How to reach the minimum spend for a credit card sign-up bonus
Part of the lure to get people to apply for credit cards is a large sign-up bonus. The exact amount varies, but many can exceed 100,000 points. While lucrative, the sign-up bonuses often require a minimum spend in a relatively short period of time. These can be anywhere in the range of $3,000-$10,000 over two to three months, or in some cases it may be a minimum spend every month for 3-4 months. Many people using this system to get a windfall of points may find that they are coming up short of the minimum spend requirement. This can be an even trickier issue for those people who have jumped in deep with more than one card offer requiring a minimum spend. Even though the bonus points are valuable there is not much point trying to chase a bonus if you need to spend substantial amounts on items you may not have purchased otherwise. So what can be done?

The best approach is to look at payments you will have to make at some point in the near future and pay them in advance or bring them forward. This way you are not spending more over a period of time, but just shifting the payments earlier to help qualify for the sign-up bonus. One important point is that this assumes you will be able to pay off the credit card monthly payments in full when the next statement is due. If not, you card will attract significant charges, reducing the benefit you obtained from the signup bonus.

What doesn't work
Not everything on a credit card will count towards the minimum spend requirements. Each card can have its own quirks but these are the ones that typically will not count.

  • Cash advances, bpay, purchase of foreign currencies, online gambling

  • Credit card charges (annual fees, interest, other credit card fees)

  • Purchases specifically excluded from your credit card's conditions. In some cases this may be payments to the ATO or in the case of many Citibank cards, government bills. It is important to understand what is considered an 'eligible transaction' for your card. It can be a little tricky as items such as tolls and parking stations may not earn points on some cards, even though it appears to be a private operator offering the service. Public transport, fine payments, payments at Australia post are also areas unlikely to earn points with certain credit card providers.

  • Be cautious with gift cards. Some cards will work while some others will not. As a general rule, a gift card that can only be used to purchase goods and services from a particular retailer will qualify. However gift cards such as a pre-paid Visa or MasterCard may be treated as a cash advance if you use your credit card to buy them, and they may carry additional card fees of $5-10 per card. If you have time, a test run may show if it qualifies but generally you will have to wait until your statement to see the outcome.

  • Note: you could try calling the credit card company but you may find that the call centre you contact is not quite up to speed about the more intricate details of what qualifies.

    What can work
    If you are new to credit cards, channelling your cash purchases to credit cards will help improve your spend. Everything from lunch, to buying drinks at a bar can make a difference over a 2-3 month period. Just be careful not to overspend, or use your card on items not considered an 'eligible transaction'. Payments to the ATO used to be an easy mechanism to hit target but many cards no longer include the ATO as part of the minimum spend.

  • Supermarket gift cards
    If your preferred supermarket is Coles or Woolworths, this is the easiest way to boost your minimum spend without needing to buy more items. Both supermarkets offer gift cards and in the case of Woolworths you can even get a 5% discount by using the gift card system online. Gift cards can often be used at more than just supermarkets. For example Woolworths e-gift cards can be used at BWS. The good thing about supermarket gift cards is that they don't attract additional charges, unlike Westfield Cards ($2.95-$4.95 per card). A $100 e-gift card from Woolworth via Cashrewards cost $95, but a Westfield costs at least $102.95

    To get the 5% discount on e-gift cards at Woolworths, purchase them via Cashrewards. Simply log into Cashrewards, or sign-up here with a free $5 credit new window, and search for Woolworths. The 5% is applied on the spot at the online check-out, so if you were to buy a $500 e-gift card, you'll only pay $475 for it. Payments by gift cards still earn the same amount of Woolworths Rewards points. Note also, that you should avoid the normal physical gift cards as these attract a $5 charge and will require you to carry the physical card for redemption.

  • Pay bills in advance
    Health insurance, electricity, gas, water, internet and telephone allow you to make a manual payment and this will deducted from your next bill or bills. For health insurance, pre-paying it in advance can add a fair amount to your spend. One example may be a monthly payment plan that is paid six months in advance. In some cases, paying in advance can attract a cheaper rate or keep your premium at an existing rate for the period you've paid if a price rise comes into effect over that time.

    By putting your regular bills into credit though a manual payment, it will not change the total that you spend in the months that follow. The bill will simply show a credit until it is all used up, but the payment will be counted as part of your spend at the time you make it. A regular monthly bill for your telephone or internet may be around $100. Pay $600 in a manual payment and that's an easy way to lift your minimum spend instantly. This trick works even if you have an auto-pay set up as it will only deduct a payment when you owe them money (that is, all your credit has been used up).

    Note some cards, such as those issued by Citibank may make certain exclusions for payments to electricity, water or gas. So be sure to double check that the payments still count.