Hit your Spend Target (Without Spending More!)
There are some fantastic returns to be had on a number of American Express cards through spend bonuses, particularly welcome spend bonuses. A key example we reference on this site is the American Express Gold Preferred Rewards credit card, which awards 20,000 (22,000 with this referral*) points, potentially worth £200, for a £2,000 spend in the first 3 months. This is a great return assuming you’d be spending the money you’re putting on the card anyway, but I always think it’s important to be cautious not to spend significantly more just because of the offer.
* The referral link also increases the bonus on other Amex cards, click for details of individual cards.
It can be particularly frustrating if you’re falling just short of the target though. With American Express cards in particular this might not be because you’re not spending this amount during the period, but because not all retailers accept the card. If you’re currently working towards a spend target, or considering whether you would be able to meet one, here are some quick tips:
1. Check for PayPal
Lots of retailers don’t accept Amex, but do accept PayPal/PayPal Checkout. Fortunately Paypal does let you use an Amex card. Therefore if the answer to ‘Do you accept American Express?’ is ‘No’, then it’s worth following up with ‘Do you accept PayPal?’ Interestingly this doesn’t just apply online either. Recently I had food in a ‘Frankie & Benny’s’ restaurant (who don’t accept Amex) and I discovered that if you pay your bill via the Phone App you can choose PayPal. Not long ago I booked a minibus with a local company over the phone and asked their payment options and they listed PayPal – so I asked them to email an invoice instead of paying by card. Always worth asking!
2. Time your Application
If you’re considering getting a card, but haven’t yet, then think about the timing of your application. Are there times of year when you’re likely to spend more than? If you’re planning to book a holiday, pay for a wedding or do your Christmas shopping, chances are that your short term spend will be higher than normal. Most cards have a 3 month spend period, so look ahead and see which 3 month period is likely to have a large enough spend to hit the target. This year we applied for more than one card before our wedding, one before we booked a holiday and one in the run up to Christmas! See my post here about how we organised our wedding spend to get enough points for our honeymoon.
3. Charge Expenses and/or Group Costs to your Amex Card
Sometimes there are situations where you could put money on you card without spending it yourself. For example, if you’re getting group concert tickets, hotel rooms or eating out with a group of friends. Potentially ‘helpfully’ paying up front and then getting paid back can raise your card spend. Just make sure you’re friends are good for it!! Consider Circle Pay as an option for getting paid back, get £5 credit after £25 transactions (use code OETUGJ) and pay no fee, even for sending money to friends abroad.
The same applies to work expenses – if you put these through your card, you’ll earn rewards and can then claim back the cost from your employer/business. In both these cases the transaction is going through the card, but you’re getting it straight back via another source. With most charge/credit cards you’ll also have a decent window until the statement is payable, to ensure you’re reimbursed.
4. Load a Pre-Paid Card/Gift Card
If you’re approaching a spend deadline and you’re falling just short, you don’t have to spend money for the sake of it. You could load money onto a card to use it for things you’d be buying next month anyway. For example, you could buy a £100 supermarket gift card to use for grocery shopping the week after the spend deadline. Both Zeek and the Gift Card Centre accept PayPal, so you can buy with Amex. Zeek is a gift voucher marketplace, where you can also get a discount on the gift card itself – so potentially you could save money in the process too. Use our Zeek link or code 22ABXBKY for an extra £5 credit on top when you sign up.
Edit – Zeek is no longer available.
5. Choose you Retailers
An obvious one, but if there’s an equivalent retailer who accept American Express, then I usually choose them. An obvious example is something like Lidl vs Aldi – to me they’re comparable, but only Aldi takes Amex, so I’m likely to choose them if those are my two options. Clearly you need to be happy that the alternative retailer isn’t more expensive, or lower quality. In addition it’s worth checking your card offers, as there may be an Amex credit available for a potential retailer. For example we switched to Morrisons briefly this year to use Amex and get 6% credit while the offer ran.
6. Pay a small percentage fee to use American Express more widely
If you’re running really close to a bonus, in some cases it might just be worth paying a small percentage to use Amex somewhere you couldn’t usually. Examples include Curve Card, which will soon enable you to use Amex via a linked Mastercard at a very reasonable 0.65% fee (see our post here about when to use Amex with Curve) and Billhop, which charges 2.95% to pay household bills with a credit card (including Amex).
Curve Card in particular will be a good option, as you’ll be able to pre-load up to £1,000 for future spend. This means, even if you’d only spent £1,000 just before the deadline, you could still load £1,000 on to Curve (for £6.50) and unlock your 20,000 points. Use code O2MEP for a £5 credit after your first Curve transaction.
Edit – Amex has withdrawn compatibility with Curve.
N.B. Sorry, I know I said without spending more – but in some cases spending a few pounds to unlock the bonus on normal spending might be worthwhile!
Final words of caution – there are some people who (in my opinion) take things too far and find loopholes for ‘manufactured spend’. This means doing things like putting a large transaction on the card, and then getting it refunded after withdrawing the points, or trying to ‘cycle’ funds by purchasing on one card and attempting to get a refund onto another. I think this approach just isn’t worth the risk. The consequences could potentially range from cancelled cards and reduced credit ratings to fraud investigations, and as much as I like points, I wouldn’t take it that far!
Also, as we’ve said before, earning rewards on credit cards is generally only worthwhile if you can pay your statement in full each month. The Amex Gold card mentioned above carries a whopping 56.7% APR!
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You can contact me via: takemetothepoints(at)gmail.com
N.B.. Disclaimer: This is an amateur, personal blog. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances.