Credit card referral bonus guide – everything you need to know

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Referral bonuses are a great way to keep the rewards coming, especially if you collect miles and points with a travel buddy. You can open a rewards card, earn its fantastic welcome bonus, then refer your friend to the same card. You’ll get thousands and thousands of points once they’re approved, and they’ll still get to earn the fantastic welcome bonus, too.

For example, if you open the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, you’ll earn 140,000 IHG points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. You can then refer your card to your travel companion. Once they’re approved, you’ll get 10,000 bonus points. After they meet their card’s spending requirement, you’ll collectively have 290,000+ points. According to the IHG award chart, that’s enough for up to 29 free hotel nights — or even more if you use the card’s fourth reward night perk. IHG Premier cardholders get a reward night when redeeming points for any stay of four or more nights.

I’ll tell you everything you need to know about these offers, and highlight the best credit card referral bonus options.

Travel will start again soon. Help your friends prepare, and prepare yourself at the same time with referral bonuses. (Photo by ariefsetiawan/Shutterstock)

How credit card referral bonuses work

If you have a travel credit card, odds are it incentivizes you to refer your friends with bonus miles, points or cash back. You’ll only get this bonus if your friends or family members are actually approved for the card — you aren’t rewarded if their application is denied.

You’re most often provided a bonus of the type of rewards your referred card accrues (though Capital One is the exception). In other words, if you refer the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to a friend, you’ll get a heap of Chase Ultimate Rewards points if they’re approved.

Each card issuer demands slightly different steps to refer a friend, but we’ll cover it all. Most banks will give you a unique code or send an email on your behalf to the recipients you specify.

How often can I refer a friend?

While there is technically no limit to how many friends you can refer, there is a limit as to how many bonus points you can receive in a calendar year with each card. Card issuers operate differently (we’ll cover each one), but you can usually count on earning a bonus for at least five friends. For example, I can receive up to five bonuses for referring friends to the Chase Freedom Unlimited® each calendar year. But I’ll only earn up to four bonuses per calendar year for referring the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (terms apply).

Referral bonuses by issuer

American Express

There are a couple indications that your Amex card is eligible for a referral bonus — if it’s one of their popular cobranded airline or hotel cards, you can be sure it is. When you log into your online account, you can choose which card account you’d like to view. Below the account summary you should see a banner that looks like this:

Your offer will vary depending on which card you view. Alternately, you can jump onto this page and sign-in for an easy-to-view window of all your eligible cards and their referral bonuses.

American Express referral bonuses are by far the easiest to earn. That’s because Amex allows you to refer a friend to any card, not just the one you have. For example, I have an Amex Marriott credit card that is currently unavailable to new applicants, but I can still refer friends and earn points with the card. Here’s what it says in my account:

As long as my friend is approved for whatever card they open, I’ll earn 15,000 Marriott points! This makes is far more simple to earn the maximum amount of points per year (55,000 in this case), because my friends don’t have to be interested in my specific card.

Here’s what you can expect from most Amex refer-a-friend bonuses:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: 15,000 Membership Rewards points for each approved referral — up to 55,000 Membership Rewards points per calendar year. Terms apply.
  • American Express® Gold Card: 10,000 Membership Rewards points for each approved referral — up to 55,000 Membership Rewards points per calendar year. Terms apply.
  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: 20,000 Hilton Honors points for each approved referral — up to 80,000 bonus points per calendar year. Terms apply.

Chase

You can view the cards on which Chase currently offers referral bonuses on this page. You’re eligible to refer any of the cards you actually have currently open. Tap the “Refer friends now” button, and simply enter your last name, ZIP code and last four digits of that particular card. Chase will generate a unique link for you to email or text or dispense however you like.

The Chase travel cards currently offering referral bonuses are:

Capital One

Capital One is perhaps the least complicated referral program to follow. If your friend is approved for their card, you earn a flat $100 in statement credits (up to $500 in total credits per year). No varying referral offers, no rewards in the form of airline miles or hotel points. Capital One does what they do best — simple.

The following cards are eligible for the Capital One refer-a-friend bonus:

Go to this page to see if your card is eligible. I have the Capital One Venture but the site says I’m currently not eligible to refer a friend.

Also, if you have a Capital One business card, be sure to check your account for a significantly more generous referral bonus.

The information for the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Citi

Citi occasionally offers referral bonuses (sometimes even targeted), but currently it does not offer any to U.S. cardholders. Citi does offer referral programs in other countries, like Singapore and the Philippines.

Bank of America

Bank of America is almost as stingy as Citi, however they’ve recently pulled several of their travel credit card application pages from their site. Whether this is for good or they’re simply revamping their cards, we’ll have to wait and see.

There is, however, a way to earn Alaska Airlines miles for referring friends to the Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card. Visit this page and input your Alaska Airlines account number, full name, zip code and email address, and fill out the details of all the recipients of your referral. You’ll get 5,000 miles per qualifying approval — and you don’t even need to hold the card yourself!

Discover

Discover allows you to refer the vast majority of their cards for a cash bonus. Cards eligible for referrals are:

  • Discover it® Miles: $100 statement credit per approval ($500 maximum per calendar year)
  • Discover it® Cash Back: $50 statement credit per approval ($500 maximum per calendar year)
  • Discover it® Student Cash Back: $50 statement credit per approval ($500 maximum per calendar year)
  • Discover it® Chrome: $50 statement credit per approval ($500 maximum per calendar year)
  • Discover it® Chrome for Students: $50 statement credit per approval ($500 maximum per calendar year)
  • Discover More®: $50 statement credit per approval ($500 maximum per calendar year)

The information for the Discover it Miles, Discover it Cash Back, Discover it Student Cash Back, Discover it Chrome, Discover it Chrome for Students and Discover More has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer

The Discover it®Miles and Discover it® Cash Back are particularly intriguing. These cards don’t normally come with a welcome bonus, but if you refer a friend, they will get the same bonus you get. So it’s far better for both of you if you refer them to either card.

On top of that, both these cards will match the cash back you earn within the first 12 months with the card, including this bonus (only available to new cardmembers). In other words, if you opened the Discover it Cash Back six months ago and refer a friend to the card, you’ll get $50 once they’re approved — and you’ll get another $50 at the end of 12 billing cycles!

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo does not currently participate in referral bonuses for their credit cards.

Pitfalls of referring a friend

There is very little downside to using a refer-a-friend program. However, note that there are sometimes better offers than what is available through your referral link — and the difference can be tens of thousands of points. Of course, the opposite can be true, as well. Sometimes referral offers can have better intro offers than the publicly available offer.

Additionally, American Express and Chase now send 1099 forms for many credit card referral bonuses. They treat referral bonuses as taxable income. That’s important to understand. The team has also received 1099 forms from Discover card referrals.

Bottom line

Welcome bonuses aren’t the only way to keep your miles and points stash full. You can also earn hundreds of thousands of points per year by referring friends to travel credit cards. Persuading your friends to open travel cards will keep you traveling for free, and maybe even give you a little extra company along your adventures.

Let us know which card you’ve had the most success in referring your friends and family. And subscribe to our newsletter for more miles and points earning tips to help you take more trips.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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