The holiday season is quickly approaching, a time when many are hoping for or expecting a hefty year-end bonus.

Without traditional employers, alas, nobody will be sending us a check to install a new swimming pool or even a membership to the jelly of the month club. (The gift that keeps on giving.)

So not wanting to go without, I decided to just go ahead and create my own bonus season. I ended up leaving $425 on the table and one bank is still holding some funds hostage, but this year we are getting another $2,575 worth of holiday cheer. (As an added bonus, only $825 of it is taxable.)

Bonus Season

As with generous employer based bonuses, I had to actually do a little work to earn my bonus. Specifically, I opened 3 new credit cards, 3 new checking accounts, and 2 new savings accounts. There were some hiccups – I had to make 7 phone calls, I failed to obtain 2 bonuses, and I still have one bank sitting on $5,000 of my funds, but at least it is earning interest…

Credit Card bonuses

A few month ago we opened his/her Capital One Savor cards, which offered $500 cash back after spending $3,000 in 3 months. I also opened a new Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which give 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points after spending $4,000 in 3 months. Assuming minimum 1.5 cents/point, this is worth $750+ off future travels.

Did we really spend an extra $10,000 in 3 months just to get $1,750 back? No, that would be silly. But I did employ many of our standard practices to meet minimum spend requirements, all of which was planned in advance.

This is how the $10k was doled out:

  • January trip to Hong Kong (Winnie & Friends) – $250 airfare + $1000 Airbnb (will get $750 back in cash from friends)
  • February trip to Thailand (family Chinese New Year trip) – $1500 in airfare, hotel, and Airbnb
  • April triathlon expenses – $150 registration fee + $400 hotel
  • Open new bank account – $2,000
  • Business expenses – $1,500 (annual fee for mailing list provider)
  • Normal everyday cost of living – $3,200 (~$1,000/month on restaurants, groceries, Ubers, cell phone bills, etc…)

Conveniently, the credit card signup bonuses make our two Q1 trips basically free.

Had I needed to, I could have also paid some quarterly estimated taxes. (Details on paying taxes with a credit card.)

* caveat – if I just put $10,000 on our existing Chase Sapphire Reserve card, we would have earned ~$275 worth of UR points. But the spending on these 3 cards earned ~$200 in cash back and points, so we gained $1,750 at the expense of not earning $75. Seems worth it.

Hiccups – all 3 of these cards required I make a phone call to the bank, as they wanted to verify that it really was us applying. For the CSP I called prior to approval, and the two Savor cards required us to call for activation as a security check.

Bank Bonuses

It’s not just the credit card divisions that are throwing around free money, the checking & savings department also wants a piece of that action. (Thank you to Doctor of Credit for details and helpful guides to bank account bonuses.)

Two examples:

Chase is giving a $300 bonus for opening a new checking account and setting up direct deposit. They are also giving $200-$300 for opening a new savings account and depositing $15,000 for 90 days. (Link to offer here.) (Specific link to $225 savings offer here.)

PNC is offering $200-$300 for opening a new checking account and setting up direct deposit, and you can provide up to $2,000 in initial funding from a credit card. (Link to offer here.)

(Disclosure: none of these checking/savings links are affiliate links, and we don’t receive any compensation for referrals. These are just the offers we used, for reference.)

We each opened a checking and savings account with Chase, and I opened a checking account with PNC (biggest pain ever…)

Chase was pretty easy for me. I opened the accounts, transferred in $15k to the savings account, made a single direct deposit, and then waited until they gave me $300 in the checking and $225 in the savings. I recently just transferred all of the money out to a higher yielding account except for minimum balances for zero fees.

Total yield on the $15k in savings is a nice 6% ($225/$15000 for 3 months.)

With Winnie they were much less friendly. When I tried to transfer $15k into savings they shut down the accounts, and wouldn’t unlock them until we had the ATM card physically in hand (technically, in our Traveling Mailbox.) Then began an hour long phone call, during which they called the source bank and verified she was the account owner and there were sufficient funds (of course, duh.)

By that time we only had 3 days left to transfer in the funds to qualify for the bonus. But of course it takes 3 days for them to link a new account, and they had already deleted the existing link, because reasons. When I tried to push funds from the same account, they rejected the transfer.

So in short, we didn’t get the bonus on the savings, but we did get the $300 checking bonus.

Seems pretty stupid / terrible, right? (But still my fault, we could have fixed the issues earlier.)

That is a walk in the park compared to PNC.

PNC allows up to $2,000 in funding from a credit card when opening a new account. Nice, right? They also offer account bonuses for setting up direct deposit, as part of their efforts to expand their “online banking” offerings.

Upon happily accepting my $2,000, they immediately locked the account. So I called 3 times, and got different reasons from each customer service rep. Then I waited on hold for 20 minutes before they transferred me to the security department…

I did one of those multiple choice questionnaires the banks do:

  1. What month & year did you buy a house 20 yrs ago?
  2. What year is your Ford Focus (I don’t own a car)
  3. How long you live at X (never)
  4. What county is X in (no idea)
  5. On which of these 4 streets have you lived (none)

So I failed that little test (but passed on the second try.)

To satisfy the direct deposit requirement I then transferred funds into the account from another bank account.

They accepted that money too, and then shut the account down again. Sorry, you can’t login and can’t use the ATM card.

So I call again… wait on hold 30 minutes, and they tell me I need to come into a branch.

Dude, this is an online account and your closest branch is in Ohio.

Wait on hold another 20 minutes… “OK, you can go to any bank anywhere and then call us again…”

I guess they’ll use the bank employee secret handshake or something. In any case, they are holding these funds hostage, but at least I’m still getting interest and met the minimum spend on my shiny new credit card. I won’t get the $200-$300 new account bonus, however.


I like free money as much as the next guy, and I am definitely happy to accept $2,575 for making a few phone calls. It is paying for a couple short holidays for us, after all.

However, the bank account hassles are definitely not worth the effort, imho, and I don’t plan on making a habit of collecting checking and savings accounts. (Exception: I’ll be upgrading to Chase Sapphire Banking in the near future to get 60,000 UR points.)

The credit card bonuses are super easy though (and tax free) so I’m sure we’ll be adding more cards to our wallets throughout the year. Every season is bonus season!

Links to cards mentioned in this post:

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a great travel card, with 50,000 point signup bonus ($750+ value) and annual fee waived for the first year. Compare this and other travel cards here.

The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Card pays 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, and offers a one-time $500 cash bonus after spending $3k in 3 months. Learn more about cash back cards like this here.

(These are affiliate links. Thank you, and Happy Bonus Season!)