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The Fastest, Cheapest Ways to Meet Minimum Spend Requirements

by on March 1, 2012 · 82 comments

in American Express, Chase, Credit Cards

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Yesterday’s one-day-only amazing Amex offer of 75,000 Membership Rewards points for the Amex Business Rewards Gold card came with a pretty hefty minimum-spend requirement of $10,000 within the first four months. Many of you talked about finding creative ways  to hit that spend, so I thought I’d pull together some ideas, but feel free to share any tips or tricks that you have.

My best advice is to put as many of your expenses on your credit card as possible. However, there are still a number of ways people are creating spend without realizing 100% of the cost, whether it’s buying gift cards or paying for taxes (and then writing off that cost as a business expense). Note there are risks with each of the methods outlined below, so please do your research before going down any particular route.

1. Free Electronic Payment Services: Many people use cash or checks to pay people, but savvy points aficionados know that there are a couple payment systems out there that will use your credit card to pay people for free. These programs allow you to send payments to other people using that points-earning credit card – without posting as cash advances.

I personally use Venmo and Amazon Payments for a lot of my legitimate personal and business spend. These sites are actively encouraging new members, but you cannot abuse this feature (such as sending thousands of dollars to yourself to create points out of nowhere) or else your account will get shut down forever. To be conservative, you can send about $1,000 a month on each service to other people free of charge using your credit card every month. So the next time you and your group of friends are out to dinner, pay them for your portion using Venmo or Amazon Payments. This is the new future of cashless banking, so I suspect more and more banks will encourage people to switch their financial transactions to become more electronic.

2. Gift cards: Buy a few Amex gift cards when you know you’ll be spending some money soon, and use the gift cards instead. It’s basically like using your credit card to make charges you’ll be making anyway. But you don’t have to stop there. Instead of buying presents or goods outright, you can use credit cards to purchase gift cards for your friends and family at merchants such as Amazon and iTunes so they can purchase what they want for themselves. Gift cards like this are also a great way to pay people such as babysitters or pet-walkers, or to give them a holiday tip rather than just handing them cash. You can buy them from cashback portals, like Big Crumbs, to help offset some of the fees and then sell them on Plastic Jungle or Ebay. Note: Some credit card companies, like Citi, will charge gift card purchases as cash advances. You should always do a test order before getting carried away.

3. Rent/Mortgage/Car Payments: Though most people pay by their monthly car payments by check as well, there are also services such as Charge Smart or WilliamPaid that allow you to make such payments by credit card. Just be sure the bank or car finance company through which you secured your loan will accept payments, and you can start making them on your credit card through here. You generally pay a 3% fee, so this may not make sense unless you absolutely have to hit a spend threshold or you will lose out on a bonus.

4. Utilities: You usually have to pay gas and electric with a bank account, but all your other utilities—phone, cable, internet—should all be set up to be paid through a points-earning credit card if that opportunity is given.

5. Dining: Almost all restaurants take the major credit cards—especially Visa and Mastercard—plus many of the major airlines including American and United have dining networks that allow you to earn double points, and up to five points per dollar spent at participating restaurants, so be sure your cards are registered. See here all about double dipping with dining programs.

6. Expenses, Groceries and Gas: Literally every other expense that you can possibly charge, from groceries to dry-cleaning to gym memberships to gas (which can often earn you double points) should be charged to your points-earning card. Remember, if you have the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card you get 2x points on gas and groceries.

7. Insurance: This is a big part of all our lives—homeowner’s, car and medical insurance make up a big chunk of monthly expenses that stretch into the hundreds and even thousands. The good news is that many major insurance companies accept credit card payments, so be sure to check with them, and if they do, make your payments that way rather than by check, because otherwise you’re leaving tons of valuable points on the table. In fact, most will even give you a discount if you pre-pay your insurance premiums six months in advance – that way you can pay your insurance now in order to get your bonus quicker and save money.

8. Shopping: If you’ve been reading my blog, by now you know that most of the major airlines such as Delta, American, Southwest, US Airways, and United (and some credit cards like Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Sapphire Preferred) have online shopping malls where you can earn tons of bonus points, especially over the heavy holiday shopping period. In fact, with certain merchants, you can earn up to 10 points per dollar.

9. Charity: Most people give to charity at the end of the year, around the holidays and when they start to think of ways to take down their tax burden, but think about getting a head start this year by putting charitable donations on a points-earning card rather than paying with a check. Some cards like the Chase Freedom even give category bonuses for charitable spending during a quarter of the year (last year it was Q4) where cardholders earned 5 points per dollar on all charitable contributions.

10. Taxes: Figuring out your 2011 taxes and how to pay them? Well, if you’ve been doing it by check or cash, you’ve been wasting points. For property and state taxes, you can use Official Payments as a third party service, while for federal taxes, check the IRS list of tax payment service providers, many of whom accept payment by credit card. Just beware the convenience fees many of them charge since these may negate the value of points you earn—though if it’s for earning a massive minimum-spend bonus, it can still be worth it. For my post on paying 2010 taxes with credit cards, check out this post and stay tuned for an updated version soon!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Jon

    Thanks for the tips! I saw someone post in a discussion board somewhere that he buys fully refundable airfare, gets the points, and then cancels the flight(s) to get a full refund. Thoughts on this? I assume this would put you at risk for having your points pulled back?

  • Trevor

    Lots of great tips… but on Amazon Payments, they started asking for Tax Identification Number (or similar)… Whats the impact of that? Have you provided that to them and if so, have you gotten any nasty surprises for sending or receiving money via Amazon Payments?

  • TK

    Couldn’t you just transfer the points out prior to the refund?

  • TK

    For the money transfers what if you sent to 4 separate people (mom, dad, brother, sister for example) and just had them give you a check for that amt to deposit in your bank acct…would this send off any flags since you can prove that the bank accounts/people you are sending to are not yourself?

  • PJ

    interest rate on your liquid money is very low . it is much more economical over paying 2.75% fees etc for just prepaying your cable or wireless fees .

    amex does not treat amex gift card purchases as eligible item to qualify for spend ; pls tell me if that has been changed. I do know GIft card purchase is a no no for Citi cards .

  • PJ

    that is a bit too much IMHO

  • Marianag

    My husband is a freelancer and often hires people to work on a project (editing, sound, etc). it seems like he can’t use amazon payments (it’s for friends and family from what I read). if that’s the case, is there any service that allows to send payments to contractors (from $300 to $1200 per check) and pay with a credit card? his business spends thousands a year paying people and it would be so good to earn miles… Thanks!

  • Henrik

    All of the non traditional charges such as taxes, mortgage, car payments, etc come with the proviso to watch out for convenience fees which negate the benefit of the points. So, what’s the usefulness of this post? No sense paying 2.5-3% to use a credit card.

  • Jon

    Probably. Though it sounds shady to me. I wouldn’t do it….but was curious what the results were for anyone that may have tried it in the past.

  • TK

    3% of a 10K minimum is $300…75,000 (at least) MR points is worth more than $300…(transfer to Delta and get ~4 RT tickets depending on bonuses

  • thepointsguy

    Venmo let’s me send up to $2k a month to whomever I’d like. I often pay contractors through this method

  • thepointsguy

    If you only need 1k more in spend to hit a spend requirement it might make sense to eat the $30 fee if it means getting the full bonus or not

  • Matt MSP

    I turned down the 75k bonus because I was unsure if I could hit the spend. And I heard Amex biz cards can trigger the dreaded amex financial review.

    One question about insurance. I currently pay most of it via CC, but my homeowners is payed by escrow. Is there any way I can route that through my CC and then get reimbursed by escrow?

  • Bexho2000

    I got the same deal back in Nov and towards the end of the promo period I was short around $2k so I went to the local pharmacy (CVS) and bought Visa & AMEX $500 gift cards. The fee was $4.99 per card but they often run promos thet give you $10 in their rewards buck for buying 2 or 3 of their cards at the time… I bought 4 cards spent $20 in fees and got back $10 to spent at CVS on anything…not bad spending $10 to get the full 75k. They were treated like regular purchases although the amount was large as store notation came as “pharmacy,grovery” in the amex account screen. Plan to do the same with my wife’s card when it arrives (applied for her yesterday!!!!).

  • Raj B

    Charge Smart waived the fee for the first car payment when I signed up for automatic payments, minimum 3 payments. It just takes a quick phone call to cancel the auto pay after the 3rd charge. Then you can do it again with a different card.

    Also, my supermarket (Kroger) sells most store and restaurant gift cards with no fees. I normally buy Amazon gift cards with my AMEX PRG — double MR points, plus 2x Kroger gas points.

  • Jean W

    Yeah, I think you’d risk having Amex pull your points and cancel your card. In fact I’d say there’d be about a 100% risk of this ;)

  • Gohogs34

    As you may know, some people don’t read the T & C. Venmo only allows you to add/have per account a total of THREE CC’s. So choose wisely!

  • Jean W

    One quick thought on gift cards: In my state of Tennessee you get double taxed for gift cards: You have to pay our near-10% sales tax on the initial purchase of the gift card, on top of the $4.95 activation fee, and then when you use the card you’re taxed again for the goods you purchase – this means a 20% sales tax total. I’d only use this trick in a high-tax state if you’re truly desperate. And there’s no way around it for Amex – as someone below mentioned, gift cards don’t accrue MR points if purchased direct from AmericanExpress.com.

    One tip I use: whenever I visit a low- or no-sales-tax state, I buy as many gift cards at Walgreens and CVS as possible, and using my Hilton Surpass card (which earns 6:1 at grocery and drugstores, as opposed to 3:1 normally). Twice the points, tax free. (Had a field day on a trip to Montana a while ago :D… the no-tax states are AK, DE, MT, NH and OR.)

    Of course, you can also do this at the likes of Kroger if you have an Amex Premier Rewards gold card, which earns 2:1 at the grocery store. Happy earning!

  • THEsocalledfan

    Considering this is all in response to the AMEX deal, i would appreciate detailed strategies of turing AMEX into Visa gift cards to use charge smart.

  • Marianag

    Great to know! Venmo is telling me that i can only sign up if a friend has an account and has invited me. Anyone can spare an invitation code? ([email protected]) thanks!

  • Abz

    Another way to do this is to buy an Amazon gift card (emailed or ecard or physical) on Amazon.com. Then credit it to your own account. No fee, no expiration, so you essentially front-loaded your account with cash that’s good forever (I assume most of us will buy $1k worth of stuff at Amazon in their lifetime).

  • happy baby 2010

    If anyone has an invite code, please extend the invite ([email protected]). really appreciate all the help!

  • The Points Gay

    Jean W-Gift cards are not taxed. You have been ripped off.

  • PJ

    Happy points earning starting april 1 for the entire 2nd quarter: Chase Freedom cards will be giving back 5% . You can even stock up your favorite grocery card with doulbe dipping : many sotres let you buy 1000 for $950 charged to your freedom card ( i think Discover and possible Citi also have the same rabate)

  • John

    Brian, I thought you can’t fund Amazon Payments with a credit card? It states, “Note: You cannot add funds to your Amazon Payments account by using a credit card.” It states something about that it must be funded from your bank acct. Is that true?

  • PJ

    amazon gift cards @5 % rebate on Chase freedom card time to stock up

  • PJ

    when jobs are so big, i dont let 2.75% stand in between me and my sign on bonus

  • PJ

    is that fee free ?

  • umut

    well I have been reading this site almost everyday since TPG started and now I believe I should contribute something which I have been doing for a while. selling iphone 4s especially in eastern European countries, where they go for at least 1000 usd, is a good way of hitting minimum spending requirement for signup bonuses and make actually good amount money while you’re travelling. Right now apple store sells online unlocked 16 gb iphone 4s for only 649 usd, which gives you 3x membership rewards points if you buy thru AMEX network program. .FYI You can only buy 2 every day. This might work very well if you find a good mileage run to Europe which will allow you to maximize miles and elite status. Good way of selling iphones are either local craigslist or ad sites. alibaba.com or local wholesale auction websites(there’s plenty of them) will help you to reach local business owners who might wanna but all these goodies you bring from US. You might get surprised with the demand and wanna do this trade all the time in the future :) Disclosure: I would not suggest anyone to carry more than 10 iphones due to possible custom issues in Europe

  • Markcheng1203
  • Trevor

    When I clicked on Brian’s link in his post, I got right in, it appeared that it was his referral link, or at least he showed up as my only connection once I setup…

  • mizliz

    I’ve found you can take the “pay your utilities with your credit card” a step further, by making a big lump sum payment which becomes a credit balance on your account with the utility, and subsequent month’s charges just reduce the credit balance. I paid $600 to Comcast and $1000 to my gas/electric bill all at once to meet a minimum spend, and it worked just fine.

  • AJM

    The US Bank FlexPerks card gives 3x points for charitable giving.

  • oldmanpeabody

    You may not be able to “fund your Amazon payments account” but you can definitely send money to others using Amazon payments. Max is $1000 per month, you can send just like Paypal only difference is you can use a CC as the source of the payment (whereas doing that on Paypal incurs additional costs).

  • PJ

    the alternative is you pay for their expenses and they pay you back by checks or cash ( minus the rebate they might miss) I am 1000 % sure Uncle is well too busy to be bothered with your petty cash flows

  • Victor

    Can I get an invite

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  • msp2anywhere

    FYI if you have a tad bit of patience, you don’t need a VENMO invite code. Just get on VENMO’s ‘waiting list’ and in less than a week they’ll invite you.

  • aaa

    How does the Venmo recipient receive the money?

  • oldmanpeabody

    TPG, as to your suggestion #2 about buying Amex GCs, any experience as to whether Amex counts these as purchases or cash advances? Seems like this is being asked by a LOT of people who just picked up that 75k Amex card with the 10k min spend. Any definitive experience on it?

  • oldmanpeabody

    Sorry, that’s not clear. Do Amex gift cards purchased with your Amex credit card count as purchases or as cash advances? I know Citi is notorious for counting them as cash advances, but what about Amex (or Chase for that matter)? Thanks

  • thepointsguy

    They have not posted as cash advances in my experience

  • Matthewlee07

    If I really have a long way to go to hit a spend requirement I pay my college tuition with at 2.7% fee

  • AKold

    If I purchase a gift card online, say from Kohls.com, with my Citi card, would that show up as a normal transaction? How would they know it’s a gift card?

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  • PJ

    preapy cable, phone , internet wirelss charges your money at banks are not earning much anyway

    3000 a year advance = 1500 average for the year = .50 % after tax = $ 7.5 looks so pale comparing to the red hot sign on bonus

    “no job can be too big “

  • Sim

    bought 8 europe business refundable ticket for $24k total. 8 cards total for me and wife with $3k spend requirement each. WOW JUST 10 MINS WORK and 400k miles.

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  • tony007

    I would add that, for some of us living as expatriates abroad, the use of credit card to pay international insurance is a great way of meeting the minimum spend. I personally pay +$700 on international health insurance per month.

    Another feature that is possible for non-us people living abroad is to open a mutual fund account, and pay the montly deposit using your credit card.

  • 1genuineguy

    Hi Sim, I’m curious about this. How long did you have to keep it on your credit card account and long was the refundable time period?

  • Robert S.

    When paying car payments through ChargeSmart, does it count as cash advances or purchases with the credit card companies? I recently got a Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card and want to meet the $2,500 in purchases in 4 months. Thanks.

  • Delta Dan

    I just downloaded the Venmo app for iPhone. When I am adding a card to the funding source, it states a 3% fee for credit cards. Did they recently add a fee for using credit cards? Also, does Amazon Payment have a fee associated with paying individuals with credit cards?

  • myexecisecoach

    FYI, American Express has issued promotion codes for no fee gift cards. Just received notification via email.

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  • BobChi

    Sounds high risk to me.

  • Paul

    Great tips! One note: I just opened an account on Venmo, and they now charge a 3% fee for any payments made by credit card – debit card and bank accounts are still free.

  • http://www.cardauthorizer.com/ credit card services

    Good tips. I saw someone post in a discussion board somewhere that he buys fully refundable airfare, gets the points, and then cancels the flight(s) to get a full refund.

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  • Mr. Cool

    is there a way to electronically transmit amazon funds to a a bank account of your choosing in order to pay credit card bills?

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  • Vladimir Menkov

    Hmm, I’ve never seen a mutual fund that accepts contributions via a credit card. The usual choice of payment options are bank account diretc debit, check, or bank wire. Accepting a credit card payment would make no sense for them, since they’d have to pay a merchant fee! (Well, maybe load funds are different – they can afford to eat the fee – but why would you invest into a load fund?)

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  • kb2zrz

    Now THAT is a really good idea!

  • Andrew

    Hi Brian, I recommended to some of my buddy’s that they open up Chase Sapphire Preferred cards and easily meet the minimum spend using the Amazon Payments hack. Today, however, I was looking at Amazon Payments, and it looks like they are charging a 2.9% fee for transactions, effectively making those points 2.9 cents each (after the sign on bonus). Am I interpreting this incorrectly? Is there a threshold you have to break before you get charged the transaction fees? Thanks! Any feedback would be helpful.

  • praisefor3

    How long does it take for the points to be awarded? If I am wanting points for a trip to Thailand in June will this benefit me? I now fly with AA exclusively and earned Platinum in 6 months but still need more points. Since I have never used any points I don’t know how far in advance I would have to book the trip.

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