Traveling can be expensive. We know. Over the last few years, we’ve made over 30 trips to Europe, the Caribbean, and all over the U.S. There is no way we could have done it without using credit card rewards.
For travelers in the know, the best ways to nab tons of points quickly is to earn a signup bonus. These enticing offers help you travel for less, redeem gift cards, or provide a nice cash option. Frankly, we love ourselves a good bonus!
Of course, credit card companies don’t give these bonuses away for free. To earn a signup bonus, you’ll first need to complete a few tasks. And while the rules are usually pretty straightforward, there are a few items that could trip you up. Here are 7 mistakes that could keep you from earning those bonuses you crave.
7 Mistakes that Could Cost You a Signup Bonus
Not Spending Enough
If you’ve ever earned a signup bonus before, this might seem a wee bit obvious. If you haven’t, not so much.
Here’s the deal: Most signup bonuses have a minimum spending requirement attache, which you need to meet in order to qualify for the bonus. The amount of money you’re required to spend varies widely from card to card. For instance, to earn the current $150 signup bonus on the Chase Freedom Unlimited™ Card, you only need to spend $500. On the other hand, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card currently requires a minimum spend of $4,000. In fact, we recently completed a minimum spend on a business card that required us to spend $10,000 in just 90 days. Which brings us to mistake number two…
Not Completing the Minimum Spending Requirement on Time
To earn a signup bonus, you must complete the minimum spending requirement within an allotted period of time. Again, the amount of time varies by card; but, in most cases, you’ll earn the bonus by spending the required amount within the first 90 days of opening your new account. Fall just a dollar short or complete the spend a day late and you won’t get the signup bonus.
It’s important to note that you need to hit your minimum spending requirement within the first 90 days of opening the account – NOT activating your card! This is an important distinction, and you need to follow it closely. A good friend of ours made this mistake…and it cost them a buttload of points! (BTW, that’s the technical term for 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points.)
Assuming Your Annual Fee Counts Toward the Spending Requirement
Some credit cards offering a signup bonus have an annual fee attached to them. Unless that fee is waived for the first year, you’ll usually pay it on your first month’s bill. But, paying an annual fee isn’t always a deal breaker. Sometimes the signup bonus or the card benefits outweigh the fee itself.
What you don’t want to do is assume the annual fee counts toward your minimum spending requirement. It doesn’t. Paying the annual fee is a separate requirement from any spending you do on the card to earn the bonus. So, if your minimum spending requirement is $3,500 and there’s an annual fee of $99, you’ll actually end up spending $3,599 to meet the requirement.
In the same vein, interest charges and balance transfers also don’t count toward meeting spending requirements. Remember, minimum spending requirements must be met by purchases only.
Redeeming Travel Credits Too Early
Some of my favorite travel credit cards offer “statement credits” that can be used on travel expenses. I use these credits all the time, and they’re a huge perk of holding certain cards.
That being said, you have to be careful about redeeming your travel credits while you’re still meeting your minimum spending requirement. Using them too early could cause you to lose your bonus. For example, let’s say you use your new card to book $1,000 in airline costs. You then use a $500 travel credit from your card to pay for half of it. Because you used your travel credit on a purchase needed to meet a minimum spending requirement, you only get credit for spending $500 on that $1,000 purchase. Make sense?
Returning a Big-Ticket Item
When pursuing a signup bonus, it’s fairly common to use your new card to purchase big-ticket items. In fact, I’d argue the best time to apply for a card is right before taking on a major expense or project! That being said, you’ll only earn the points if you keep the item.
Returning a large purchase could disqualify that purchase from the minimum spending requirement. And don’t try to get cute either. If you return the item after being awarded points, you’ll almost certainly lose the points you earned on the amount you spent. Worse yet, they could take back the signup bonus too.
Too Much Manufactured Spending
First of all, if you’ve never heard of manufactured spending, you’re definitely not ready to do it. Seriously, this can be a very dangerous game. If you don’t know what you’re doing, stay away.
Manufactured spending is basically a way to shift money around so you’re showing purchases that didn’t actually happen. For instance, MSers use their credit cards to purchase an item that holds monetary value. Then, they redeem that item for cash and stick the money back in their bank account. This makes it appear as though they’ve made purchases, but they haven’t spent much at all…other than a few dollars in fees.
Personally, we only use our cards to make legit purchases…and I’m glad we do. Credit card companies are aware this is going on, and some have implemented rules to prevent it. In any case, if you get caught, you could lose all of your points. For the average point user, it’s best just to stay away.
When chasing a signup bonus, failing to pay your balance and incurring interest charges is pretty much the worst mistake you can possibly make. Unfortunately, it’s also the most common. The whole goal of earning signup bonuses is to use the cash or points to save money. The last thing you want to do is rack up debt, accrue interest, and pay more than you should’ve in the first place!
If you can’t pay cash for an item, you shouldn’t put it on your card. Period. You’d be far better off saving your money in a separate travel savings fund and avoiding the points game all together. Credit card debt isn’t something to play around with, and it can quickly destroy your financial stability.
Seriously, be honest with yourself. You know your spending habits and financial limitations. If you aren’t prepared to pay your card in full each and every month, please stay away from this hobby!
Although some card issuers are making it harder to land a signup bonus (see the Chase 5/24 rule), these huge point hauls are still well worth chasing. When you qualify for a card, just be sure you follow the rules. If not, you could end up missing out on some pretty sweet deals.
OK, it’s your turn! Have you ever had your points rescinded? What other mistakes should others avoid?