Editor's pick: best sign-up bonuses 2013

By Emma Lunn

As an added incentive to sign up for a rewards card -- and spend on that card -- issuers often lure customers in with everything from "free" bonus points, to vouchers, to accelerated earnings rates during the first few months of card ownership.

Here are some of the most tempting sign-up deals on offer at the moment -- and what to consider before snagging them.

Easiest travel bonus: Virgin Atlantic Black

Intro bonus: 6,000 bonus miles after first purchase

Customers receive 6,000 bonus Flying Club miles when they make their first purchase on either a Virgin Atlantic Black American Express or Visa card.

After that, the ongoing rewards are pretty decent, too: 2 Flying Club miles for every £1 spent on everyday card purchases and 4 Flying Club miles for every £1 spent direct with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays.

If you spend more than £5,000 on the card in a year, you are rewarded with a Premium Economy reward upgrade. Spending £7,500 in a year means you'll receive a complimentary companion reward flight when you purchase a full fare qualifying flight.

The card has a purchase rate of 18.9% and annual fee of £140. sign-up-bonus

Best low-spend, high-reward bonus: Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa

Intro bonus: A free night after spending £750

Spending £750 on this card in the first 90 days gives you a free night in any Hilton Group property. That could be worth £250 if spent wisely at a Conrad or Waldorf Astoria-branded property.

Cardholders also earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points for every £1 spent at any hotel or resort within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio and 2 HHonors Bonus Points for every £1 spent on everyday purchase like groceries, petrol and bills.

Free hotel nights start from 7,500 points, which equates to £2,500 spent within the Hilton group or £3,750 on every day purchases.

The card has an APR of 18.9% and no annual fee.

Biggest travel bonus: British Airways American Express Premium Plus

Intro bonus: 18,000 Avios after £3,000 in spending

The BA American Express Premium Plus Card is the fastest way to earn Avios. The introductory offers sees new cardholders earn an extra 18,000 Avios if they spend more than £3,000 in the first three months. Cardholders can also earn 1.5 Avios on regular spending and 3 Avios on spending with British Airways.

The card has a APR of 19.9% and annual fee of £150.

Best voucher offer: Barclaycard Freedom Rewards

Intro bonus: £30 in vouchers after £500 in spend

The Freedom Rewards card offers 10,500 Freedom bonus points worth £30 when you spend £500 or more in your first three months. Normally, £500 in regular spending would yield £15 in vouchers.

Cardholders earn 1 Freedom point per £1 spent in the UK and abroad; 2 points per £1  spent on petrol, at supermarkets and with Transportation for London; and 3 points per £1 at select partners. It takes roughly 30 Freedom points to earn £1 in vouchers.

The Freedom Rewards card has an APR of 18.9% and no annual fee.

Best store card offer: Sainsbury's Nectar

Intro bonus: Accelerated earnings rate of 10 Nectar points per £1 spent

Cardholders can collect 10 Nectar points per £1 on Sainsbury's shopping for the first three months from account opening (capped at £1,000 spend per month). The normal earnings rate is 4 points per £1 on Sainsbury's shopping and 1 Nectar point for every £5 spent on your card elsewhere.

The card has an APR of 17.9% and no annual fee.

Tips for bonus hunters
Before applying for a card's sign-up bonuses, be sure to honestly assess whether a rewards card is right for you.

Only someone who clears their card account every month should chase introductory offers, says Rob Burgess of loyalty points blog Head For Points. Otherwise, the interest you pay on the debt is likely to dwarf any benefits offered by the card.

"If you actually need to use a credit card to survive each month, then don't get involved in this," Burgess says. "Opening and closing numerous cards will not help your credit record."

Burgess also says it's important to consider if you'll actually be accepted for a card you want to apply for. As well as needing a good credit record to get the best cards, you also need to look at who the card issuer is. Some may impose certain rules.

"There are only a few underlying issuers -- AmEx, Lloyds, Barclaycard, MBNA, etc," Burgess says. "See who the issuer is, because some restrict the number of cards you can have from them at one time."

Another important factor to check is whether any sign-up offer is a one-time deal you need to snag now -- or a promotion that comes around regularly.

"For example, the Starwood AmEx card offers 20,000 bonus points for signing up (good for 25,000 airline miles) every autumn, regular as clockwork. The other nine months it offers just 10,000 points," Burgess says.

See related: How to milk your travel rewards card, Editor's pick: Credit cards that will make you feel like a VIP

Published: 21 March 2013