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To trigger the sign-up bonuses on rewards credit cards you almost always have to spend a certain amount on the card, usually several thousand dollars, in just a few months time. To give some historical perspective, this wasn’t always the case. Even just five years ago many of the rewards cards awarded the sign-up bonus miles the first time you used them. This was sometimes referred to the ‘pack of gum’ bonus as even buying a $1 pack of gum would trigger a 50,000 mile bonus! That was of course great, but it is also not surprising the banks want you to get into the habit of using their cards a bit more than just once before they award you with a bunch of expensive bonus miles.
Spending something like $4,000 on your credit card in 3 months to get a sign-up bonus can seem like a ton if you aren’t used to this method of paying for everyday life with credit cards. However, for many families it really isn’t that hard once you get used to it. Before I get into some of the things you can charge to your cards that you might not have thought of if you are newer to this, I want to just offer the warning that you need to be sure you aren’t just racking up debt or spending money you otherwise wouldn’t have spent when you transition to paying for life with credit cards. If you fall into one of those traps you are way overpaying for the rewards you are earning, and you would be better off just skipping the whole rewards credit card thing entirely.
That said, here are 31 things you can usually charge on your credit cards in order to rack up the points and meet your credit card’s minimum spending requirements to trigger the sign-up bonuses. I know most of these are common sense things many of you already know, but you would be surprised at how many people still use checks, cash, and debit cards instead of credit cards for their daily expenses. The items with an asterisk are ones that frequently include a transaction fee for paying with a card, so I’ll talk more in a minute about whether it is worth it to pay a fee to use your credit card.
- Eating out
- Doctors appointments
- Dry cleaning
- Hair cuts
- Nail salons
- Cell phone bill
- Travel expenses
- Car insurance
- Subway passes
- Homeowners insurance
- Movie, sport, and entertainment tickets
- Gym membership dues
- Monthly activities dues like gymnastics, swim lessons, etc.
- Netflix, Hulu, etc.
- Home improvements and services like air conditioner maintenance, plumbers, etc.
- Newspapers and magazine subscriptions
- Charity donations
- Car purchase (sometimes dealer allows it up to a certain maximum amount)
- Gift cards or advance payments
- Utility payments*
- Health insurance premiums*
- Student loans*
- College tuition*
- Mortgage payments*
The first 23 ideas are probably pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll expand a bit on the last 8. Before that, know that if you can meet your minimum spending requirements with just 1 – 23 then that is the way to go. Many of us can meet spending requirements with just 1 – 23 because day to day life is simply expensive and really adds up over the course of several months. You only need to get into the last 8 if either your day to day expenses are really low or you are working on a large amount or number of spending requirements at the same time.
For #24 the gift cards or advance payments option, this means that you if you can afford it, you could pay say $1,000 towards a recurring bill to create a surplus balance instead of just paying your normal $200 or so monthly amount. Alternatively, you could purchase gift cards to retailers you know you will frequent over the next few months and basically front-load your expenses to coincide with your spending requirement timeframe. Some people take the gift card thing much further with getting Visa or MasterCard type gift cards, turning them into money orders, etc. I don’t do that and don’t encourage you to jump into that either. However, if you are interested, some Googling around will probably point you in the right direction.
For numbers 24 – 31, you will usually have to pay a fee in the neighborhood of 2 – 3% to use a credit card to pay some of those types of expenses, which often negates or at least significantly reduces the value of the points you are earning. It can still be worth it if you have a card that pays out either a big number of points per dollar spent, or the points are simply very valuable to you, but you have to do the math. One situation where paying a fee to make a payment can make sense is to trigger a big sign-up bonus. For example, if you make a $2,500 mortgage payment via a third party site like Plastiq and pay a 2.5% fee in the process, you will pay $62.50 in fees to make the payment. That won’t always be worth it, but it certainly is if it is what puts you over the hump to trigger a 50,000 – 100,000 bonus payout that can be worth hundreds or sometimes even over a thousand dollars!
Sometimes you can pay your service provider directly with a credit card and they just pass the fee on to you in the payment, but sometimes, like with mortgages or student loans, they don’t accept credit cards directly at all. In those cases, there are third party sites that will charge you a fee for using a credit card, and then basically send a check to almost anyone or anything. These sites include Plastiq, Charge Smart, and RadPad (for rent). I’m sure are others, too. If you do this to pay a bill in this manner I recommend you do it way ahead of time and keep a close eye to be sure your provider received the payment in advance of your due date. I have heard some stories where mortgages were paid late, however lots of folks do use these services very successfully to earn points on large payments.
When you factor in the money you spend on groceries, gas, eating out, membership dues, everyday purchases like clothes and dry cleaning, cell phone and internet bills, insurance payments, and more, it isn’t hard at all for many families to average $1334 per month in expenses to meet a $4,000 spending requirement in three months without paying an extra fees or going through any third party sites. This is how we meet the majority of our spending requirements and honestly make life a little easier in the process rather than writing checks, keeping up with cash, and not having the protections that credit cards can provide. Of course we also love the miles and points we earn in the process by using our rewards earning credit cards as much as possible.
What are some things your family pays for with a credit card to help earn points and meet minimum spending requirements?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.