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Meeting $82,000 in Spending Requirements within 3 Months

First, I don’t recommend you do this if you’re new to manufactured spending: $82,000 is a hefty amount of spend in any time frame, let alone 3 months. Last month, I picked up an SPG American Express Business card for my brother, completely slacking on the spending requirement ($10,000 within 6 months). Recently, I decided to pick up another 100,000 mile Citi AA Executive card for my dad and brother. The Barclay Arrival Plus Card has served us pretty well in the past, so it was time for my dad to get one too. And since you can never have too many Alaska miles, I thought it was high time my dad and brother churned that card once again. There was an offer out there for 50,000 miles after a total of $10,000 spent within 6 months. This offer has been around for a while and it has a landing page, so I used it and figured if nothing else, we get 25,000 bonus miles per card after first use and 10,000 miles each for the $10,000 spent on each card. Sign-up bonus or not, those miles will come in handy.

Visa Mastercard gift cards

With this churn turning into a bigger spending challenge than originally intended, I tallied up the numbers and concluded I needed to meet $82,000 in spending requirements. Some of that had to be completed within 3 months while the rest was due in 6 months. Here is a breakdown of these cards:

  • SPG American Express Business Card – $9,000 within 6 months (1 month down, 5 more to go)
  • Barclay Arrival Plus Card – $3,000 within 3 months
  • (2) Citi AA Executive Card – $20,000 within 3 months
  • (2) Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card – $20,000 within 6 months
  • Barclay Arrival Plus Card – $30,000 (My brother needs 60,000 Arrival miles by September)

If you’re wondering what the $30,000 Arrival spend is for, my brother incurred some recent travel expenses that I’d like to off-set by ramping up his mileage balance. Arrival Plus cardholders have up to 120 days to redeem miles for travel, and if we get this done by August/September, it will give us plenty of time to redeem them.

My goal is to get all of these spending requirements done by the end of September. Some of the spending requirements aren’t due until next year, but I’d rather get it all out of the way at once. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Not at all. Here’s my plan for getting it done:

Tools

Prepaid cards are essential in liquidating any gift cards I may purchase as part of my strategy. In addition to my own cards, I have access to three family members’ cards as well, bringing the total to four:

With $80,000 in monthly manufactured spending power (more if we factor in the ability to cash out Visa gift cards via money orders), I could technically take care of nearly all of the spend in a month – except, that would be irresponsible and probably trigger account closures. I’m going to keep my spending with different ms merchants (American Express, Simon Mall, Target) at or under $5,000 per card to be safe.

I’ll be charging a few household bills, incidentals, coffee runs, etc. to each card, just to keep the spend patterns normal. This is especially important with newly opened accounts – if your first purchase is especially large, you’ll trigger fraud alerts, declined cards at the register, and face the hassle of having to call your bank and get it sorted out. Start off with a few small purchases and then move on to bigger manufactured spending charges. If you still find these purchases are triggering fraud alerts, call your bank ahead of time and let them know you’ll be making a large purchase soon.

Barclay Arrival Plus Card – $3,000

The Barclay Arrival card will be the only card I’m going to hand over to my dad, who can meet the spend within 1-2 months through regular purchases and household bills.

Citi Executive AAdvantage Cards – $20,000

My plan is to hit the maximum spend on these cards by the end of August. Unfortunately, Citi codes American Express gift card purchases as cash advances, so not only do you not earn miles on those purchases but you get charged cash advance fees. So while American Express gift cards are the most lucrative manufactured spending tool for me, in this case I will have to channel $20,000 worth of spend elsewhere:

  • $1,000 via Amazon Payments x 2 months = $2,000 x 2 cards = $4,000
  • $3,000 in Simon Mall gift cards (liquidated via Bluebird) x 2 months = $6,000 x 2 cards = $12,000
  • $1,000 in direct loads via American Express for Target x 2 months = $2,000 x 2 cards = $4,000

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card – $20,000

  • $2,000 in Simon Mall gift cards (liquidated via Bluebird) x 2 months = $4,000 x 2 cards = $8,000
  • $4,000 in American Express gift cards (liquidated via Amex for Target) x 1 month = $4,000 x 2 people = $8,000
  • $2,000 in direct loads via American Express for Target x 1 month = $2,000 x 2 cards = $4,000

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Business Card – $9,000

The original spending requirement on this card was $5,000 within 6 months. Due to some travel plans later this year, we need 40,000 SPG points. The card offer we got in on was for a total of 35,000 points after $5,000 spent within 6 months. I’ve already hit $1,000 since the card arrived last month. The remaining $9,000 will be met by the end of September using the following methods:

  • $1,000 in Simon Mall gift cards (liquidated via Bluebird) x 3 months = $3,000
  • $4,000 in American Express gift cards (liquidated via Amex for Target) x 1 month = $4,000
  • $1,000 in direct loads via American Express for Target x 2 months = $2,000

Barclay Arrival Plus Card – $30,000 (60,000 Arrival miles by September)

  • $3,000 in Simon Mall gift cards (liquidated via Bluebird) x 3 months = $9,000 x 2 cards = $18,000
  • $4,000 in American Express gift cards (liquidated via Amex for Target) x 1 month = $4,000 x 2 people = $8,000
  • $1,000 in direct loads via American Express for Target x 2 months = $2,000 x 2 people = $4,000

Under this plan, I won’t be utilizing the full $40,000 in prepaid card limits each month. I could generate additional savings by incorporating additional steps into this process, but I’m trying to do this with as little hassle as possible while spreading the spend across as many channels as possible.

I could hit up my local Simon Mall every day or order $20,000 in American Express gift cards each month, cash out exclusively via Amex for Target, and earn a decent profit. Soon the cashiers at Target will get curious about my reloading habits, demand to see the card I’m paying with, and maybe even call over a manager for clarification on the store’s payment policy regarding card reloads. I could get blacklisted at my local Simon Mall over a couple of credit card spending requirements, and I might even get an American Express financial review if I get really reckless – but that would be trading a consistent cash cow for a short-term gain, and that’s a bad trade.

Total Point Haul

  • 220,000 AAdvantage miles
  • 106,000 Arrival miles/$1166 in travel credits
  • 100,000 Alaska miles
  • 40,000 SPG points

Total Expense

  • $325.25 for 85 Amex for Target ATM withdrawals (85 withdrawals at $4.25 each – $36 in waived ATM fees)
  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card annual fee: $150 for two cards
  • $102 in Amex for Target load fees
  • $241.90 in Simon Mall gift card fees
  • $39.50 in Amex gift card fees
  • $0 shipping fees

Earnings: $850 cash back (2.5% cash back via BeFrugal on $34,000 in Amex gift cards)

Total Cost: $8.65

There are ways of generating manufactured spending for even less, but $82,000 is a hefty amount and I’d like to make it as easy as possible. Taking a reduced profit in exchange for eliminating the annoyances of manufactured spending (extra steps that tie up funds, trips to Walmart, etc.) is worth the tradeoff.

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Ariana Arghandewal

68 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes you can get stuck in a rut of gas/grocery – > Walmart. Repeat. I’ve had a Amex for target card and could never figure out why it was worth using, until now.
    Although in your math I think you forgot their reload fee. Which is in addition to the withdrawal fee.

    • The reload fees are in there $102. It makes me cringe, just writing that.

  2. Dumb question – looking at your math it appears after you pay the load fee for loading the AFT you are liquidating it all via ATM. Is there a fee free ATM for AFT cards? I see where you mention waived fees?

    • Actually I just read an old post you did where you talk about AFT. In that you do mention all the fees and say that it is one of the most expensive ways to MS… So I guess I am following you correctly, and the main reason you were using it now is to make sure you can meet the spends.

      • Not so much to meet the spend, since there are cheaper options out there, but for convenience. In fact, under this plan I’m only using $9,000 per month of the $20,000 Bluebird limit. This is more about convenience and spreading the spend around.

    • Yes, the fee per ATM withdrawal charged by AFT is $3, though the first ATM fee is waived each month. I estimated I’ll be reloading 4 cards, so I’ll get $12 in fees waived each month for a total of $36. Using costco ATM’s, I’m paying just $1.25 per withdrawal. So my total cost per withdrawal is $4.25 x 85 withdrawals – $36 waived ATM fees.

      • Get an additional card for each AFT account. That way, you would be able to double your efficiency (load both at the same time in the same trip) and cut your cost by another $36.

        • I’m actually good on that front because I’m not maxing out the limits on the cards each month.

          • But you’ll get another free atm withdrawal per month with the 2nd card.

  3. You should hurry and create a TD Go parent account with 2 teens. You could bang out $6k of Visa/MC spend in 2 weeks, and repeat a month later. For the Citi spend you could even drain by calling them to make a debit card payment off the card you loaded from Citi. With more “teens” and multiple AA cards you could do even more per month.

  4. When I tried to order Simon GC online, I can only buy one card at a time, unless I register as a volume buyer. Did you register? It asked about Company Name, Job Title, and Purpose of Using the GC. I’m not sure how to properly answer them. Do you have any idea? Thanks.

    • I tried registering and got denied. I do have LLC. They said it was criteria based and they don’t share the reason for the declination. So far, I can’t find any data points anywhere talking about successful registrations.

      • One of my readers actually did this successfully a few months ago (when I first wrote about Simon Mall gift cards). Perhaps they’re now clamping down on volume buyers.

    • I buy my gift cards in person, where the fees are cheaper at $2.95 per card and have not registered as a volume buyer. If you decide to register, I’ve heard of folks answering the purpose of using gc a “payment for contractor services”. Hope this helps!

  5. Very sound strategy. I believe in pursuing as much negative costs as possible so for the AP’s, instead of paying directly with a CC, I would buy separate AGC through portals, register name and address, then cash out via each person’s AP account. Same strategy to applies to the AFT – Fund those through AGC and make $997 reloads.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Anthony. I love reading how other folks are getting their spend done. This is a sickness, I tell ya!

  6. I am a little confused. The SPG Amex Business card promo offer I got last month was described by most bloggers, as well as the bank, as follows:

    “This past weekend Amex announced a limited-time, increased bonus offer for the Starwood American Express personal and business OPEN credit cards. The signup bonus for this card is typically 25,000 points, but through June 30, 2014, new cardmembers can earn 30,000 Starwood points after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months.

    Here are the details:

    30,000 points – 10,000 after your first purchase, and an additional 20,000 when you spend $5,000 within 6 months.
    Get up to 5 Starpoints for every $1 of eligible spend charged directly with Starwood hotels & resorts – that’s 2 Starpoints per dollar spent on the Card in addition to the Starpoints you get as a Starwood Preferred Guest member.
    Get 1 Starpoint for every dollar of eligible purchases.
    $65 annual fee, waived for the first year.”
    (Source: http://thepointsguy.com/2014/06/starwood-amex-30000-point-offers-are-back/#ixzz36z7hrkd9 )

    This description is typical of what I saw elsewhere. Did you get your brother a card using a different offer or do you really need to spend $10,000?

    • Thanks for catching that! Yes, it’s a total of 35k points after meeting the $5k spending requirement within 6 months. What I left out is that we’re trying to hit a target number for his account and need a total of 40,000 points. No special offer here, unfortunately. This is what happens when you write a post at midnight. 😉

  7. Ok, maybe i’m confused – per flyertalk, i thought simons could no longer be loaded to bluebird. Is this still viable? I have not tried in a while (few weeks). Thanks!

    • Nicole — I loaded two Simon GCs at a Walmart Money Kiosk this week. The first time I swiped, I got a “card not readable” message, so I swiped again (right away), and it worked.

  8. The Alaska Airlines landing page shows 40K miles and not 50K miles. Where do you see the 50K miles landing page?

    • It’s 50k after you meet the $10k spending requirement: 25k after first spend, 15k after hitting $10k, and another 10k at a minimum of 1 mile per $1 spent.

  9. I read on flyertalk somewhere that Amex gift cards do not count towards minimum spend on Amex cards. Can you say for sure that buying Amex GCs will count?

    I need to hit $3000 in 3 months on my Amex Platinum MB.

    Thanks in advance!

    • P.S.: I’m also wondering if the Platinum’s $200 airline credit and $100 global entry credit count towards minimum spend. Do you know that? Would be great if you could help!

    • From what I read, it still works. However, Serve cards loaded with Amex credit cards don’t earn miles.

  10. Very interesting and impressive! Please keep us informed if you hit any pitfalls along the way or if it ends up being smooth sailing, as you expected. Good luck! P.S.I think it is so sweet how you take care of your brother and father as well so they can travel well for cheap!

    • Aww, thanks Lyn! I will definitely post monthly updates about my progress.

  11. I went to pick up an AFT tonight and no one in the store knew what I was talking about. I tried to call, the rep seemed really confused, but eventually put me on hold after asking my zip. After ten minutes the call dropped…

    I looked online for targets that sell, and Nebraska wasn’t even on the list. I saw somewhere, I think on FT, that Florida is dropping the card. Any advice on how to get it? Also, if I do will I be able to load it in my local targets?

    • On the FT thread there is a guy who will mail you cards. Look through the thread.

      • But AFT requires a driver’s license and SSN to sign up, right? That doesn’t sound like the best idea…

        • They are mailed inactivated. You take them to your local store and activate it.

  12. How are you avoiding shipping costs on the Amex GC’s? I thought the portals were not paying out if you used a code for free shipping. Keep up the great work and good luck with your MS. Keep us updated!

    • The general consensus is that if you have the premium shipping plan that it doesn’t count as a code. Worth trying it for the 90 day free trial.

    • Thanks, Sunny! As Brenton stated, I signed up for the Premium Shipping Plan (I got it for $0 a while ago when I was able able to use a free-shipping code to get a 1-year subscription), so I’m not incurring any costs or jeopardizing portal payouts.

      • Along that line, if I want to sign up for the premium shipping plan and don’t have an actual amex card outside of bluebird, do you know of a way I can do that? It always makes you log in, and you can’t create a login without an amex card number, at least everywhere I’ve looked.

        • I’ve tried it with other prepaids (the Blue Amex Prepaid, Amex for Target) but it didn’t work. I think you need an actual Amex credit card account to do it.

          • Thanks. I asked the same question on flyertalk several times before someone gave me a snippy answer. My first app-o-rama included 3 chase, 2 citi, and the barclay arrival, so I didn’t want to add another Amex at that point in time.

  13. Are you aware of Citi closing folks down for aggressively doing the spend for the 100K miles $10K three month spend? Seems like I read everywhere that folks do it in the first week by hitting Simon really hard–$5K or more at a time/half the spend. Are you just being cautious?

    • I’m cautious in general about doing too much ms on one card. It’s both to avoid fraud alerts/stay off the credit card company’s radar, and to avoid suspicion at my local Simon Mall.

  14. I had/have been using VR and Visa gift cards and doing $6-8K per month for normal bills. I am interested in getting involved in MS but unsure of amount of MS vs regular spend on CC. I am aggressive by nature and have no impending new loans to be concerned about. Advise would be greatly appreciated.

    • My general rule of thumb is to keep all ms per card under 50% of your credit line. So if your credit line for the Sapphire Preferred is $10k, I wouldn’t do more than $5k in ms on the card per month – even if you pay your card off every two weeks like I do. This is by no means scientific or based on any solid data, but just my personal rule of thumb.

      • I understand the 50% rule……is there an additional % of actual spend/purchases or all spend just GC?

        • I would just split it up across 3-4 sources (i.e. Simon Mall, Target, Giftcardmall, etc.). So on a $10k credit line, use $5k for MS and split that $5k between three different merchants.

  15. How do you pay off your credit cards? You mention you pay it every 2 weeks. Is that thru BB, MO, or bill pay thru your bank? If so could that raise any flag? Is paying thru BB that often not raise flags? I’m also assuming you liquidate the AFT thru ATM, does that raise any flags?

    • I do it mainly by walking into a branch with cash or using Bluebird bill pay. I did use money orders back when I was buying Visa gc’s past my Bluebird balance, but I don’t plan on doing that anymore.

  16. Do you spread all the cash from the AFT around to different banks as to not arouse suspicion?

    • Most of it I take to the bank branch (i.e. Chase, Bank of America and Citi if I can find one) and use to make payments on my credit cards. The rest I deposit into my checking and savings accounts.

  17. Any recent data on liquidating Simon GCs at Walmarts, especially the one in Ypsilanti, MI, would be most welcome, whether via MO, BB or Serve.

    • Yesterday I was able to deposit 3 SimonMall GC then on the 4th one it told me to wait for a cashier. The cashier told me to go to the Money Center but I decided to just come back today. Today when I tried my last SimonMall GC it said this was an unauthorized card. Anybody know what’s going on?

      • Wm has a fraud alert if $2000 or more is loaded within 10 minutes. Either load $499.99 on that last one or do some shopping/wait 10 minutes for the last one.

        • I would switch cards: Load one card to $2k, then spend 10 minutes lading the other 3 cards for $2k (it takes longer, in my experience), etc.

  18. RE: Amex For Target
    I’m going to start today, assuming I’m able to actually get an AFT. Once I get my perm card, which would probably be after 10 days(?), I will actually be able to start loading AND withdrawals OR do I have to leave the funds on the card for a certain length of time before I can start to withdraw?
    Is it possible to load the card/account with the temp card?
    -thanks!

    • If you’re going for minimum spend, AmEx for Target has worked fine for me. Load $2,000 for $12 in fees on two cards (maximum allowed per individual), withdraw it over two months with ATM fees applying only to the last $400 (1 free ATM withdrawal up to $400 per month, per card), less than $20 total in costs. You can withdraw immediately with the temp card, then switch online when you get the permanent one with your name on it. You can also accelerate the reload-withdrawal cycle to meet higher minimum spends, and reach several thousand easily, but your ATM withdrawal fees will rise. I should mention the T&C from American Express seems to indicate Target might consider them merchandise, but AmEx will bill them as cash advances if you reload online. My local Target is a Level 1 Visa MCC big box store, however. I might save just a little money by doing Walmart-Serve, but it’s roundtrip three hours to Walmart and that’s worth more than $20, and the ice cream will melt before I get home.

      • Thanks for the tips! I just picked up my AFT at the store which about a mile from home, the nearest zoo,eh Walmart from home is about 4 miles and from what I know they don’t have a Kate. So I think I’ll just do some trickle load and unload via this route for a while. I’ve done all my big spends (2 Citi AA Exec in 30 days). Now I’m going to focus on building some SPG points. Thanks for the tip about loading online with AmEx. To unload we have a Cap1 360 between the office and home so I can swing by there for some ATM action. We also go to Costco about once a month so that’s another option.
        I know some hardcore MS’ers will cringe when I say this but I don’t mind the minimum fee that all this comes with.

          • From what I know Cap1 360 doesn’t take deposits, but they do have free ATM withdraws.

          • No branch in my state, and it looks like funds can only be added through a checking account, unfortunately. But I got it for the free ATM function while traveling. Get stuck in one country with no functioning ATM card and you will seek ways not to do it again. You get a $50 rebate right now, by the way, if you open an account and make five withdrawals or deposits in 45 days, I believe it is. Nice benefit. Gave myself five Amazon e-gift cards for $50 and charged them individually to the account

  19. What am I missing? If you purchased $41,000 in Simon GCs, at $2.95 per $500, isn’t that $241.90 (vs $46.90 you listed). Thanks for helping out a Noob.

    • You’re right, Maddie – I messed up (too many friggin number in this post). Thanks!

  20. Hi,

    AMEX card usually has the terms “Eligible purchases do NOT include …, purchases or reloading of prepaid cards”. For your SPG card, did those purchases of gift cards come up OK?

    Thanks.

    • Despite the terms, Amex gift card purchases still earn points. The only time they don’t is if you’re using an Amex card to load your Serve card – those loads don’t earn points.

      • Can I use spg to purchase visa gift card or it has to be Amex gift cards? Thank you!

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