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Home repair costs are an unpleasant part of homeownership that no one enjoys. Even if you have savings set aside for unexpected expenses like I do, withdrawing your hard-earned money to pay for a big ticket repair isn't much fun.

A few years ago, my husband and I had an unpleasant surprise the first time we tried to turn on our air conditioner in the spring. Our HVAC unit was broken, and it was time for a new one. The replacement cost plus labor was a little north of $8,000. Ouch! But I paid for it with a rewards credit card and earned 10 free flights in exchange. The cost was unavoidable, but these three moves helped us minimize the pain.

1. Fund a Savings Account

Fortunately, my husband and I have a general savings account we use for these types of surprise expenses. A good high-yield savings account is the first key to my success when it comes to earning valuable credit card rewards.

As a rule, if I don't have the money to pay a charge in full, I don't use my credit card. I know that if I charge more on a credit card than I can afford to pay off by the statement due date, I'll have to pay interest. Credit card interest is notoriously high. But because I knew I could pay off my credit card bill for the HVAC expense in full, I was able to earn rewards before doing so.

Recommended High-Yield Savings Accounts

Bank Account APY Features Learn More

BrioDirect High-Yield Savings Account

5.30% More Info

*Annual Percentage Yield (APY) is accurate as of 6/4/2024. Rate is subject to certain terms and conditions. You must deposit at least $5,000 to open your account and maintain $25 to earn the disclosed APY. Rate and APY may change at any time. Fees may reduce earnings.

$5,000 min. deposit
No monthly fee

UFB Direct logo

UFB Direct Secure Savings Account

5.25% More Info

UFB Direct breaks balances into five tiers, but, currently, there is only one interest rate.

No minimum deposit
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SoFi Checking and Savings

0.50% - 4.60% More Info

Customers earn 4.60% APY on savings balances when they set up recurring monthly direct deposit of their paycheck or benefits provider via ACH deposit. Alternatively, deposit at least $5,000 each month to earn 4.60% APY on your savings balance. Checking balances earn 0.50% APY

No minimum deposit
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CIT Bank Platinum Savings Account

5.00% More Info

Earn 5.00% APY on balances over $5,000. Balances of less than $5,000 earn 0.25% APY. Annual Percentage Yield is accurate as of May 6, 2024. Interest rates for the Platinum Savings account are variable and subject to change at any time without notice.

$100 minimum deposit
No monthly fee

2. Ask to Pay With a Credit Card

Rather than paying for the HVAC bill with the funds in our savings account, I asked the repair company if they accepted credit card payments, which they did.

Businesses have to pay merchant processing fees to accept credit card payments from customers. So not every service provider will let you pay for home improvement costs with a credit card. In my experience, though, many service providers do accept credit cards. In the past, I've paid for a roof replacement and other major home repairs with a credit card as well. so it's worth asking.

Recommended Credit Cards

Credit Card Rewards Rate Annual Fee Bonus Offer Learn More
1x- 5xPoints More Info

Enjoy benefits such as 5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases, $50 Annual Chase Travel Hotel Credit, plus more.

$95 75,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's over $900 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠. Dollar Equivalent: $1,725 (75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * 0.023 base)

1x - 3xPoints More Info

Earn 3 points for every $1 on Southwest Airlines® purchases, 2 points for every $1 on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners, 2 points per $1 on local transit and commuting (including rideshare), 2 points per $1 on internet, cable, and phone services; select streaming, and 1 point for every $1 on all other purchases.

$99 85,000Southwest Rapid Rewards Points More Info

Earn 85,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,190 (85,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points * 0.014 base)

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

2%Cashback More Info

Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases.

$0 $200Cash Bonus More Info

Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months.

Citi Custom Cash® Card

1% - 5%Cashback More Info

Earn 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent, 1% cash back thereafter. Also, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. Special Travel Offer: Earn an additional 4% cash back on hotels, car rentals, and attractions booked on Citi Travel℠ portal through 6/30/2025.

$0 $200Cash Bonus More Info

Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $1500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.

3. Get the Right Sign-Up Bonus

My husband and I weren't in a rush to replace our HVAC unit. So, we both had time to to apply for a new credit card to cover the HVAC costs. Why open two new rewards cards? We wanted to take advantage of sign-up bonuses to maximize our rewards-earning potential.

After researching the best rewards credit card sign-up bonuses, I found a popular airline credit card was a good fit for us. Back then, the card featured a welcome offer of 30,000 bonus miles plus a Southwest Companion Pass® for the remainder of the year after meeting the spending requirement—$4,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months from account opening.

See Which Credit Cards Offer Bonuses

Best Credit Card Bonuses

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How I Got $3,800 Worth of Free Flights

At the time of this story, I was still a travel rewards credit card beginner. Yet despite my inexperience, my husband and I earned 10 free flights that year by paying for our home repair with a credit card. Here's how it worked:

  1. We earned two credit card sign-up bonuses: As mentioned, we earned 30,000 Rapid Reward Points each and two coveted Southwest Companion Passes. The spending requirement for each bonus was $4,000. So we split our $8,000 home repair bill and paid for it with our two new cards.
  2. Our rewards redemption saved us $1,700: My husband and I cashed in around 60,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points for two free domestic plane tickets. With our Companion Passes, our two children joined us for free. (We each paid around $10 for taxes.)
  3. We used our Companion Passes for six more free flights: In addition to that initial trip, our family of four took three more flights that year. Each time, our two children flew for free. We got an estimated $2,100 in additional value out of those six free flights.

In total, our family enjoyed around $3,800 worth of free travel thanks to the rewards we earned paying for our home repair with credit cards.

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Why I Use Credit Cards for Almost Everything

I pay for every expense possible with a credit card. That includes day-to-day spending, monthly utilities (when accepted) and major expenses like home repairs. Once, I even bought a car with my credit card. And I use a credit card to pay for medical bills too.

There are three reasons I pay for purchases—both big and small—with a credit card:

  • To earn rewards: You can probably guess the first reason from this story. I like earning credit card rewards for the things I need to buy anyway.
  • To get better fraud protection: Credit cards protect me better than cash or debit cards because they come with price protection and let me dispute fraudulent charges when needed. And if I lose my card or someone steals it, my personal liability is capped at a much lower level thanks to federal protections.
  • To build credit: My credit card issuers report my account history to the three credit bureaus each month. As long as I keep my credit utilization levels low and my payments on time, those credit cards help me maintain good credit that I can rely on when I need to apply for new financing in the future.

Michelle Lambright Black

Michelle Black is founder of and Michelle is a leading credit card journalist with over a decade and a half of experience in the financial industry. She’s an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, small business, and debt eradication. Michelle is also a certified credit expert witness and personal finance writer.