Deep Dive Into the Value of Credit Card Initial Bonuses

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I’ve laid out a theory on how to value miles and points and did my best to assign a current value to each currency. This is important because 1 United mile isn’t worth the same as 1 British Airways Avios and neither has the same value as a Hilton Honors point.

When we talk about how much you’ll earn from flying, staying, or credit card spend we need to use a value per point in order to make an educated comparison between opportunities.

Card Offers, Sorted By the Value of Their Initial Bonus Offers

Looking into the up front bonuses offered by credit cards, what I did was to take the total bonus offered and convert that to a dollar value (based on my published valuations) and subtract the card’s first year annual fee. Here are my favorite card bonuses, in order of most lucrative total bonus value:

First Yr Bonus Value
Bonus Ann. Fee Net of Fee
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business        200,000 $0 $2,200
Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card          80,000 $95 $1,345
UnitedSM Explorer Business Card        100,000 $95 $1,305
British Airways Visa Signature® Credit Card        100,000 $95 $1,105
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card          60,000 $95 $985
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®          70,000 $0 $980
AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard®          75,000 $95 $955
UnitedSM Explorer Card          65,000 $0 $910
Ink Business Unlimited(SM)          50,000 $0 $900
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®          60,000 $99 $741
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card          70,000 $199 $711
Avianca Vuela Visa® Card using promo code SB4060          60,000 $149 $691
The World Of Hyatt Credit Card          50,000 $95 $605

Of course what we see right away is that Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business and UnitedSM Explorer Business Card float right up towards the top. They have really large up front bonus offers, but it also requires heavy spending to earn those bonuses.

Another stand out point, though, is just how valuable the bonus is on the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card without a huge spending requirement, just $5000 over three months.

Most Valuable Card Bonuses For The Spending Each Requires to Earn

Let’s look at things another way and calculate a sort of ‘efficiency’ – how much bonus are you earning per $1000 in required spend (or less)?

 

Bonus Spend Bonus Value/ 
Value Req’d $1K Spend
AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard® $955 $1,000 $955.00
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® $741 $0 $741.00
Avianca Vuela Visa® Card using promo code SB4060 $691 $1,000 $691.00
Ink Business Unlimited(SM) $900 $3,000 $300.00
Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card $1,345 $5,000 $269.00
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® $980 $4,000 $245.00
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card $985 $5,000 $197.00
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card $711 $5,000 $142.20
The World Of Hyatt Credit Card $605 $6,000 $100.83
UnitedSM Explorer Card $910 $10,000 $91.00
British Airways Visa Signature® Credit Card $1,105 $20,000 $55.25
UnitedSM Explorer Business Card $1,305 $25,000 $52.20
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business $2,200 $50,000 $44.00

Here it’s the cards that have the lowest spend requirements along with big bonuses that stand out most – although arguably when I’m calculating this I should also be including the rewards for the spending, not just the bonus.

For instance the Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business card doesn’t just offer a bonus of 200,000 miles – when you spend the required $50,000 to earn the full bonus in the allotted time you also earn 2 miles per dollar on that $50,000 in spend. Should we be looking at this, then, as 50% more return than I’ve listed?

How to Choose a Bonus to Earn?

Start with the points you want to collect, that match your reward goals. If you have enough spend where it’s not a constraint, you’ll be able to earn the bonuses offered regardless of how much spending they require (here are seven simple ways to meet minimum spend on a credit card) then go for the offer with the biggest total value.

If you only have a limited amount of spending available, you want to make sure you can earn the bonus being offered – the Chase Ink cards (eg Ink Business Unlimited(SM)) and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card as well as the AAdvantage cards are especially appealing.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

Comments

  1. Now subtract the second-year annual fee from the earnings.

    You could take it a step further and add the marginal value of earnings for any card that becomes the best earner for one or more categories.

  2. To my admittedly simple mind, you’re leaving out at least one key consideration: how much you have to spend in order to get those bonuses, which in turn triggers the opportunity costs involved. The most extreme example of this would be the Capital One Spark bonuses totaling 200,000 points if you spend $50K. Spreading even half of that spending over several other cards’ initial bonuses could get you more points or miles. And that’s before even taking into account the category spending bonuses that you might forego (such as 5X for certain Amex Platinum or Citi Prestige spending) or the fact that Capital One points are worth only 75 percent of most other points in terms of transfers.

  3. VFTW Fam. Help me decide if I should get the United Explorer or Hyatt card? I already have CSR and CFU.

    Fly United a lot and already have status with them, but the bonus is at or near an all-time high and the priority boarding for others on the reservation and two club passes would be nice. On the other hand, I feel like I would downgrade after the first year because those aren’t worth $95.

    Hyatt would be fine as a keeper card and discoverist might pair nicely with transfers from my Ultimate Reward points. But I usually stay at Marriott hotels, and the bonus is 10k lower than the all-time high of 60k right now.

  4. The Hilton Surpass sign up bonuses from earlier this year were some of the most lucrative ever. For $15,000 in spend, you get 2 free weekend nights plus anywhere from 175,000 points to 220,000 points in year 1 with a $95 fee. That could equal four nights in a 95,000 point Hilton hotel, which could be worth $2,500 to $3,000.

  5. @WF – the spending requirements are so far away from each other on the two products, would you meet the spend on the united card? If so it has the more valuable bonus. If you are going to stay at Hyatts, the Hyatt card is good but it’s a really good card for you to put continued spending on as a Hyatt guest (eg 15k every year gets a free category 1-4 night in addition to the night you get each year for having the card).

    Seems like Hyatt would be a keeper but you wouldn’t keep the United card.

  6. @Gary Leff
    To clarify, I’d probably do the inflight offer (52,500 United Miles for $5000 spend), which is a little better than the Hyatt offer (50,000 Hyatt Points for $6,000 spend). I’m mainly looking for sign-up bonus and perks with this card. United seems to offer a bit better of a sign-up bonus. Hyatt is a tiny bit better with perks (discoverist, one free night up to Cat 4 per year) versus (2 club passes, priority boarding). I’m leaning United right now, though it’s a slight lean.

  7. @WF: 50k Hyatt >> 52.5k United. Yeah, you have to spend $1k more, but it’s generally a good idea to put $15k/year on it regardless – especially the first year, when you’re already working toward an MSR.

    If I were at 3/24, I’d probably open the UA first, get the SUB, then open the Hyatt and get the SUB and 1st year’s bonus nights. If 4/24 with <1 year to 3/24, I'd open the Hyatt first, then after reaching both 4/24 and $15k (in the 1st year) on the Hyatt, consider opening the UA card… if the miles are still worth something at that point.

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