Today, we’re going to take a look at a quick, easy way to squeeze more cash out of your life without changing a thing. A way to enjoy some of the more luxurious perks out there without spending a dime.
We’re going to look at credit cards. Two in particular.
Not Just a Piece of Plastic
Credit cards have a mixed rep. Lots of people get a bad taste in their mouth as youths, thanks to profligate spending with that first piece of plastic.
Of course, credit card debt is just about the worst debt you can have, short of owing the mafia. It’s a fast track to a life spent playing catch-up.
But as long as you can track and control your spending, you should have a credit card.
In fact, you should have several.
Why do I say that? What makes me go against the teachings you’ve heard all your life?
Simple. In a bid for grabbing customers in this highly competitive market, credit card companies will bend over backward to make you happy. And that can mean substantial cash in your pocket.
I’m not just talking about cash-back programs, though, of course, they’re nice. I buy just about everything with my credit card, because it comes with a minimum 1% discount — sometimes up to 5%. That’s what my standard card pays back.
But I’m talking about the great gobs of cash that cards will throw at new users. There are corners of the internet filled with sites dedicated to making the credit card system work for you.
If you get really involved, it’s an endless rabbit hole — like the coupon clippers who proudly walk out of grocery stores with eight bags of food bought for $13.73. You can do that — but it’s usually more trouble than it’s worth.
Instead, I recommend you grab one big score. Or maybe two.
The Only Way to Fly
Right now Chase is ready to throw cash your way when you apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
First off, you should know the card costs $450 a year. It’s a premium credit card, made with metal to give a satisfying clink when you lay it down.
But don’t get too caught up on that price. Because with that card, you immediately get $300 to spend on travel.
And travel in this case is a very broad term. It includes flights and hotels, sure — but also includes trains, taxis, Uber and even parking.
So off the bat, that $450 price tag is knocked down to $150.
But here’s the really important part. If you use your credit card to charge $4,000 over the first three months, you get 50,000 bonus points.
To be clear — that doesn’t mean the points cost $4,000. It just means you use your card for your normal expenses — everything from the water bill to your night out at the restaurant. As long as you pay your balance every month, spending $4,000 with your card is the same as spending it with checks or cash.
And how much is that 50,000 bonus worth? If you convert it to cash — which you can deposit directly into your bank account, if you want — it’s worth $750.
Boom. You pay $450 to start. Take away the $300 you receive to spend on travel and the $750 you get in cash and you’re up $600. And all you have to do is change the credit card you lay down at the supermarket.
But it gets better. If you book travel through the credit card’s website, it’s worth 50% more — now instead of getting $1,050 back, you’re getting $1,575, for a total return of $1,125 when you subtract the initial $450 payment.
And you can transfer the points to other related programs if you like, where they can be worth up to twice as much.
In addition, you get 1% back on all purchases plus 3% back on any travel or restaurant charges. If you sign up for the TSA PreCheck or the global entry pass — which let you skip the long security lines at airports while keeping your shoes and belts on and your laptop in its bag — you get the full price reimbursed (TSA PreCheck normally costs $70, and global entry costs $100 — both last four years).
You even get access to over 1,000 airport lounges, making air travel just a little more bearable.
Obviously, this card is much more valuable if you’re a traveler. But even if you never leave the comfort of your home, you’re still getting $1,050 just for doing your regular purchases for the first three months.
I can’t think of an easier way to make a quick score. The card might not be worth it after that initial bonus — but who cares? Just quit after your year is up. You still get to keep the cash.
Tea for Two
If you do like to travel, however, there’s one other credit card deal you should know about.
Southwest Airlines — through Chase again — has its own credit card, good for Southwest points.
So what? Here’s what — when you sign up for a Southwest card and spend $2,000 in the first three months, you get a 60,000-point bonus.
Sign up for a Southwest business card as well and that’s another 60,000. That’s 120,000 points.
And here’s the kicker: If you reach 110,000 qualifying points in a year — which just means using the Southwest card for regular purchases until you build up the points — you get a free companion pass, good for the remainder of the year you reach the milestone and the entire next year as well.
If you don’t know about the companion pass, it’s a buy-one, get-one deal on all Southwest flights. So if you and your spouse want to travel together, this is a way to cut all your airfares in half.
Plus, you still have all those points to spend — on Southwest flights, if you like. Each Southwest credit card has a $69 or $99 annual fee, but if you’re traveling, that’s nothing compared with the savings you’ll realize going everywhere for half the price for over a year.
I know these sort of deals aren’t for everyone. But when I see an opportunity to make $600 just by getting a primo credit card — or to get buy-one, get-one flights for 12-plus months of travel — I jump at it.
And I suspect a number of you will want to do the same