Editor's note: The offers in this article have changed or have been discontinued. For an up-to-date list of card offers in this category, go to our Travel & Airline page.
When Capital One launched its popular “Match My Miles” offer in 2011, the card issuer was forced to close the promotion earlier than expected.
New enrollees were promised that Capital One would match the rewards they earned on other rewards cards, up to 100,000 miles. Yet so many applied that the billion miles allotted were gone in just five weeks. This year's Venture Double Miles Challenge lasts until May 1, 2012 — or until a billion miles have been awarded.
If you don't make the cut (or don't qualify), don't worry — there are several attractive bonuses out there for travelers who are willing to switch credit cards. Here's an overview of some of the richest sign-up rewards — and what you have to do to get them.
Capital One Venture Rewards — Double your miles
If you missed last year's Capital One Venture promotion, take heart — it's back. You can earn up to 100,000 bonus miles by applying for a new Capital One Venture Rewards card.
There is a twist on this year's offer, however. Instead of matching rewards miles earned on competitors' cards, Capital One is offering to double them. For every dollar you spent on your main travel rewards card in 2011, you will receive two Venture miles, up to 100,000 miles. In other words, to get the full 100,000 miles, you would have had to spend $50,000 or more on a travel rewards card last year (you have to document that spending as part of the application process).
With Venture miles valued at one cent each, people who spent enough on their travel rewards card to get the full 100,000 miles will essentially be pocketing a cool $1,000. If you spent less, you still get two miles for each dollar spent on your main travel rewards card last year. To calculate how much that will be, multiply the total amount you spent on your travel rewards card in 2011 by 0.02.
The offer is only for new applicants — existing Venture cardholders need not apply.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — Limited-time 50,000 bonus point offer
For a limited time, Chase is offering 50,000 bonus points for new cardholders who spend $3,000 in the first three months of membership. That's the equivalent of $625 in free travel. The card comes with a $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year.
Citi Platinum Select /AAdvantage World MasterCard – Up to 40,000 bonus miles
Citi is currently offering new cardholders a bonus of up to 40,000 AAdvantage miles, plus a $100 statement credit. Miles can be redeemed for a domestic roundtrip for as little as 25,000 miles, making this offer worth $500 or more, depending on how many miles a flight is worth when you book.
The first 30,000 AAdvantage miles are awarded after you charge $750 within the first four months of card membership; to get the additional 10,000, you must spend $5,000 within the first six months of card membership (an average of about $850 a month).
To get the $100 statement credit, you must purchase a ticket on American Airlines within the first year. The card features an $85 annual fee, waived the first year.
Citi ThankYou Premier Rewards Card — Earn $300 in gift cards, plus a free annual companion ticket
The Citi ThankYou Premier has a lower bonus, but a less onerous spending requirement. New cardholders get 30,000 bonus points, worth about $300, after making $2,000 in purchases within the first three months.
Cardholders also get a complimentary domestic companion ticket each year (which must be booked through Citi's travel benefit provider, Spirit Incentives). In addition to the one “ThankYou” point earned for each dollar you spend, you can also earn points on the miles you fly, as long as the ticket is charged to the card. The card's $125 annual fee is waived the first year.
Chase Ink Boldwith Ultimate Rewards
For small business owners, the Chase Ink Bold currently offers 50,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in three months — that's the equivalent of $500 in rewards of your choice, or $625 toward airfare if redeemed online through Chase's Ultimate Rewards booking tool.
The card lets business owners earn five points per dollar on eligible business purchases (wireless/telecommunications, cable and satellite television, radio services and office supplies) on the first $50,000 spent annually. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
The small print
You must have excellent credit to qualify for any of the above cards. And keep in mind that, every time you apply for credit, it potentially affects your credit score. So if you're looking to refinance a mortgage or apply for a new loan in the coming months, going on a rewards card application spree is likely not a good idea.