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- Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
- The fastest way to earn credit card rewards and frequent flyer miles is to open a new card and get the new membership bonus.
- For the last month of 2018, there’s an excellent slate of both consumer and small business cards offering excellent, but limited-time, offers – there’s even a huge new sign-up bonus on a United Airlines credit card, perfect for those looking to score an award flight on United or its partners.
- We’ve also included a few of our favorite ongoing offers.
- You can use the points from these cards to fly or stay in hotels for virtually free, or for upgrades, cash back, gift cards, and more.
- Read on for the best offers of December 2018.
It’s easy to earn frequent flyer miles and rewards points from everyday credit card spending.
To step up your rewards and get serious points, though, the best thing to do is open a new card and earn the bonus offered to new members.
Credit card issuers offer huge bonuses to attract customers, and while each card may have different eligibility requirements, in most cases you can get the bonus as long as you haven’t had that card before – or, in some cases, as long as you haven’t had it in the past few years.
Over the course of 2018 we’ve seen some incredible offers on new cards, refreshed products, and old standbys – and right now, some of the best offers we’ve seen are available as we get ready to close out the year.
Even after you earn the bonus, it’s easy to keep the rewards and benefits coming. All you need to do is use a card for your normal spending – and pay it off in full each month – and you’ll earn tons of bonus points in categories like grocery stores, dining, and travel.
You can read more about earning new card member bonuses and how that will affect your credit score here, or scroll down to find some of the best offers available this month.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.
When you’re working to earn credit card rewards, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card.
Sign-up bonus: Up to 65,000 United miles (40,000 after spending $2,000 in the first three months, and an additional 25,000 miles after spending a total of $10,000 in the first six months). For a limited time only.
Earlier this year, United and Chase re-launched their co-branded credit card, slightly changing the name, but more importantly, tweaking the benefits and improving how the card earns points. Previously, the card earned 2x miles on every dollar spent with United Airlines and 1x dollar on everything else. Now, the card also earns 2x points at restaurants and hotels.
This sign-up bonus is one of the best public offers we’ve ever seen on this card, but it’s only available until January 8, 2019.
The card offers a free checked bag when you use your card to purchase your tickets, priority boarding as long as you have the open card attached to your MileagePlus account, 25% off in-flight purchases, and a fee credit to cover your application to Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
The United Explorer also has two benefits that are unique among US airline credit cards in the same class. First, you’ll get two complimentary United Club lounge passes each year. In the lounges, you can enjoy comfortable seating, Wi-Fi, free food and drinks, and more before your flight. Normally, one-time entry to a United Club would cost $59 if you didn’t have a membership.
Second, although this is an unpublished benefit, United cardholders also get access to more saver award space than other United members – that makes it easier to find good flights when it’s time to use your miles..
The card has a $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year.
- The Points Guy
Welcome offer: 25,000 Membership Rewards points (after spending $2,000 in the first three months). Until January 9: Get up 20% back at US restaurants within the first three months, up to $100 total.
Last month, American Express launched a massive reboot of its Premier Rewards Gold card, rebranding it as the American Express Gold Card, releasing a new metal design and limited-edition rose gold version, and totally overhauling the rewards and benefits on the card. Because that wasn’t quite enough, AmEx also introduced a fairly unique new welcome bonus.
The new Gold Card earns 4x points at US restaurants and on up to $25,000 per year at US supermarkets (and 1x after that), 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline, and 1x point on everything else.
Based on the fact that you can easily redeem Membership Rewards points for more than 1¢ of value each, that makes this the highest-earning card for everything food-related.
The Gold Card keeps the old card’s $100 airline fee credit each calendar year, and adds up to $120 of dining credits – split into $10 each month – at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Steak House, or participating Shake Shack locations. If you use those credits in full, that’s a guaranteed $220 of value each year.
New card members – those who haven’t previously had the Premier Rewards Gold – can earn a welcome bonus of 25,000 points when they spend $2,000 in the first three months. Additionally, those who apply before January 9 can get 20% back on all US restaurant charges – up to $100 total – in the form of a statement credit. Keep in mind you may be able to be targeted for a higher offer.
While it’s difficult to assign a single objective value to Membership Rewards points, due to the many ways you can redeem them, travel website The Points Guy subjectively estimates each point as worth 1.9¢. That makes the welcome bonus worth $575 – $475 for the points, and up to $100 back from restaurants. Even without factoring in the annual credit benefits, that’s more than enough to make up for the card’s $250 annual fee.
- The Points Guy
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles (after spending $3,000 in the first three months).
The Capital One Venture has historically been a useful card, thanks to a solid earning rate of 2x miles on everything, even though the rewards program was just…fine. Unlike cards offered by competitors, miles had a fixed value of 1¢ each toward travel purchases. Generally, transferable credit card points – those that you can transfer to an airline frequent flyer program, should you choose – are more valuable, thanks to the way that booking frequent flyer award tickets works. You can read more about that here.
Capital One had a month-long promotional sign-up bonus (up to 75,000 miles) when it first made the announcement. Although the bonus has returned to its normal amount – 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months – it’s still a solid value worth pursuing.
The Capital One Venture earns miles at a rate of 2x per dollar spent on all purchases, and an incredible 10x points per dollar spent on hotel stays when you book and pay through Hotels.com/Venture. Hotels.com has its own loyalty program that rewards you with a free night after 10 paid nights, so that equates to a staggering 20% return on hotels.
Between the ability to transfer miles to airlines, and the chance to earn up to 10x miles on hotels, this is one of the best cards available right now.
The card also offers a credit to enroll in TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. It has a $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year.
Sign-up bonus: Up to 200,000 miles (50,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months, and an additional 150,000 miles after spending $50,000 in the first six months). For a limited time only.
Like the Venture, the Capital One Spark Miles is gaining the ability to transfer miles to 12 airline frequent flyer partners. Unlike the Venture, the Spark Miles is still offering a limited-time sign-up bonus to mark the change.
The spending requirement to earn the full bonus – $50,000 in the first six months – is high, but it’s definitely achievable for plenty of small- and medium-sized businesses – particularly those that lay out for materials, equipment, or services on behalf of a client.
The Spark Miles is fairly similar to the Venture, aside from the fact that it’s a business card rather than a personal one. It earns 2x miles on all purchases, with no limits, and has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year.
It was already a solid card; with the ability to transfer miles to airline partners, plus the massive sign-up bonus, the Spark Miles becomes a major player.
Sign-up bonus: 70,000 miles (after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days), for a limited time only.
This is the highest sign-up bonus we’ve ever seen for this card – an exciting development, coming near the end of a busy year for Barclaycard’s flagship US product.
Earlier this year, Barclays closed applications for one of its most popular credit cards, before relaunching the card with a new all-time highest sign-up bonus. Then, this fall, Barclays began waiving the card’s $89 annual fee for the first year, a first for the card.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus earns double miles on every dollar spent. Miles can be redeemed for one cent each on travel purchases (applied as a statement credit to negate the cost of that purchase), or a half-cent each for cash back or gift cards. Best of all, you’ll earn 5% of your miles back every time you make a redemption.
Effectively, that means that the sign-up bonus is worth $700 toward travel, plus an extra $100 from the miles you’ll earn meeting the spending requirement.
The card comes equipped with Chip-and-PIN service, which, combined with the fact that the card has no foreign transaction fees, makes it a great option when traveling internationally.
Depending on your spending habits, it is easy to get more value from the card than what you pay for the annual fee, thanks to the 2x earning rate on all purchases. Of course, the sign-up bonus alone will cover the annual fee for more than eight years.
- The Points Guy
Welcome Offer: 60,000 points (after spending $5,000 in the first three months)
The American Express Platinum card has one of the highest annual fees of any consumer credit or charge card – $550 – but as AmEx’s flagship product, this premium credit card offers a tremendous amount of value to offset that fee. For example, I got more than $2,000 worth of value in my first year with the card.
The card earns Membership Rewards points, the currency in AmEx’s loyalty program, which can be exchanged for statement credits or cash back, used to book travel through AmEx’s travel website, or, to get the most value, transferred to any of 17 airline and three hotel transfer partners (transferable points are among the best). Travel website The Points Guy lists a valuation of 1.9¢ per Membership Rewards point; based on that, the welcome offer is worth around $1,140.
Because $5,000 is one of the steepest spending requirements of any consumer credit card, this is an ideal time to open it – with holiday spending going on, you can take advantage of those planned expenses to meet a higher minimum required spend than you would normally be able to.
Plus, you can take advantage of the card’s airport lounge access to make holiday travel a little bit less hectic.
The Platinum Card earns an incredible 5x points on airfare purchased directly from the airline, and offers a $200 airline fee credit each calendar year, and up to $200 in Uber credits each card member year. It also grants the cardholder access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world, including Delta Sky Clubs and AmEx’s own Centurion Lounges. Other benefits include automatic gold elite status at Starwood, Marriott, and Hilton hotels, a statement credit to cover enrollment in Global Entry/TSA PreCheck, concierge service, and much more.
If you’re an active military servicemember, you can get the AmEx Platinum Card’s fee waived.
- The Points Guy
Sign-up bonus: $500 (after spending $3,000 in the first three months)
The card earns unlimited 4% cash back on all dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% on everything else. Plus, the card offers a whopping $500 sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
The Savor carries a lower annual fee than the AmEx Gold – $95, waived the first year. The earning rate will make up for the fee in many cases, based on normal spending, but if that’s too high for you, there’s an alternative: the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card.
The SavorOne card has no annual fee, and offers a slightly lower – but still valuable – earning rate of 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% on everything else. It offers a lower sign-up bonus of $150 when you spend $500 in the first three months.
- The Points Guy
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months)
The Sapphire Preferred is one of the most popular all-around rewards credit cards, and it’s easy to see why. This card earns 2x points per dollar spent on just about all travel and dining purchases, and 1x point on everything else. It also comes with a ton of travel and purchase protections, such as rental car insurance, trip delay coverage, and extended warranty.
The sign-up bonus – 50,000 UR points – is worth, at the very least, $500 as cash back or gift cards. However, if you book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and use points to pay, you’ll get a 25% bonus, making points worth 1.25 cents each. That means that the sign-up bonus would be worth $625.
Even more lucrative – the Chase Sapphire Preferred lets you transfer your UR points to a few different frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs. This comes in handy because, in many cases, it costs fewer points to book a trip if you go through one of those programs, as opposed to using the points as cash. You can read more about why transferring points to frequent flyer programs gets you more value here.
This all comes for a fairly standard annual fee of $95, which is waived the first year.
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months)
The Sapphire Reserve is basically a beefier version of the Preferred. While the card comes with the same sign-up bonus, it earns points on everyday spending faster, nabbing a higher 3x points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases, and 1x on everything else. It also offers similar, though in many cases, enhanced travel and purchase protections.
Unlike the Preferred, the Sapphire Reserve comes with a Priority Pass Select membership, which gets you and any travel companions free access to more than 1,000 airport lounges around the world.
You can use points from the Reserve the same ways as with the Preferred, except that you’ll get a 50% bonus when booking travel through Chase, making your points worth 1.5¢ each.
The card carries a higher annual fee than the Preferred: $450. However, it also comes with a $300 travel credit each card member year. Each year, you’ll get statement credits for the first $300 in travel-related purchases you make, including things like subway fare, taxis, parking, and tolls, as well as airfare and hotels. When you subtract this credit from the annual fee, the card is effectively only $150 each year.
If you’re not sure whether the Preferred or Reserve is the better card for you, take a look at this breakdown. Also keep in mind that you can typically only earn the sign-up bonus for one Sapphire-branded card every two years.
- American Express
Welcome offer: 150,000 Hilton Honors points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months
The premium Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card has a hefty $450 annual fee, but it comes with so many perks, benefits, and rebates that it’s more than worth paying for Hilton loyalists – or even brand-agnostic hotel guests.
In addition to a $250 airline fee credit per calendar year and a $250 Hilton resort statement credit each card member year, the Aspire also offers a $100 Hilton on-property credit every time you book a stay of two nights or longer at a Hilton property – you just need to book through a specific website for cardholders.
The card also offers a free weekend night reward each year – regardless of how much you spend – and a second if you spend $60,000 on the card in a calendar year. It also comes with complimentary Diamond status.
The Aspire earns a tremendous 14x points per dollar spent with Hilton, 7x points on flights booked with the airline, car rentals, and at US restaurants, and 3x points on everything else.
- The Points Guy
Welcome offer: 30,000 Go Far points (after spending $3,000 in the first three months)
This new card from Wells Fargo has one of the more attractive rewards offerings you’ll find from a no-annual-fee card. The new Propel card is actually a re-launch of an old product – Wells Fargo stopped accepting applications for the old card back in February, before announcing the new product and reopening applications this summer.
The card earns 3x points on all travel, dining, and select streaming services (and 1x point on everything else). If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s almost the same as the popular Chase Sapphire Reserve.
There are some key differences between the cards. The Propel lets you redeem points for 1¢ each toward cash back, merchandise, travel, or more, while the Sapphire Reserve offers a range of more valuable redemption options – it’s easy to get at least 50% more value for Chase points. Plus, the Sapphire Reserve offers a number of premium perks that the Propel doesn’t, like airport lounge access, a $300 annual travel credit travel delay insurance, and more.
Of course, the Sapphire Reserve also comes with a $450 annual fee, while the Wells Fargo Propel doesn’t have a fee. Between the new member offer, and the solid earning rate on popular spend categories, the Propel makes a decent option for those who don’t travel often, or who aren’t comfortable floating a large annual fee.
We named the Propel the best no-fee card of 2018.