Undoubtedly in the miles and points hobby, the single fastest way to accrue large balances quickly is to open credit cards and receive significant sign up bonuses. Seems easy enough? Sure, but let’s not forget that it does require some careful planning.
The single worst mistake you can make in the process is to not plan correctly for meeting the minimum spend threshold to get the bonus: not only would you have wasted an application, but you may not be eligible for ever getting that sign-up bonus again (American Express, notably, has a once-in-a-lifetime policy for sign-up bonuses on personal cards). So, to not miss out on tens of thousands of points, let’s review a few tips for meeting large credit card minimum spend.
I have already said it but I can’t repeat it enough: you need to have a plan. Of course, sometimes an elevated sign-up bonus that seems too good to pass on will appear, but you don’t need to pass if you are in a position to make it work. If you haven’t applied for new card recently and will be able to meet the spend threshold, go for it! But if you are already trying to meet several thousand dollars worth of spend on other cards, maybe it’s not such a good idea after all. Never forget that your financial life is also on the line and use common sense to neither miss out on the bonus nor end up in debt.
Even though a sign-up bonus may seem attractive at that moment, don’t forget that many others will be equally attractive three months later. There’s too much on the line to take risks.
It can be time to pick up a new card if you have a large purchase coming up
Of course, you can pick a card and make a plan to meet the spend, but you can also look at it from another angle: what if you know you have a large purchase coming up? Let’s say you are moving across the country and the moving company accepts credit cards: great! Now let’s find a sign-up bonus to turn this huge bill into big rewards.
You need to always keep a few things in mind when trying to find the right card(s) to put your spending on: will the merchant let me split the spend across two (or more) cards? If your moving bill is, say, $6,000, maybe the most rewarding choice will be to split it over two cards with a $3,000 minimum spend. Also, check which cards the merchant will accept: how frustrating would it be to apply for a new Amex to find out later on that they only take Visa and MasterCard.
Have a game plan for your rewards too
That’s also something to pay attention to: will I put the sign-up bonus to good use or will it just sit in an account, waiting to be devalued, or worse, to expire? That’s not to say that you should know exactly what you are going to do with these points when you sign up for the card, but since you can only sign up for a limited number of cards at a time, make sure you pick a useful one and don’t spread yourself too thin in terms of meeting the spending requirements or using your rewards. Have a plan to use those points/miles.
Make sure you pay everything you can with your new card
That may include temporarily changing the card you have on file with some merchants (e.g. Uber) and earning less points per dollar for some transactions that you otherwise pay with a card that has a bonus category on it – but eventually it will allow you to earn that very big bonus. Have a list of every service that is on autopay with a different card, and temporarily switch them to the new card if you need to in order to meet the spending requirement. And make sure that you pay all possible bills with a credit card.
A possible way to meet the threshold relatively easily and in time is to pay rent, taxes, and/or a mortgage with your credit card. Whenever your payee accepts credit card, there will usually be a processing fee associated with this but the rewards you earn with the sign-up bonus should sensibly outweigh the extra cost (if they don’t, you might want to reconsider the card you are signing up for). If you landlord doesn’t take credit cards, or to pay your mortgage, a service like Plastiq can help you – there will be some fees involved, once again, but at least you’ll be earning your bonus with money that you were going to spend anyway.
Use store gift cards to anticipate some expenses
Another trick to avoid spending extra money is to buy a few gift cards from stores you already shop at – notably grocery stores: while you may not need to spend $1,000 at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods in a given month, it will likely be useful over the following three months or so. Amazon gift cards could also be a viable choice if you do a lot of shopping with them – basically any store you frequently shop at. Don’t forget that you can also often prepay your cable, cell phone bill or utility a few months in advance.
And if you get many gift cards, a good practice is to make a spreadsheet to keep track of them.
I wouldn’t however necessarily recommend buying prepaid Visa gift cards, for example. While it may work, it is against the terms of most cards issuer and you risk not getting your bonus at all or getting it clawed back.
In conclusion, I would say that even though some sign-up bonuses threshold may seem high, few of them are actually entirely out of reach with some planning. Keep track of everything (and make sure you slightly exceed the threshold to account for unexpected returns), remain reasonable, and you should be able to enjoy more rewards than you thought you could!