Direct-mail solicitations from credit card issuers are on the rise this year, up by 22 percent through June compared with the same stretch of 2012, according to the market research company Mintel. Direct-mail offers reached 1.1 billion in the second quarter this year, the highest level since 1.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2011.
Offers for new customers include $100 checks, bonus miles, and zero percent balance transfer offers. Sign-up bonuses on airline cards used to top out at about 15,000 to 20,000 points; but now it is possible to see offers of 50,000 points or more, which may be enough for two free round-trip tickets in the United States. The main determinant for the best bonuses is credit score rather than income. Over the last few years, the most desirable card holders have been people with good credit who use their cards frequently. This still allows card issuers to collect transaction fees regardless of whether the card holder carries a balance. Consumers looking for a better deal should be selective, since applying for a card triggers a credit inquiry, which temporarily dings the consumer's credit rating. Applications should be limited to one every six months or so.