2011 was a fantastic year to apply for a credit card. The credit markets were thawing and major issuers like Chase and American Express were offering bonuses of up to 100,000 points or miles in order to entice new applicants to try their products. Other products like the Chase Freedom and Citi Dividend regularly offered $200 cash back to new cardholders.  To some observers, it seemed like the good times would keep rolling into 2012, but they have not.

Fewer Points

Last year, Chase really worked overtime to promote its innovative Sapphire Preferred card. This product gained new features and benefits while adding more point transfer options to its Ultimate Rewards program. To get new cardholders off to a great start, Chase had been offering 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Perhaps realizing that it had already caught all the fish it could with that bait, Chase has now reduced its sign up bonus to 40,000 points. While this is less than it previously offered, it is still worth $400 in cash back and gift cards or $500 in airfare booked through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards site.

A Little Less Cash Back

For those who prefer cash back to points and miles, the Chase Freedom and Citi Dividend cards were a natural fit. Each offered $200 in cash back as a sign up bonus. Afterwards each offered 1% cash back on all purchases, with 5% rewards on charges from merchant categories that changed each quarter. While the ongoing terms of these cards haven’t changed, the sign up bonuses have been reduced to $100 on the Citi Dividend card and will likely fall on the Chase Freedom card sooner rather than later.

Where To Look For Big Bonuses In 2012

For those who are still seeking strong incentives to try a new credit card, 2012 may be the year to go back to basics. It was the airlines that first began offering the most valuable credit card sign up bonuses and it appears that will again be the case this year. Like frightened investors returning to the most stable commodities, credit card reward mavens are looking to airline miles for some of the best bonuses. In fact, as the price of oil climbs, and airfares follow, the real value of an award ticket increases at the same rate.

When credit card shoppers consider the one-time sign up bonuses offered by each product, along with its ongoing terms and conditions, only then will they be in best position to choose the card that is right for them. However, as initial sign up bonuses begin to drop, it becomes more imperative to focus on the long term conditions.

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