PHOTO: There are rules for how often you can earn signup bonuses on travel rewards cards. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Many rewards credit cards offer an upfront “bonus” of cash back, airline miles or hotel points when you sign up.
Once you hit a minimum spending requirement within a relatively short length of time (i.e. spend $3,000 within three months), these bonuses are deposited to your account. And since many top rewards cards waive their annual fee the first year, these signup bonuses are often “free” for the taking—as in, you sign up, earn the bonus, then cancel your card within 12 months.
If you’re smart (and not overly worried about too many hard inquiries on your credit report), you’ll simply wash, rinse and repeat.
Obviously, multiple signup bonuses are better than one, right?
Unfortunately, credit card issuers have become wise to those of us who double-, triple- or even quadruple dip. Over the past few years, they’ve created rules for who can earn their signup bonuses and when.
American Express offers the strictest rule for signup bonuses among all card issuers.
With Amex cards, you can only earn a signup bonus once per lifetime. Rumor has it that a “lifetime” could mean only seven years in the eyes of said company, but that’s still a long, long time.
Bottom line: If you earn a signup bonus from an American express card, make sure you make it count. Chances are, you won’t be able to earn it again for seven years—or maybe never.
READ MORE: Amex Platinum Rolls Out New Set of Perks
Chase credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom offer a simple take on signup bonus rules: You can only earn the signup bonus on Chase credit cards every 24 months.
If you earned the 50,000 point signup bonus from the Chase Sapphire Preferred card in April of 2017, for example, you couldn’t earn it again until April of 2019.
Citi credit cards like the Citi Prestige and the Citi Hilton Honors Visa Signature Card come with a unique rule in terms of when you can earn the signup bonus. With each of their cards—whether part of the Citi ThankYou program or co-branded —you can only earn the signup bonus if you haven’t opened or closed a card within that family of cards during the last 24 months.
So, if you signed up for a Hilton Honors card from Citi, you couldn’t earn the signup bonus on a Hilton credit card until your original card account has been closed for at least 24 months.
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Both Barclaycard and Capital One are lenient on who can earn a signup bonus and when.
My husband and I just earned a second 50,000 point signup bonus on new Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCards last year, for example. And I have earned not one…not two…but seven signup bonuses from various Spark Cash and Spark Miles business credit cards from Capital One.
Sometimes I wonder when they’ll cut me off!
Before you sign up for a new rewards credit card, make sure you haven’t earned the signup bonus before. If you have, make sure enough time has passed so you can earn it again. If you fail to check, you could be stuck with a new hard inquiry, no signup bonus and a puddle of regret.