The average welcome bonus for U.S.-issued credit cards, is worth $211. Due to a few credit cards having much higher rewards than others, the median is a much more descriptive feature to look at. The median credit card bonus, within the data we examined, is valued at $150.
Bonuses come in all sizes and shapes when it comes to credit card. In the table below, we show what the average bonus for credit cards are by the category of credit card, as well as the high and low to give consumers a sense of the wide range available.
|Card Type||Low||High||Average Bonus|
|All Credit Cards||50||341||$211|
|Travel Rewards Cards||$19||$363||$179|
Approximately 86% of rewards credit cards offered by major issuers offer some sort of incentive to sign-up - this is what we call a "welcome bonus". The two most common types are commonly referred to as “first use” and “minimum spend” bonuses. Consumers typically have to make at least $1,000 in purchases in order to qualify for a “minimum spend" bonus. These bonuses require individuals to meet a spending threshold within a set period of time (usually 3 months). This is counter to “first use” bonuses, which kick in the moment a consumer uses their card. Because they are easier to qualify for, the “first use” bonuses are, on average, less lucrative.
We found that credit cards co-branded with an airline tend to offer the most generous welcome bonuses. Some of these credit cards offer users “companion passes” – which are essentially free (or heavily discounted) airline tickets. These tickets carry roughly several hundred dollars in value. It is possible for individuals who obtain these passes to squeeze out far more value out of it with a bit of work.
While airline credit cards tend to offer consumers the highest rewards, it should be noted that these cards also have some of the highest average interest rates. Therefore, if users plan to sign-up for these cards due to their bonuses, they need to be sure they pay off any and all balances in full. Otherwise, in the long-run, all value gained through a welcome offer will be lost to interest payments.
Cash back credit cards offer some of the lowest sign-up incentives in the industry. While the numbers here look bleak, these credit cards generally also have no membership fees. Having no annual fees means these credit cards have a lower barrier to entry, thus needing to give their customers less incentives to sign up. Additionally, cash back credit cards tend to have the simplest rewards structure – essentially acting as a rebate on all your purchases. As recent studies have shown, Americans tend to favor simplicity convenience above actual rewards - adding to the value of cash back credit cards in those aspects.
While high value bonuses are desirable, not everyone can qualify. The best rewards in the industry tend to be locked away to individuals with good enough credit histories. In our research, we have found that a FICO score of 720+ is sufficient in grabbing the most high-valued cards.
The average value of a continuing credit card bonus, for cards that offer one, is $180. According to data from an Associated Press study, airfare is generally more expensive than hotel stays. As a result, companion tickets are the most high-valued bonuses of this type, offering consumers much better rewards.
Approximately 27% of the cards we studied offered some form of a continuing bonus – these are rewards which are given to customers annually, so long as they remain a member in good standing. Continuing bonuses break up into two camps, just like welcome bonuses – some simply kick in while others require the cardholder to spend a minimum amount of money. Continuing bonuses which require consumers to spend a minimum amount of money before typically require somewhere between $10,000 and $30,000 in annual purchases.
Depending on which bank you choose to do business with, your odds of scoring high welcome bonus will vary. The banks which hold the biggest total credit card market share tend lead the industry in incentive programs. No matter how you cut up the data, Citibank, Chase, and US Bank lead the pack.
One of the possible reasons for discrepancies in bonuses among different issuers is the size of their card pools. That is to say, banks with high numbers of cash back cards might appear to be subpar, due to the low value of cash back bonuses.
Note that, while Discover offers $0 in sign-up bonuses, they run various other promotions which provide rewards other forms of rewards. Currently, new Discover it cardholders will, for example, have all their rewards doubled at the end of the first year of their membership. Depending on the level of one’s spending, this may be significantly higher and lower than the average welcome bonus.
Our analysis took into account 104 personal credit cards offered by 8 of the biggest credit card issuers in the United States – the data excludes any cards issued for business purposes. The value of a bonus was calculated as a dollar figure. In instances where the bonus was presented in the form of rewards points, we multiplied the number of points given, by their average value (differences in reward types here). For example, we estimate the value of a typical ThankYou rewards point to be $0.01. Therefore, a bonus of 20,000 rewards points is worth $200 (20,000 x $0.01).
Bonus rewards involving hotel stays relied on the benchmark figure of $137/night, while the value of a companion ticket was estimated to be $509. Actual values of points, nights, and companion tickets may vary on a case-by-case basis, depending on how an individual is redeeming.
Even though the above figures represent the current state of credit card bonuses offered, it should be noted that these promotions are often shifting and changing. Many banks will periodically raise incentives – sometimes even doubling them. These limited time offers would, no doubt, affect the average credit card bonus at any point in time.