Its no secret that the quickest way to earn points and miles towards free travel is to signup for the best available credit card offers. If you’re eyeing a luxury trip overseas, for example, its not that hard to find a collection of signup offers that would get you there. The hard part, for many, is meeting the minimum spend requirements that most of the best offers include. The best credit card offers usually require anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 in spend over three months.
I write often about opportunities to meet spend requirements through purchase and liquidation of gift cards and reload cards. These techniques usually require visits to stores (usually in the United States) that allow customers to buy these items with credit cards. I hear often from readers, though, who are unable to use these techniques. Either they live in the US but far from any useful stores, or they spend most of their time outside of the United States. In those situations, meeting minimum spend requirements can be a big challenge.
Signing up for credit cards or buying things online from outside of the US is an easy way to trigger fraud alerts when using a US address as your home/billing address. One workaround is to setup a computer in the US with remote control software (such as LogMeIn). This will let you connect to that computer remotely and surf the web as if you are still in the United States.
Another thing that might be helpful is to have a trusted friend in the United States who is willing to pick up your mail and send you the card numbers, expiration dates, and security codes on any credit cards or gift cards you have ordered. An easy way to do this would be for them to use their phone to take pictures of the cards (front and back) and forward those photos to you.
With the above ideas in mind, here now are my top picks for meeting minimum spend requirements at home or abroad…
Use Amazon Payments to pay friends or family members, with a credit card, with no fee. Amazon does limit each person to a maximum of $1000 sent per month. So, many people setup circles where they pay friend B, and friend B pays friend C, and friend C pays them. Generally if you pay just one other person back and forth without making a wider circle, you may be at risk of getting your Amazon Payments account shut down (but that won’t affect your regular Amazon account).
American Express Serve cards can be loaded by credit card, up to $1000 per month online. And, if you have the Isis version of Serve, the limit goes up to $1500 per month. Note that the primary account holder name on the credit card must match the name on the Serve account.
Kiva is a nonprofit organization that provides micro-loans to enterprising individuals around the world so that they may earn their own way out of poverty. One great feature of Kiva is that you can make loans using your credit card. You won’t earn interest on your loans, but most loans do pay back in full… eventually. The biggest downside to this approach is that it can take anywhere from 4 months to several years to get your money back depending upon which loans you fund. So, this approach is only useful for those who have the money to float. For a full write-up about this approach, please see: Kiva: loans, points, and miles.
This approach isn’t for me, but I expect that it appeals to some. Fantasy sports leagues and other online betting options often accept credit cards for funding bets. Travel Summary has a great write-up here.
Pay Bills (sometimes for a fee)
Obviously, if you have bills that can be paid directly by credit card fee-free, you should do so. With some bills, though, you might not realize that there are options to pay by credit card. For example:
- Pay taxes by credit card. You will incur fees, but it can be worth it to meet minimum spend requirements. See “The ultimate guide to paying taxes by credit card, debit card, or gift card.”
- Use services such as WilliamPaid to pay rent, or ChargeSmart to make mortgage payments via credit card. As with tax payments, these services do charge fees, but depending upon your situation, it may be worth it.
Buy debit, and pay bills for free
Evolve Money offers a way to pay many bills via debit cards, without fees (see “Pay bills online with debit and prepaid cards”). While it is sometimes possible to use credit cards with Evolve, I don’t recommend it (see “Don’t do it”). Instead, use your credit card to buy Visa or MasterCard debit cards and then use those to pay your bills. Here are some options for buying from home or abroad:
- Buy a Virtual Visa eGift from GiftCards.com. If you buy $500 at a time, the $4.95 fee comes to just 1% which isn’t bad considering that you’ll earn credit card rewards from the purchase. I don’t believe that there are currently any portals that pay out for GiftCards.com orders.
- Buy physical gift cards from GiftCardMall.com. They will charge card fees and shipping fees, but you can reduce the sting a bit by finding a cashback portal that pays out for Visa gift cards bought at GiftCardMall. You’ll have to read the fine print within each portal, though. Some explicitly say that no cash back is given for Visa gift card orders. Others have lower cash back rates for such orders. TopCashBack, for example, currently offers 1% cash back for most gift cards, but only .5% cash back for Visa gift cards.
- Sign up for Visa Buxx cards which can be loaded via credit card. The Free-quent Flyer has the scoop here.
Pay bills for friends and family
If you know people who pay their bills from their bank account rather than by credit card, one option is to ask them if you can pay the bills for them. They can then transfer the money to you so you can pay off your credit card bill.
I’m sure I must have missed some good techniques that don’t require driving to a store. Can you think of any?
Last updated on September 29th, 2014