Getting Started Guide–Part 6: Shift your everyday spend to credit cards 4

One of the first things I put up under the Beginner’s Guide tab was a 10-step guide to help readers begin churning miles and points. Over the next few days I’ll be doing a 10-post series, elaborating on each of the steps below? 

The beginner’s guide to traveling for (almost) free on miles and points:
1. Set travel goals
2. Check your credit
3. Sign up for rewards programs
4. Manage your miles and credit cards
5. Sign up for a rewards earning credit card
6. Shift your everyday spend to credit cards
7. Meet the minimum spending requirements
8. Maximize bonuses and promotions
9. Earn points by dining and shopping
10. Redeem points and miles for free travel

Shift Your Everyday Spend to Credit Cards
One of my first, and best, pieces of advice for those new to churning credit cards for free travel is to shift your normal spending on to rewards earning credit cards, versus paying with cash, check or a debit card.  For every dollar that you spend, you should be earning something. For some, this will not be a problem at all, and for others, putting everything on your credit card will be a big change. Of course, as I’ve said over and over, if you cannot use credit cards responsibly, then this is not the hobby for you! For most of us, putting your daily spending such as gas, groceries, utility bills and miscellaneous expenses on your rewards credit card will be an easy way to accumulate points and miles. If you add up all your monthly expenses, it doesn’t take long to accumulate several thousand points.

I know that many of you are still check writers, or always carry cash, but this small lifestyle change of transitioning to putting all your spend on your credit cards (again, provided you can pay them off every month) will help to quickly accumulate points. Of course, if this will cause you to overspend, then it may not be worth it. But by putting your daily spending such as gas, groceries, bills, etc. on your rewards earning card you can meet your minimum spend requirements quickly and earning rewards for everything you purchase. Pretty much everyone takes credit these days, but beware of companies who charge a fee to use your card (such as your mortgage or rent payments), and determine whether or not it’s worth it for you.

lessons learned

Category Bonuses
Many rewards credit cards will offer 2x, 3x or even 5x points for spend in various categories. Here is a great post by the Frugal Travel Guy that I highly recommend checking out to determine which cards you should use for certain types of spend. I also like the Wallaby app, which uses GPS to determine your location and will tell you which card out of your wallet you should use at that particular merchant.

It can get confusing to carry around multiple cards and try to remember which card you should use for which purchase, but if you can figure out your top spend categories and know which card to use, it can help you to quickly grow your points balances. The Villain has a hard time keeping it all straight, so I tell him to use his Chase Sapphire when in doubt, which earns double points on any travel related expenses, including dining and fuel, two of our biggest expenses.

We have the Chase Ink cards, which offer 5x Ultimate Rewards points on any business related expenses, including internet, TV, and cell phone bills. We’re able to earn an easy 15,000 points each year just by setting up for these bills we have to pay anyway. Another one of my favorite cards in my wallet is my Chase Freedom, which I keep because it is a no annual fee card, and offers rotating quarterly bonuses. This quarter, for instance, restaurants and Lowe’s stores earn 5x Ultimate Rewards points. So from April to June, I try to put all dining spend on the Freedom instead of the Sapphire. If you have the Freedom card, remember that you must manually activate the 5% bonus each quarter through your online account.

I think it’s important to note that if we are ever working on hitting minimum spend for a big sign-up bonus (like we will be for the $10,000 we need to put on The Villain’s new Citi Executive AAdvantage World Mastercard–more on that soon), then we will put all spend on those cards before worrying about category spend.

Using the “right” credit card for your bills, shopping, eating out, etc. can earn you extra points and miles!

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