Credit Card Signup Bonus Recommendations for Travelers

Credit card sign up bonus recommendations

Why Travel Therapists Should Care About Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses

Credit cards can be awful or can be wonderful depending on how you use them. Over the last five years, Whitney and I have been able to not only make thousands of dollars in cash, but also get tens of thousands of dollars worth of free travel with credit card rewards, all while not paying a single dollar in interest. We’ve actually taken entire trips where we paid nothing out of pocket and been able to take family on trips as well due to credit card rewards! When used correctly, credit card rewards are a great addition to the travel therapist’s (or any travel healthcare professional) arsenal to save money and build wealth more quickly.

How to Take Advantage of These Bonuses

There are a few keys vital to success here:

  • Always pay the statement balance on cards in full each month!
  • Use credit card signup offers strategically to earn big bonuses throughout the year.
  • Avoid paying annual fees on cards whenever possible.

The big downside to using credit cards and the reason most people recommend avoiding them is the high interest rates that come with them. Sometimes these can be as high as 25% or more on rewards credit cards. Luckily, by paying the statement balance in full each month, you never have to worry about paying any interest on credit cards. This means not spending more than you can afford to pay off at the end of the month. To take advantage of credit card rewards, you must be willing to commit to that, otherwise you can easily be in a position where you pay more in interest than you earn in rewards!

The quickest way to rack up a ton of points is with credit card signup bonuses (as opposed to using the same card on a regular basis just to get the monthly cash back rewards). These are promotions that credit card companies offer to the public in order to acquire new customers. The bonuses can be very generous and in some cases worth hundreds of dollars. Usually these involve some sort of spending requirement within the first few months of having the card to ensure that the new customer is an active user of the card before giving out the reward. Getting a new credit card, using it until meeting the requirements for the signup bonus, then signing up for another soon after is the key to earning lots of points each year.

Some rewards cards have an annual fee. Sometimes that fee will be waived for the first year, but sometimes it won’t. For the first year, this isn’t a big deal since the signup bonus will always be more valuable than the fee; but for subsequent years, paying an annual fee is just wasted money in most cases. For that reason, I cancel almost every card after the first year if it has an annual fee.

Now you’re probably wondering, what is the impact of opening multiple credit cards each year on your credit score? For most people, opening a few credit cards will actually increase your credit score (as long as you are paying your statement balance as indicated above). This is due to a couple of factors:

  • Increasing your available credit will make you look more desirable to lenders because it means that you have more “wiggle room” if you run into hard times. i.e. you could always begin to carry a balance if you had to for some reason due to an unexpected expense (although this should not be an option for us).
  • Making additional payments on time each month will increase your score because it makes you look like a more responsible borrower.

    After opening 50 new credit cards in the past 7 years and closing about half of them after the first year, I can definitively say that opening and closing new cards does not have a major negative impact on your credit score. In fact, my credit score is actually 20 points higher now (796) than when I started aggressively opening new cards 7 years ago.

    I’ve written many articles on credit cards and signup bonuses over the years, so for more detail and info check those out here. We also made a recent live video talking all about how we’ve used credit card sign up bonuses to travel the world for free along with some of the frequently asked questions about the strategies we have utilized. Check out that video here.

    Now, let’s get into the best current credit card offers for travel therapists!

Because of how advantageous sign up bonuses have been for me and Whitney, and how we’ve been able to use them to travel for cheap or often free, I get a lot of questions about it. People often want to know which card(s) I recommend for them. Here I’ve compiled a list of different cards with great sign-up offers. I’ve categorized them for different needs, based on what you’re looking for. I plan to regularly update this list to keep it current with updated offers!

*I’ve included links to the offers below. Many of them are referral links, where you’ll still get the best offer available, and we will also receive an incentive for referring you! This is a win-win for all. If you decide to sign up for one of these cards, we would greatly appreciate you using our referral links to help support our site!

Best For Beginners

If you’re brand new to credit cards, you maybe don’t have an excellent credit score, or just aren’t sure where to start, don’t fear. There are a couple credit cards that are great to start with with easy requirements to get your feet wet and help build your credit.

Chase Freedom Flex: $200 bonus after spending only $500 in the first 90 days of being a card member.

  • Pros
    • Low spending requirement to get the bonus
    • No annual fee
    • Good ongoing rewards with 5% rotating categories
  • Cons
    • Lower bonus value than some other cards

Discover It: $100 bonus after your very first purchase with the card.

  • Pros
    • No spending requirement
    • No annual fee
    • Good ongoing rewards with 5% rotating categories
  • Cons
    • Low signup bonus value

Best for Transferable Points

Chase Ultimate Reward points can be transferred to airline and hotel partners including: Southwest, United, and Hyatt. They can also be redeemed for cash, although that’s usually not the best use of the points. This flexibility makes Chase points very valuable.

Chase Sapphire Preferred: 80,000 points after $4,000 in spending in the first 90 days of being a card member.

  • Pros
    • 80,000 points are worth at least $1,000 but potentially much more when used for flights or hotel stays!
    • No foreign transaction fees
    • Trip cancellation and interruption insurance included
  • Cons
    • $95 annual fee

Best for Cashback

Capital One Venture X: 75,000 points after $4,000 in spending in the first 3 months of being a card member. 

  • Pros
    • 75,000 points is worth $750 when redeemed for travel expenses
    • $300 annual travel credit when booking travel through Capital One portal each year
    • 10,000 bonus points each year after the first year
    • Free TSA pre-check or Global Entry credit
    • Free Priority Pass Membership
  • Cons
    • $395 Annual fee
    • High spending requirement

American Express Blue Cash Preferred: $250 cashback after $1,000 in spending in the first 90 days of being a card member.

  • Pros
    • High cash signup bonus with no annual fee for the first year
    • 6% cashback at grocery stores and subscription services (Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, etc.)
    • 3% cashback at gas stations and rideshare (Uber, Lyft)
  • Cons
    • $95 annual fee after the first year (this can be avoided by cancelling the card after the first year)

Best for Free Flights

Often the best value with rewards are when they are redeemed for free flights. Whitney and I haven’t paid out of pocket for an international flight in over five years which has saved us a ton of money on our trips!

Southwest Plus: 75,000 Southwest miles after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days of being a card member. 

  • Pros
    • 75,000 miles is worth about $1,125 when redeemed for Southwest flights
    • 3,000 mile bonus for each year you keep the card
    • Free checked bag on Southwest flights
    • Southwest often has the best priced domestic flights and flights to the Caribbean
  • Cons
    • $69 annual fee

United Explorer: 60,000 United miles after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days of being a card member. Plus an additional 10,000 miles after spending $3,000 more in the next 90 days.

  • Pros
    • 70,000 miles is enough for a roundtrip flight to Europe or most places in Asia
    • Free credit for Global Entry or TSA precheck
    • Free 1st checked bag on United flights
    • No foreign transaction fees
    • No annual fee for the first year
  • Cons
    • $95 annual fee after the first year (this can be avoided by cancelling the card after the first year)

Best for Free Hotel Nights

World of Hyatt: 30,000 Hyatt points after $3,000 in spending in first 90 days of being a card member and an additional 2 points per dollar spent in the first 6 months up to 30,000 additional points.

  • Pros
    • 60,000 Hyatt points can be redeemed for up to 12 free hotel nights at some properties
    • One free night for each year that you keep the card
    • No foreign transaction fees
  • Cons
    • $95 annual fee
    • Very high spending requirement to get the full 60,000 points

Being Strategic

Chase often has the best signup bonuses on their credit cards. A few years ago they implemented a rule that if you’ve gotten more than five new credit cards in the past 24 months, you’ll automatically be declined for any of their cards (This is called the “5/24 rule”). This is specifically to keep people from taking advantage of their bonus offers over and over again. Due to this rule, it is generally best to start with Chase cards, and then apply for other card brands once you’re over 5/24 and won’t be approved for anymore Chase cards.

If you get declined for a credit card, it’s always worth calling in and talking to their reconsideration team to see if there’s anything you can do to get the application approved. I’ve been initially denied for several cards in the past, but after calling in and verifying some info, I was able to talk them into approving the application. This doesn’t always work but there’s not much to lose if you get declined!

I hope this information helps you to take advantage of some of the credit card sign up bonuses out there, so you can start using the rewards to your advantage like Whitney and I have! If you have questions, decide to sign up for any of these cards, or if you learned anything from reading all of this, shoot us a message and let us know! Happy Travels!