Early this year, I took some time to calculate the total value of all of the credit card rewards I redeemed in 2014. Well, let me tell ya, the results were astounding. Including free hotel stays, airfare, cash-back, and other perks I redeemed, my hobby resulted in a “profit” of more than $20,000.

Of course, it wasn’t really profit by any stretch of the imagination, partly because some of those rewards included crazy hotel fares – like the $900 per night I would have paid to stay at the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris. Yeah, I never would have paid that out of pocket.

Either way, it’s a fun hobby. I enjoy both going on trips and writing about them as well. Of course, there’s no way I could afford to travel the way I do if not for credit card rewards.

Why I Love Bank Bonuses

But credit cards aren’t the only way to earn free stuff; I keep my eye out for bank bonuses too. Many times, banks will offer big bonuses to new customers willing transfer some money and open an account. Usually, you have to meet some other requirements, such as setting up direct deposit or meeting a spending limit as well.

The first bank bonus I earned was several years ago with Chase. They offered me $200 to open a checking account and $150 to open a savings account, which I gladly accepted (duh). The only requirements were that I set up direct deposit and keep at least $1,500 in savings. Done and done.

But that wasn’t the last time I signed up for a hefty bank bonus. In fact, I’ve “earned” several others since then. For example, I recently signed up for a new Huntington Bank account to receive a $200 bonus. All I had to do was keep $300 in the account for 60 days and make 10 purchases with a debit card. The money was no problem, and the 10 transactions weren’t either. I simply bought groceries as usual, then went through the self check-out so I could split it into 10 different orders. Was it a pain? Hell yes. However, I did make $200 for about 20 minutes of effort.

A few months ago, Greg was getting ready to leave his job and start a new business. And, lo and behold, he got a huge bank sign-up bonus offer for a business account around the same time. That one was from Huntington Bank too, and it was for $500. The only requirement was that he needed to keep $1,500 in his account for 180 days and make six transactions with his new debit card. I bet you can guess how that went. Pretty amazing, I think. His business was brand new at the time, but he had already made $500!

The Easy Way I Made $1,000 Last Week

Well, guess what. It happened again. I opened my mail the other day to a completely different bank bonus offer from Huntington Bank. But this time, it was targeted at Club Thrifty LLC. What’s even more awesome is that this offer was for $1,000, and from what I could tell, the only requirement was that I had to keep $1,500 in a new checking account for at least 180 days. No direct deposit or anything!

Obviously, I was all over that. But when I got to the bank and started chatting with the friendly bank employee, I found that I missed a piece of the fine print. Not only did I have to keep $1,500 in checking, but I also had to carry at least $5,000 over all of my Huntington accounts combined. That wasn’t a big deal, especially to earn $1,000, so I went ahead and plopped $5,000 from my existing business account into the new one.

The crazy thing is, the extra grand was sitting pretty in my account within a few days. It almost makes me want to pinch myself. #Winning

I made $1,000 last week with this sweet bank bonus!

Keys to Optimizing Bank Bonuses

Bank bonuses are definitely free money, but there are a few things to watch out for if you want to maximize them. As always, the devil is in the details. Here are some tips that can help you weed out the awesome offers from the crummy ones:

  • Make sure there aren’t any checking fees – A lot of banks offer a bonus that they merely intend to drain away through monthly checking fees. However, you can usually avoid fees by keeping a minimum balance in your account. Always ask and see what that minimum balance is before you pull the trigger.
  • Make sure to keep your money in there for the required number of months – A lot of banks that offer bonuses require that you keep your money on deposit for a certain length of time – usually between 60 and 180 days. In the fine print, they’ll casually mention that they will snap back that bank bonus if you close your account early. Don’t let them. Mark the date on your calendar, and make sure not to close your account or withdraw your funds early.
  • Watch out for other fees – In addition to maintenance fees, other fees may apply when you open a new account. Keep an eye out for debit card fees, fees for paper checks and statements, and other fees they may try to sneak by you. There are usually ways to avoid them, but you have to know about them first.

As always, the key to properly utilizing bank bonuses is knowing how they work and reading all of the fine print. And sometimes, you have to go through a bit of a hassle, e.g. splitting your groceries into ten different orders.

Personally, I find the hassle to be worth it. Who else is going to pay me $1,000 to sit in a stuffy bank and make small talk for an hour? On my way out the door, they even gave me five free pens! It doesn’t get any better than that.

Have you ever opened a checking or savings account in order to earn a bonus? What kind of bank bonuses have you pursued lately?