Which Signup Bonuses to Get First (2019)
There are dozens of cards that have valuable signup bonuses. Which ones should you get first?
Unfortunately, the same list doesn't work for everyone. It depends on the promotional offers the banks make available, the types of points you find valuable, how easily you can meet spending requirements, and which cards you want to quickly obtain so you can start to take advantage of their unique travel benefits. Your priorities may also change based on the type of points you want for an upcoming trip.
Even though there isn't a fixed list to follow, there are some guidelines you can follow.
Get Chase cards first
You need to get any of Chase's Ultimate Reward, airline, or hotel credit cards, before you reach the limit of 5 new personal credit cards (from any bank) over the last 24 months. Dealing with the Chase 5/24 Rule.
- You need to make sure to get any cards that are important to you before you hit the limit. Depending on your plans, that may mean a Sapphire Card, the Ink Unlimited or Freedom Unlimited, a two Southwest Airlines cards, the United card, the Hyatt card, and perhaps the IHG or Marriott card.
- Apply for the Ink Preferred card before the Ink Cash card. You may not get approved for both, and the Preferred card has a much better signup bonus. Then, at the end of the first year, you can convert it to the Ink cash card (if you want).
- Collect as many additional personal Chase signup bonuses as you are comfortable with (before you hit the 5/24 limit). Once you're sure you have room to get any critical cards before hitting the limit, fill in any remaining slots with the Chase cards that have the most attractive signup bonuses. You can get a maximum of 2 personal cards and 1 business card per month. But, we recommend limiting yourself to only one new Chase card every two months.
- Most people will want to prioritize any remaining large Ultimate Reward signup offers. The Ink Preferred has a normal signup offer of 80,000 points, the Sapphire Preferred has a normal offer of 60,000 points, and the Sapphire Reserve, Ink Cash, and Ink Unlimited card have a normal offer of 50,000 points. Since you can't get both versions of the Sapphire Card, most people should get the Sapphire Preferred. If, at some point, you feel you'll get enough value out of the Sapphire Reserve's higher reward rates and extra benefits, you can always convert to it (after the initial year). You can get multiple versions of the business cards if you apply for one with an EIN and the other with your SSN, and you can easily get a free EIN online.
- The other Chase signup offers are generally less attractive, but still worthwhile. For example, 100,000 IHG points or 40,000 Southwest Airlines miles are valuable enough to justify getting a card, just not as valuable as 50,000 Ultimate Reward points. The best non Ultimate Reward offer for most people (who are willing and able to get business cards is 80,000 Southwest points from the Southwest Performance Business card.
- You can mix in business cards from other banks while you are under 5/24. With the exception of Capital One and Discover, none of the major banks list your business cards on your personal credit report, so they won't be counted against your 5 card limit. You can also mix in other personal cards, if you don't need the 5/24 slots for important Chase personal cards.
- Once you've reduced your credit utilization percentage, you are generally better off collecting business cards. As you start to expand the number of personal cards you have, your overall credit limit will rise. Since the amount you spend should be fixed, your credit utilization will wind up dropping, and your credit rating will typically rise. Once your credit utilization is reliably below 10%, additional cards won't improve your score. You should probably already be there by the time you are done with the Chase 5/24 cards and Arrival card. If not, keep getting personal cards to drop your utilization further.
- You want to get the clock started on any Citibank and Bank of America cards, as soon as you can.
- Citibank limits you to one signup bonus per family every two years. More precisely, to qualify for a bonus, you may not have opened or cancelled a card in the same family in the last 24 months. Personal and business cards are tracked separately. It is useful to apply for a ThankYou rewards card, a personal Citibank American Airlines card, and a business Citibank American Airlines card relatively quickly, so you can get the clock started on your next set of signups. You are limited to one card every 8 days, two personal cards every 65 days, and one business card every 95 days.
- Bank of America limits you to a total of four personal cards every two years. The sooner you apply for your first one or two cards, the sooner you can get more. You want to get on a pace of about two new Bank of America cards per year. Choose the Bank of America cards that are most valuable for your individual circumstances. With Bank of America, you can even get multiple copies of the same card (except for the Premium Rewards and the personal version of the Alaska Airlines cards). You are limited to 2 personal cards in a two month period, 3 cards in a year, and 4 cards every two years.
- Then, get your favorite cards from other major banks (except Amex). Since Capital One, Barclays, and US Bank are more likely to deny your application due to "too many cards or inquiries", you've got a better chance of approval if you apply earlier in the process. But, there are no guarantees either way.
- Save most American Express cards till later—unless you you can take advantage of a great promotional offer. Amex is relatively indifferent to the total number of cards you have or applied for. Since you can only receive each American Express bonus once per lifetime, there is no rush. But, if a great promotional offer is available or one of their cards is being discontinued, you'll want to fit it into your plans, rather than waiting. There also isn't much reason to hesitate to get a card that you need for other reasons, such as a Delta Airlines card for the baggage benefit.
- Prioritize earning the points you need. Despite any other advice, if you need a certain type of points for an upcoming trip, prioritize any associated signup bonuses. Don't forget that you may be able to covert Membership Rewards or other transferable points to the points you need.
- Don't hesitate to prioritize cards to start taking advantage of their ongoing benefits. If some card has a benefit that you want to start using, such as the Alaska Airlines companion certificate or the Hilton card's free breakfast benefit, you'll want to get it more quickly, so you can take advantage of the benefit sooner.
- Take advantage of good promotional offers when they are available. We will try to keep you updated on our best offers page.
Otherwise business cards are a better option. With all of the major banks, with the exception of Capital One, business cards won't be listed on your personal credit report. This makes it more likely that you'll get approved for additional new cards. But business cards aren't a free lunch. When you apply for the card, the banks will generally do a "hard pull" on your personal credit report. These inquiries are visible to other banks, and will affect your future approval chances.
With less popular credit card issuers, there are no hard and fast rules. Some are reluctant to approve you if you've been actively collecting signup bonuses, some don't care.
Keep in mind that you can only have 4-6 Amex credit cards at one time, but the different flavors of their Platinum, Gold and Green cards are "charge" cards and don't count against that limit; and you can only two new credit cards every 90 days.
The Amex Platinum card has valuable benefits, including gold status at Hilton, access to Amex's Centurion Lounges, and the Fine Hotels and Resort Program; but has a high annual fee.
The good news is that there are several different versions of the card, and by the terms of Amex's "Once per lifetime" policy, you can earn the signup bonus on each one.
If you spread out your applications over time, you can maintain nearly continuous access to Amex's Platinum benefits, while earning a series of signup bonuses that offset the expensive annual fees. Since the offer on the regular and business versions of the cards can vary, you should ideally wait to signup for these versions until a good promotional offer becomes available.
A sample list
Here is a possible list of cards to get. It assumes that you are willing and able to get business credit cards, that you are happy to earn points that will be eventually used for frequent flyer tickets, and that you going to stick with the 8 card Chase limit. It necessarily ignores the availability of any promotional offers.
Our list of signup offers provides up-to-date information on the cards with the highest "net signup value".
If you have room to get all your critical Chase cards before hitting the 5/24 limit, get
- The Altitude Reserve Card first, even before you get the Chase cards. But, if you don't have room, apply for this card immediately after the Barclays Arrival card.
Before you hit the Chase 5/24 limit, get the following cards. The order can be shuffled around as necessary.
- If you are aiming for the Companion Pass, the Southwest Performance Business Card and the Southwest Premier Business Card or Southwest Priority Card (try to time time your applications for December).
- If you frequently fly on United, the United Explorer Business Card
- If you frequently fly on another airline, the business version of their credit card, such as the Delta Business Gold Card, American Airlines Business Card, Alaska Airlines Business Card, or JetBlue Business Credit Card
- Sapphire Preferred Card (you can always convert to Sapphire Reserve later)
- Ink Unlimited Card
- Capital One Spark Miles Card
- If you can leverage the extra elite status credits, the Hyatt Credit Card
- Ink Preferred Card
Fill in any remaining Chase cards until you are at a total of eight (across business and personal cards). Make sure you don't get your fifth personal credit card until you are done.
- A second version of the Ink Preferred Card
- Southwest Performance Business Card (if you aren't already getting it)
- Hyatt Credit Card (if you didn't already get it)
- Ink Cash Card
- A second version of the Ink Cash Card card
Then get the
- Capital One Venture Card (you may not get approved, but now's the most likely time)
- Citi Prestige Card
- American Airlines Business Card (if you haven't already gotten it)
- American Airlines Platinum Card
- Capital One Savor Rewards (if you got approved for the Venture)
- The first version of the Amex Platinum Card (probably the business version)
- The Alaska Airlines Credit Card (if you can use the companion certificate) or the Amtrak (if you use Amtrak) or the BOA Premium Rewards Card
- Aviator Business Card
- Aviator Red Card or Miles & More Credit Card
- Then try for the other Barclays business cards: the JetBlue Business Credit Card and Hawaiian Airlines Business Card
- CNB Crystal Infinite Card (if you can get it)
- Another BOA card (probably Alaska, Amtrak, or Premium Rewards)
- BOA Travel Rewards Busines Card
Start mixing in additional Amex cards:
- Your second version of the Amex Platinum Card
- Hilton Aspire Credit Card
- Amex Gold Card
- Delta Business Gold Card (if you haven't gotten it yet)
- Delta Gold Credit Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Business Card
- Many more...
- Two more BOA cards every year (maybe the JetBlue or VirginAtlantic)
- Another Citibank American Airlines card and ThankYou card every two years
- Wells Fargo Visa Signature Card
- Avianca Vuela Card
- Cathay Pacific Credit Card
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