Credit Card Bonus Comparison Charts

June 30, 2011

[chart_edge id=”card_bonus_dollars” align=”left” chart_title=”Cash Bonuses”]

Credit card bonuses seem to be popping up all over the place, every time I open a credit card offer in the mail or visit a site online it seems like I read about a new cash bonus for opening a card. If you’re thinking about applying for a credit card, it can be hard to keep track of the offers and compare the bonuses since they seem to be constantly changing.

[Hover and click charts for details] The interactive charts you see in this article should help you compare the various features of the credit cards that are running introductory offers for signing up.  Each slice of a pie chart represents a credit card, to keep it readable each one just show the numbers  – like the amount of the cash bonus, annual fees, etc.  If you hover over a card slice you’ll see the name of the card and you can click on any of them to show more detail about the offer and more information about that card.

You can compare the cards with a chart for cash bonuses, rewards points bonus, miles bonus, required bonus spend, bonus spend months, 0% balance transfer intro periods, and annual fees.  You’ll notice some of the charts have more slices than others, if a credit card doesn’t meet the criteria for a particular chart then it won’t appear. For example, not all cards have annual fees so only some cards appear in that chart. (If you’re reading this in a reader you’ll have to visit the site to see the charts).

[chart_edge id=”card_bonus_min_spend” align=”right” chart_title=”Bonus Spend Required”]

The first chart looks at the cash bonus you earn from signing up for a new card. Some cards offer points instead of cash for becoming a new member, if they list the cash equivalent of the points I’ve included them in this chart as well. Some of these cards give you a credit on your statement, others give you credit towards a gift card, and others give you cash towards a travel purchase so pay attention to how you’re paid the cash bonus.

Many of the cards that have a bonus but no annual fee require a minimum amount of spending in a certain period of time in order to qualify for the reward. To compare those across cards I’ve included a chart that shows the amount of spending required and another with the number of months you have to make your purchases. As I mentioned, if you don’t see a card on a particular pie chart that means it has a value of zero for the feature we’re comparing it on. So in the case of the minimum amount of spending required, it’s good if a card’s not on the chart – that means you get the bonus regardless of purchases.

[chart_edge id=”card_bonus_spend_mos” align=”left” chart_title=”Bonus Spend Months”]

Having a set amount of time to make your initial purchases could be no problem or could make it tough for you to earn the bonus, depending on what’s going on in your life right now. For example, last year we spent a big chunk of money in one months time remodeling our house, so a card that required I spend a certain amount in a month would have made sense. So if you have some big purchases coming up you might want to hold off on applying for a card until right before you buy so you get your minimum spend within the window. Just leave enough time to get approved and have the card shipped to you.

One method used by Discover for some cards is to give you a certain number of bonus points each month you use the card, up to a certain number of months.  I kind of like that approach because you don’t have to put a bunch of purchases on a card all at once.  In cases like those, in order to come up with the “bonus spend required” I assumed that you’d be putting at least $5 a month on your card for the duration of the bonus period. Here’s the chart that compares the number of months you have to spend your minimum in order to qualify for the credit card bonus.

[chart_edge id=”card_bonus_points” align=”right” chart_title=”Rewards Points Bonuses”]

Credit card rewards can be tricky to figure out when you’re dealing in points because every credit card company has their own rewards program and pays out their rewards points a little differently. You have the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, Citi ThankYou Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, etc. 

You’re also comparing hotel programs, some airline programs, travel programs, and general rewards programs.  So if it’s an airline credit card like SouthWest Rapid Rewards a given number of points will equal a free flight, whereas a travel rewards card like Chase Sapphire has different options. After seeing all the CapitalOne commercials a few months ago I visited their site and saw a chart where they compare their Venture card with many of the other top travel cards.  I imagine most credit card companies have a comparison of some sort on their sites but it’s still tough to compare apples and oranges.

So although comparing the number of points isn’t as exact as comparing cash bonuses, I guess it gives you a general idea about which cards offer the highest points bonuses and which have below average amounts.  If you see some that catch your eye, you can drill down into the details of those two or three and see how they compare.

[chart_edge id=”card_bonus_miles” align=”left” chart_title=”Airline Miles Bonuses”]

With airline cards you have two main choices 1) go with a card specific to a carrier like Delta, Southwest, United, Continental, etc – or 2) use an airline rewards card that lets you redeem your points across multiple airlines. 

If you’re a fan of a certain airline then the decision is pretty easy, as long as they have a decent rewards program.  It also makes a difference how much you fly.  Many of the airline specific credit cards pay the highest rewards when you use the card to buy one of their tickets.  If you frequent the airline then you might get the most rewards for your dollar with the carrier specific card. 

On the flip side, some of these carrier cards only offer 1 mile for every dollar spent on non-ticket purchases.  Right now you can earn double that on airline independent cards so if you put a lot of purchases on your card that aren’t flights then you might earn more miles and have the flexibility of choosing the airline when you do decide to fly.

Either way, check out this chart that shows the current airline credit card promotions to see what they offer.  Of course, the bonus miles don’t make or break the card so you don’t want to choose solely based on how many miles you get for signing up.

[chart_edge id=”card_bonus_balance_transfers” align=”right” chart_title=”0% Interest Balance Transfers”]

Some cards will also include a 0% balance transfer promotion that lets you pay no interest on balances you transfer over to the new card from an existing card. It seems as though Citibank and Discover usually have the most 0% interest offers, keep your eye on them if you’re interested in transferring a balance.

One of the main factors to consider for the 0% interest offers is the amount of time the promotional interest rate lasts. We all know that paying interest on a big balance can put a dent in your checking account, so getting a break from interest payments lets you put your money towards the balance. The longer you’re not paying interest on the balance the faster you can pay off the card. Here’s a chart that shows the number of months that various 0% balance transfer offers last.

[chart_edge id=”card_bonus_annual_fees” align=”left” chart_title=”Annual Fees”]

Some of the credit cards that offer bonuses don’t have an annual fee but others do.  This next chart takes a look at the annual fees charged by the rewards cards that we’ve been covering, if it’s not listed in the chart then it doesn’t have a fee.

It’s not always the case but typically cards that charge a fee try to offer more benefits to make the fee worthwhile. Depending on what the card offers and how you use it, paying a fee every year might or might not make sense. For whatever reason, it seems like the travel and airline cards seem to be more likely to have an annual fee.

One thing I’ve noticed with airline rewards cards is that their annual fee tends to be lower when the card first launches. After the card’s been around for a while the annual fee seems to go up, so if you’re going for an airline rewards card then it might make sense to sign up for one soon after they’re launched. 

One common thing that’s nice about many of the cards with fees is that they’ll waive the fee for the first year you have the card. Obviously the benefit of this approach is that you get to try out the card and see how you can use it for rewards before committing to pay anything – basically a rewards free trial. Not every card will waive the first year fee so be sure to check the details of a card if you’re thinking about applying.


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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7 Responses to Credit Card Bonus Comparison Charts

  • Tyson F. Gautreaux

    this is very interesting. thanks for that. we need more sites like this. i commend you on your great content and excellent topic choices.

  • JoeTaxpayer

    Nice article. I’d only warn –
    Be careful to check transfer fee for those zero% deals. A 4% fee might be ok if you are sending money to an 18% credit card to pay it off, but not a 3% HELOC. I just grabbed a zero fee/zero rate to throw at my mortgage. In 15 months, when it’s due, I’ll have money to pay in full.
    Also, check your credit score (I use Credit Karma for this) The credit pulls, new accounts, and credit utilization all impact the score. I refinanced the mortgage with the same bank, lower rate, pulled in the final date, and no fees, but the credit inquiry is still a ding for a few points.
    For those who are disciplined, this game can be quite profitable.

    • Ben

      Good point Joe, I’ll have to add in a chart comparing the balance transfer fees as well. I agree, making a habit of signing up for bonuses can take a toll on your credit score. If I signed up for every credit card bonus offer I got in the mail my score would definitely suffer.

  • Paula @

    I used to use cards with cashback rewards, but recently switched to airline mile rewards once I saw that the value of the ticket I could get would dramatically outpace the cash I’d get back.

    I even use a card with an annual fee, which is heresy among some financial bloggers. I do it because I can get one international trip per year for free — and that’s worth the annual fee.


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