Time-Shift Your Spending to Maximize Credit Card Rewards

by Michael on Nov 26, 2012 · 2 comments

Photo of Clock Showing the Last Minute

Over the weekend, my wife and I took full advantage of Small Business Saturday. In other words, we made four separate $25 purchases using each of our four Amex cards.

The challenge in doing this was that we didn’t really need $100 worth of stuff from any of the nearby merchants.

Our solution? We ended up buying $25 gift cards to some of our favorite local restaurants. Thus, we were able to lock in the cash back bonuses without just blindly making purchases.

When we’re in the mood for a meal out, we can just whip out the gift cards. In other words, we effectively time-shifted future expenditures to make the most of a current promotional offer.

There are several areas where this can be useful.

One day promos

When you’re faced with a one-day special like Small Business Saturday, don’t feel pressured to spend just to get a good deal. Instead, consider shifting future purchases into the window of opportunity.

Quarterly offers

Another would be if you have a credit card with quarterly, rotating bonus categories. Consider, for example, the case of the Discover Card

As of this writing, the Discover Card is offering 5% cash back for all online purchases plus all purchases at department stores. The bonus earnings are limited to $1500 in purchases between Oct 1 and Dec 31, 2012.

If you want to lock in these savings without actually buying $1500 in stuff during the promo period, you can easily buy store gift cards from your preferred department store or from a major online retailer like Amazon.

Annual spending tiers

Finally, if you have annual spending tiers for earning bonus rewards, then you can use this strategy to bump yourself over the top before the end of the year. In fact, I’ve done just that with my Amex Delta Platinum card in the past.

This particular Amex card offers bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) on Delta at certain annual spending tiers. MQMs are particularly valuable for frequent travelers, as they count toward status upgrades and can only otherwise be earned by flying (“regular” credit card miles don’t count).

Thanks to this card and a bit of well-timed spending, I have Gold Medallion status on Delta, which entitles me to a number of niceties when I travel.

1 Edward Antrobus November 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I’ve thought about buying restaurant gift cards in the past. Around this time of year, you usually see deals like “buy $100 worth of gift cards, get a free $25 gift card” But I realize that if I walked home with $125 in restaurant cards, I would probably eat there more often and spend it much faster than I would have spent $100 there in the first place.

2 Michael November 26, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Edward: Yes, you absolutely have to be careful with strategies like this as you don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish.

But… If applied with sufficient forethought and discipline, this sort of creative spending can really pay off.

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