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You’ve seen the ads, and the sign-up bonus on that travel credit card is just too tempting to pass up. But the initial spending threshold required to earn the bonus might seem nearly impossible to reach. Some cards require you to spend $1,000, $3,000 — even $5,000 or more in just a few months.
But take heart: A little planning and some clever spending can make it easier earn that bonus, even if the minimum spend requirement initially seems out of reach. Here's our advice.
Be strategic about when you sign up
Sure, you could jump on that limited-time large sign-up bonus the minute you see the ad … but it won’t mean much if you can’t meet the spending threshold.
Instead of trying to earn every bonus you see, have a short list of cards on deck that you’d like to sign up for. Then, when it’s time to make a large purchase — whether it’s a car repair, a new computer, expensive flight or business expense — use that high-dollar item as an excuse to sign up for the card you want.
If that purchase alone doesn’t meet the spending threshold, it will at least get you a lot closer. On the flip side, if you have the funds, you can also use that new card as a reason to finally get your air conditioner repaired or update the living room.
Use your new card for automatic payments
Another way to plug away at that sky-high minimum spend is to make your new card the default payment method for automatic expenses like bills. Some service providers won’t allow credit cards as a method of payment — but if your insurance, utility, cell phone or internet provider does (and they don’t charge an additional fee), set it up so you’re earning points and miles while chipping away at that big cash outlay.
» Learn more: Set up automatic payments; forget the late fees
Prepay for certain expenses
You can sometimes prepay your bills as well to help move spending forward into one large chunk. Car and health insurance providers are the most likely companies to offer this option, so if yours does, opt to pay for six months or a year of service all at once instead of paying every month.
Some companies may even offer a discount for doing so. And you’ll certainly get a nice bump toward that spending threshold.
Charge the big stuff
If your bank or landlord permits it, you can charge your monthly rent or mortgage payments to your card, too. Those are usually large expenses that will help you meet your limit fast. Car payments are sometimes a possibility too, so check with your lender.
If not, a service like Plastiq allows you to pay virtually any bill with a credit card, though there are fees of up to 2.85%. So use this method as a last resort, and make sure to do the math on paying that fee vs. what your bonus will be worth if you earn it.
Use your new card for everyday spending
Another strategy is to leave all your other cards (even cash) at home and vow to use your new card for everything from groceries to gas to your morning cup of coffee. You may be surprised at how quickly you reach your spend goal when every little expense — even the ones that seem too insignificant to bother charging — starts adding up.
» Learn more: How to rack up points and miles with everyday spending
Foot the bill
Going out with friends or family? Pick up the check. Even if you weren’t planning on buying everyone’s meals or drinks, offer to pay and then have those joining you give you their portion of the total via cash or apps like Venmo.
This can work for movie tickets, event admission and plenty of other situations. Your friends will likely thank you for taking the initiative and be more than happy to send you their portion later. Just be sure to get reimbursed, and give your other points-earning friends a chance to return the favor.
Buy gift cards
If you still have a bit of spending to do before time is up, buy gift cards. You can certainly purchase them for others or as gifts, but you can also get cards from retailers at which you regularly shop (like gas stations, grocery stores or coffee shops). Only do this if this is money you'd absolutely be spending later anyway.
Many cards allow gift card purchases to go toward the initial spending threshold, but some, like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express do not — so check terms and conditions carefully before relying on this method.
Ditch the company card
If your company permits it, charge business expenses like hotel stays or business dinners to your new card and then have the company reimburse you. If this method applies to you, you could even time acquiring a new card before a big business trip you already know you’re taking.
Pay your taxes
If April 15 is looming or you’re required to pay quarterly taxes, you can often use a credit card to do so. Be aware, however, that you may be charged a fee (usually a percentage of the overall total of the amount due), so gauge whether or not that additional charge is necessary or worth it in your quest to reach the minimum spend requirement.
» Learn more: How to pay your taxes with plastic and come out ahead
Ask family for help
If you’re desperate and coming up on your initial spend deadline, there’s no shame in asking for help. If you have willing family members, ask if you can put their monthly electricity bill or Amazon shopping cart total on your card for a month or two. They can then cut you a check or use an app to send you the money.
And if a spouse has more or different expenses than you do, consider adding them as an authorized user so you can work together to meet that threshold.
The bottom line
Remember that travel cards with the biggest rewards typically come with annual fees, and there’s always a higher interest rate to worry about. So be careful about charging large amounts to your new card that you can’t pay off.
Interest charges can quickly make the points and miles you earn with a travel credit card worthless. However, if you know you can spend responsibly, then get creative, time your application right and use your new card for everything — you’ll meet the minimum spend requirement in no time.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you Snag these hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies