Signing up for airline and hotel credit cards to earn huge miles and points bonuses for free travel is a smart — and simple — way to travel nearly free like my family! 

southwest credit card sand lei

However, it must be done responsibly so you don’t incur debt. You want to take advantage of the benefits (free points) without falling prey to the negatives (paying high interest rate on debt).

The good news is you can absolutely use credit cards to your advantage!

Two rules of thumb include:

  • Paying off balances every few days and only charging items that you currently have money in the bank to cover.
  • Slowly applying for cards, ensuring you can meet the minimum spend required to earn your bonus points without buying things you don’t need.

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When applying for credit cards, please start at TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS links in the main menu above. My blog depends on affiliate income, and these links allow me to earn a commission — at NO COST TO YOU — to help pay the blogging bills 🙂 and continue to bring you great information FREE! I sincerely appreciate you taking this step!

I’ve got some tips for how you will meet that minimum spend quickly and responsibly, but let’s first start with how you should NOT meet the minimum spend.

How You Should NOT Meet the Minimum Spend

  • Buy something you cannot afford.
  • Buy something for which you do not have cash to cover in the bank right now or in the next 30 days.
  • Splurge on something you don’t need.
  • Buy something JUST to earn the points.

BUT, there are plenty of ways you can responsibly meet the minimum spend with a little creativity and by paying your ordinary expenses.

11 Creative Ways to Quickly Meet a Credit Card Minimum Spend

11 Ways to Meet the Minimum Spend on an Airline Credit Card via @GotoTravelGal

Here are 11 examples you may not have thought of besides the obvious dining, grocery and everyday expenses:

  1. Summer Camps – Do you send your kids to various summer programs and camps? Those can run $100-$200 each, so use your new credit card.
  2. Technology Upgrades – Did your computer quit on you? Use your card to buy a new one.

    Read how I double-dipped on Southwest points by starting at the Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal and then paid for the item with my Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier credit card.

  3. School Fees – We have to pay a fee for each sport my child participates in at the middle and high schools, as well as pay a book fee for each kiddo. Charge it and then pay it off ASAP!
  4. Home Improvements – Need a new refrigerator or redoing the bathroom? Use your credit card to pay for this expense and get closer to meeting your minimum spend.
  5. Get Reimbursed – Offer to put the group’s dinner charge on your card and then apply to be reimbursed by your company (as long as you can be reimbursed before interest charges begin accruing).

    Or have everyone pay you in cash or send their money to you via a service like Zelle or Venmo. This is a great strategy for any expense for which you can be reimbursed. You pay it, then you get paid back! That lets you earn points on someone else’s dime!

  6. Medical & Dental Bills – Most medical bills allow you to go online to pay them these days. Whip out the credit card and then pay it off right after you’re done.

    Plus, we all need to visit the dentist about twice a year. Guess how I’ll be paying? 🙂

  7. School Clothing – With kids, it seems you have to buy new school clothes every few months as they grow quickly, especially my boys who are growing seemingly inches at a time!

    Buy online, starting at the Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal or your favorite airline or hotel shopping portal, then pay with your credit card and you can double dip!

  8. TSA Pre-Check – We invested in the $85 TSA Pre-Check to help us get through security lines more quickly since we do a lot of traveling. We think the $85/person (kids 12 and younger are free), which is good for five years, is a worthy spend.

    Note: TSA Pre-Check does not work with ALL airlines, especially budget carriers, but it DOES work with Southwest, my favorite airline. Some airports also do not have TSA Pre-Check.

  9. Utilities – Did you know you can pay many utilities online with a credit card, often with no additional fee? Give it a try.

    I am able to pay electric, gas, phone and water all online by credit card.

  10. College Tuition – Got a student headed to college this fall? Pay all or part of their tuition to knock out your minimum spend.
  11. Mortgage and Rent – Using a service like Plastiq (please note this is a referral link, which earns me fee free dollars if you use the service), which charges a 2.5% fee, you can pay bills that typically only accept cash or checks using a credit card.

    Note: You can no longer pay a mortgage with a Visa or AMEX card using Plastiq.

I even had one reader tell me she used her card to buy a new car. That must have been a hefty credit line!

All of these $100 and $200 fees add up very quickly. Combined with groceries and dining, you probably need only a handful of these to hit the minimum spend on one card. Just, PLEASE be sure you pay it off monthly, so you don’t get into debt in order to travel free (because then you aren’t really traveling free!).

Let me know other creative ways you’ve found to meet your minimum spends.

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