PHOTO: A collection of credit cards. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
With certain rewards cards, you can score a quick $100 - $500 just by signing up and meeting a minimum spending requirement.
Is this a smart strategy for pursuing rewards? Yes.
But is it always optimal? Hardly.
While signup bonuses make earning those initial points easy, cards that offer these incentives don’t always offer the best ongoing rewards. By snagging a signup bonus, you may settle for earning 1 percent on all your regular purchases instead of 2 percent, for example.
If you spend a lot of money on credit over time, the points you give up can add up fast.
For people with certain spending patterns—or those who are against annual fees—the best rewards strategy involves forgoing the signup bonus to earn more rewards over time. Here are the three best no-bonus cards to consider in 2017:
Citi Double Cash
The Citi Double Cash Card makes earning miles easy. With each purchase you make, you’ll earn 1% cash back once it posts to your statement, then another 1 percent when you pay it off. So if you pay your balance in full each month (as you should), you’ll net a full 2% cash back for every dollar you spend.
While the Citi Double Cash card doesn’t offer a signup bonus, it doesn’t charge an annual fee, either. So, you can merrily use the card to rack up all sorts of cash back without paying for the privilege.
If you spend $10,000 per year on credit, you’ll earn 20,000 points worth $200 in cash back with no questions asked.
Discover it Miles
The Discover it Miles is one of the most flexible travel credit cards on the market. Sure, it doesn’t have a signup bonus, but it offers something better. For each dollar you spend, you’ll earn 1.5 Miles.
The kicker is, Discover has promised to double the miles you earn after the first 12 months.
The result of this promise is pretty amazing when you think about it. Within a span of 12 months, you can earn 3 Miles per dollar spent on every purchase you make. If you spend $10,000 on credit that first year, you’ll wind up with 30,000 Miles worth $300 in statement credits to cover travel purchases.
Like other no-bonus cards, Discover it Miles also comes with no annual fee.
READ MORE 5 Easy Ways to Meet Your Credit Card’s Minimum Spending Requirement
Discover it – Cashback Match
The Discover it – Cashback Match offers a different way to earn rewards. There’s no signup bonus, but you can nab a huge number of points in special bonus categories.
It works like this: With your card in hand, you’ll earn 5 percent cash back on your first $1,500 spent in categories that rotate each quarter plus 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. But once again, Discover will double the amount of cash back you earn after 12 months.
For 2017, 5 percent bonus categories include: gas stations, ground transportation and wholesale clubs (Q1), home improvement stores and wholesale clubs (Q2), and two other categories yet to be announced.
Like the other cards on this list, the Discover it – Cashback Match doesn’t charge an annual fee.