Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
Many travel credit cards feature excellent bonuses after you make a particular amount of purchases — often $3,000 to $5,000 — within a certain time period (usually about three months, but some issuers have extended that to six months due to the coronavirus pandemic).
A question I get frequently is, “How do I hit the minimum requirement if I don’t normally spend that much on credit cards?” Obviously you don’t want to make unnecessary or extravagant purchases just to meet the minimum spending threshold. So, today I want to go through my list of 11 tips to ensure that you hit that threshold and earn the bonus.
Before getting into my list, there are three critical reminders. First, note that paying the card’s annual fee usually does not count toward the required minimum spend amount. Second, make sure to read the fine print regarding eligibility for the sign-up bonus or welcome offer.
Some cards restrict sign-up bonuses to those who have never had the card before or to those who haven’t opened or closed a card within the card family within a particular amount of time. Other cards exclude certain types of purchases from counting toward the required minimum spend. You don’t want to apply for a card, get accepted, believe you’ve made the minimum spend and then miss out on the bonus.
Finally, understand that the time period for meeting the minimum spending requirement begins when you are approved for the card, not when you receive the card in the mail. For certain issuers you can get expedited delivery of your card or you might get a virtual number to begin using right away, but other times you’ll have to wait a week or more to receive your card. It’s something to be aware of.
So how can you accelerate your progress toward meeting a large minimum spending requirement? Here are some suggestions:
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Pay your rent or mortgage
The first method to consider utilizing is to pay your rent or mortgage using your new card. Finding a landlord, apartment complex or bank that will accept this payment without charging a fee is relatively rare, but it may be worth using a service like Plastiq if this will give you the extra spend you need. Plastiq normally charges a 2.5% fee for the privilege of using a card to pay bills you normally wouldn’t be able to pay with a card, so it usually only makes sense to use this service to meet a minimum spending requirement or to earn a card perk that requires a high spending threshold. Depending on what card you’re working on, you may still come out ahead paying a fee of ~2% or less in order to pay your bills by card.
Pre-paying insurance, utilities or other regular expenses
Another way to boost your spending to hit a minimum spending threshold is to investigate prepaying certain expenses. Many utility, phone and insurance companies will bill you monthly, and you can often choose the size of the payment you make. You could add an extra $100 to your utility bill payment for the first three months of card membership, or you could prepay three or even six months of insurance to ensure you’re reaching the amount needed to earn the sign-up bonus. Just be sure that you’re accounting for these expenses and can afford to pay your monthly balance off in full (the first commandment for travel rewards credit cards).
Another option would be to pay an annual or biannual bill early (again, as long as you can afford to pay the entire statement balance in full). If you’re struggling to hit a spending requirement, it could make sense to look ahead and see what bills are coming due soon that could help get your across that threshold.
You can apply this strategy to just about any recurring expenses in your life, not just utility bills. Tuition, pet food, non-perishable household items, or really anything else you can afford to responsibly stock up on fit the bill.
Offer to pick up the tab when dining out with friends
An easy way to generate “free” spending is when you’re dining out with a large group. Even though I’ve sung the praises of travel credit cards and the fantastic awards they unlock, many of my friends and family members still use cash or even debit cards when we’re at a restaurant. I’ve also run into situations where the waiter or waitress is unwilling to split a check.
Offer to put the entire meal on your card and have them either give you cash on the spot or send it via an online service like PayPal or Venmo. Because you receive the funds to cover their portion of the bill, your only true out-of-pocket expense is your own meal. Of course, you may not want the hassle of chasing down any less-than-reliable friends who don’t pony up immediately, but if you’re all right with that wrinkle, this can be a nice boost toward the minimum spend requirement.
Pro tip: always take a picture of the receipt, especially if there was alcohol involved, so there’s no confusion the next day.
A great tool for easily splitting the bill is an app called Tab. It allows you to split and itemize a bill and it even divides up the taxes and tip based on what each person ordered. Once you have the app installed you just take a picture of the itemized receipt and break up the bill as needed.
Donate to charity
Although a lot of people tend to give cash or write checks to their favorite charities, it’s usually possible to make these donations using a points-earning credit card. Some credit cards even give category spending bonuses on charitable donations, such as the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card, which earns 2x points per dollar on qualifying donations. If you’re looking to finish off a minimum spend, making a donation to your favorite charity is a great way to do so.
If you want to help others while hopefully getting your money back, you could use your new credit card to make no-interest microloans through Kiva. There’s always a risk that your loan will default and you’ll lose your money, but this is relatively rare, especially if you use KivaLens to filter your options.
Pay your taxes
Figuring out your taxes and how to pay them? Well, if you’ve been doing it by check or cash, you’ve been wasting points. For property and state taxes, you can use Official Payments as a third-party service. For federal taxes, check the IRS list of tax payment service providers, as many of these providers accept payment by credit card. Just be sure to consider the convenience fees, since these may negate the value any points you earn — though if it’s for earning a massive minimum-spend bonus, it can certainly be worth it.
I’ve been using pay1040.com, an IRS approved payment provider, for years now, which charges a 1.87% fee for using credit cards. That’s well below the return you’ll get when working on a welcome bonus, and even for ongoing points earning this can be a good strategy.
For more tips, read our guide to paying taxes with credit cards.
Pay for tuition
Tuition for day care, private school and university can be expensive, but paying those bills with your new credit card can be an excellent way to quickly hit your minimum spend. When it comes to paying tuition with a credit card, you’ll usually face one of three scenarios:
- Tuition cannot be paid with a credit card at all (like Wake Forest).
- Tuition can be paid with a credit card with no fee (like the University of Nevada-Las Vegas).
- Tuition can be paid with a credit card with a fee (like the University of Florida).
You’re obviously out of luck with the first category (unless you can use Plastiq), while the second category is a no-brainer. For the third, it’s once again up to you to crunch the numbers and determine if paying a fee makes sense. If you have no other feasible way to hit the minimum spend threshold, paying a small fee on these tuition payments may be worth it.
If you’ve already graduated and are sitting on some fat student loans, you also could use a service like Plastiq to make your student loan payments. Once again, just make sure that the bonus you’re earning is worth the extra fee.
Use plastiq to pay bills
Does your landlord, university, day care, gym or utility company not accept credit cards? You may still be able to pay for these expenses using Plastiq. Again, check that the fees you will pay are worth the reward.
Purchase points or miles
Here at The Points Guy, we usually don’t recommend purchasing points or miles unless you have a planned redemption in mind. But sometimes purchasing points or miles can be a good way to hit a minimum spending threshold, especially if you’ll be able to use these points soon. If you do plan on going this route it’s best to wait for a bonus points promotion, such as the American Airlines AAdvantage buy miles promotion that ends on Aug. 31, 2020. It’s also best to purchase points after you’ve already found the award space you need for a trip. That way you have a good idea of the value you’re getting and are less exposed to the risk of an award chart devaluation.
Put a down payment on a new car
If you’re in the market for a new car, consider using a credit card to pay for it. You may not be as lucky as Loyalty & Engagement Editor Richard Kerr, who was able to charge an entire car to The Platinum Card® from American Express, but you could still get a sizable chunk of your minimum spend out of the way with a down payment. Many dealerships will let you put $2,000 to $5,000 of a purchase on a card, but it’s best to confirm a final deal with the salesperson before discussing that possibility — this way, the dealership can’t tack on extra fees for the privilege. Of course, this is only a good idea if you were already planning on purchasing a car, and not every dealership will accept credit cards.
Get reimbursed for business expenses
Although I recommend getting a small business credit card to help keep your personal and business expenses separate, if you’re in a pinch and have a limited-time window to meet minimum spending on a new credit card, it could be worth using a personal credit card for business expenses and getting reimbursed. If one of your new credit cards is a business card such as the Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card or Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business, then you should start putting your work purchases on it immediately anyway.
Check with your employer to see if that is possible, and be very careful not to bite off more than you can chew, since it can take a while to get reimbursed by a corporate accounting department and you’re the one who’s going to get stuck with the bill until that check comes through.
The information for the Capital One Spark Miles for Business and Ink Business Preferred has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Ask friends and family for help
When I was just starting out with my credit card rewards journey in college, it was tough for me to meet minimum spending requirements even after applying all of the strategies on this list. So I asked me parents for help, and for much of my sophomore and junior year, I would pay their monthly bills and they would Venmo me back instantly. Ask your roommate, ask your siblings, just make sure it’s someone you trust because you’ll ultimately be on the hook for the charges made on your card.
Hopefully you can use one or more of these tips to earn the full bonus on any cards you’ve signed up for recently, even if you don’t normally spend enough on your credit cards to meet the minimum requirement. Maybe you will even feel confident enough in your ability to meet the minimum spending requirements on that travel credit card with a great bonus that you’ve been considering.
Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.
Featured photo by WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock