I talk about credit cards a lot here because aside from flying or staying at a particular hotel chain regularly for business, the sign-up bonuses they offer are the most powerful way to establish a useful amount of points in a short amount of time. Cards can be the equivalent of solid rocket boosters for your miles account. I’ve already attempted to answer some of the most frequent questions and concerns that come along with the serious decision to open a new credit account, but we haven’t addressed the most significant hurdle that stands between approved applicants and their points bounty: the minimum spend requirement.
While some cards pay out a bonus on first purchase, many withhold the full bonus or a portion of it until a spending threshold has been reached. New cardholders are typically given 3 to 4 months to complete this spend requirement, but it’s important to know that the clock begins counting down not when you activate your card, but when you are approved. Keep this in mind once you receive your card. I recommend confirming the terms of the promotional offer and the date that the clock started ticking when you speak with a representative to activate your card.
Minimum spend requirements typically range from $500 to $5,000 over that 3 to 4 month time period. $500 minimums typically don’t pose an issue for most people, but $5,000 can seem like a daunting hill to climb. However, even a requirement this stringent should be doable for most people. Here are 7 tips on how to meet minimum spend requirements:
1) Focus. Really focus.
I’ve often seen people sign up for a new card and then continue to be set in their ways about what cards they use for what purchases. Typically, these are either folks who know very little about points, or those who know a lot about them and instinctually pull out the card that gives them the best category bonus for a particular purchase. Whatever the case may be, remember this: No category spending bonus comes close to the bang for the buck you get from most promotional offers.
Let’s use Chase Sapphire Preferred® as an easy example. The card offers 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after $3,000 in spending, which can be transferred at a 1:1 basis to a variety of other programs or used to book travel at a 20% discount off the cash price through Chase directly. The flexibility of Ultimate Rewards makes it my favorite points program.
Assuming you meet the minimum spend requirements for the card without spending a dime on dining or travel expenses, which earn 2 points per $1, you’ll at minimum have 43,000 Ultimate Rewards points in your account once you hit $3,000 spent. This is an incredible value, enough for, as an example, a roundtrip flight from Jacksonville to St. Louis, 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency at the Gateway Arch and a ticket to the Jaguars/Rams game, as we covered here.
That trip would cost $831.52, so each point redeemed is worth about 1.9¢. Typically, I use 2¢ per point as an estimate of Ultimate Rewards’ value. Receiving 43,000 points after $3,000 in spending is like receiving 14.3 points for every dollar you spend. That’s more than 28¢ of value for every $1! Unless you have a card that can net you 28% off or more – and let me know if you do, because I want one! – you’re better off using Sapphire Preferred for every purchase while meeting its minimum spend requirement. This applies for essentially every other card we talk about, as well.
2) Shift Your Recurring Bills
Even if you remember to pay with your new card around town, you might forget that recurring payments set to bill to other cards are a great way to redirect existing spending, as well. For example, I moved my cell phone, cable and internet bills to the Chase Ink Bold® card after I signed up. This helped me earn the 50,000 point bonus after $5,000 in purchases, and I received 5 points per dollar on those bills thanks to the card’s telecom category multiplier! Once I met my minimum spend, I had more than 60,000 points in my account, thanks to meeting the minimum spend in part by using telecom, office supply and gas station charges that award multiple points per dollar.
Even if it doesn’t make sense to keep regular charges set to your new card over the long run, it normally takes just a few seconds to change billing information online. So, you can switch recurring expenses to the new card for a month or two, and then back to the old one if it makes more sense for you. Remember, it’s all about meeting that minimum threshold as quickly as possible.
3) Use Your Card On Big Bills, and Small Ones
Sometimes, big bills can be unavoidable. While parting with large chunks of money is never fun, using them to meet minimum spend requirements is a great way to make lemonade out of lemons. For example, I met a $1,000 spending requirement on a Citi® Platinum Select AAdvantage® MasterCard® with just two bills earlier this year: my semi-annual car insurance payment and a major auto service appointment on my card.
It still hurt to have to shell out so much money for just two expenses, but I received 40,000 miles for meeting the minimum, which was enough for my roundtrip flight to London later this year for the Jaguars/49ers game. Talk about a great consolation prize!
If you know you have a big bill coming due soon, or one that you can hold off on until after you receive a new card that makes sense for you, immediately applying those large charges to your fresh card can help you rapidly complete your minimum requirement.
Also, avoid the urge to use cash on small purchases. Even if it’s just a few dollars at McDonald’s for lunch, use your card! Every little bit adds up, and it’s a good habit to develop in order to maximize your points earning potential long term, anyway.
4) Reloadable Debit Cards
I recommend this with a big dose of caution, because it’s considered a fairly advanced earnings strategy, but leveraging reloadable debit cards can also be a good way to meet your minimum spend. I take advantage of the American Express Bluebird reloadable debit card, combined with Vanilla Reload cards, in order to pay for my utility bills, mortgage and car payment while still earning points and without having to pay a fee larger than 1% to do so.
We’ll probably discuss Bluebird and Vanilla Reloads more down the line, but for a crash course, I highly recommend checking out Million Mile Secrets, one of our favorite points blogs, for more information.
5) Charitable Organizations
You might not know it, but most charitable organizations accept credit cards. This may include your place of worship or a charity that’s close to your heart. If you have committed to give at a certain level, or you’d like to give back a portion of the value you’ll receive from earning and using points effectively, this can be a great option.
6) Gift Cards
If you’re close to meeting your minimum spend but the deadline is drawing near, purchasing gift cards to the places you shop most regularly can be a good way to push forward purchases you’d already make. For example, gift cards to gas stations and grocery stores can be a great way to push yourself over the top, because they’re as good as cash at places you already shop on a regular basis.
7) Try Not to Spend More Than You Normally Do
The strategies discussed above focus on how to shift or redirect spending you’re already doing in order to meet minimum requirements. Please don’t look at minimum spend requirements as an excuse or good reason to spend money you don’t have on things you don’t need. Doing so negates the very benefits that you’re trying to gain by meeting the minimum spend in the first place!