The easiest way to quickly accumulate a stash of points or miles is through a credit card signup bonus. Meeting the minimum spending, though, can sometimes seem daunting. In most cases you have three months to do it, and spending requirements tend to go up as cards become more upscale—$4,000 or $5,000 isn’t an unusual threshold for a high-end rewards card. However, it’s easy to accomplish once you know the tricks and shortcuts.
Let’s start with the basics.
Make Sure You’re Eligible for the Bonus
If you’ve had the card before and already received the bonus, you may have to wait 24 (or 48) months before applying again—or you might not be eligible at all. American Express, for example, enforces a rule of one bonus per card type per lifetime. In the case of Amex, at least they’ll tell you that you’re not eligible before allowing you to proceed with the application. With other banks, brush up on the rules before applying.
And we mean everything. Remember that you don’t get points or miles for paying cash. From your morning visit to Starbucks to your pre-dinner grocery shopping, make sure you pull that card out of your wallet. It all adds up.
Apply for One Card at a Time
$4,000 in a three-month period is much easier to handle than $8,000, $12,000 or $16,000—not to mention that multiple applications in a short time period can wreak havoc with your credit score.
Know When Your Clock Starts Ticking
Some banks are strict about the ninety-day limit, while others are lax. According to Doctor of Credit, American Express will start the clock on the date of your approval, rather than the day you receive the card and activate it. Citibank, on the other hand, offers a 14-day grace period to meet the spending limit, while Chase unofficially stretches it to 115 days. Either way, it’s wise not to wait until the last minute.
Beware of Manufactured Spending
Work within the system to beat it. Most credit card issuers will disqualify gift cards, reloading of prepaid cards, purchase of travelers checks or other cash equivalents from the spending total. And if you rely heavily on any of these tactics to earn points or miles beyond the bonus-earning period, you run the risk of having your account shut down.
If you follow the philosophy of “charging everything,” you’ll soon find out that you’re spending more on categories that could potentially earn you points and miles. Some of those include:
- Gasoline and car repairs
- Supermarket purchases
- Dining (restaurant, fast food and delivery)
- Fitness center memberships
- Contributions to charity
- Doctor, dentist and veterinary visits
- Home repairs and maid service
- Dry cleaning
- Personal care (haircuts, manicures/pedicures, etc.)
- Rent and mortgage payments
- Cable, internet and phone
- Streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu
- Newspaper and magazine subscriptions
- Taxes (real estate, personal estimated tax, etc.)
Some of these categories are easier to charge than others. Here are some tips and strategies that will help you expand your rewards:
Use a Bill-Paying Service
Items such as rent, mortgage payments or utilities are sometimes difficult to pay with a credit card. Services such as Plastiq or Melio will enable you to charge those expenses, regardless of whether the vendor accepts credit cards. You’ll have to pay a service fee of up to 2.5%, but it’s a good way of getting a head start on your minimum.
Add an Authorized User
If you have a high threshold of spending to meet, get a card for your spouse so you can maximize household expenses. You can also add friends or family members who will reimburse you for card use, but make sure the person is reliable and trustworthy—you’re ultimately responsible for all charges on the card.
Reimbursable Business Expenses
If you work for someone else, find out if it’s possible to use your personal cards for work-related travel and other expenses and file with your employer for reimbursement. Policies vary from one company to another, but you won’t know unless you ask.
Charge Purchases for Friends and Family
Make payments on their behalf and then have them pay you back (again, make sure you’re on solid ground with this). The best strategy is when you’re out to dinner with a group of people: ask if you can pay the entire check with your card and have your companions reimburse you in cash. Many people still pay cash for everything, so this will work more often than you think.
Prepay as Much as Possible
If you have an upcoming trip, consider prepaying your room—you’ll probably receive a lower rate for doing so. You can prepay your estimated taxes as mentioned above, along with upcoming insurance premiums and any home repair projects you have underway or planned.
Remember there are some things that don’t count toward your minimum spending: In addition to gift cards, travelers checks, reloads of prepaid cards and other cash equivalents, you won’t benefit from money orders, annual fees, cash advances, balance transfers or any gaming activity.
Lastly and most important: Before you apply for a new card, make sure you can pay your balance in full each month. If you can’t, you shouldn’t be collecting points and miles—the interest charges that will accrue on your account will eradicate any benefit you receive from the signup bonus and damage your credit score.