Rainbow of Credit (photo credit, badumtss)

Rainbow of Credit (photo credit, badumtss)

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In the last year or so we’ve opened 9 new credit card accounts, 7 in my name and 2 in Winnie’s. We have plans to add several more in short order.

Many of these cards have great benefits in their own right, but the primary appeal is the generous signup bonuses which saved us nearly $10,000 on our recent trip to Europe.

Normally the signup bonus is dependent on spending a minimum amount within a specific time period, e.g. “Spend $4,000 on the new card in 3 months.” Our 9 new accounts came with a minimum spend requirement of $23,500, no small amount.

How does one meet these minimum spending requirements without breaking the bank? Inquiring minds want to know.

We never apply for a new card without a plan for how to meet the minimum spend requirement. No plan = No application.

With few exceptions, our goal is to meet these requirements without spending more. I’ll outline our strategies for doing so and share two examples with our own spending.

Credit Card Minimum Spend Strategies

Lifestyle design

Over the past 4 years we’ve spent about $137/day or approximately $4k/month, and we strive to put 100% of this on credit cards.

While we have yet to get all of our spending on new cards, our lifestyle design makes it possible. Instead of a mortgage we pay for hotels and Airbnb. Instead of car payments we pay for Uber and airplanes.

Plan for Big Purchases

Anytime we have a big purchase planned you can bet there is a credit card application that goes with it. Usually this is airplane tickets or a hotel reservation, or maybe a new laptop or camera gear. But sometimes it is childbirth.

Spending $3000 on a cash back card that returns 1.5% might put $45 in our pocket, but we can get 10x or more with a signup bonus. This is a great way to get incredible return on these large purchases.

New purchases on the new card

This is obvious, but I include it for the sake of completeness. As soon as a new card arrives it typically becomes our default spender. All purchases go on the new card until the minimum spend requirements are met.

Ideally all of this spending will be in bonus categories. If a card pays bonuses for spending on travel or dining out, we can try to meet minimum spend solely through those categories.

If minimum spend requirements can’t be met in this way, we need to get more creative…

Splitting the Bill

A lot of our friends are also big fans of credit card rewards, so it isn’t rare for at least one person at dinner to be working on minimum spend for a new card.

In this case we’ll defer to that person to charge the whole meal on their card and pay for our portion with cash or PayPal. Maybe next time it will be our turn.

This concept can be extended to…

Communal Purchases

We recently spent a week with my whole family on a lake in Northern Minnesota, which required a deposit upon booking.

My Mom, sister, and nephews live in California and required 5 airplane tickets to get to Minnesota.

I offered to pay all of these expenses and get reimbursed at the lake.

Bring Spending Forward

Have any expenses scheduled months from now? Pay them now.

Insurance is one typical expense that can be paid annually rather than monthly, possibly even for a discount. The quarterly Costco run is another good example. Perhaps other regular expenses can be lumped into one large bill?

My favorite way to bring spending forward is to…

Buy Gift Cards

Gift Cards are a great way to pay for future expenses today.

My defaults are Airbnb Gift Cards and Hotels.com Gift Cards, although I’ve also Reloaded an Amazon.com GC when it offered a $5 bonus. All of these GCs have no fees and no expiration dates.

I’ll limit GC purchases to a sum that we’ll definitely spend in the near future. It can even be possible to buy gift cards at a discount or get a reload bonus.

Fund New Bank Accounts

Many banks will accept credit cards for initial deposit when opening a new account. Even better, many banks have signup bonuses of their own.

Earlier this year I opened a new bank account and used a credit card to deposit $1,000. This was treated as a purchase (not a cash advance.) I then used the bank’s online billpay to return $1,000 to the same credit card.

For helping me spend $1k on a new card, the bank also paid me $150.

Doctor of Credit maintains a list of bank signup bonuses and bank accounts that can be funded with a credit card. Thanks DoC!

Pay Taxes

All previous examples had zero fees. This one is different.

If you have a bill due on Tax Day or owe Estimated Taxes, these can be paid with a credit card. The IRS doesn’t charge a fee but uses 3rd party payment services that do. I’ve exclusively used Pay1040 as their fees are the lowest (1.87%.) (See full list of IRS authorized payment processors here.)

It would be a mathematically poor choice to pay such a fee in order to get a standard 1-2% cash back or the points equivalent. But with a new credit card signup bonus…

Paying $3k in taxes with a 1.87% fee of $56.1 could satisfy the minimum spend requirement for the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card with a signup bonus of 25k SPG points. This is enough for 5 nights at The Westin Resort & Spa, Cancun, Mexico. Not bad for $56.

The Westin Resort & Spa, Cancun, Mexico

The Westin Resort & Spa, Cancun, Mexico

Examples

Example 1: Potpourri

Months before our European Tour I was already building up our portfolio of points while we were still hanging out in SE Asia. With lower spending and a big cash economy I had to use a wide variety of spending methods.

Here is an example of how we met min spend of 4k on two cards ($8k total):
– fund a new bank account ($150 cash back) (see example) – $1k
– pay hotel and Airbnb for Malaysia – $1.5k
– pay hotel in Singapore – $0.6k
– pay Airbnb in Lisbon – $0.35k
– book flight from Iceland to the US for Aug 2016 – $0.8k
– book flights for my sister & nephews – $2k (paid back with cash)
– pay deposit for lake cabin in Minnesota for Aug 2016 – $1k
– various restaurants over last few months – $0.75k
Total: $8k

Example 2: Taxes

Due to some blog income last year I had to pay some Self Employment Taxes. I paid part of this on a new card with $3k min spend. I never even removed the “To Activate this Card” sticker.

– Taxes via Pay1040.com – $2,946
– Payment fee (1.87%) – $55.09
Total: $3,001

As an added bonus, the payment fee is a deductible business expense for our 2016 taxes. This reduces the effective fee to ~1.3% or $38.40.

Summary

Signup bonuses for new credit cards can provide an incredible amount of free and nearly free travel. Our recent trip to Europe included $10k worth of savings.

To maximize value the highest possible percentage of normal spending should be placed on credit cards, ideally towards minimum spend on new cards. Any large planned purchase should coincide with a new credit card application.

With a little planning, there are a wide variety of flexible options to meet the minimum spending requirements.

Editorial Note – Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

What are your favorite Credit Card Minimum Spend Strategies?

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