Almost every new credit card I sign up for comes with a large, up-front miles or points bonus for spending a certain amount in a certain time frame. Some cards require thousands of dollars of purchases that you may not regularly make. Other times, you may be trying to hit the minimum spend for a churn. Here are some ideas to help you get over the minimum spend hump.
Buy Gift Cards
The easiest possible solution is to simply buy gift cards at the grocery store to meet your minimum spend. For gift cards you can use anywhere, like a Visa gift card, you may have to pay a fee of $3-$5 per $500 card, but that is totally worth it for 10,000 miles, let alone some cards that give you up to 50,000.
If you buy Visa or American Express gift cards, you can then use them anywhere at your leisure and can rest easy knowing you have already hit your spend required for the big bonus. If you buy one for a store, make sure it is one you shop at regularly and will not spend extra at just because of the gift card. Think of Amazon or the grocery store for this.
However, there are even better ways if you are willing to put in a little work. Here’s some ideas to get you started.
Cash In Your Visa Gift Cards
One option with Visa gift cards to get the money out without spending a dime is Amazon Payments. With Amazon Payments, you can send up to $1,000 per month fee free from a credit card. You can cash out a credit card, after registering it online, and send the funds to your significant other, roommate, parent, or anyone else you trust. They can then withdraw for free to their bank account and write you a check or give you the cash. Your only expense is the gift card fee.
Another option to cash out a Visa gift card is to send it to a Bluebird card from American Express. Bluebird is kind of like a checking account without the checking account. If you get a Visa gift card and can assign a pin, you can then take it to any Walmart cash register and load the gift card balance to your Bluebird card as a debit + PIN transaction.
Once the balance is in your Bluebird account, you can use the free bill pay to pay your credit card or any other bill or use the checking feature (currently 100% free including checks) to withdraw the funds. You could also pay at businesses using the Bluebird card for a small fee.
Another option is to use Vanilla Reload cards (make sure to get the right one, there are several Vanilla branded cards available) and load that balance to your Bluebird card online.
Not all retailers will allow you to buy a Vanilla Reload using a credit card, but I’ve had luck at 7 Eleven and some drug stores. Once you buy the Vanilla Reload card, which comes with a $4 fee, you can load it up to the Bluebird from the comfort of your own home.
Just like with the Walmart example above, you can then do what you like with the balance on your Bluebird card. Vanilla Reload cards work with other options as well, but Bluebird was easiest and free-est for me.
GreenDot MoneyPak, not to be confused with the GreenDot reloadable card, are similar to Vanilla Reload cards. I have purchased GreenDot MoneyPak cards at RiteAid with a credit card in the past. From there, you have to load it onto another card like in the Bluebird example.
My favorite card for loading a GreenDot MoneyPak is the H&R Block Emerald card, available for free at any H&R Block store. You can then load the GreenDot MoneyPak to that card online just like the Vanilla Reload to Bluebird example above.
You can also find reloadable PayPal cards at some retail stores. Many stores require you to pay in cash, which doesn’t work for credit card miles. You can then load the balance into your PayPal account and transfer to your bank.
I advise using serious caution when using PayPal for this purpose. Many people have had their account shutdown when doing this frequently.
Get All the Miles You Can, Never Get Discouraged
You may find it challenging to find stores that will take a credit card for each of these, but there is always a way. Don’t get discouraged. Stick to your guns and get your hard earned and well deserved miles. I used credit card miles for a recent trip to Israel with my girlfriend. We spent less than $300 on the airfare roundtrip from Denver to Tel Aviv and back.
You can also use this method to pad your balance when you are trying to get more miles or rewards. With an Ink card from Chase, buying $1,000 in gift cards yields you 5,000 miles. Even at $5 per $500 gift card, my recent round-trip DEN-LAS flight would cost less than $50. That’s a sweet deal!
How Do You Travel Hack for Miles?
What is your best strategy to hit minimum spends for miles and get even more with credit cards? Share your strategies in the comments. Also, don't miss my new ultimate guide to starting with travel hacking.
Image by playerx / flickr