Ways to Goose Your Minimum Spend for a Credit Card Signup Bonus

Reimbursable business expenses make meeting the minimum spend requirements for credit card signup bonuses pretty easy: airline tickets, hotels, meals, cabs, expenses add up pretty quickly.

And being in the position to cover even more than just that, conference hotel bills, registration fees, expenses for your colleagues, and you get a pretty bifurcated reaction to when I post about a credit card deal that has a hefty signup bonus. For some it’s a simple no brainer. Others react, “who in the world could spend $5000 on more than one credit card? In three months no less?”

Even reimbursable expenses aren’t a total panacea, you have to trust that your employer will reimburse you and reimburse you in a timely enough manner to cover your credit card bill, try to get the spend in at the beginning of a billing cycle and that provides time to get the reimbursement and maybe even make a little bit of money on the float before the bill comes due. Certainly some folks working for financially troubled companies won’t want to take the reimbursement risk, however.

Since many blog readers aren’t in the position to put large expenses on their personal cards that other people or entities will be paying for (and some folks with heavy business travel are forced to use company cards, this advice will apply to them as well), I offer thoughts on meeting credit card minimum spend requirements without being wealthy and dropping major coin on hookers and blow.

  • Pay everything with a credit card. This is the “duh” one for the list, it may be obvious but plenty of bills that come in the mail, recurring bills, etc. can be paid by credit card. Some charge a fee, I usually avoid those but to meet minimum spend the fee can occasionally be worthwhile. The list is endless – vehicle registration, utilities, rent, don’t use cash unless you absolutely have to (I rarely use cash in a cab anymore) and avoid checks even for recurring bills, I avoid my bank’s billpay system like the plague.

  • Sending money online for free. Amazon payments lets you transfer $1000 a month fee-free. Milepoint discussions of the technique are here and here. Don’t just transfer funds back and forth between two accounts, potentially keep individual transfer amounts under $1000, plenty of folks have been able to avoid Amazon’s ire on this one for quite awhile.

  • Use the SkyGuide Executive Privilege Club ($20) to buy airline lounge day passes and health club passes and get reimbursed. The membership is valid for 12 months, you can get 12 each of airline passes (up to $50 each) and health club passes (up to $25 each) per calendar year. So joining mid-year allows you to get 12 of each in each of two different calendar years. That’s $1800 worth of reimbursements that are possible in 12 months, for a $20 fee, and of course you get to use the lounge and gym visits you’ve purchased and

  • Free After Rebate items, Frequent Miler often chronicles these e.g. here, he focuses mostly on items that can be purchased via the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall. And at Office Supply stores which earn quintuple points from the Ink Bold Charge Card. Staples runs about $1000 a month in free after rebate software downloads, where the rebates are easily trackable online. But for rebates generally as a way of meeting minimum spend — and print out all of your document and follow instructions to the letter — there’s lots of free after rebate sites like this one.

  • American Express Gift cards. You can buy these with a credit card for face value. Of course you’re out the cash now and need to spend it later, but that can help you meet a minimum spend before the deadline, and push the spending out into the future past the deadline. Through January 31 I had promo codes which waived the $3.95 purchase fee for the gift cards. I don’t have any active ones. (Update: Through June 30th promo code EMMOTCM2 waives the purchase fee.) Though through May 31 promo code EMADMWL3 will get you free second day shipping. if you sign up for Premium Shipping they give you free next-day air 90 days prior to charging you for it and you can cancel online. Big Crumbs offers 1.4% cash back on the purchase, so you more than cover the fees when making the purchase through that portal.

  • Visa Gift cards. This is especially useful for meeting minimum spend with a Chase Ink Bold Charge Card. If you buy $5000 worth of Visa gift cards at Office Depot, the charge will earn quintuple miles as an office supply expense. Each $500 gift card has a $4.95 service fee, so spending $50 earns 25,000 points plus the 50,000 point signup bonus for that card. Of course you still have to spend the $5000 Visa gift cards, this isn’t a way to get spend done for free but to maximize earning from spend and to give yourself a longer period of time to spend the money.

      Consider asking anyone that you pay for personal services — a housekeeper, a babysitter — if they would take American Express gift cards for their payments. Some folks will have people doing occasional work for them who don’t have checking accounts so a prepaid gift card is more useful to a check (that they’d be paying high fees to a check cashing store to deposit).

  • Buy gifts in advance. Why wait until Christmas if you have a minimum spend requirement to meet now? Frontload as much spend as you can with available funds.

  • Charitable contributions. Probably the worst way to give is cash sent via check. Do your giving by credit card to meet minimum send requirements. (Yes, the charity will be covering the merchant fee, but they’re also getting your donation, so on net you’re making them far better off.) Although the very best way to give is appreciated assets, like stocks, since you both avoid capital gains taxes on the shares you’re gifting and take a deduction based on the current value (rather than your cost basis) of those shares. Or consult your tax advisor on whether you can give an interest in an asset that you retain control over, such as ownership interest in your home that you continue to live in until you die, taking a tax deduction now for a gift that the charity won’t actually control until the future. Sadly those tax minimization strategies won’t help you meet your minimum credit card spend, however.

  • Purchase and return. Not something I’ve done, but plenty of discussion over time about doing things like buying refundable airline tickets (or other returnable items) – get the bonus miles to post and then return the item, many issuers won’t bill you for the bonus miles if you close your account with a negative balance, but at the very least you’ve got more time to spend the funds. One of the more famous tricks, though Costco is less tolerant than they used to be, folks would buy on the Costco website with a Visa and then return in-store where they only handle American Express, the store would refund via check. Then there are retailers that will allow you to pay with one card, refund to another, then you ask the card issuer to cut you a check for the negative balance. All stuff very much borderline acceptability at best, and again not things I have direct experience with, but things that have been done…

It isn’t as easy as it once way — no more savings bonds, dollar coins from the US mint, prepaid visa debit cards with PINs that could be turned into money orders at the post office — but there are still things that plenty of folks can do to make strides towards minimum spend requirements with a little bit of work.

Between free after rebate items and Amazon payments transfers, you get most of the way there with many cards. And if you have a bit of extra cash, you frontload some spending via prepaid Amex or Visa gift cards. Nice ways to supplement daily spend and rack up those bonuses.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] Through June 26 only there’s an offer of 75,000 American Express Membership Rewards points for a new American Express Business Gold Rewards card, no fee the first year. But you have to spend $10,000 within 4 months to receive those points. I got the card when the offer was 50,000 points back in December, so I’m not eligible now. If you’re going to consider this card, here are ways to help goose your minimum spend. […]

  2. […] They’ve made the spending requirements on that card more significant since they first brought out the offer, it’s 50,000 points after $1000 spend within 3 months; 25,000 more after $10,000 spend within a year; 25,000 more after the second $10,000 spend within a year. So $20,000 spending required to meet the full 100,000 mile signup bonus. But the real value in the card comes after $30,000 in spend anyway — a companion award ticket that allows you to spend the miles twice (for a second passenger on the same itinerary). And there are lots of ways to reach that minimum spend. […]


  1. Isn’t it “SkyGuide Executive Privilege Club” not “SkyMiles Executive Privilege Club”? Perhaps you should call it “SkyPesos Executive Privilege Club”!

  2. Buying Wal-Mart gift cards is a way to meet spend requirements as well as earn miles for Sams Club purchases. Buy ’em at Wal-Mart, spend ’em at Sams.

  3. @Gene typo fixed and generally can’t buy money orders with visa gift cards except if they’re prepaid debit cards with PINs

  4. In Visa cards section, typo?

    “so spending $50 earns 25,000 points plus the 50,000 point signup bonus for that card.”

    Shouldn’t that be $5,000?

    Did not know about that freebie website, good one.

  5. @gpapadop I meant actual net cash ‘lost’ – sorry if I was unclear – 10 $500 gift cards @ $4.95 each, so out $49.50 and you have $5000 in gift cards for your $5049.50 plus the 25k points for the purchase.

  6. What about adding multiple people onto a credit card account.

    If you add an additional cardholder, I assume their spend counts towards the minimum, correct?

    Obviously you only do this with a willing family member, or friend you trust, but it’s easy to view the different charges broken out by individual online.

  7. I would point out that exclusively using your CC to buy amex gift cards or for AP (without using it for ordinmary spend) seems to be a trigger for an FR at least in the case of american express

  8. IMO, the last bullet point (buy and return) is just plain wrong, if you are buying the item with the express intent of returning it. This practice raises prices for everyone shopping at that store, and it’s likely to result in tighter return policies as well. As a Costco member, I especially hate the idea of people of doing it at Costco!

    I’ve seen long threads on FlyerTalk about doing this and it always incenses me. It is the kind of behavior that gives frequent flyers and point maximizers a bad name. I’m all for playing the game, but that “trick” is one step too far, ethically.

  9. If I shop at Office Depot through Ultimate Rewards Mall and pay with Ink Bold card, would I get 4 points from Ultimate Rewards Mall plus 5 points for using Ink Bold for total of 9 points for each dollar spent?

  10. Please tell me where you can charge hookers and blow on a credit card? My neighborhood pimp/dealer only takes unmarked cash.

  11. @User Name as I say I never did it, I said specifically they cracked down on it, I was giving examples of the kinds of things folks have done WITHOUT vouching for it!

  12. My utility company allows payment by credit card, but charges a $2 fee. They accept a max payment of $1K. I did a prepay of $1K, thus minimizing my fee, and getting a nice start on the required spend on the credit card du jour.

  13. Gary, re charitable contributions – for those in position to gift appreciated securities, consider opening a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund account or other donor advised fund (DAF) – (which is similar to a family foundation, except it only requires a few thousand dollars, not a few million). Without a DAF, the logistics of gifting individual securities can be a nightmare for the donor and the charity. With a DAF, the logistics can be very straightforward – and the tax benefits remain enormous.

  14. I have a few large expenses on occasion. I’m hearing impaired and top of the line hearing aids are a pretty penny. This year I need a dental implant for a tooth that had to be removed. Another large fee for that. Even if you use flex spending accounts, pay via your own card first then get reimbursed. I attend WGU (non-profit undergrad / grad university) they take cards for the $2895 per term tuition. I always time my round of applications to be a few weeks before such expenses to get a jump start. Also, medical insurance copays and coinsurance levels are on the rise every year and I’ve never found a provider who declined to accept credit cards as payment.

  15. Putting major dental work on a credit card helps take a little of the physical and financial pain out of it. A little.

  16. @UAPhil why is it a nightmare to gift appreciated securities? You just get the account # and DTC # for the charity, the electronic transfer is really quite straightforward. A donor-advised fund is useful to tax a deduction now for your future giving, but isn’t necessary to transfer stocks. (And it’s certainly not hard on the charity’s end to receive shares, and it’s exactly the same whether those shares come out of your brokerage account or from a donor advised fund)

  17. “It isn’t as easy as it once way — no more savings bonds, dollar coins from the US mint, prepaid visa debit cards with PINs that could be turned into money orders at the post office…”
    It’s not as easy to fleece the government (and thus the American taxpayer) as it once was? Who do you think was paying those process fees? It’s games like this listed on blogs like yours that make it harder for honest purchases by others. Thanks for that.

    “@User Name as I say I never did it, I said specifically they cracked down on it, I was giving examples of the kinds of things folks have done WITHOUT vouching for it!”
    Yeah, that doesn’t make it alright Gary. You explained how it’s done. Running away from your explanation after the fact doesn’t make it go away. I’m surprised this is even being debated by someone I assumed to be an upstanding gentlemen.

  18. Gary,

    The AmEx gift cards with Ink Bold might be the hottest new “arbitrage” opportunity. I don’t care that it’s not *free*, it just has to be cheap enough. And paying $500 for 250,000 UR points (gets two J tickets on UA) counts as cheap enough in my book.

  19. Recently, on business in Boston, a cab posted that they incur 6% transaction fees for credit cards. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but ever since, I’ve paid cash – I just cannot stick a cabbie who has things far worse than I do with 6 cents so I get add to my stash of miles.

  20. @Dax I wrote about something after it’s been pulled, I don’t see what’s wrong in reporting an example of what folks have done, making clear that it’s a line I drew and wouldn’t cross? But I guess we beg to differ.

  21. @Ken

    Didn’t say $500 in spend, actually. It’s $500 in net cost, from the methods Gary outlined above:

    Get Chase Ink Bold with 5x bonus for office stores. Buy $500 gift card. Get 2500 UR points. Pay $5 fee. Do this 100 times. Yes, that’s $50,000 in gift cards, which is money you’d presumably spend anyway, pay $500 in fees, get 250,000 UR points.

  22. Gary – if you’re making a single fairly large gift to a charity, and you have a cooperative brokerage, then gifting securities can go smoothly.

    But I’ve had the experience of E-Trade taking several weeks to transfer shares to a charity, during which time they lost 30% of their value. (I did get ETrade to give me 25,000 Skypesos as partial compensation….)

    Also, if you want to make gifts to multiple charities, it’s easier to make a single larger gift of appreciated securities to a donor advised fund, then have the fund write multiple smaller checks to the causes you want to support.

    What worked well for me was to transfer my shares to a Fidelity brokerage account. I can then gift them to my Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund with a few mouse clicks (and do it on December 31 as part of my year-end tax planning).

    (Admittedly I may not be in the mainstream here…I’m both a points junkie and a tax leverage fanatic. I drive my girlfriend nuts by running Turbotax simulations while she’s wrapping Christmas gifts….)

  23. @UAPhil I have no experience dealing with electronic share transfers with ETrade, but haven’t experienced similar difficulties.

  24. Serve.com has extended their free cc funding through March 2013. There is a low limit caps of $100 / day and $250 / month, but you get one free ATM withdrawal a month. Every little bit helps.

    I’ve had success with letting money sit in my Serve account for several weeks before ATMing the cash out. I think the advice I’ve heard is “treat the card as though you were a college student with rich parents”, to avoid account closure LOL.

  25. I got this reply when I asked about buying AMEX cheques with a Chase Visa. Has any of this actually happened to anyone?

    Thank you for contacting Chase.

    The travelers check transaction will be considered as a
    quasi cash transaction, hence, it will not earn any reward

    A quasi cash transaction is one that is similar to a cash
    advance. Money transfers, money order purchases, gambling
    transactions, and other transactions where cash is
    accessed will be classified as quasi cash transactions.

    Quasi cash transactions are subject to a 5% transaction
    fee with a $10.00 minimum and no maximum. Also, they earn
    interest on a daily basis and accrue interest from the
    date they post to your account until paid in full.

    The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) for cash on your account
    is a variable rate of 19.24%, which is the minimum rate
    for cash.

    If you have any further questions, please reply using the
    Secure Message Center.

    Thank you,

    Hemchandra Patil
    E-mail Customer Service Advisor

  26. I just “prepaid” $2,000 to my Google Adwords account to get the Chase Sapphire bonus. I probably could have done the full $3,000 but I had already transferred some $ with Amazon Payments. Other than it tipped off a fraud alert it seems to have worked. Then again Adwords always tips off a fraud alert on even with credit card I have set up on monthly auto payment.

  27. By buying Amex gift cards through Amex’ website they will count these purchases as regular purchases and give you points and count towards the threshold?

  28. its sad when i see people make stupid decisions using credit cards to get points while losing money. for example at a currency exchange most credit cards treat buying currency as a cash advance yet i still see people do it and say i want the points not realizing they are paying much more in fees than they are gaining in points. http://creditcarddebtsettlementadviceblog.blogspot.com is a good resource for anyone who’s gotten themselves into credit card debt doing dumb things like this.

  29. Despite the shaming that some may try on you. I appreciate the fact that you disclosed all of these techniques and leave the ethical decisions up to the reader vs. limiting the content of your article. Kudos

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