5 crazy ways to get credit card rewards

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Once you get into credit card rewards, it may become a bit addictive. As you get used to booking hundreds of dollars worth of travel on points and earning cash back on everything you buy, you might begin to look for additional ways to maximize your credit cards.

Some cardholders take maximizing to the next level. Sometimes, this yields amazing results; other times the tactics get risky. Read on to learn about crazy ways people go the extra mile for extra miles and which of their strategies work.

Retention offers

If you’re a responsible cardholder, your credit card issuers will do their best to keep you as a customer. If you call to cancel your card or have a complaint, your issuer may offer an incentive to make the situation right—and make sure you keep the account open. This is what we call a “retention offer.”

“I’ve been collecting credit card reward points for about two decades now, and one of the craziest things I used to do to earn extra rewards was to call into customer service and attempt to negotiate a better rewards deal,” Stephen Weyman, co-founder of creditcardGenius, told me.

“One time, I signed up for a card with a big airline miles welcome bonus that also had an annual fee that wasn’t waived in the first year. I called customer service and told them I didn’t like the card’s features as much as my current no-annual-fee credit card and explained why. I requested they refund the annual fee to make their offering more competitive. They complied,” Weyman explained.

Another time, Weyman called because he’d received poor customer service on one of his other credit cards.

“I used that as leverage to negotiate compensation in the form of thousands of extra reward points just by politely asking,” he said.

Microlending

The more you spend on your rewards credit cards, the more rewards you get. Unfortunately, our spending is limited by our budget—or it should be to avoid credit card debt.

However, there’s an unusual way to increase spending on your card, get the money back and still earn rewards. Moreover, you can even do some good while doing so.

Nonprofit microlender Kiva offers individuals an opportunity to lend small amounts of money to people in remote areas of the world. You can lend as little as $25 and put the charge on your credit card, allowing you to earn credit card rewards while helping someone.

“I once lent money to a person in Kenya through Kiva.org and got 400 credit points, which I then redeemed for a concert ticket,” Lewis Amin, CEO of Net Influencer, explained to me. “The person would end up returning the money over a period of time, and I didn’t face any issue with the process. It was a good thing to do and I also got some points in return!”

Large purchases

If you’re planning a large purchase, this is a wonderful opportunity to score a large amount of points or cash back, either from hitting the sign-up bonus spend or simply earning rewards.

“I once bought a car with a credit card!” said Patrick Connelly, co-founder of Stellar Villa. “I was car shopping with my brother, and he had to put a down payment on the car but left his debit card at home. I asked the salesman if they accepted a credit card and sure enough, they did. I had just signed up for a new card at the time, the Chase Aer Lingus co-branded card, and had to spend $4,000 to earn 100,000 points. I put a sizable payment down, hitting the bonus with one purchase and earning some extra miles on top of that… I paid the card off a few days later. I never knew you could purchase a car with a credit card, so it’s something to consider if you can pay the card off in full once the bill arrives.”

Note that different dealers may have different rules regarding credit card payments. For example, some dealers may charge credit card fees, which could make this strategy pointless.

Of course, you don’t have to buy anything as pricey as a car to maximize your rewards. Any large purchases you plan would help, be it a new couch or a laptop. The main thing is to make sure you have the money to cover the purchase right away to avoid paying interest (unless you’ve got a 0% APR credit card, that is).

Credit card churning

One of the surest ways to score a large amount of credit card rewards is with a sign-up bonus. The problem with this method is, you can only get the bonus when you open a credit card.

For that reason, some people use a sketchy tactic called “credit card churning”—they open one credit card after another without any intent to use them after they earn the welcome bonus. While it’s not illegal, this tactic comes with risks.

“I’ve earned close to 10 million hotel points, airline miles and thousands in cash back through credit card churning,” said Matt Lally, founder of TheGiftYack. “I’ve opened over 100 credit cards in five years.”

If you’re thinking that this is too good to be true, you’re not wrong. Card issuers and rewards programs don’t appreciate this kind of consumer behavior and may take measures to stop it. Lally, for instance, said that he was eventually banned by American Airlines. Earning a lot of miles doesn’t matter if you can’t use them.

An issuer may also choose to shut down your account and even take back your rewards. Not to mention, your credit score might not like credit card churning either. You’ll rack up hard inquiries, each of which will take a few points off your score.

Finally, credit card issuers may have restrictions in place to prevent cardholders from gaming the system.

Chase has its unofficial 5/24 rule, which won’t allow you to open a Chase credit card if you’ve opened five or more credit cards in the past 24 months. American Express also has a once-per-lifetime rule, meaning you can only earn a welcome bonus on each card once. If you were to close an Amex card and open it again, you wouldn’t be able to get another welcome bonus.

Manufactured spending

Since higher credit card spending comes with higher rewards, some people may be tempted to find a sneaky way to inflate their spending.

Enter manufactured spending. This is a process of buying items that can be converted into cash with a credit card—for example, Visa gift cards. This may be a tempting proposition: You buy a gift card, you get your points or cash back and you pay your credit card bill with the cash from the gift card.

Of course, it’s not all that simple. Credit card issuers have long caught up with such techniques. Some credit cards simply don’t earn rewards on gift cards, to prevent cardholders from trying to game the system. Plus, credit card issuers may take measures like shutting down your account if you get carried away with manufactured spending.

The safer and more ethical way to do this is to buy store gift cards instead of items like prepaid Visa cards. This way, you’re still spending on your credit card and earning rewards, but you also get funds to spend elsewhere—think stores or websites you shop often. For example, I used to buy Amazon gift cards at a grocery store with my American Express® Gold Card to both meet the sign-up bonus spend requirement and get rewards at a 4-points-per-dollar rate.

Bottom line

It’s easy to get carried away in an attempt to score credit card rewards. Cardholders come up with crazy methods—some smart, others downright risky—to chase extra points.

If you’re looking for new strategies to earn rewards and cash back, make sure they’re safe for your budget and your credit. And remember: If a strategy feels sketchy to you, credit card issuers probably feel the same way and are in their full right to take measures against it.