5 Mistakes to Avoid When Manufactured Spending

Manufactured spending can be a great way to rack up extra points and miles long after a credit card sign-up bonus posts. However, there are risks involved and mistakes that can be costly. Whether you’re new to manufactured spending or you’ve been doing this for a while, here are five mistakes you should make an effort to avoid:

Credit card wallet

1. Buying the wrong gift cards. I’ve gotten tons of emails from readers in the past, who purchased thousands of dollars worth of gift cards that they assumed were PIN-enabled only to be stuck with no way of unloading them. While there’s always a way to get rid of unwanted gift cards (most of the time it will be costly), it’s best to avoid this scenario by double checking that they are PIN-enabled. Currently, the best gift card for money order purchases and Redbird reloads are Visa gift cards issued by Metabank and US Bank. These can be purchased online or at your local drug and grocery stores.

2. Buying more gift cards than you can reasonably unload. Ordering $10,000 worth of Amex gift cards and banking $150 cash back plus 20,000 Arrival miles at once is pretty exciting. However, you shouldn’t let that feeling cloud your judgment. Your credit card bill will be due soon enough and if you don’t have the time or means to unload these cards, you could be in trouble. It’s important to be honest with yourself about the time you can reasonably commit to manufactured spending and take past performance into account. If you’ve never taken on $10k+ worth of gift card churning before, start out small and work your way up. It may also help to stick to a schedule. For example, you can commit to unloading $1,000 per week and then schedule a specific time and date when you’ll get this done. Do this before placing a large gift card order and you’ll avoid a lot of trouble down the road.

3. Not paying cards off on time. This ties into my previous point about making sure you’re not taking on more than you can reasonably handle. Not liquidating your gift cards on time and lacking the funds to pay off your credit card can lead to massive interest charges that negate the value of the rewards you’ve earned. So all of that hassle you went through to buy and liquidate thousands of dollars worth of gift cards will essentially go to waste. A simple spreadsheet can help you keep track of credit card due dates and avoid late payments. Take it one step further and set an alert on your phone so you’re reminded of due dates with plenty of time to schedule payments.

4. Losing gift cards. Losing gift cards can be more costly than paying credit card interest fees. When you’re juggling dozens of $500 gift cards you might accidentally toss or misplace one. When that happens, you’re pretty much screwed unless you have the card number on hand. My suggestion is that you write down each card number and track it until it’s been unloaded completely. This way, you’ll know which gift cards have balances that need to be unloaded and you’ll have the necessary information to request a replacement in case you lose a one.

5. Not being discreet. Manufactured spending is kind of like being in fight club in that rule #1 and #2 are the same: You don’t talk about it. At least not to store employees or anyone else who stands between you and your miles. So don’t go tweeting at Walmart about someone else’s manufactured spending activities or telling the cashier in detail what you’re up to. You’re buying money orders to pay rent or make car payments and Redbird is just a great budgeting tool as well as an easy way to get 5% off your Target purchases. Be discreet and don’t babble about manufactured spending to store employees or request to speak to a manager when a cashier gives you trouble.

On a similar note, don’t overdo it and draw attention to yourself by purchasing or liquidating too many gift cards at once. You don’t want a store to begin implementing limits or worse, suspect you’re involved in illegal activity. Stay under the radar and you’ll be ms’ing for a long time.

What are some of your tips for avoiding common manufactured spending mistakes?

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. I am only willing to put 1K on the line at one time. Anything more than that would stress me out! I might do 1K several times in a month to meet a minimum spending requirement, though.

  2. I am fairly new to MS and basically have been using it to minimum spend on cards that I cant use for certain billpay.

  3. Ariana why does nobody use Square or PayPal Here to liquidate gift cards?? I’ve been wanting to try it but I feel like everyone knows something I don’t know. My understanding is this:

    The 2.7% fee is nearly offset when you get a portal bonus like yesterday’s 2.25% for Amex gift cards, and you don’t have to drive around buying PIN enabled visas either. I know people got busted for using their credit card to MS into their own PayPal account, but shouldn’t anonymous gift cards be safe??

    • Lots of people have been shut down by both Paypal and Square. While there’s little risk with Square, when Paypal shuts you down they sometimes hold onto your funds for months at a time, so you won’t be able to use that money to pay off your credit card.

      • Oh okay, I’d better not try my luck then. One more thought: I’ve got a small side business online with which I use Stripe. Could I successfully unload by paying myself through Stripe? I know the goal is to keep fees low, but fees aside, would that work alright?

  4. I almost lost a $500 gift card last week. My wife bought a bunch of cards at the mall and apparently the CSR put 2 cards into one envelope and my wife didn’t tell me. I had taken out all the cards the night before and tossed the envelopes into the garbage. The next morning I realized I was short $500. I frantically called my wife at work to see if she still had one in her purse. That’s when she remembered that one envelope had 2 cards. Luckily I hadn’t thrown out the garbage. I had to sift through cat food and coffee grinds looking for all those little mall envelopes. I found the $500 card in the last envelope I found.

    • That must have been super stressful! It’s a good thing your wife remembered about the two cards in one envelope. If it had been me, I probably wouldn’t have gone through the inconvenience of searching the trash unless I knew that.

  5. Hey – So I’m trying to figure out where to focus my MS’ing. I am looking to get to SE Asia in Oct 2016 and I’m trying to build up the miles/points needed to fly Biz Class(or better) from the US west coast to SE Asia and return. Can you offer some suggestions? I don’t want to spend/waste time using the wrong CC. I’m digging through a ton of places but getting very confused. ~thanks!

    • It’s good you’re thinking about this ahead of time. Where exactly do you want to go? Cathay Pacific (i.e. AAdvantage miles) will likely be your best bet. But if you can provide the destination, I can give you better advice.

      • We haven’t pinned down the exact trip yet. But looking to go for 10-ish days. The wish list is Siem Reap, Hanoi(Ha Long Bay), Hong Kong and possibly Singapore. No particular order but the flights may dictate this. We have AA miles, UR Points and Amex MR Points. Also have a stack of BA Avios. My thinking is using AA for one way and UR/MR Points for the other route. We don’t mind paying for the short flights due to the low cost carriers. ~thanks!

  6. When you say don’t overdo it by purchasing/liquidating too many at once, how many cards would you consider to be too many and in what time frame?

    Also curious about banks being alarmed at so much money coming into the bank account from the redbird account. What are your thoughts on that?

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