access. With an American Express Centurion Lounge in my home airport plus a travel schedule that takes me across the globe, I was able to use the card’s lounge access to make travel easier. Overall I received thousands of dollars of value from this one sign-up which was simply amazing.

Gary Leff - Author of View from the Wing

Diners Club Club Rewards launched in 1985, and the very first airline credit card launched in 1986. Thirty years ago both the American Airlines and Continental Airlines credit cards offered 5000 mile signup bonuses: 2500 miles on approval and 2500 more miles after first purchase. It wasn’t until 2003 that I first saw a 20,000 mile signup bonus for a United Airlines Visa. Signup bonuses began to ramp up during the Great Recession and the recovery that followed. Banks could buy rewards cheap from airlines who needed money, and premium card businesses were one of the more profitable lines of business so it made sense to attract customers. The best signup bonus I’ve ever seen came out in fall 2017, a Southwest Airlines Companion Pass after one purchase and 40,000 points after $1000 spend within 3 months. Customers could take a friend with them on any Southwest Airlines trips – paid in cash or in points – for a year and pay just the ticket taxes. Unfortunately this was available for California residents only and I live in Texas. So the best I’ve ever done was 100,000 points for a Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. Chase points can be used to pay for travel at 1.5 cents apiece – or transferred to myriad airline and hotel loyalty programs. Given their flexibility I value them at 1.8 cents apiece, so that bonus was worth $1800 to me, while I value the card’s benefits (like triple points on travel and dining, unlimited visits and guests airport lounge access via Priority Pass) at more than its $450 annual fee.

Lee Huffman - Founder of Bald Thoughts

The best credit card bonus I've ever received is a card that most people wouldn't think of applying for. The card is the Chase British Airways Visa. At the time I applied, the bonus was 100,000 Avios points. The reason why the British Airways 100,000 point bonus was the best is that those points are extremely valuable for short flights within the US and around the world. One-way flights start at 7500 points or 15,000 for a round-trip. Compare that to the 25,000 miles or more most airlines charge and you can easily see the value.

When I applied, award flights were as low as 4,500 Avios each way! That 100,000 bonus could have been redeemed for up to 20 one-way flights. If Hawaii is your dream vacation, it's only 25,000 Avios for a round-trip flight from California to Hawaii. This one credit card bonus was enough to get my family of 4 to Hawaii after paying a small annual fee plus a few dollars each for taxes.

Andy Shuman - Founder of the Lazy Traveler's Handbook

I’ve gotten a lot of huge credit card sign-up bonuses that have allowed me to fly all over the world and stay at a great number of hotels over the years. The most memorable bonuses (and the ones I’ve received more than once) have been 100,000 points from American Express Platinum and 100,000 British Airways Avios, but the one that truly stands out was the 100,000-point bonus from Capital One Venture around 2010. You might remember (or not) that long Capital One TV marketing campaign with Alec Baldwin.

The reason why I remember that one is twofold. First, I was able to sign my wife up too, so we actually got two 100,000-points bonuses. The points were very easy to redeem because, for quite some time, there was a glitch on the Capital One website allowing points redemption at $1 per 100 points for any purchases (the official rules only allowed redeeming travel expenses at this rate). Basically, that was the fastest and easiest $2,000 I’ve made with a credit card bonus ever.

The second reason why I remember that bonus so well is that I have never been able to get another personal Capital One card ever again. Quite ridiculously, despite my excellent credit score, they’ve always denied my other applications. It’s almost like they’ve been signaling me “enough is enough,” so after two or three attempts over the last 5 years, I stopped trying.

Jason Steele - Journalist Founder of CardCon

I just signed up for a rather obscure offer for the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which featured 3% cash back on all purchases for 12 months. Normally, the offer is for 1.5% cash back and a $150 sign-up bonus after spending $500 on purchases within three months of account opening. And while this offer doesn’t include any cash back, I found the chance to double my rewards for the first year to be irresistible. The key to this offer is that this card actually offers Ultimate Rewards points. By itself, these points are only worth a penny each as cash back, gift cards, merchandise or travel reservations. However, I can move these points to my Sapphire Reserve where they are worth 1.5 cents each towards travel reservations, or even more if I transfer them to one of nine airline or four hotel partners.

My goal is to make this my primary card for nearly all of my spending, however I’ll still put airline tickets on my Amex Platinum which earns 5x and perhaps groceries on my Amex Everyday Preferred, where I can earn 4.5x after the 50% bonus for making 30 transactions in a billing cycle. Otherwise, it will make sense to put all my personal expenses on the card, and I’ll even pre-pay some bills before the offer expires. To top it off, it also comes with 15 months of interest free financing on new purchases and balance transfers, so there’s the potential to earn a bit of interest on the money I would have used to pay off my balance every month.


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