Sometimes, good credit card bonus offers come one right after another. For others, normal monthly expenditures don't hit the required minimum spend needed to trigger credit card sign-up bonuses within the first three months. Whatever your scenario, this post will look into some common-sense methods for achieving minimum spend organically, and also what to do if your spending needs a little artificial boost to get over the hump!
How to meet minimum spend organically
This one might seem obvious, but start by using your credit card for EVERYTHING! Many people reach for their debit cards, thinking about their bank balances, but as long as you pay your credit card balance in full every month, they are functionally the same.
Even if you already use your credit card for regular expenditures like groceries and dining out, you could be leaving lots of "spend" on the table. Many recurring bills, such as cable, utilities, and insurance payments can be credit card without a fee.
If you've got a large minimum spend requirement to meet, you could even pay some bills ahead of time, or purchase gift cards for stores that you know you visit consistently (i.e. grocery stores, your favorite restaurant, gas stations, office supply and hardware stores). Often times, these gift cards can be purchased at a discount from sites like cardpool.com and raise.com, which will help you save money at the same time!
Another way to meet those higher minimum spends organically is to time signing up for that particular card to coincide with a large upcoming expense. About to order books for a new semester at school? Have an expensive dental procedure coming up? Off-set the pain by hitting that minimum spend and netting some serious miles and points!
How to increase credit card spend to earn sign-up bonuses
Exhausted all the "organic" methods for meeting minimum spend thresholds but still falling short? This is where you might need to consider a small expense for a big miles or points payday. While I generally operate on the principle that it's not good to spend money solely for the purpose of getting miles and points (which are not as valuable or flexible as cash), some opportunities are totally worth it.
For example, I recently paid a property tax bill for a 2.4% fee. This fee cost me $71 but I earned $460 worth of points towards travel. Since I had specific travel plans in mind for those points, they were about as good as cash to me, which means I profited $389 by meeting the minimum spend in one transaction.
An even better tax payment opportunity is income tax. There are several processing companies approved by the IRS to take your credit card payment of income tax for a fee of 1.87-2%. At that rate, it almost makes sense to pay that way even if you won't be hitting a sign-up bonus threshold, since some cards offer up to 2% cash-back.
If you don't have tax payments to make, you can buy gift cards issued by Visa, AMEX, etc. for a small fee. These cards essentially function like debit cards. In the past, it was easy to load those cards back into various accounts without ever using them, but now you'll probably need to just use them as your main form of payment in the month or two after you hit that tricky minimum spend.
A final option, which is easy, but a little more expensive (2-3%) is to send money to a friend or spouse via electronic payment systems like Venmo or Paypal, or to use Plastiq.com to pay your rent, mortgage, or other bills that typically require a check to be written. Plastiq periodically offers a 1.75% promo rate for using your Mastercard with their site, so that's something to watch.
The Bottom Line
While it's probably good to keep your credit card sign-up spend requirements to a level you can hit without thinking too much, there are times when the reward is worth the effort and sometimes even a bit of cash outlay. In these cases, you can rely on this list of options to increase credit card spend, both organically and artificially to get that big bonus.
Want to know more about getting miles and points by the thousands to reduce the cost of travel? Check out The Miles + Points Primer, a free guide I've written to help beginners on the path to travel freedom!