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A lot of readers have applied for the 100,000-mile bonus on the Citi Executive AAdvantage card since it appeared a couple months ago and are now thinking of ways to meet the minimum spending requirement of $10,000 in 3 months. In my own recent round of applications, I was approved for four cards – the Citi Executive AAdvantage Mastercard (100,000 miles – $10,000 in 3 months), the Chase Ink Plus (60,000 points – $5,000 in 3 months), the Barclaycard Arrival (40,000 miles – $3,000 in 3 months) and the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature (40,000 miles – $10,000 in 6 months). All that means in order to earn the 230,000 bonus miles and points that are potentially within my reach I’ve got to make $18,000 in eligible purchases in the next 3 months and another $10,000 within 6 months for a total minimum spend requirement of $28,000. Here are some of the strategies I am going to use to meet it.
1. Bluebird: Amex Bluebird is a checking/debit alternative, and has quickly become one of the best ways to rack up points and miles on expenses for which you cannot otherwise use credit cards. Once you sign up for Bluebird and activate your account, you can fund it by purchasing Vanilla Reloads at a retailer like CVS that will let you buy them using points-earning credit cards in denominations up to $500 for $3.95 per card. Once you have loaded the value of the Vanilla Reload into your Bluebird account, you can cut checks from there either through the electronic bill pay service or by writing a physical check (just as you would with a normal checking account) for expenses like mortgage, car leases, insurance premiums and more. The one drawback here is that you are limited to loading $5,000 in Vanilla Reloads onto your Bluebird per calendar month (rather than rolling month); this means that you can only meet $15,000 of your minimum spend this way, and you can only have a balance of $10,000 at a time from sources other than check-by-mail or direct deposit. Still, thanks to the versatility of Bluebird and the $5,000 monthly limit, it’s a great way to make eligible purchases with your points-earning credit card and then put that money to use paying bills.
2. Electronic Payment Services: Instead of using checks to pay people, there are a couple payment systems out there that will use your credit card to pay other individuals instead without posting as cash advances. I personally use Amazon Payments for legitimate personal and business spending needs. I simply charge the money I want to spend to my points-earning credit card, and the recipient can direct deposit the value directly to a linked bank account. However, you must be careful not to abuse this feature by doing things like shifting thousands of dollars back and forth between people each month or Amazon will shut down your account. There is no charge for this service, but there is a monthly limit of $1,000 sent and received per account. This is a great way to put a little extra spending on your cards – for instance by paying for a group dinner or vacation rental and then having your friends or family pay you back.
3. Gift cards: This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to rack up eligible purchases quickly because you’re pretty much just buying money to use later. Gift cards, like those offered by Amex and Visa, can be purchased at all kinds of merchants like drug stores, supermarkets, gas stations and more. You can usually find them in either set denominations or as variable-load cards where you can choose how much to put on them. There is usually a limit of $500 and a fee of between $3.95-$7.95 to purchase these. What’s great is that many of these products are now offering PIN capability. So they will function as debit cards and can be used for all kinds of transactions where credit cards are not accepted, such as paying taxes or utilities, opening up even more possibilities to put your spending power to use. 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.
4. Taxes: Figuring out your 2013 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 updated post on paying 2013 taxes with credit cards, check out this post.
5. Mortage, Rent and Car Payments: Many banks and financial institutions require consumers to pay their mortgage, rent and car loans by check or directly through a bank account – no credit cards allowed. However, there are services such as Charge Smart or WilliamPaid that allow you to make such payments by credit card – though you generally pay a 3% fee. For the most part this might not be worth it since a 3% fee can outweigh the value of any bonus points you might earn from it, but if you are looking to hit minimum spend for a huge sign-up bonus, it could definitely be worth chipping in a little extra. Just be sure the bank or finance company that holds your loan will accept payments through such services.
6. Dining: Pretty much any restaurant you go to these days accepts major credit cards, so if there’s one area you should be using your cards to make purchases, it’s dining. Not only that, but many credit cards offer dining category spending bonuses like the Sapphire Preferred’s 2x per $1 and the Hyatt Credit Card‘s 2x per $1. 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, and check out this post on Maximizing Dining Spend.
7. Utilities: Though some major utility companies still require you to link your account to a bank account for payment, more and more are letting customers pay their monthly bills using credit cards, so be sure to check with your utility providers to see if they already do so, or plan to. Cable and phone companies almost always let you pay with a credit card, so be sure you have linked a points-earning card to your accounts with them; if you have a card that offers bonuses on telecommunications and/or internet providers, like the Ink Bold and Ink Plus, you could be earning multiple points per $1 on your monthly expenses.
8. Other Expenses: I always say that paying cash for things is like burning up money. You’re just wasting your points-earning potential by not putting every possible purchase on a credit card. Now in order to do this, you must be responsible and in good financial shape, and you must be prepared to pay off your balances in full every month because the APR on balances will far outweigh the value of any points you might earn. Still, if you’re financially sound and have no trouble meeting your expenses, there’s no reason every purchase you make can’t be on a points-earning card and help you rack up those miles even faster. Plus, many credit cards offer spending threshold bonuses where if you meet a certain level of spend, you earn bonus points or benefits. For instance, with the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express (on which you also earn 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines, 2 points per dollar on US supermarkets, and one point per dollar on other transactions) you earn 15,000 bonus points when you spend $30,000 on purchases in a calendar year, boosting your points-earning by up to 50%, so by really concentrating your spending and paying attention to threshold bonuses, you can rack up even more points.
9. Charity: Though a lot of people tend to make charitable donations at the end of the year, if you’re looking at your tax statement now and thinking you could have done more, think about getting a head start on your charity giving this year by charging them to a points-earning credit card rather than just writing a check. Some credit cards even give category spending bonuses on charitable donations, like the US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards Visa, which earns 3X points per $1 on such donations. Plus, you might as well get a tax deduction on top of your bonus points and the ability to meet minimum spend.
10. Get Reimbursed For Business Expenses: Though I recommend getting a business credit card to help keep your personal and business expenses separate, if you’re in a pinch and have a limited time window to meet minimum spending on a new credit card, it could be worth using a personal credit card for business expenses and getting reimbursed – or hey, if one of your new credit cards is a business card like the Ink Plus or Business Gold Rewards, then you should start putting your work purchases on it immediately anyway. Check in with your employer to see if that is possible, and be very careful not to bite off more than you can chew since it can take a while to get reimbursed by a corporate accounting department and you’re the one who’s going to get stuck with the bill until that check comes through!
With such great credit card bonuses out there right now, it’s a great time to apply for some new points-earning credit cards. Just make sure you can meet the minimum spending requirements to earn those bonuses and be smart about how you do it.