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How to take advantage of credit card referral bonuses and earn up to $500 each year

Credit card refer-a-friend offers allow you to earn bonus rewards every year. Here's how to get $500 each year through referral bonuses.

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If you’re looking to earn some extra cash ahead of the holidays, now is a great time to check if your rewards credit card offers referral bonuses.

Referral bonuses typically allow you to earn $50 to $150 each time you refer someone for a credit card and they apply then get approved. There are some requirements to receive these kinds of bonuses, but they are still a relatively simple way to earn extra money (up to $500 in many cases).

CNBC Select explains how credit card referral bonuses work and which card issuers provide them.

How do credit card referral bonuses work?

Referral bonuses, also known as refer-a-friend bonuses, allow you to earn cash back, points or miles when you refer someone for a credit card you have.

In order to receive the bonus, the person you refer needs to apply through the link you send and get approved for the card. You won’t earn any rewards just for sending a link or if your friend gets denied.

You can earn a referral bonus multiple times, up to the annual maximum set by your card issuer. That’s compared to a typical welcome bonus, which is one-time only.

Most referral bonuses offer a minimum of $50 per referred friend who's approved and card issuers limit the amount you can earn to $500 each calendar year.

If you have several credit cards from different issuers and you’re successful in sending out referrals, you may even qualify to receive dozens of bonuses totaling over $500.

Card issuers assign different bonus values depending on the card you refer someone for. Generally, premium cards receive larger referral bonuses.

Which card issuers offer referral bonuses?

A handful of card issuers offer referral bonuses, including American Express, Chase and Discover. Here’s how each issue handles these offers.

American Express

American Express credit card members can earn a referral bonus no matter which card your friend is approved for, unlike other issuers that make bonus offers unique to a specific card. The size of the referral bonus varies by card and card member.

Currently, Amex is running an untraditional refer-a-friend offer where you have the potential to maximize rewards on everyday spending and earn a lump sum amount of points. Consumer Amex card members who refer a friend for any consumer or business card between October 1 to October 28, and their friend gets approved, earn 3X more points (or 3% more cash back) per dollar they spend for the next three months.

Let’s say you have the American Express® Gold Card and refer a friend for an Amex card and they get approved. You’ll earn an elevated 7X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide and shop at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X), 6X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com and 4X points on all other purchases for the next three months, which is 3X points more than the typical rewards rates.

Additionally, card members who refer a friend who is approved can also earn up to 7,500 Membership Rewards points or $75 Reward Dollars®, up to 55,000 points/$550 per year.

Learn more about American Express referral bonuses.

Capital One

Capital One credit card account holders can earn statement credits or miles for each referral for an eligible card. The bonus amount varies across products and referral bonuses are limited to $500 or 50,000 miles per calendar year. Capital One’s website lists cardholders who may be eligible, including:

Learn more about Capital One referral bonuses.

Chase

Chase credit card members can refer friends for a variety of cards. The amount of rewards you can earn per referral and each year varies by card. Here are some of the most lucrative offers:

Learn more about Chase referral bonuses.

Discover

Discover credit card users can earn up to $500 per calendar year through referrals. Here are the refer-a-friend bonuses you may qualify for:

  • Discover it® Miles: Earn a $100 statement credit per referral approved by December 31, 2020. Your referred friend will also earn a $100 statement credit after making a purchase within three months of account opening. Maximum of five referral rewards every year.
  • Discover it® Cash Back, Discover it® chrome, Discover it® Student Cash Back and Discover it® Student chrome: Earn a $50 statement credit per referral. Your referred friend will also earn a $50 statement credit after making a purchase within three months of account opening. There's a maximum of 10 referral rewards every year.

Learn more about Discover referral bonuses.

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Information about the Capital One® and Discover cards has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer prior to publication.

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.