Start by figuring out what is most important to you. Then consider using the GigaPoints Analyzer tool.

There are more than 1 billion credit cards circulating in the United States. And when you’re in the market for a new card, it can seem like there are almost that many to choose from. 

Picking the right one from the crowd can be a confusing process, even for people who are financially savvy. It’s certainly not a life-or-death decision, but there are financial consequences to having the wrong card. For starters, you can miss out on hundreds—and possibly thousands—of dollars in rewards and benefits each year. 

Here’s how not to choose your next credit card: 

  • Default to the one your bank offers, because it’s easy. 
  • Do an online search for the “best” card and sign up for whatever tops the results—in many cases, someone has paid for that placement. 
  • Get an airline card because it was promoted on your flight. 
  • Sign up for a card just to get a big welcome bonus and automatically keep it forever. 

You want to pick the card that’s best suited to your needs and your spending patterns—not the one that pays bloggers the biggest kickbacks, or makes banks or airlines the most money. 

At GigaPoints, we’re all about using technology to match customers to the cards that will earn them the most rewards for the way they spend. It’s one of the biggest factors in choosing a new card, but card-seekers will also want to take into account fees, credit requirements and (if they might carry a balance) interest rates. 

Here are the seven factors to consider when selecting the next addition to your wallet. 

1)  Rewards

Many—maybe even most—credit cards now pay customers some sort of rewards on their spending. Rewards can come in many forms, but the main ones are cash back and points (sometimes called miles). 

The first thing to figure out is which currency you prefer. Cash back tends to be simpler, but points can be more valuable. We break down the pros and cons of each in this article. You should also consider what kinds of points you’ll actually use—airline miles aren’t terribly useful if you never travel. 

Then you’ll want to look at how much those rewards are worth. Credit card companies don’t make it easy to figure out how you’ll earn. Some cards offer different rewards for different kinds of spending—say, 2% for gas and 1% for everything else. Others pay extra rewards on certain categories of spending and switch those categories around regularly. Still other cards pay more rewards once you’ve spent a certain amount of money. 

Just as important: Not all points have the same value. In fact, there can be huge gaps in how much different loyalty currencies are worth. For instance, GigaPoints estimates Hilton Honors points to be worth about 0.6 cents each, while Chase Ultimate Rewards are worth 1.8 cents per point. Would you rather have 100,000 points that are valued at $600…or $1,800? 

You can calculate how much you might earn from a card with a year’s worth of statements, an abundance of patience and a knack for data entry. You can also just guesstimate your spending. But this is exactly why we built GigaPoints. Our algorithm does the math for you, looking at how you spend over the course of a year, and comparing those patterns to the rewards programs for dozens of different credit cards. We then show you how they stack up. You can read more about how it works, then try it for yourself. 

 2) Welcome bonus

In addition to ongoing rewards, many credit cards offer welcome bonuses to lure new customers. Like rewards, these bonuses most often come as cash or points/miles. It’s nice to get a big welcome bonus with a new card. But for most consumers, it’s not as important as the rewards you’ll earn as you use a card over the years. 

Cards that charge annual fees tend to have more generous sign-up bonuses. The higher the fee, the bigger the bonus. (Secured cards and cards aimed at consumers who are building—or rebuilding—their credit generally don’t offer bonuses.) You’ll want to figure out whether the fee is worth it for the size of the bonus. 

To qualify for a welcome bonus, card issuers often require you to spend a certain amount of money after opening your account. (For instance, 50,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months.) That’s especially true for larger bonuses. If that spending requirement isn’t in line with your normal patterns, you may end up spending unnecessarily to get the bonus—not a good financial move. 

 3) Annual fees

An annual fee is like a membership fee that some credit cards charge each year. It can seem a little excessive, given all the other fees that credit cards can levy. But you shouldn’t reject a card just because it has an annual fee—or because it doesn’t. 

Again, it comes down to how you spend. A card that costs $95 might net you $500 in rewards over the first year. At the same time, a $450 card will pay off for some spenders but not others. 

The GigaPoints Analyzer takes annual fees into account when it matches users with the best credit cards for their spending, balancing them against the rewards that card can earn. You can try it here

 4) Interest rate

If you’re the kind of consumer who pays your credit card bill every month, you have one less thing to worry about. The interest rate on your card is irrelevant if you never have to pay it. 

But if you’re one of the roughly 40% of credit card holders who carry a balance, interest rates matter. One perk that many card issuers offer is 0% APR for new accounts—at least for a while. (If you use the GigaPoints Analyzer, you can filter your results to find cards with Intro APRs.) Most often the no-interest honeymoon lasts for a year, though some cards offer up to 18 months. 

You’ll still have to make minimum monthly payments, however. And at the end of the promo period, your interest rate will shoot back up to normal—generally between 16 and 25%. If you’ve got a great credit score, you may be able to pull a lower rate.

 5) Credit Requirements

Like the Rolling Stones said: You can’t always get what you want. You may think you’ve found your dream credit card, but the feeling may not be mutual. 

Credit card companies use credit scores to decide which customers to take on. They may reject an application because they think the person already has too much debt, doesn’t have sufficient credit history, doesn’t earn a high enough income, and on and on. 

There’s usually no penalty for aiming high in life. But when it comes to credit cards, you should choose one that fits your financial profile and avoid longshots. Applying for multiple cards in a short time span can harm your credit score and make your applications even more likely to be rejected. 

6) Perks

On top of rewards, there are a slew of benefits available to credit card customers. Depending on the card, you might get free checked bags on flights, rental car insurance, Uber and food-delivery credits, invitations to special events, and so on. 

These perks are mostly attached to fancier credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum, which also have high annual fees. But less expensive cards have them as well—the no-annual fee JetBlue card, for instance, gives holders 50% off in-flight purchases. 

Perks sure sound appealing—and they’re designed to. But at GigaPoints, we value these perks very conservatively, and suggest you do, too. Some perks may not get used, and some only last for a certain amount of time. 

 7) Status 

For many people, a credit card is simply a financial tool. For others, an upper-echelon credit card can be a signifier, telling people they are successful, discerning, intelligent. 

There’s a grain of truth in there. Prestige credit cards aren’t available to just anyone—applicants have to meet credit and income requirements to get them. And a very few, like the American Express Centurion card, are offered by invitation only. 

If status matters to you, go for a fancy card. But even if money is no object, you may want to use our Analyzer to make sure it’s the right one. 

The Bottom Line

You can choose a credit card without putting much thought into it, but you might end up leaving a lot of money on the table. It’s worth doing some research—and leveraging tools that can help you make a smart decision. 


It might feel weird to pay for the “privilege” of carrying a credit card. But it can often pay off in the long run.

Credit card fees are bad, right? Late fees, cash-advance fees, returned payment fees, foreign-transaction fees…they’re all charges that consumers are supposed to avoid, if they can.

But there’s one fee that can make good financial sense: the annual fee. 

An annual fee is a fee that is charged just to have certain credit cards, regardless of how (or whether) those cards are used. Some people refuse to carry a card with an annual fee, out of sheer principle. At GigaPoints, we believe that annual fees aren’t inherently good or bad.

Fees can be a way to make money by spending money. Cards that charge annual fees often earn more rewards and offer bigger welcome bonuses. Some come with more additional perks, such as access to airport lounges or a free hotel night each year. You may be able to pay a little up front (annual fee) and earn it back—plus more—in rewards.

But whether a specific card is worth paying for depends on your spending patterns—as well as the particulars of that card. Here are the basics you should know.

How much are annual fees? 

Annual fees vary widely, from $50 to several hundred dollars a year. Most fall into the $75 to $99 range. 

A handful of cards are much more expensive—including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express Delta Reserve, and American Express Platinum card, which all cost $550 a year. A couple of invitation-only cards charge far more, including the American Express Centurion card, whose annual fee is $5,000 (after a $10,000 initiation fee). 

Should I pay an annual fee? 

For some consumers, an annual fee is a waste of money. For others, it’s a smart financial move. It all comes down to your spending habits: If they’re aligned with the card’s rewards, you could earn back far more than the annual fee, and more than you would with a no-fee rewards card. 

The GigaPoints Analyzer is designed to figure this all out automatically—you connect your credit card accounts and it figures out which cards will earn you the most rewards, taking annual fees into account. If you want to understand the math yourself, let’s walk through a very simplified example.

Take someone who charges $30,000 a year on their credit card. They have a nice no-fee card that pays 2% cash back on all spending. 

$30,000 x 2% = $600 a year

That’s not a bad return. 

But let’s say this person travels and eats out a lot, to the tune of $20,000 a year. And let’s give our friend a new card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which has a $95 annual fee.

Instead of earning 2% rewards on all spending, this person will earn points: 2 points for each dollar spent on dining and travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else. 

$20,000 x 2 = 40,000 points
$10,000 x 1 = 10,000 points
TOTAL = 50,000 points

Remember, with the 2% cash-back card, they earned $600 a year. GigaPoints values Chase Ultimate Reward points at 1.8 cents each, so those 50,000 points have a value of $900. Even after you subtract the annual fee ($95), this card comes out ahead on rewards.

What about other perks? 

Sometimes, cards that charge an annual fee offer benefits that go beyond spending rewards. They’re more likely to pay a sign-up (or welcome) bonus—a lump sum of rewards for opening and using your account. These bonuses can range widely in value, from small ($25) to very generous (thousands of dollars). We didn’t take that into account in our example, but the GigaPoints Analyzer does when matching users to the best cards. 

The extra perks are all over the map. Some hotel cards provide a free night’s stay each year. Airline cards give holders free checked bags and in some cases, upgrades. The more expensive cards offer credits for travel spending, “elite” status with travel programs, credits with fancy department stores, ride-share subscriptions, and even personal concierge services. 

Sometimes the value of those perks is obvious—a $300 statement credit is exactly what it sounds like. In other cases, their value depends on your actually using the benefit. If you never get food delivered, a complimentary subscription to a food-delivery service is probably worthless. 

The bottom line

To figure out if a card with an annual fee makes sense for you, you need to do some math. Or, you can let GigaPoints do it for you—just click if you’d like to see how it works. 


Some credit card companies pay big incentives to get customers. We answer your big questions.

Credit card companies make a lot of money off their customers—so much money that they can offer generous incentives for opening a new account. Those incentives are called welcome bonuses or sign-up bonuses. They’re basically lump sums of cash, loyalty points or other rewards, paid out after you get a new credit card. 

You may have seen welcome bonuses mentioned in ads, on mailers, or in personal finance articles. They’ve become something of an industry staple. And while they can be truly valuable—worth hundreds of dollars or even more—they can also be confusing. 

The welcome bonus isn’t the only factor you should consider when choosing a credit card, but it is a significant one. The GigaPoints guide covers what you need to know. 

Does every credit card come with a welcome bonus? 

Nope. It’s common for credit card companies to offer bonuses to entice customers to open new accounts, but not every card comes with a bonus. Rewards cards are more likely to offer extra points or cash back for signing up, while secured credit cards and cards marketed through your bank rarely do. The rule of thumb: The more expensive and exclusive a card is (in terms of the credit required) the more likely it is to offer a sign-up bonus. 

Are welcome bonuses cash? 


Cash-back credit cards offer welcome bonuses in the form of a statement credit that gets applied to your spending balance. For example, the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card pays $300 back after you spend $3,000 within the first six months of opening your account. The Chase Freedom Flex card offers a $200 cash back bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months of opening your account. 

Other cards pay out bonuses as points—airline points, hotel points, transferable points—gift cards, or even discounts on your first purchase, as with some retailer credit cards. 

It’s important to understand what kind of bonus is being offered before you apply for a card—no matter how big the offer. You want a card that meets your financial goals, not a big pile of points you may never use. 

How big are welcome bonuses? 

Welcome bonuses vary widely. Cash-back cards tend to offer smaller sign-up bonuses—often $150 to $300, though business cards can go much higher. 

One exception: Discover It Cash Back card, which offers unlimited cash-back matching for the first year. Whether you earn $100 or $3,000 cash back on your card, you’ll get the same amount again at the end of the year.  

Points or miles bonuses will generally have higher values than cash back bonuses, but they almost always have limitations, and their value depends partly on how you use them. 

When we published this article, for instance, the IHG Rewards Club Premier credit card was offering 140,000 bonus points for new cardholders who spent $3,000 within the first three months. Those points could be worth more than $1,000—but only if you use them on IHG hotel or resort stays. You can move them to certain airline loyalty programs, or use them for online shopping, but they may be worth 80% less. 

Chase Sapphire cards are known for their generous and flexible bonuses. If you get 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards for signing up for a card, that’s worth $800 in cash and at least $1,000 in travel—possibly much more, if you transfer it to an airline or hotel loyalty program. 

It’s important to know how much reward points are worth before you sign up for a card. Numbers like 50,000 and 75,000 may sound impressive—but some simple math will reveal if they really pay. GigaPoints performs valuations of various points programs; you can read more here. 

How do I know which bonus to go for?

The first thing you’ll want to figure out is which type of reward you want to earn: cash back or points. Cash back is more straightforward; points can be more lucrative. GigaPoints goes into more detail about points vs. cash back

Next, focus on which card will earn you the most rewards—in both short and long term. A big bonus is great, but if the card you signed up for gives you skimpy rewards for your ongoing spending, you could be leaving a lot of money on the table. Conversely, a card with a smaller sign-up bonus may end up being worth keeping over the years, because it pays a lot of rewards for your particular spending habits. 

Not to brag, but GigaPoints is really—really—good at figuring out how much you can earn from different credit cards. We have an algorithm that will match your individual spending patterns to various reward programs and identify which will pay you the most. Often, the card you think is best for you—because you like to shop at a certain store or fly on a specific airline—isn’t. 

Go ahead, give it a try and see what we recommend for you. 

Are there catches to welcome bonuses?

They’re not so much catches as rules. 

Welcome bonuses can be really valuable—worth more than $1,000, depending on the card, the size of the bonus, and how you use the points. But most companies will require you to spend a certain amount of money on your credit card to qualify for a bonus. And normally, you’ll have to spend that amount in a specific amount of time, usually within 30 to 90 days of opening your account. 

Welcome bonus offerings can also change, with or without notice. An airline card may be willing to give you 70,000 miles for spending $2,000, but only if you open an account by a certain date. A bonus offer that’s available one week may vanish the next. 

Do I have to track my spending to get my welcome bonus? 

Nope, the credit card company does that automatically. No need to keep receipts, either. 

But if you’re not going to transfer all your spending on the new card—or you may not meet the spending requirement for a bonus with your normal spending—it’s a good idea to keep tabs on your total, so you don’t miss out on those extra points. And don’t forget that your annual fee does not apply to your welcome bonus spending, no matter how big it is.  

Do balance transfers count towards spending for welcome bonuses? 

It would be nice, but no. 

Should I wait for a bigger bonus?

It depends. 

Some cards boost their welcome bonuses—a bonus bonus, if you will—on a regular basis. If you know which card you want to add to your wallet but are in no particular hurry, it might be worth waiting a few months to see if you can score a bigger bonus. But it’s not worth waiting for a unicorn-type bonus, the kind that comes around every several years—or might only happen once in a lifetime. 

Your financial situation also comes into play. If you’re a big spender, the points you would miss out on by waiting can outweigh the additional value of a larger bonus. If you’re transferring a balance to a lower-interest card, speed takes priority over any potential welcome bonus. Choosing a card that fits your spending habits over the long term is more important than a one-time windfall. 

When can I expect my bonus?

You’ll probably be waiting several weeks. Chase says it takes six to eight weeks to distribute Ultimate Rewards welcome bonuses. Other cards say one to two billing cycles—which is about the same, in the end. A few credit card companies award welcome bonuses a few business days after you’ve met the spending requirements. 

If you’re trying to get your welcome bonus quickly, try to meet your spending goal early. And make sure that whatever purchases you make to qualify are made at least a week before your billing cycle closes.  

Can I return the purchases I make to meet the spending requirement for a bonus?

Yes, but the refund will be deducted from your spending. If that puts you under the spending requirement for the welcome bonus, you’ll lose it. 

Some credit cards require you to spend a good chunk of money to qualify for a welcome bonus. The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, for instance, is currently offering a 140,000-point bonus, but only if you spend at least $3,000 within three months of opening your account. 

Maybe some of those purchases didn’t work out—or you’re hoping to game the system. Either way, the dollar value of your returns will be subtracted from your spending balance. If that puts you under the welcome bonus requirement, say goodbye to all those shiny points. Even if your refund hits after you’ve received your bonus, some companies will take the points back. 

As long as you’re not extending yourself financially, it’s smart to overshoot your spending requirements for a welcome bonus, in case you do want to return something. Otherwise, make sure whatever you buy, you’re certain to keep. 

Can I cancel my card after I get my bonus?

You can cancel your credit card at any time, but depending on the card issuer, you may lose access to your bonus. 

With airline or hotel rewards cards, like the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express, bonus points automatically transfer to your loyalty account. Even if you cancel your card, you’ll be able to use those miles. 

Chase and American Express let you access bonus points after you cancel your account—but with specific conditions. Your account has to be in good standing and you’ll only have access to the points for a certain amount of time. 

If you cancel a Capital One account, however, you’ll lose access to your points. 

Before you make any big moves, make sure you read the fine print—and transfer, cash out, or redeem your miles before you call customer service. 

I signed up for a credit with a welcome bonus, but didn’t get it. What’s up? 

If you didn’t receive your welcome bonus, it’s possible you didn’t meet your spending requirement by the deadline. The clock starts ticking once you open your account—not when you activate your card, which can come several days later. 

User error is another possibility. In the case of an airline or hotel credit card, rewards are usually transferred directly to your loyalty account, not to your credit card account. If your loyalty account information wasn’t entered correctly, your points may be floating in the void—or worse, in someone else’s account.  

You also may not have been eligible for the welcome bonus. Some credit card companies won’t give you the bonus if you’ve gotten one for the same card in the past. Others will only make you eligible if a certain amount of time has passed since your last welcome bonus. 

If you think you’ve met the requirements for your welcome bonus, contact the company and present your case. Gather all the paperwork you can to show that you’ve kept up your end of the deal.

Can I share my bonus?

Feeling generous? The easiest way to share your welcome bonus with someone is to make  them an authorized user on your account. Needless to say—but we’re going to say it anyway—only do this with people you trust. 
You can also pool or transfer certain kinds of reward points. Chase Ultimate Rewards allows sharing between your own accounts, as well as with “one member of your household” (you’ll need their name and credit card number). Citi lets you transfer points to anyone who also has a Citi ThankYou account. Capital One allows you to share as well—but you have to do it over the phone. In other words, rules vary between programs, so check with your credit card company before you make any promises.