Every travel hacker knows that the quickest way to a free flight is having the right credit card. Whither it’s a co-branded airline card or a card with transferable points, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, getting a sign-up bonus will boost your points balance faster than any other strategy. These tips will help you get that big bonus.
There are a number of travel credit cards available that offer 30,000 points or more, like the AAdvantage Platinum Select, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Alaska Airlines Visa Signature, American Express Platinum, Gold Delta SkyMiles and Citi ThankYou Prestige. Consider those cards first and see if they can get you where you want to go.
Once you decide on a card, you’ll probably need to spend a certain amount of money within the first three months in order to get the sign-up bonus. The minimum spend typically ranges from $1,000 to $5,000, which works out to roughly $333 to $1,666 a month. Depending on your budget and spending patterns, that can be hard to reach. I’ve put together a list of ideas to help you meet that spend.
- Never Use Cash
Why use cash when you can buy it with a credit card and earn points? Put all of your purchases on your card, including groceries, gas, afternoon coffee, dinner, pet supplies, etc. Almost everyone accepts credit cards these days, even small vendors like food carts.
- Use Gift Cards for Everyday Purchases
Most big chain stores offer gift cards, including Target and Wal-Mart. Just buy the card and use it for your everyday purchases. You can rack up a lot of spending quickly by stockpiling cards.
Don’t forget your favorite grocery store and gas station, too. And if you like to shop online, Amazon cards are great option.
For maximum flexibility, you could also get prepaid cards from American Express, Visa and MasterCard. Some cards allow you to set up a pin password, so you can use it at places that only except debit cards.
Keep an eye out for fees on gift cards, though. They can run as high as $8 or more a card. Fill those cards to their maximum allowed balance to avoid as many fees as possible.
- Recurring Bills
Put your bills on your credit card, including utilities, car payments, mortgage, rent, cable, internet, phone and even your storage space. Some may charge a fee, so be sure to check.
If you can, put your car, homeowners, renters and health insurance on your card. Most car insurance companies will even offer you a discount if you pay for six months at once, instead of splitting into monthly payments. This is a great way to put a big purchase on your card quickly while saving money on something you’d buy anyways.
No one likes paying taxes, but if you put them on your rewards credit card you can get a little something out of the deal for once. The IRS has an official list of services that you can use, but they all charge a fee. The smallest is 1.87%. Don’t forget to put your state taxes on a card, too.
- Make a Big Purchase
If you’ve been putting off getting a new TV or kitchen appliance, now’s the time to get it. Of course you shouldn’t buy anything you didn’t plan to get anyways, but if you’re in the market for a new dishwasher, computer, cell phone or stereo, time it so you make the purchase during the first three months that you have your new card.
Also consider doing some or all of your holiday shopping or stocking up on birthday presents for the rest of the year right after you get your card.
- Make Purchases for Family and Friends and Get Reimbursed
This can be as simple as putting a meal on your card and getting everyone at the table to transfer their share to you via a variety of mobile apps like PayPal, SquareCash and Venmo, to name a few.
Or if a family or friend is planning on a making a big purchase, tag along and put it on your card. They can pay you back later.
- Add and Authorized User
Add trusted family and friends to your card account as authorized users. Everything they buy will count toward your minimum spend. It’s an easy way to put all of a household’s spending on one card. Some cards charge a fee for adding users, though, so be sure to check the fine print.
- Pay Student Loans
A lot of us have student loans these days. You might as well pay for that with a credit card, too.
- Lend Money
This is an unusual one, but you can make microloans to needy small business owners through Kiva.org, a nonprofit based in San Francisco. This is a great service and 97 percent of the time you’ll get your money back. It isn’t completely risk free, but it’s a feel-good way of reaching your minimum spend.
- Put Business Expenses on Your Card
Consider putting business expenses on your card and then getting reimbursed. This is a great alternative to using a corporate card. Buy your client lunch or book your own plane ticket for your next business trip.
Don’t Spend Beyond Your Means
While it’s highly recommended that you get the sign-up bonus that comes with your new rewards card, it’s not required. If you can’t make the minimum spend without going into debt, it’s probably not worth it. Credit cards have high interest rates and you’ll spend a lot of extra money if you’re carrying a balance from month to month. So don’t! Pay your credit card bill in full and don’t charge more than you can afford.