8 creative ways to meet a rewards card's minimum spend

Erica Sandberg
Personal Finance Writer
Consumer finance expert, author and “Opening Credits” columnist.

8 creative ways to meet a rewards card's minimum spend requirement

Rewards credit cards offering substantial sign-up bonuses can be a fantastic way to profit with plastic. Play these cards right and you can pocket tens of thousands of points that are transferable for airfare, hotels or related travel expenditures, or that can be converted into cash or statement credits.

To score those points, however, you’ve got to follow the issuer’s rules: Charge a specified sum with the card within a fixed time frame, which is typically three months from when the account is opened. Fail to do so and you forfeit the prize.

Depending on your budget and lifestyle, reaching the minimum spend requirement can be a challenge, so it pays to explore outside-the-box options. Here are 8 creative ways to meet a new rewards card minimum spend requirement:

1. Bulk up and resell.

Head over to big-box retailers, such as Costco, suggests Lou Haverty, founder of First Class Travel Guide, a website where people can learn how to travel inexpensively on credit cards points. “The best way to meet minimum spend for a new credit card is to use it for purchases of merchandise at one of the large warehouse stores and sell that merchandise on eBay or Amazon,” says Haverty. Concentrate on small nonperishables, such as electronics, toys, tools and jewelry, so you don’t have to worry about spoilage or running out of storage space. “Even if you lose a little in the process, it will likely be less than the value of the bonus. It represents a good alternative to spending money on things you don’t need or can’t afford. I’ve done it, but you do have to have an entrepreneurial attitude.”

2. Charge your child’s tuition.

If your child attends private school, college, takes extracurricular classes or goes to a costly summer camp, consider charging the expense. Because they tend to have lofty price tags (the national average private high school tuition is roughly $10,000), “It can be a great way to hit the minimum spend,” says J.R. Duren, a personal finance reporter at the product review website HighYa.com. Not only can it satisfy the requirement with very few transactions, it omits the problem of trying to cobble together many lower cost items, running short, then buying unnecessary random things at the last moment. Just be aware that there may be a convenience fee to charge tuition. According to a 2016 CreditCards.com survey, most post-secondary schools accept credit cards for tuition, but 57 percent add a fee, with the average being 2.75 percent of the payment amount. For a $3,000 school charge, you could be looking at a fee of $83. However, if the value of the card rewards bonus seriously outweighs the cost of the fee, and you can meet that minimum required spend with just one charge, then it can make sense.

3. Repair your home at a discount.

Wait until a water heater blows or a roof caves in and you’ll really have an expensive and unexpected bill to deal with. Yet if you make necessary repairs before disaster strikes, you’ll come out ahead in the long run. “It’s called preventive maintenance,” says Steve Mannerburg, a contractor from Pittsburgh. “I preach it all the time. You have a heating system that’s 25 years old, it’s at the end of its life. Replace it when you have the opportunity to shop around.” When you have the funds saved and have identified what needs replacing or updating, apply for that rewards card and charge your purchase, then pay off the balance with your savings.

"The more people charging on a single account, the quicker you can reach the minimum spend goal."

4. Put a rent payment (or two) on the card.

Few landlords accept credit cards for rent payments, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Third-party service providers, such as Plastiq, RentMoola and RadPad, allow tenants to pay their rent with many types of credit cards. There are fees involved, which are usually around 2.5 to 3 percent of the transaction, but when done prudently it can still work to your advantage. “When you’re trying to meet the minimum spend requirements over a short period of time, purchases like that are totally worth it,” says financial expert Lyn Alden. After you’ve reached the amount necessary for the bonus points, revert to cutting a check.

5. Enroll in classes that will take your career to the next level.

If you’re stuck in a low-paying position or job you don’t like, a wise way to reach a new rewards card minimum spend is to invest in your education. Check out professional certificate programs offered at your local community college or university. Or take language classes, get special training or complete your college degree. Of course, some programs will cost far more than what you need to charge for the minimum spend, and some institutions may charge a transaction fee if you pay with a credit card, but as long as you stay out of debt, you’ll enjoy double rewards: those from your credit card and greater earning potential.

6. Pay for other people’s purchases, then collect the funds.

The total of your personal meals and movies may be woefully insufficient for hitting a rewards card minimum spend in a short time frame. Charge those of your loved ones, however, and you may be able to achieve it. Shannon McLay, CEO of The Financial Gym, is an advocate for picking up other people’s tabs, under the right circumstances. “I had a client over for Thanksgiving who got a new credit card for the points, and she paid for all the food and her mom’s Christmas gifts,” says McLay. “She got in trouble from me because she spent so much.” McLay’s admonition turned into admiration when the client explained that her mother also paid her back right away. She paid the balance off and got the points. This method should only be done when know for sure the person will be reimbursing you immediately. “Use an app like Venmo to get repaid instantly,” says McLay. The longer you wait, the harder it can be to get people to pay up.

7. Charge a portion of a new or used car down payment.

“Some auto dealers accept credit cards for a down payment,” says Kaja Olcott, communications director for rewardexpert.com. Know, however, that car dealerships often set limits on how much of a down payment can be put on a credit card, but it may be just enough to meet your new card’s spending requirement. Again, this method only works if you already had a car purchase planned, the down payment saved up and ready to reimburse your credit card in full by the due date.

8. Grant a trusted person short-term charging rights.

Most credit cards allow account owners to add authorized users (and some even sweeten the deal by giving additional points for each user). The more people charging on a single account, the quicker you can reach the minimum spend goal. That can make this a smart technique – as long as you’re aware of the risks and take action to reduce them. Authorized users bear no legal responsibility for debt they accumulate on your card. “One client made someone an authorized user and he ran up over $80,000,” says McLay. “He’s not paying her back so she’s on the hook.” Only add trusted individuals to your account, and write out an agreement outlining what the card should be used for and how much the person can charge and that the charges need to be reimbursed in the same month they were made. Monitor statements closely, then (kindly) remove the person from your card after you’ve met the minimum spend.

Final warning: Do not carry a balance

Clearly creativity can get help you meet a rewards card’s initial charging requirements, but be practical as well, by never, ever carrying a balance. Commit to paying those big bills in full. If you send less than the total due, interest will be added to the balance, which will dilute or even erase the value of the rewards points. 

So before applying, review your income, assets and budget carefully. If you’re confident you can and will keep the balance to zero, carry on.

“Never, ever make extraneous purchases just for the sake of hitting that spending threshold,” says Duren. “The act in itself is a bad financial decision and there’s a chance you might set a pattern for future rewards credit cards.”

See related: 9 rewards card sign-up bonus mistakes, When it makes sense to charge kids’ school, day care costs


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Updated: 12-15-2017