Credit Card Welcome Bonuses

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Once you start travel hacking, you’ll quickly realize that the most important things are the credit card welcome bonuses that you get when you sign up for a new credit card. There’s simply no other way to earn points so quickly. To give you some context, I recently signed up for the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card where the welcome bonus was worth up to 150,000 Aeroplan points. I personally value 1 Aeroplan point at 2 cents, so that’s $3,000 in value I was getting.

What turns off many people from getting into the travel hacking game is the minimum spend requirement to get the welcome bonus since it can be $1,000 – $6,000. Some people think it’s not worth the trouble or they’ll never be able to spend that much in 3 – 6 months. Here’s the thing, it’s actually really easy to meet the minimum spend requirement if you have a strategy in mind.

What is a good welcome bonus?

In case you’re not aware, most credit cards come with a welcome bonus to encourage you to sign up. These bonuses can be worth hundreds of dollars, sometimes thousands, which is crazy. The question is, what is a good sign up bonus?

Generally speaking, you should only apply for a credit card with a welcome bonus that’s worth at least $500. Keep in mind that you need to factor in the annual fee. If the welcome bonus is worth $400, but the annual fee of $119, then you’re walking away with $519 in value. That’s probably still worth your trouble. 

What can often throw people off is the value of your points. You need to figure out the value of your points as they’re not always the same. Most bank rewards programs have a value of 1 cent per point, although BMO Rewards have a lower value. Aeroplan rewards are dynamic in price, but I value 1 Aeroplan point at 2 cents. That means a welcome bonus of 25,000 points from two different loyalty programs can have two very different values.

Additionally, most credit card welcome bonuses have a minimum spend requirement, often known as the MSR. Generally speaking, the MSR is usually $1,000 to $3,000 and you have three months to reach it. That said, there are a few cards that give you the welcome bonus after one purchase or your first statement. On the flip side of things, there are bonuses that require a minimum spend of $5,000+. That may seem crazy to some people, but the number of points you get is usually worth it.

American Express Platinum Card

  • $699 annual fee
  • Up to 105,000 Membership Rewards points welcome bonus when using a referral link
  • Earn 3 points per $1 spent on dining, 2 points on travel, and 1 point on all other purchases
  • $200 annual travel credit
  • Unlimited airport lounge access
  • Hotel status upgrades

Tips on how to meet the minimum spend requirement

Quite often, the biggest barrier for people who want to travel hack is the minimum spend requirements. Many people don’t think they’ll be able to spend thousands of dollars in just a few months. The thing is, if you added up your monthly expenses, you’re probably spending more than you realize. 

The other argument is that not every merchant accepts American Express, so meeting the minimum is not realistic. While that may be true, there are a few tips that can help you meet your MSR (minimum spend requirement) without much work.

Look for major expenses

Most people will usually have at least one major expense a year that will cover the entire MSR. For example, auto and home insurance could easily add up to $2,000 a year. Other expenses to consider include your dental and prescription drugs. Even if you have health benefits, you could pay with your credit card first and then make a claim after. 

Travel expenses can also add up to a few hundred dollars. Possibly thousands. If you know that you have a major expense coming up, it’s worth applying for a new credit card in advance so you can use that purchase to meet your minimum spend requirement.

Buy a lot of gift cards

One of the not so obvious, but easy ways to meet your MSR is to buy gift cards. I have personally bought Amazon and grocery store gift cards because I know I’ll use them eventually. Although I’m tying up my money in gift cards, it’s worth it since I need the spending to get my credit card welcome bonuses.

It’s also worth mentioning that there are gift cards for everything these days. Grocery stores and drug stores typically sell gift cards from different merchants in denominations of $25 – $500. There are even generic prepaid gift cards that you can keep preloading.

Pay for other people’s expenses

Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to literally pay for other people’s expenses. What I’m suggesting is that you tell your friends or family that you’re trying to reach your MSR and you’d be happy to put their expenses on your credit card if they don’t mind paying you back in cash. 

One really easy way to do this is to offer to pay with your credit card when you’re out with friends or family. They can then give you cash or e-transfer you the money that they owe. If you do it enough, your friends will just automatically assume you want to pay with your card every time, which isn’t a bad thing. 

Switch your monthly payments

Although annoying, if you were to switch all your automatic monthly payments to your new credit card, you could probably end up charging a few hundred dollars a month. I personally pay for newspaper subscriptions, streaming services, internet, my wireless phone, and property taxes every month. Altogether, that’s close to $600 a month I’m charging. Before I bought my condo, my old property manager allowed me to pay my rent with my credit card. That was $1,300 a month that helped me meet my MSR.

Prepay your bills

Most cable, internet, and wireless providers will allow you to prepay your accounts. This is an easy way to reach your MSR since you can easily load up hundreds or thousands of dollars. Admittedly, this trick is very similar to buying gift cards, but when prepaying bills, you can usually pay higher amounts.

As you can see, meeting the minimum spend requirement is a lot easier than you may have thought. If you’re only applying for one new card a year, then your natural spending will likely be enough. However, if you’re getting multiple cards or applying for a premium card with a high MSR, then one of the above tricks should help you reach your goal.

Be sure to track your spending

Since credit card welcome bonuses are the easiest way to earn points or miles fast, you need to make sure you meet the minimum spend requirement. Credit card providers give no leeway whatsoever. Even if you miss your minimum spend requirement by two dollars, you won’t get your bonus.

Since these rules are so strict, you should track your spending. This shouldn’t be a problem since all of your purchases will be displayed online. You can quickly add up everything to see where you stand. That said, the annual fee you pay does not count towards the minimum spend requirement. Also, if you make any returns, you need to subtract that amount from what you’ve spent.

It’s also worth mentioning that your window to meet the minimum spend requirement starts from the day you’re approved for your credit card. Not the date you receive or activate it. 

Travel Hacking for Lazy People

Credit Card Welcome Bonuses

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

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