Conferring with the enemy (Part 2): Fulfilling minimum spend requirements on a credit card

Photo courtesy of 401kcalculator.org

All posts in this series:

In the last post, I talked about how I could fly to Europe with a minimum of frequent flyer miles, but how it would involve getting a credit card. Specifically, it would involve meeting the minimum spend on the new credit card.

After a fair amount of hand wringing, I decided that the risk was low, and the potential for learning was high. So I pulled the trigger.

So, if all went well, I would receive 50,000 Avios (British Airways miles) after spending $2,000 on the card within three months.

I wasn’t entirely sure when that three months timer started (did it happen when the account opened, when I received the card, or when I activated the card?) but I was hoping to get this over with as quickly as possible, so I wouldn’t have to care.

I had some work-related travel, and I figured that I could put all of it on the card. If I was lucky, this could get me all the way there. Unfortunately, while the trip did get me more than half of the way there, I still had a few hundred dollars left to go. And the clock was ticking.

Here’s how it worked out:

How to avoid money laundering

A quick search brings up dozens of websites on with many ideas on how to meet the minimum spend on a credit card. Here’s one example.

But most of these are hard to swallow. The biggest pill for me is “put everyday spending on a credit card”. I think this is a terrible idea. First of all, you haven’t actually spent money when you’ve put it on a credit card. How do you budget around money that you’ve only promised to spend? Unless of course, you’re not budgeting at all, in which case, you’re going to make poor (expensive) decisions.

Here are some more pieces of advice I got, and why I dislike them.

  • Pay your bills. Sorry, I don’t pay bills. What I mean is, I have all my payments set up to be automated (right from my checking account). If I’m going to muck about and change the payment source, nothing can go wrong, right? And then to switch back again? No thanks, my bills are staying put. I don’t mess around.
  • Pay taxes. Yes, it’s tax season, so this makes sense to come up. And there are services that will do this, at least in the US but they charge a fee. Do you want to pay a 2% tax on your taxes? If you have a big tax bill, then you don’t want to do this, and if you have a small tax bill, then what’s the point?
  • Donate to crowdfunded loan sites. Charitable sites like Kiva will allow you to fund your account with a credit card. And since you are loaning money to small businesses, you will eventually get your money back. Now consider the opportunity cost for this money that you are giving up by doing this. (And never mind that the last loan I made to Kiva defaulted.)

The gift card wall

I found myself once again in a late night errand to find a way to spend money. (Yes, again.)

My local grocery store, like most of them, has a wall of gift cards. These are both store gift cards (Starbucks, Home Depot, etc.) and generic money cards (VISA, AMEX).

I frowned at the selection. Buying store cards is not something I like to do, as it induces spending. (This is also why I think the Starbucks Rewards program is a bad deal.) And buying gift cards? I felt like it would be much the same thing.

And plus, these gift cards all came with charges. I could buy a gift card for a $6 fee. Okay, $6 isn’t going to break any banks here, but it still felt a little wrong to me.

I walked out. Buying gift cards was not the solution.

Time is running short

I also had another pressure: award flights were going away.

Just because you have 50,000 or 500,000 or even 5,000,000 miles doesn’t mean anything if there are no flights that you can book on them. And as I’ve seen from previous experience, it can be a big pain to find availability.

And in this case, I was watching availability slowly erode. That was a risk I hadn’t thought about: what if I succeed in getting these miles, but then I can’t book the flight? Cue a giant facepalm.

So there was pressure to finish this exercise up. If when the miles posted, there weren’t any flights available, I’d need to retrench, and only a few months before the date. In the peak of summer. That would be an expensive mistake.

Groceries for the win

I decided that if I was going to put spending on the card, that it would be a minimum of purchases. Instead of swiping every time I got lunch, I wanted to find a big purchase or two and call it good. It would be easier to track that way.

And I found this solution back at the grocery store. But instead of buying gift cards, I just bought a lot of groceries.

I decided that if I bought a lot of groceries this month, it could put me over the threshold. I would buy things for both this month and next month too. I couldn’t buy perishables, of course, but there were plenty of items that I would use even if I bought them in advance.

And so, three months after I applied for this card, and two months since I started spending money on it, I reached my $2,000 minimum spend. I’d reckon that I probably spent upwards of $100 more than I would have if I hadn’t been working on this harebrained scheme. Which is kind of a lot, though if I can make the flight work, then on balance the savings will still be significant.

So now we wait to see if the miles post, and when. And if there are any flights available at that point.

In the meantime, time to put the card away, out of my wallet, and back in the drawer. And then go take a long shower.

But enough about me. Have you ever gone through the minimum spending process?

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

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Mike Pumphrey
Posted on March 26, 2015