Top Credit Cards that are a GREAT idea!
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I’m pretty happy to write this post about my top credit cards and the ways they’re able to allow you to do things you’d otherwise consider off limits when on a strict budget.
Credit cards have helped my family loads through our journey to debt free living, but it hasn’t always been this way.
If you’re thinking that credit cards are the root cause of a whole lot of debt, I used to think the same. In fact, credit cards DID cause us a huge headache at one time and they ARE the cause of many many people’s debt issues.
We wound up owing a lot on them, juggling the repayments and always feeling like we were doing no more than chasing our own tails. But during the time when we were paying off debt and sorting our money life out, I realized we’d been ‘playing’ the credit card game all wrong.
But, and it’s a big BUT, the mistake we had made for so long is the same as most people, and it was OUR mistake. We simply didn’t pay off the balance each month.
I never gave up credit cards totally. For some people though, no matter what strategy they have, they’ll always be a danger.
If you’re not able to control your spending and feel you’ll be too tempted to spend on them if they’re there, this isn’t for you.
However, if you’ve got your budgeting down to a tee and feel in control, then this is an easy, and importantly FREE way to get yourself some amazing treats without it costing you a penny.
So, how do I earn the most rewards I can? Organization is the key to this, or it’s not going to work out well! Here’s the way I use these credit cards.
- Use the credit cards to pay for EVERYTHING during the month. This includes: fuel costs, food shopping, payments that need to be made over the phone, school trip/dinner money. If you would usually use your debit card, don’t. Use your cash-back card
- Since you’ve not been using your bank debit card, you’ve got the exact amount in your bank that you’ve spent on your cash-back credit card
- Pay your cash-back card off. Do this ideally a week before the payments due, to allow for any weekend/processing delays
- Repeat the following month
So, here’s my top credit cards for getting something for nothing. Most of these cards are American Express cards. This is simply because they offer by far the best rewards that I can find. Occasionally you’ll be able to find a card that offers a good sign up offer, but these tend to be few and far between.
I’m also going to add that I NEVER buy something with credit cards that I wasn’t going to buy anyway, and I NEVER pay a penny in interest. Just so that’s clear!
This was the first cash back card I ever had. I wasn’t entirely sure how they worked but wanted to try one out and this was the one I chose.
There is NO annual fee on this card. The way I used this is exactly as described above, and I didn’t have any issues with it. I kept this card and used it in this way for 3 months only, because American Express offer an enhanced rate of cash-back for the first 3 months. Up to £2000 max spend, you get 5% cash-back. So if you’re spending up to that limit you’ll receive £100 cash, for doing absolutely nothing.
After this initial time frame, the cash-back reverts to a measly 0.5% unless you spend over a whopping £5,000, and then you get, wait for it, a whole 1% on spending over that £5,000 target.
There are better deals to be had after the first 3 months so I traded it in. Something I wasn’t aware of when I took the card out (probably in the small print, Oooops) is that the cash-back is paid annually. So I did have to wait. But it cost me nothing and when it came I’d forgotten about it anyway, so it was a nice surprise.
Overall, this is a great card to start with, just make sure to have your next card lined up waiting to take over!
This card is FEE FREE for the FIRST YEAR ONLY.
So after it’s done it’s job, don’t forget to cancel it or you’ll cancel out the benefits!
The great things about this card is that the benefits are available to spend almost as soon as you hit the spending triggers. Spend £2000 on this card within the first 3 months and you’ll be rewarded with 20,000 nectar points, worth a cool £100.
Nectar points, although a Sainsbury’s product, do not have to be spent only at Sainsbury’s since they partner with loads of other retailers, such as EuroStar, Expedia and Pizza Express.
I used my points for a family meal at Pizza Express (2 meals actually, there were enough points!). We’d not been out for a meal in a while at that time and had been planning to go out, so the points were perfect and allowed us a well deserved treat, for free!
You could use this card as an ongoing way to collect Nectar points in general. I didn’t, simply because I didn’t want to pay the fee, the rewards weren’t worth enough to make the fee worth it (see next card).
Sainsbury’s Nectar MasterCard
This MasterCard from Sainsbury’s bank will net you a FREE £37.50 as soon as you spend £35, ten times over the first 3 months. It’s a pretty good card really. I also used it for all purchases I made during those 3 months, as Sainsbury’s give you 1 point per £ for all non Sainsbury’s spending.
I spent around £1200 monthly on this card (always paid in full, following the rules!) so that gave me another £18 or so. Overall, for a freebie, over £50 isn’t too bad.
By the time I’d finished with this card I was wanting better benefits and had started to research and plan out how I could maximize and improve on what I was doing.
And that’s how I got into Avios Air Miles and became slightly (more!) obsessed with earning points…..
Earning a HUGE amount of Avios points & staying within budget
So, Avois points. I’m going to admit now that when I started, Avios (which I was still calling Air Miles!) was a bit of a mystery to me. Yes, I’d heard the stories about luxury foreign holidays and people flying first class, drinking Champagne as they made their way to their 5* villas.
But, well…..really? I can tell you now, after pushing myself to get into it and learn the ropes, that YES, you really can knock absurd amounts of money off your holidays. What the holidays will not be is totally free. You still have to pay the flight taxes and so you do still have to be careful.
Traditionally, Avios points can take a while to add up. You need a decent amount of points to go anywhere really, and so the trick to this is to get the most amount of points in the shortest amount of time. And here’s how I did it.
The system for us involved several parts, none of which are particularly hard. Like any other credit card hack, be as organized as you can. Some of these cards charge fee’s if you don’t cancel them. The amount of money you can save is so huge, it’s well worth treating this with military precision.
I did this with my husband, so we doubled up on points. If you have someone to do this with (trusted friend, sister etc…) the points add up faster but of course, you can do it as a single person.
British Airways American Express Card
This card is the card our Avios collection started with. It’s fee free, and when you hit £1000 spend in the first 3 months, it triggers a 5000 Avios points bonus. You’ll want to cancel this card as soon as you hit the points trigger, but before you do make sure you refer your partner and have them sign up for a card too (the same card as this one).
By referring your partner in this way, you gain another 4000 points to add to your 5000 sign up offer. Your partner also gets enhanced sign up points of 6000 when they hit the £1000 spending trigger. So, assuming you spent the minimum each of £1000, already you’re up to 17000 points. And that’s just the start.
After the first card holder has got the bonus points and referred their partner, they move onto part two! Don’t forget to get the second card holder to cancel the card after they’ve received the sign up bonus points.
American Express Gold Card
This gold card is really the trick to getting your points to add up super fast.
Although the card has an annual fee of £140, this is waived for the first year, so make a note to cancel as soon as you’ve collected the points.
The first card holder should apply for this card, and when you reach the spending trigger of £2000 in the first 3 months, you’ll be rewarded with 20,000 American Express Membership points. These can be transferred to Avios points at a rate of 1:1. You’ll have spent at least £2000, so that’s another 2000 Avios (converted from membership points). Refer the second card holder and receive a whopping 9000 referral points. So from that one gold card you’ll have 31000 Avios points. Then cancel this card.
Then you repeat what you did with the first card. Your partner collects the enhanced 22000 bonus points when they reach the £2000 spending trigger (plus 2000 points from the minimum spend) and from referring each other to these two cards you’ll have a grand total of 72000 Avios points.
The final trick
American Express considers you a new customer 6 months after you’ve cancelled an account with them. For us, collecting points from the cards above exactly as I’ve said allowed us to collect these points in less than a year, since we didn’t have to wait 6 months to become eligible again. (You can hold more than one American Express card at a time).
By the time this ‘cycle’ has ended, you’re more than eligible to begin the process again, and this is what we did. So by the end of the second cycle, we had over 140,000 Avios points, for doing nothing and spending not a penny more than we would have had to anyway.
Perhaps the best part of this travel hack is that if one card member keeps the Gold card running for a year, spending £1000 each month and paying it off in full, you become eligible for their ‘Companion Voucher’ which essentially means that you can take a second person for ‘free’ (taxes still need to be paid) without using anymore points.
This is the really fun part. This many points gets you a really long way! I have found from searching extensively and trying to find the best deals, that the biggest savings are made when you exchange your points for a better flight class, either Business or even First Class. You always have to pay the tax on the flight. That’s a given and there’s no way around that.
BUT, the tax on a flight is the same whether you’re in economy or First. The tax doesn’t change. So why not spend your points on the better class, something that you might not usually be able to do. I know I’d never dream of ( I couldn’t afford it even if I wanted to!) spending money on a Business Class plane ticket.
Here are some of the places and points needed that you could go, that I’ve found online.
I will tell you that it’s quite hard work to find flights and prices online. This is a great site that helped us. For some reason Avios seem to over complicate the process until you’re totally confused. Keep at it, you’ll get there in the end!
- Kuala Lumpa First Class, 2 people (use Companion Voucher) for 140,000 Avios
- Seychelles First Class, 2 people (use Companion Voucher) for 100,000 Avios
- Rio First Class, 2 people (use Companion Voucher) for 80,000 Avios
The tax on long haul flights CAN be up to £540 per person. This is unavoidable, however, if you’re going to have a holiday anyway, and are wanting something a little more than your budget will allow, perhaps Avios can help you reach that place! After all, is there any other way you could get two people to Rio for £1000?
Happy Holidays :)
Want to know more?
Paul over at Money Tips Blog has some a great post on why you should never be without a credit card. Read that here!