Why We’re Seeing Huge Credit Card Bonuses Now And Why That Won’t Last

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There have been absolutely huge – unprecedented, even – initial bonus offers for credit cards in 2021. Here are 8 offers worth flagging both for their extreme generosity and they’ll help to illustrate why we’re seeing such big offers, as I’ll explain below.

  1. Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card has an offer to earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 6 months from account opening, equal to $1,000 in travel. And for a limited time: Receive up to $200 back in statement credits for vacation rentals charged to your account within your first year.

  2. Citi Premier® Card is offering 80,000 ThankYou® points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening on this $95 annual fee card. It’s a fast-earning card whose points transfer to airline miles and hotel points. And this is the biggest offer there’s ever been for the card.

  3. United ClubSM Infinite Card which gets you access to United Clubs has an offer to earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

    They’ve added some cool new features to the card including IHG Rewards Platinum status (starting in 2022), a 10% discount on coach saver awards, and 10,000 bonus miles for signing up for CLEAR by June 30, 2022. And 100,000 miles is huge.

  4. Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card has a 100,000 point signup bonus after $15,000 spend within 3 months. That can even be enough for a roundtrip business class award ticket between the US and Europe.

  5. Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card has its biggest-ever offer, also up to 100,000 bonus points: 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 50,000 more bonus points after spending $12,000 total on purchases in the first 12 months. ($69 annual fee)

    The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card have this same best-ever bonus as well.

  6. The Platinum Card® from American Express has an offer to earn: 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of cardmembership. Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small – on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership. That’s up to 225,000 additional points, which adds up to total initial bonus offer potential of 325,000 points.

    The card is clearly worth getting on the basis of this new offer alone. However I keep my card and consider it worth the annual fee (See rates and fees) based on the $200 annual Uber credit; $200 annual airline fee credit (Southwest has been my airline of choice for this, enrollment required); $100 annual Saks credit (enrollment required); and lounge access (Centurion, Delta, Priority Pass which cardmembers need to request, Plaza Premium) and Hilton and Marriott Gold statuses, which you can register for. Plus there’s a slate of new additional benefits.

  7. British Airways Visa Signature® Card back with an initial bonus offer to earn 100,000 Avios – with much more reasonable requirements. You earn this bonus after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. This was the first 100,000-level card offer I’d ever seen (in 2009) and it’s frequently been at this level.

  8. IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card lets you earn 150,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. They’ve used 140,000 as their most elevated points offer in the past. With a $0 intro annual fee the first year ($89 thereafter) it’s a can’t-pass-up. [Offer expired]

    You’ll receive a reward night after each account anniversary year at eligible IHG hotels worldwide. One of the best features is that cardholders receive a reward night each time they redeem points for any stay of 4 or more nights. So that’s better than the ‘5th night free’ from Hilton, and amounts to a 25% discount on four night award stays. Cardmembers receive platinum status for as long as they remain a cardmember. There’s a Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee credit (up to $100 every 4 years) as well.

These aren’t the only big offers we’ve seen, for instance Chase’s Sapphire Preferred product ran with a 100,000 point offer this year and American Express has run 90,000 mile offers on a co-brand Delta card, just to name a few.

A confluence of events drives such big bonuses.

Banks Need To Replenish Cardmember Numbers

Each year every card is going to lose customers. This frequently happens around card renewal (annual fee) time for cards with fees. Perhaps they shed 10% per year. During the pandemic they were poised to lose even more, which is why we saw banks aggressively waiving fees, offering statement credits, and funding alternate offers.

When customers aren’t spending on travel, they aren’t using double or triple points in travel categories. Accelerator categories are money losers for banks, meant to entice you to get and use their card and hoping you’ll also use the card in non-bonus categories. With customers not using existing accelerators, banks replaced those temporarily with things like restaurants and groceries and layered on statement credits for restaurant spend instead of airfare or for Paypal (shop at home generally).

Even though banks managed to ‘stop the bleeding’ of cardmembers in many cases, they still experienced at least normal levels of attrition. During regular times that’s fine because they’re replenishing their numbers with new customers. But the pandemic was different.

  • At the start of the pandemic no one was applying for rewards credit cards
  • And banks weren’t approving those who did, since it was hard to know who would have a job in a year – too much uncertainty

So banks lost customers without the normal replacement flow. Now they need to rapidly backfill.

They’re doing this against a backdrop of cheap money from the Fed and consumers with strong balance sheets (they spent less money last year, and there was plenty of government stimulus cash, plus the stock market and real estate has done very well). There’s also plenty of consumer spend to fight over right now.

Once you start seeing big bonuses, even new cards as well as products that wouldn’t normally be as aggressive start to make big offers just to compete for consumer attention. There’s a ratcheting up of expectations around what ‘normal’ looks like when bonuses start getting so high, and offering what used to be an attractive bonus stops working to garner consumer attention.

In some cases, such as with Marriott and Hilton, banks prepurchased their points and have access to those at a discount.

This Trend Will Reverse Itself

We saw the same thing play out during and after the Great Recession. Banks lost customers and used big bonuses to lure in new ones, armed with cheap credit and cheap miles from prepurchase deals. And while bonuses didn’t sink back to pre-recession levels, we stopped seeing as many 100,000 point offers as frequently.

When the Fed raises raise, consumers deplete their balance sheets, and cardmember numbers stablize the impetus for huge bonuses will recede. It’s not an instantaneous process as competition will keep bonuses high for a little while. When do you lower bonuses, especially when others haven’t done so yet? But with something of a lag we can expect to see the frequency of unprecedented offers begin to subside.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

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 advertisers Citibank, Chase, American Express, Barclays, Capital One or any other advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

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Comments

  1. Why do you not mention Resy’s Amex Platinum offer? I know you can’t get paid for it, and you do make great content that needs to be monetized, but it is such a disservice to offer your readers something so clearly inferior (100k + 10x) when there is a superior public offer out there (125k + 15x). As you point out in bold, 325,000 is a lot, but 500,000 would be even better for your readers. It’s 54% more points!

  2. Actually there is a net price increase (higher spend requirement) and the bonus is still the same or in some cases less after the massive devaluations. That is the magic of marketing. Give them less for more and call it a sale.

  3. Given the substantial to massive devaluations that many airlines and hotel chains have undertaken during Covid, bigger offers would seem to be required. Back when a top Hilton hotel was 50,000 points a night a few years ago, a 100,000 point offer was substantial. Now that six figures for a night isn’t all that rare, the offer must be higher to have any realistic chance of enticing people.

  4. @Mike – Which is why disreputable blogs won’t allow comments. Look no further than TPG for proof.

  5. Gary, you did not mention that in a roundabout way, the higher SUBs are a travel enticement. Especially for airline and hotel cards. Which may become the reasoning for SUBs staying elevated. I predict that SUBs will become more oriented to spending with the card’s sponsor.

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