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Best Cards

Best credit card sign-up bonuses of October 2020

We analyzed the most popular credit cards available in the U.S. that are open to anyone and offer welcome bonuses to find the best of the best based on your spending habits.

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Credit card welcome bonus offers are an easy way to earn extra rewards during the first few months after you open an account. You typically need to meet spending requirements that range from $500 to $5,000, within the first three months after opening your account in order to earn the bonus.

Cash-back cards tend to have the lowest spending requirements with the best return rates, while travel rewards cards usually offer larger bonuses after you reach higher spending requirements. You should consider your budget before you sign up for a card with a good bonus offer and only take advantage of one if you're able to pay off your balance on time and in full. You don't want to pay big interest charges on your balance just because you were hoping to earn some extra bonus points.

The good news: There are a few cards that waive spending requirements altogether and reward you with a bonus following account approval or after you make your first purchase.

CNBC Select analyzed 117 cards that offer welcome bonuses and rounded up the best deals that can earn you up to $750, if you meet the requirements.

Here are CNBC Select's picks for the top credit card welcome bonuses:

Winner

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Chase Freedom Flex℠
On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1%), 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on dining and at drug stores, 1% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 23.74% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • Opportunity to earn up to 5% cash back in select categories upon activation
  • Rewards can be transferred to a Chase Ultimate Rewards card
  • Long intro 0% APR period for purchases

Cons

  • Bonus categories must be activated each quarter
  • 3% fee charged on foreign transactions
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $814
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,647

Rewards totals incorporate the cash back earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Chase Freedom Flex℠ has one of the best welcome bonuses around: Earn $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. That's like earning 40% back.

This card can help you maximize cash back in a variety of rotating categories. Cardholders earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1%) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. The cash-back calendar changes every quarter and includes Walmart and PayPal from October through December. (Learn more about how Chase classifies bonus category purchases.)

In addition to rotating rewards, you can earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, 3% cash back on dining and at drug stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Beyond rewards, you can take advantage of no annual fee and a competitive no-interest period for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable APR).

The Freedom card also provides cell phone protection and select partner benefits, such as 5% cash back on Lyft purchases through March 2022 and complimentary three months of DashPass, plus 50% off for the next nine months when you activate by December 31, 2021. This perk provides you with free delivery on DoorDash orders over $12 and lower service fees.

Best for Travel

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

Chase Sapphire Preferred®
On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 2X points on travel and dining worldwide, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth up to $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    15.99% to 22.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Transfer points to leading frequent travel programs at a 1:1 rate, including: IHG® Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy™ and World of Hyatt®
  • Free DashPass subscription for a minimum of a year when you activate by December 31, 2021
  • Travel protections include: auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance and trip delay reimbursement
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • No hotel-specific perks or credits
  • No introductory 0% APR
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,256
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,278

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a loyal following among travelers looking for a travel-centric rewards program and robust suite of perks. This card also has one of the most generous welcome bonus offers: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. The bonus is worth $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

The rewards program offers 2X points on dining and travel purchases and 1X points on all other purchases. Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, which is a great way to get more value from the rewards program.

Beyond rewards, this card comes with a number of helpful benefits, such as no foreign transaction fees and baggage and trip delay insurance.

Sapphire Preferred card members can also benefit from 5% cash back on Lyft purchases through March 2022 and a complimentary DashPass membership for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2021.

Best for Cash Back

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Information about the Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% introductory APR for the first 15 months that your account is open

  • Regular APR

    15.49% to 25.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 3% cash back on dining and entertainment purchases and 2% at grocery stores
  • Ability to redeem rewards at any amount, unlike some other cards with $25 minimums
  • Competitive special financing offer on both new purchases and balance transfers
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • 3% fee for promotional balance transfer offers
  • Only consumers with good to excellent credit typically qualify
  • Estimated cash back earned after 1 year: $546
  • Estimated cash back earned after 5 years: $1,932

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The best cash-back credit cards have some of the simplest welcome bonus offers that provide great rewards with minimum spending requirements. The Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. That's like earning 40% cash back.

Foodies and entertainment gurus will be pleased that this card earns 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, as well as 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases. Cash back can be redeemed at any time and for any amount.

There is no annual fee or foreign transaction fee associated with this card, and you can benefit from no interest on purchases for the first nine months your account is open. After, there's a 15.49% to 25.49% variable APR.

This card also comes with numerous added perks, such as access to exclusive entertainment events (concerts, food experiences, sporting events), extended warranty protection and travel accident insurance.

Best for No Annual Fee

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Information about the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    1.5% cash back on every purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    15.49% to 25.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Low spending requirement for the welcome bonus
  • Redeem cash back for any amount at any time
  • 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • 3% balance transfer fee during the first 15 months your account is open
  • No bonus rewards categories
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $532
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,859

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is a great choice for consumers looking for a no-annual-fee credit card that has a generous welcome bonus. Cardholders earn a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within three months from account opening. Just like the Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card mentioned above, the Quicksilver card's bonus provides a 40% return.

This card has a straightforward cash-back program where you can earn 1.5% cash back on everything you buy. Cash back can be conveniently redeemed at any time and for any amount.

In addition to rewards, you can finance new purchases or transfer debt with a 0% APR for the first 15 months from account opening (then 15.49% to 25.49% variable APR).

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card has no foreign transaction fee and provides travel accident insurance, 24-hour travel assistance, extended warranty protection and access to premier culinary, entertainment and sports event experiences.

Best for No Spending Required

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card
Information about the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    5% cash back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market; 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores; 1% back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $100 Amazon.com gift card upon approval

  • Annual fee

    $0 (but Prime membership is required)

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    14.24% to 22.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • $100 Amazon.com gift card upon approval, with no spending requirements
  • 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • Prime membership is required
  • The 5% back on groceries only applies to groceries bought on Amazon.com or at Whole Foods Market
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $540
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,302

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, issued by Chase, is one of few cards that awards a welcome bonus automatically after account approval. If you're approved for this card, you'll instantly receive a $100 Amazon.com gift card. This welcome bonus is a great way to fund an Amazon purchase or offset the cost of your Prime membership, which is required to open this card and currently costs $119 annually or $12.99 a month.

This card doesn't have an annual fee (except for the Prime membership requirement) and also has no foreign transaction fees.

The rewards program is great for loyal Amazon shoppers and people who like to grocery shop at Whole Foods: Earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market; 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores; 1% back on all other purchases.

Best credit card sign-up bonus offers

Category Credit Card
WinnerChase Freedom Flex℠
Best for travelChase Sapphire Preferred®
Best for cash backCapital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best for no annual feeCapital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best for no spending requiredAmazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

Our methodology

To determine which cards offer the best value, CNBC Select analyzed 105 of the most popular credit cards available in the U.S. that are open to anyone and offer welcome bonuses. We compared each card on a range of features, including cash-back rewards, annual fee, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.

CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

CNBC Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming cash back for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)

Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.