If you’ve ever contemplated opening a credit card for the sign-up bonus, you’re probably aware of some of the terms: “Spend $x,000 in 90 days to receive xx,000 points/miles”. I’ve been opening these travel cards since March 2016, so I am familiar with the mental gymnastics involved for a fairly frugal person to try and line up a big batch of upcoming necessary spending to try and hit these multi-thousand dollar spending requirements in such a short time frame.
Last month, I applied for the Chase Business Ink Preferred (my referral link) card, thanks to a referral link from my friend Champagne & Capital Gains. She received 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points from Chase for referring me, and I got the opportunity to earn an 80,000-point sign-up bonus. The terms for this card required me to spend $5,000 in 3 months, which is *definitely* an elevated amount from my typical spending on credit cards in three months. But because I had not opened any other cards this year, I had a backlog of some of my favorite workarounds for having fairly massive spend, quickly! The rest of this post will be peppered with some of those ideas, including all of the ways I spent $5,080.23 on the card in only 5.5 weeks to hit the $5k minimum rapidly!
My first two “purchases” are my favorite kind, and I realize I will sound like a total dork for the words in the rest of this paragraph: Pre-paid my utility bills. My electric company (a small, local co-op) charges a flat $4 fee for making payments with a credit card, so I had to make sure the payment is large enough that my points earned will more than offset that $4 fee. Did you know you can pre-pay electric bills and other utilities? I estimate that my $1,000 payment ($996 + $4 fee) will keep me from having to pay another monthly electric bill for the next 14 months! See you in November 2020, Lee County Electric Co-op bill-pay! I also pre-paid $500 to Comcast/Xfinity for my internet bill, so that won’t be due again until sometime in the Spring of 2020. –Running total ($1,500 or 30% of the way to $5,000)
Up next were two very timely purchases that fit into the vein of charitable giving. Did you know that you can make charitable contributions via credit card? They get your charitable cash, and you get the points and credit towards a minimum spending requirement on a new card! Double Win! These two payments went to the Plutus Foundation for me to be the sponsor of the Best International Personal Finance Blog and to the ChooseFI International Foundation that launched during FinCon. With these payments totaling $599, I was almost 12% closer to my goal of $5,000.
With Hurricane Dorian then threatening to pummel the Bahamas, I wasn’t sure if my flight to FinCon would be able to take off. I didn’t want to risk missing my favorite week of the year, so I hit the road early. Not only did that help me with some additional fuel costs (see next category), but it also meant I had more days of food on the road, plus the FinCon week, plus another work conference the following week, so it would be hard to deal with buying groceries as I moved them from hotel to hotel (7 in total over 16 days). I mostly just ate at restaurants and picked up grocery-ish items in convenience stores along the road. Bonus, I got $222 of the food reimbursed from work for the 6 day work-trip, so that helps offset the $654 I spent over the 5 weeks on meals outside the house. Another 13% towards my goal.
I had actually hoped to spend $0 on fuel with this card, since my Chase Freedom is currently earning 5% cash back during Q3 of 2019, but during my road-trip up to Washington DC, my card was skimmed at a gas station along the way. So I had to cancel that card and put all of the gas spending on the new card. Works for me, since I was effectively earning 1 cent per dollar PLUS 16 cents per dollar for that 80,000 for $5,000 spending bonus, or a total of 17 cents per dollar. That beats 5 cents per dollar every day of the week! $169 to fuel up my gas-sipping Camry Hybrid, and I had another 3.4% of my requirement met.
Since the initial plan was to fly to DC using points, and stay in a cheap hotel using points, I hadn’t planned to spend much on hotels during this time period. But my good friend Military Dollar was trying to meet a requirement to earn upgraded status with a hotel chain, so she offered to book me a cheaper reservation at a hotel in Crystal City under her reservation, and she’d allow me to put it on my card and she’d pay me back. In addition, Mr. Refined By FIRE ended up coming early to go sight-seeing with a group of us, so I made sure my room had 2 beds and he split the cost of the hotel with me, too! I booked all sorts of rooms along my road-trip, from all-points, to all-cash prepaid rates, to a points & cash room night at a brand new hotel in Knoxville TN that looked like maybe 10 people stayed there that night! I didn’t want to use up all of my previously accumulated points on these unexpected room nights, but I also didn’t want to burn through a ton of my own cash for the rooms, either. I racked up a total of $510.54 (after a generous refund for the issues associated with check-in under Military Dollar’s reservation – which the hotel ROYALLY SCREWED UP and it took a call to their top manager to resolve). This total paid for a night in Raleigh/Durham, essentially one night in Crystal City, half of the Knoxville room, and a 1-night staycation for an evening work event last weekend. And another 10% of my goal met. (oh, and check out Military Dollar’s thread on the ordeal, the start of which is linked)
I have a story to tell all of you that may surprise you. It sure has surprised me as it’s been confirmed now by two hotel chains.
Let me first say: we are handling this. No need to tag any companies, for goodness’ sake. It’s under control. But you may want to read this.
— Military Dollar (@Military_Dollar) September 1, 2019
The worst possible time for your cell phone to start taking a crap on you is during a trip, a road-trip no less! My old 1st generation Google Pixel XL locked up, froze, or shut itself off 6 times during the 17 days I was on the road. Fortunately, a quick reset usually helped, but it was also running through a full charge very quickly, and I had to use 3 battery backups tp get through the two conferences. Not long after I got home from my trip, Google FI announced a 50% off sale for their Pixel 3 and 3 XL phones in honor of some anniversary of Google FI service (which I switched to back in April 2019) and before they launch the new Pixel 4 in October. Between buying a new phone outright and paying monthly cell bills, I chalked up another $558, or 11% of my spending needs for this card bonus.
Other transportation-related charges
Parking in these big cities does not come cheap! It was $34 per night in Baltimore and Crystal City, then $52 per night in DC proper. FinCon paid me back for my parking at the conference hotel (benefit of being on staff this year!) but I still paid over $132 (if this seems low, it’s because it also includes the cannibalization of my $194 deposit on the room from October 2018 when I made the reservation). Other one-off transportation charges included a Lime scooter, a SmarTrip card, and a flight to the EconoMe Conference in Cincinnati in March 2020. These added up to $288, so transportation and parking totaled $420, or 8.4% of my spending requirements.
Now I haven’t shown every expense down to the penny, but we’re around 87% of the way to $5,000 at this point. The rest falls all over the spectrum:
- Ticket to EconoMe Conference in March 2020. Pre-sale tickets are still available through October 31st for a reduced rate of $100 + Eventbrite fees.
- Pharmacy items (fighting off a cold since FinCon)
- Bought Silvia Ink’s book at FinCon
- Alcohol at conferences
- New 300-threadcount sheets for my bed; and
- Added $30 to my pre-paid toll account for my car.
This all put me over the top, and I’m set to earn the 80,000 point bonus on top of the 1c per dollar on most spending when my statement closes. Turns out, certain business-related items and travel spending actually earned 3c per dollar on this card. So in all, I will earn 89,526 Ultimate Rewards points for the $5,080 I spent on the card in the past 5.5 weeks. This yields an average of 17.6c per dollar spent, but Ultimate Rewards points are actually worth more than 1 cent each. I will transfer the points to my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, where the points are worth 1.5 cents each through the Ultimate Rewards portal, or they can be transferred to about a dozen different travel partners, where you can expect to get at least 2c per point valuation when you redeem them with Hyatt, British Airways, United, or a bit less with Southwest or JetBlue and some of the other travel partners.
This is my first (and potentially only) spending recap post, but I wanted to share how I was able to hit $5,000 in spending (a fairly high bar for most people) so quickly, while not actually spending that much out of pocket. I will have to eventually pay utility bills anyway, so this was just pulling forward some monthly spending. Gas, groceries, restaurants, hotels, parking, a flight, another conference ticket, some cough drops, cell phone bills, etc. Any other time I probably also would have tried to squeeze in an expensive home repair/upgrade bill or an insurance bill for home, flood or auto to help me get over the spending threshold. I hope these ideas help you in meeting the minimum spending requirement for your next travel card. Hit me up with questions in the comments!