Practical Pointers: Make sure you don't miss that credit card welcome bonus
There are many reasons to sign up for a travel credit card, whether it be the points you earn through your everyday spending or the other benefits you’ll enjoy through your membership. Of course, one of the biggest advantages of opening a card is the welcome bonus. Many travel cards will give you a large number of bonus points for signing up, as long as you spend a certain amount of money on the card in a certain amount of time.
Depending on the card and the offer, the points you earn through the one-time bonus may be more than the points you’ll earn in a whole year through spending alone. It’s often enough for multiple free flights or hotel nights (depending, of course, on the flight and property).
Because the points or miles are essentially free if you charge the minimum amount required to earn the bonus, it can be a big factor in your decision to apply for a card and pay an annual fee if the card has one.
At the same time, it's important to remember that the welcome offer — and the chance to accrue tens of thousands of bonus points — typically goes away after a given period of time, so it’s imperative to meet that spending requirement.
Adjust your spending habits
When evaluating whether a particular credit card is right for you, look at whether the spending requirement is realistic for you to meet in the allotted time. Once you’re approved for a card, you’ll want to sit down and formulate a plan to ensure you spend the required amount on time.
Here are some general things you can do to prepare for the first few months as a new cardholder so you can ensure you qualify for the bonus.
Now may be the time for large expenses
If you're already planning on large upcoming expenses, whether for flights, a home appliance or a new laptop you've been thinking about, the first few months with a new card may be a good time to make the purchase. Of course, you want to make sure you can afford to incur these expenses during that time period. However, if it’s money you're planning on spending in the near future, making the purchase at a time when it can help you meet a spending requirement can go a long way.
Unplanned expenses can ironically help too, as much as you hate to have them. An unfortunate example is that while I was working toward a spending requirement after adding The Platinum Card® from American Express to my wallet, my dog fell ill (he’s fine now). I was out of town, so my wife took him to the vet — and alerted me that the bill had come to $700. After cringing and asking for details about how he was doing, I told my wife, “Be sure to charge the visit to the Amex Platinum.”
As much as I hated having a sick pup, big expenses — planned and unplanned — can take away some of the anxiety around meeting the spending requirement.
Focus your attention on that card
You’ll most likely want to charge your purchases on the new card, even if it’s not the ideal card for the type of spending you’re doing. For instance, say you already have a card that earns 3 points per dollar on dining and you just opened one that only earns 1 point per dollar at restaurants.
Just during the initial period, you may want to put the bill on the 1-point-per-dollar card, even though you technically wouldn't be maximizing your spending. At the end of the day, earning the welcome bonus is more important.
Now, if you’ve planned your expenses carefully enough to know that you’ll meet the requirement easily, you can be more strategic; as a general rule of thumb, though, it’s a good idea to focus on the card with a welcome bonus you’re pursuing.
Don't buy things you don’t need
As time goes on, if you find you’re just not getting close enough to the amount of money you need to charge, there are better options out there than buying an expensive product you otherwise wouldn’t purchase. After all, the whole goal here is to save money.
This is where you can get creative and think outside the box a bit. See if your employer will let you pay for expenses on your card and then reimburse you or ask to pay bills for a family member or friend with the same reimbursement plan. As long as you’re reimbursed in a timely manner, paying for others’ expenses with your card can be a great way to ensure you meet your goals.
There are many other tricks you can employ to ensure you meet this requirement.
Be cautious when cutting it close
As you try to meet your spending requirement, it’s important to be cautious when counting on expenses to process too close to your deadline.
Whether the cost of an item you bought online doesn’t end up hitting your card until it ships (as opposed to when you clicked "purchase") or you get a refund for a shirt you returned four days before the deadline, little things can end up putting you back under the threshold and prove costly if you don't get the welcome bonus as a result.
Without racking up expenses you can’t handle, the further in advance you can reach the required minimum spend (and the more you can clear it by), the safer you’ll be.
While selecting the right credit card for your spending and travel habits can be crucial to your points-earning potential through bonus spending categories, it's hard to replicate the value you get in points, essentially for free, out of that welcome bonus.
For that reason, doing everything you can to qualify for that bonus (without spending money you don’t have or large sums of money you wouldn’t have otherwise spent) is a goal worth planning for and ensuring you meet.