The key to earning a lot of travel rewards is to take advantage of the great welcome bonuses on credit cards, which are essentially free rewards just for getting the card. These almost always require a minimum amount to spend in the first few months, also called the minimum spend requirement (MSR). This is easier to reach than it looks—especially when you know how!
Most minimum spend requirements range from $1,500 to $3,000 in the first 3 months, which is the equivalent of just $115 to $231 per week (3 months = 13 weeks, not 12).
It’s certainly doable with these 5 tips (and a bonus one)—but always keep in mind the important things to know too (and the basics of minimum spends; also below the tips).
5 tips to reach minimum spend requirements
I’m pretty frugal but with these tips, I am still able to unlock many welcome bonuses every year. In short, getting many great welcome bonuses is possible even if you spend less, but it might require a bit more effort and time investment than for someone who spends more.
Remember that you should never spend more just to get rewards. That is a horrible idea and it’s not the way to do this. I easily get way over $1,000 in welcome bonuses every year without ever spending more than I would normally have. That’s how you should maximize travel rewards.
1. Use the card for all your regular expenses
You might be surprised by how much you are already spending every month because sadly most people don’t even track their finances (you really should; if only to help you travel more).
According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian household spends over $7,800 per month. Wow. I’m honestly a bit shocked by that number. People sure love to buy useless stuff instead of traveling…
Okay, that includes our high taxes and a lot of other expenses that can’t be paid by credit card (well… see the last tip) but still, that’s a lot of spending.
Anyway… for many of you, reaching your card’s minimum spend requirement is almost automatic as long as you use your new card for:
Many cards offer free supplementary cards (also called additional cards) to make it even easier for all the household’s spending to go towards the minimum spend requirement. But if not, just add the card to the other family member’s mobile wallet (Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc.), and voila. Or share the same physical card based on who will be spending the most that day if you don’t have a smartphone.
Yes, pay even the smallest purchases with credit cards. Delete your cash, you shouldn’t even be using that: it’s 2021. It’s so much more efficient with contactless card payments too.
You should always pay everything you can with a credit card — unless you like throwing money away. It’s not just the rewards you’ll earn: you will also get great protections with credit card insurance coverage (remember: as long as you pay your account in full at the end of the month, using a credit card does not cost you a penny in interest or any other fee).
2. Pre-pay for future purchases
If you still are a bit short, this technique is pretty simple. You can pre-pay future expenses within the 3 month period to reach the minimum spend requirement (assuming you have the liquidity to do so without incurring interest fees; although even a bit of interest fees could be worth it if the welcome bonus is huge—always do the math).
You can pre-pay:
- Bill payments
- Regular purchases
Bill payments are pretty simple: nothing keeps you from paying $100 towards your cellphone bill a month early. The provider certainly won’t complain.
But it’s much simpler to do it for regular purchases via gift cards.
Go to your local grocery store, pharmacy, convenience store, big-box store… or any retailer that sells a variety of retailer gift cards and just buy the gift cards in advance. These never expire and are completely free to buy (prepaid credit cards can have fees and might expire—but retailer gift cards won’t).
This is also a great trick to reach minimum spend requirements on American Express cards, as these often have the most lucrative welcome bonuses… but are not accepted as widely. There are many grocery stores in Canada that accept Amex cards, as does Walmart and pretty much every pharmacy and convenience store. So if you buy gift cards there, it’ll be easier to reach your minimum spend requirement.
Of course, be sure to buy gift cards for places where you shop often and where you’re sure to be able to use them relatively quickly.
3. Ask your friends and family for help
This tip is also quite simple: see if your family members or your friends have some expenses coming up in the next 3 months that they don’t mind letting you pay. Even easier when it’s a large purchase, it’s faster.
Let’s say your father / brother / friend has to buy a $500 item at Canadian Tire… just pay for it and he can pay you back the $500.
As a thank you, you can even buy them a gift card for the amount of rewards they would have earned had they paid themselves (the 1% or 2% most people are content with instead of the ≈ 20% effective rate you get with welcome bonuses).
So it’s free for you, since you are earning the rewards too and just giving them back to them… and helps you get the much bigger welcome bonus. Buying that gift card also helps you with another purchase that goes towards the minimum spend: 2 birds with 1 stone.
This works even better if you know people who sadly still use debit cards or even cash; they’ll be even happier to help (and hopefully you’ll also do them a huge favor and help them realize that they should get one of the best credit cards in Canada ASAP).
4. Use the refundable hotel trick
This trick comes in very handy if you just want to give yourself more time to reach the minimum amount, instead of sticking to the bank’s deadline.
Basically, the trick is that you’ll book (and prepay) for a hotel for a date that is later than your deadline, only to cancel it and get your money back when you reach the minimum amount (say in the 7th month instead of the 3rd).
There are 6 things to keep in mind:
- The hotel’s price has to be the amount you are missing
- The hotel has to be a refundable rate
- The hotel has to be a prepaid rate
- You have to book as far as possible into the future
- You still need to reach the minimum amount eventually
- You have to make sure you don’t forget to get a refund for the hotel
Obviously, the goal is for you to reach the minimum total amount required, so the price must be the amount you are missing… that goes without saying.
Many hotels offer a rate option that gives you a full refund if you change your mind. Make sure this is the case (anyway, savvy travelers should always check the change policies when making any reservation—they are clearly stated).
Make sure it’s a prepaid rate (and not payable at the hotel as is often the case) because the goal is to make the purchase within your allotted time for the welcome bonus.
You need to book the hotel as far into the future as possible, to give yourself time to reach the minimum amount before you can cancel the hotel booking. Basically, you are changing your minimum spend deadline from the bank’s deadline to your hotel’s deadline for the free refund.
Yes, you still need to reach the minimum amount that the welcome bonus requires, because if after your hotel refund you fall below the minimum amount that the bonus required, the card issuer could retroactively take away your welcome bonus. You don’t want that of course! But this gives you more time.
Finally, make sure you set a reminder in your calendar or with your preferred method so you don’t forget to cancel the hotel and avoid paying that for nothing. Very important!
This tip obviously requires you to pay off the hotel (you should never carry a balance on a credit card) so there is an opportunity cost (not being able to invest that money) and there’s a requirement that you have the available liquidities of course.
You can read our ultimate guide to the refundable hotel trick, with the 2 other scenarios where you can use it in addition to helping you unlock your welcome bonus (one is recommended, the other isn’t).
5. Pay any bill with a credit card
You can even pay for some things that aren’t usually payable by credit card.
Those first 4 tips are free, so focus on those. But if you are going to miss out on a huge welcome bonus (because for some reason you weren’t able to reach the minimum spend requirement and the deadline is approaching), if you do the math, it might be worth paying a small fee.
For example, paying $50 in fees to get a welcome bonus worth $400. A no-brainer. Why would you let that welcome bonus get away?
There are 2 services that allow you to pay almost any bill imaginable with a credit card for a small fee:
- Plastiq charges 2.45%-2.85% to pay almost any bill (get a US$1,000 payment free after you pay US$2,500 in bills with our link)
- PaySimply charges 2.5% to pay select providers (better for all those available, except the Canada Revenue Agency)
Keep in mind you’ll earn your credit card rewards on the purchase too, so the net cost is actually much lower.
Plastiq allows you to pay almost literally anything (mortgage, rent, condo fees, suppliers of any kind); there is no predetermined list. They charge 2.85% except for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), where it is 2.45%. With the fee-free US$1,000 from our referral, your effective rate for the first US$3,500 (≈ C$4,415) paid to CRA would be only 1.75% (less than what you earn in rewards on some cards). You can read our article on how Plastiq works (coming soon).
PaySimply is very similar to Plastiq, except that there is a predetermined list of available providers. For all of them (except CRA), it is cheaper to pay PaySimply’s 2.5% than Plastiq’s 2.85%. There is no referral bonus though. You can read our post on how PaySimply works (coming soon).
Bonus: Time your large purchases with new card applications
Since we like giving you more for your money here at Flytrippers, we sometimes add bonuses to our lists.
Again, for most cards, it should be pretty easy to reach the minimum spend requirements, especially with those tips. But as a pro tip, if you want to take your earnings to the next level, or get premium cards with amazing benefits like free airport lounge access, sometimes the spend requirements are higher.
It’s a great practice to take into account the timing of your large purchases when planning your travel rewards strategy so that you can maximize the amount of rewards you get: if you have a $3,000 furniture purchase coming up, that alone could get you a great welcome bonus worth $400 in literally just one swipe. Pretty great. And easy.
Especially with the great 2-card pro tip at the end of the minimum spend basics section below…
3 important things to know about minimum spends
Our free checklist for when you get a new card gives you many more important pointers to avoid beginner mistakes, but I want to emphasize these 3 since they’re so vital and we want to make sure you see them (although we’d love it if you got the checklist; you won’t regret downloading it, we promise!)
1. You should always document the offer details
This is to make sure you remember the requirement, since the documentation you get with your card will never include the welcome bonus details (and the offer can change as soon as the next day and you won’t be able to find the info from then on).
We also give you a very useful card tracking template with that free checklist.
Sometimes, using links on our ranking of the best credit cards in Canada also gets you exclusive Flytrippers-only offers that are better than the public offers, so you really need to note the details as even the bank’s customer service agents might not be able to help you find them afterward.
2. Your 3 months start from the day of approval
With most issuers, your time to reach the amount will start as soon as you’ve been approved for the card, not when you receive or activate it.
Look at your statement cycle to make sure: the amount must be reached by the end of the applicable billing cycle (the end of the 3rd statement cycle if you have 3 months for the minimum spend).
3. You can never get a second chance
There is absolutely no way to get the welcome bonus if you miss out even by just $1 or by just 1 day. None. So be careful with refunds that would lower the amount you spent, remember that the card fee (if any) will appear on the statement but does not count towards your required spending amount, and cash advances don’t either.
You need pure purchases. Always double-check before the deadline.
Always following the steps in our free checklist is really the best way for you to always make sure you get those welcome bonuses worth hundreds of dollars!
Basics about minimum spend requirements
Most good welcome bonuses are worth hundreds of dollars. You can always see the month’s best ones on our ranking of the best credit cards in Canada and you can read why banks give you so many free rewards if you are skeptical—you certainly wouldn’t be the first to be 😉
Use your spending to unlock huge bonuses
In short, the minimum spend is all that’s required from you to get the welcome bonus. After that, the points are yours and you have nothing else left to do. It scares some people, but it definitely should not.
And it is important to know how much you are able to reach in terms of spending, as it will help you decide which card to choose.
In fact, if you really want to maximize your travel rewards earnings, the majority of all your spending should be used to unlock welcome bonuses. That’s why most people apply for 1 or 2 cards every 3 months, so they can reach the various minimum spends more easily.
And finally, here’s a great pro tip: you might actually want to consider applying for 2 different cards at once if you can reach both minimum spend amounts: this will give you 2 welcome bonuses, helping your credit score even more (because having more cards open is better for your credit score if you pay them all in full and on time, and because 2 applications on the same day will only count as one hard credit request).
Our ranking includes a category with the best credit cards with low minimum spend amounts specifically for this purpose.
So let’s say you are taking advantage of the increased welcome bonus offer on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Cobalt Card, you could also apply for the HSBC Travel Rewards Mastercard® since it has a very low minimum spend (and even $0 in Québec). So you get 2 welcome bonuses for what counts as just one request! That’s what we always do ourselves.
But this is only for those who have a long credit history, specifically a very old average age of open accounts (one card open for a long time, or better yet several cards). So if this is not the case, start with a card every 3 months and you can speed up when you are more experienced!
That’s it, now you know it’s very simple to reach your minimum spend requirement on credit cards with these pro tips. So don’t let this requirement prevent you from getting tons of travel rewards with the welcome bonuses on the best credit cards in Canada!
Have any questions about minimum spend requirements? Tell us in the comments below.
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