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You’ve seen the ads—the ones where Jennifer Garner or Samuel L. Jackson tout the ease of using credit cards to earn free travel and amazing cash-back bonuses. But the world of credit card points and miles can be intimidating to many. To clear up some of the confusion, we talked to three eBay sellers who’ve become experts at earning credit cards points—simply by making purchases in their everyday course of business.
Duane Malek has been selling on eBay for a decade. What started as a way to earn cash to pay off debt turned into a business and now Duane makes a full-time living as an online retailer. He actually gave up credit cards for seven years, but, after talking with fellow sellers, he realized that cards can be a great tool for large purchases because of the protections offered.
“One of the conversations I had was about a chargeback the seller had filed against a major corporation for $20,000,” he said. “That got my attention because that's a lot of money to have out of pocket during a dispute if you are using a debit card. They also mentioned something that made my ears perk up: Disney could be free. How? Points!”
Craig Dawson is also a longtime eBay seller. He and his husband, Rick Belanger, are toy collectors and dealers based in Canada and selling around the globe. “90% of our sales are outside of our country,” said Craig. “We work with a cross-border shipper from Toronto and use USPS for our shipments which keeps our costs competitive with US sellers. We have always been collectors…of things and points!”
Theresa Cox is another points champion and veteran seller who’s been on eBay for nearly 20 years. After three decades in finance and operations for higher education, she transitioned from a hobby seller to a full-time selling pro. As a corporate employee, she starting using cards for work travel—and she hasn’t stopped. “When I was working full-time and traveling a lot, buying a lot for work and getting reimbursed, it was a great way to get points. I can probably count on one hand the airline tickets I’ve paid for in cash in the last 15 years.”
If you’re interested in the perks but unsure how to get started, here are seven tips straight from the mouths of sellers just like you.
Figure out what you perks you want and find the card that gives them to you.
Every card is different. Some offer great value on cash back, while others are best for maximizing travel points and offer perks like the services of a travel concierge (helpful for scoring those hard-to-get restaurant reservations or getting pre-released concert tickets) or airport lounge access. Think about what you want to get from the card and choose accordingly. (Note: These are the opinions of the individual sellers and eBay is not endorsing any specific card—or even that you use any cards—so do your own research on any card you’re considering.)
“The card I’ve had the longest and used the most is from Southwest Airlines,” said Theresa Cox. “I recently got an American Express card specifically so I could get free hotel stays.”
Craig uses his rewards to help him run his business. “We have two favorite cards rewards: free hotel nights and using points to pay off items. Both of these help us with our eBay business. We do part of our sourcing for items in other cities, and not having to count the cost of the hotel in purchases help to keep our profit levels higher. Second, when we can actually ‘pay’ for our inventory with card points, it's like having free stuff to sell!”
Duane prefers to use his points for fun, in the form of amazing family vacations, so he chooses a card that’s great for travel. “My favorite card is the Amex Business Platinum because of the 1.5x points on large purchases, the amazing credit line, and the points transfer to several major airlines. My other favorite is the Amex SPG card. It’s great for hotel stays because when you use points to pay for four nights, the fifth night is free.”
Pick a strategic time to sign up.
Most major cards offer fantastic signup bonuses at certain times of year. Often, these bonuses are enough for a round-trip, international airline ticket in business class (hello, champagne and lie-flat seats) or several round-trip domestic flights.
Of course, the bonus is contingent on meeting a spending minimum in a set amount of time—for example, spending $4,000 within three months. If you know you have some big purchases to make—and you have the cash to pay them off quickly—time your application so that you can make these purchases after you receive the card, meet the minimum, and snag those bonus points.
Craig echoed this advice. “Find a card that has a great introductory reward and then use the card conservatively, paying off every charge,” he said.
Change your cards periodically.
In the case of points, disloyalty can pay. Many cards offer a low introductory rate and no/low fees the first year, so many points collectors will keep one card for a few years, and then switch to a new card when they can take advantage of sign-up offers and first-year perks.
“We do analyze our cards on an annual basis, watching for new or better card offers, and have changed up a few,” said Craig. “We currently collect on four different cards all with different benefits to us.”
Make purchases strategically to maximize points earned.
Not all purchases earn the same rewards, so be mindful of which ones will earn the most and make decisions about which card to use (or not) based on the best deal.
“Which card I use varies based on what points I need and the bonuses offered by the card, either because of where I am making a purchase or because of the amount of the purchase,” Duane explains. “For example, my Amex Business Platinum card offers a 50% bonus for any purchase over $5,000. If I am buying office supplies at an office supply store I use the Chase Ink card to receive 5x points per dollar. And if I recently used SPG points to stay free at Disney for a week, I will use my SPG card to build up those points in preparation for our next vacation.”
Use your points wisely.
Once you’ve started collecting points, you might be tempted to start using them right away, but you should carefully consider when it makes sense to use them and when it’s best to save them. If you know you want to collect enough points for a big trip, for example, don’t give in to the temptation to cash out smaller amounts of cash back.
Also, note that sometimes the monetary value of a flight or hotel room doesn’t exactly match the points value, especially if there are other factors at play.
“I’m going to Las Vegas in March and I can fly from an airport that’s really close to me, or from Phoenix airport, where Southwest flies and I can use my points,” Theresa explained. “However, round-trip tickets to Vegas from the smaller, closer airport were just $99 and since it was cheap and more convenient, I just bought the ticket with cash and saved my points.”
Duane saves his points for big vacations. “Using points for travel has allowed us to experience things we otherwise would not have,” he said. “We go to Walt Disney World at least three times per year and we always stay free other than the nominal resort fee. We’re saving $225-$400 per night. Last year, our family of four also flew to New York City first class and stayed at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel on points. Add up the first class flights and five nights hotel, and that trip would have cost $4,550 in cash. It cost us nothing, which allowed us to spend our money on things like museums, tours, nice dinners, and front-row tickets to Wicked.”
Start slow, and pay your balance early and often.
If you’re nervous about your ability to keep your credit in good order, start off only using a small amount, and make sure you set aside cash to pay off your card each month. One thing all three sellers have in common: they rarely carry a balance.
Said Craig, “We put as much as we can on our credit cards, trying to use them instead of cash or direct withdrawal bank cards—but we always pay off our charges within days after purchasing and never carry a balance. We’ve kept our balances at zero nearly every month for at least 10 years.”
Theresa agrees. “You just can’t pay 80% of the balance 3-4 months in a row if that’s not your game plan. If that happens, you have to think, ‘I’m spending more than I’m making.’ Don’t use credit cards to get into debt. Be prudent about how you use your credit."
“I am very careful about making sure we have more money in our bank account than we owe on all of our cards combined,” said Duane. “I check the balances several times a week and pay them off every other week to ensure I don't get charged a late fee or interest.”
“Be cautious but not afraid.”
That’s Theresa’s advice. And she says it’s all about good business sense. “You have to understand your business and your cash flow.”
Duane also cautions sellers to think carefully about whether a card is right for them. “If you are hesitant to sign up for a credit card, like I was, you need to fully understand your situation and exposure,” he explained. “If you have had problems getting into debt because of credit cards in the past, you will likely do it again, so they are not a good fit for you. If you are diligent about not overspending and paying your bill on time it may very well be a wise choice for you to get the protections and perks offered by a credit card.”
Do you play the points game? What are some of the ways you’ve put your earned points to good use?
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