My Week in Manufactured Spending

After my previous successful manufactured spending spree, I wanted to keep the momentum going. So I ordered another $30,000 worth of American Express gift cards, which arrived two days later. This is the maximum amount I can unload this month, since all five of my Target Prepaid RED (Redbird) and Amex for Target prepaid cards have a $5,000 loading limit.  While I would have loved to put all $50,000 worth of spend on Barclay Arrival Plus cards for over $1,100 in travel rewards, it didn’t quite work out that way due to a couple of spending requirements I had to meet.

Earlier this month my dad picked up a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express and Alaska Visa Signature Card. You can never have too many Alaska miles, so despite the fact that the card required just a single purchase in order to trigger the 25,000 mile sign-up bonus, I put $10,000 worth of Amex gift cards on the card. Next, I ordered another $4,000 in my name using his SPG Amex card. I could have done $6,000 but I’d rather not meet the entire spending requirement through manufactured spending – especially since Amex is known to hit manufactured spenders with the dreaded Financial Review. So I stuck to $4,000, with the intention of completing the remaining $1,000 through credit card spending.

My dad also picked up another Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard which has a $3,000 spending requirement. I charged utility bills to the card along with $2,000 worth of registration fees for my sister’s high school debate team. They have two annual events they have to pay these fees for, so she has everyone on the team make out the checks to me and I in turn pay it with my credit card. This time around I charged it to my dad’s Citi AAdvantage card since Citi codes Amex gift card purchases as cash advances and I didn’t want to use the card for direct Redbird loads and lose out on 1.5% cash back through Top Cash Back. I charged another $10,000 worth of Amex gift cards to my brother’s Barclay Arrival Plus card and the remaining $6,000 to my mom’s Barclay US Airways card, since that earns 1.5 miles per $1 spent through June 30.

It was finally time to unload some of these gift cards. On Monday my brother and I drove to San Francisco to pick up my sister from the airport. On the way there, my brother suddenly turns to me and says, “I counted and there are four Target stores on the way over there. We can stop at all of them if you want.” I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud. Of course, I kept the gift cards in my purse just in case, but I wasn’t expecting to make any stops since my sister would probably be tired from her flight and we’d want to get out of there quickly to avoid traffic.

After picking up some Peace, Love & Kale at Project Juice, we were energized and ready to make the rounds. We hit up Emeryville, El Cerrito, and Richmond. I unloaded $15,000 worth of gift cards and didn’t deal with the usual anxiety of walking into a store for the 100th time and the possibility of being hassled by an overzealous cashier. 

There were a few more stores along the way, but I was tired by then and decided to head home before traffic got really bad. I have another $15,000 left to unload but I’ve got a trip to Dixon and Davis planned in a couple of weeks, where I’ll unload the remaining gift cards all at once.

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. Ariana
    Why would you use AEGC if you can just use the credit cards to load the RedCard and AET cards?

  2. Redbird isn’t available here in Florida yet, so I am not completely knowledgeable about the particulars. How do you get these loads off the card? Also, any idea of when it will be available in Florida? Thanks!

  3. Happy that you are setting the bar high for MF, and so jealous you have such co-operative family members unlike mine =P

  4. You’re my hero!

    Honestly, I get hit with anxiety when I carry around $500 of VGC with me, I’d probably need a whole bottle of xanax if I had what you carry around.

    While I understand the use of AGC through TopCashBack or BigCrumbs for the ‘cash back’. I have a Chase INK card that I can pick up cards at the office supply store and get Ultimate Rewards points. If you weren’t trying to meet minimum spend on new cards would you be going through the cash back portals just to meet the annual spend on those cards?

    • Yes, I’d absolutely go through a cash back portal just to rack up spend. My local office supply stores don’t carry Amex gift cards, otherwise 5x UR points would be nice!

      • ok, I see. The availability for those office supply gift cards is good for me right now. I’ll keep going in that direction.

        Next up for me is to register my 2nd RedBird!

          • At my office depot the Amex GCs seem to max out at $200. $6.95 fee. Not really worth it I think. Online portals are definitely the best.

          • It can actually be worth it if you buy them during a promotion (i.e. $15 off gc’s of $150 or more). I just need to find a store that stocks them…

          • @STAR is right, they do cost more. I’m trying to rack up UR points by going this route and once I hit my goal I’ll switch over to Online Portals to recover the expense.

          • I went through TopCashBack to order AGC last night and had a code that Amex sent to me for free fees. I placed 2 separate orders, one cleared and waiting for the other to clear. I’ve seen how you can now get ‘paid’ to do this!

  5. Wow, $30K. I’m impressed. I’m still doing $10-15K a month using your favorite Walmart money kiosks. I’ll be heading to Ohio next month and I hope to finally pick up a Redbird then. I’d like to keep one Bluebird open for the bonus spending at office supply stores and supermarkets. I’ve been trying to get family members to give me their SSN’s to get more cards, but no dice.

  6. Ariana how in the world can you stand to put so much money on one credit card?? I know you said you DIDN’T, but you would have liked to spend 50,000 on your arrival+. YEAH, SO WOULD I, but I’m too anxious about financial reviews. Are the people that talk about that kind of think alarmists? I’ve also read that it’s best to stay under your total stated annual income with each bank. Clearly none of these things phase you, so am I getting nervous over nothing?

    • No, you’re definitely not overreaction. I would have spread the $50k across different Arrival cards (my own card, my dad’s, brother’s, etc.). I definitely don’t have a high enough credit limit to do $50k on one card and it would be pretty irresponsible even if I could do it since, as you pointed out, since it could trigger a shut down.

  7. Curious…when you buy AGC online and do not use AMEX card…do you log into your AMEX account to check out? Or Check out as guest?

  8. Is there a reason I should know about? When I use my SPG Amex card or DL SkyMiles AMEX, I logged into my account. But I just now bought one with USAirways/Barclay and I just checkout as guest.
    I don’t do much MS , so I doubt I am raising any red flags. I just want to be sure that I DON’T ever raise them. 🙂

      • Mine is usually under $5K :O If I use AMEX card…whether I log in or checkout as guest, they know I am using the card. Using a VISA or MC I will checkout as guest. Though they still probably know since I have to enter the same personal info.

        Thanks for the info….and inspiration. 🙂

  9. Is there a limit to receive cash back from top cash? I thought the site will only give cash back for up to $1,000 spend.

  10. Holla! I’m in Emeryville!! But I do all my Redbird feeding in Dublin where I work. They don’t mind that I max out 3 Redbirds using $50-100 Amex Gift Cards from my latest Office Depot spree (if I see people getting in line at Customer Service, I finish up the current redbird we’re working on and then let them take care of those customers first before we continue loading the next redbird. I think it pays to be considerate). 🙂 There’s a couple other MSers I’ve seen in line too (you can tell when they’re holding multiple redbirds and credit cards, especially that SPG Amex which seems to be a popular card to load with…).

    • Hi Star,

      I live in the area but have no luck finding the Redbird card in Dublin? Did you get your card there?



  11. Hi,
    I have a question, I hope someone can aswer it please… THANKS!
    I have my Redbird and I’m ready to start using it,

    What is the point of buying Amex in a cashback portal (I know by doing this you get money back, and cover the shipping and costs of the cards) if you can reload the redbird directly with a credit card in store?

    Let me rephrase that. If I can load my redbird and pay with a gift card AND a credit card in-store, then what is the point of buying gift cards?

    Thank you so much!!

    • When you buy AGC’s through a shopping portal, you not only off-set the shipping and card fees, you end up with a profit. For example, on a $10k order I earned $150 cash minus $8.95 shipping and $19.75 in card fees, bringing my total profit to $121.30. I would be foregoing this profit by loading Redbird directly.

  12. what do you recommend is the cheapest way to get gift cards for mfr spend? I have the chase ink plus and ink cash cards, but I’m reluctant to pay the 5.95 card fees. I’m waiting VGC promotions at either officemax or staples. any strategies or recommendations on how to keep the cost of mfr spend low (minimizing paying card fees)?

      • another question. loading at target, would you agree it makes more sense to buy VGC at Officemax/staples with the Ink+, then load at target instead of loading SPG Amex. what are your thoughts on this? 5% on ink+ vs 1% on spg amex.

  13. Do you ever run into hassles when you load redbird cards for family members without them present?

    • Never. They don’t check the name on the card being loaded – in fact, most of the time they don’t even ask for an ID when I swipe my credit or Amex gift card.

  14. Please confirm… I can purchase $10,000 worth of AEGC via top cash back, it just has to be 5 x $2,000 or else I will not get the cash back? I am assuming I can also get 10 x $1,000. I just cant get more than $10,000?

    • You’re limited to $10k every two weeks, but you will only earn cash back on GC’s purchased in denominations of up to $2,000. You’ll still earn cash back on gift cards less than $2k but then you’re incurring more fees.

  15. And also, if I use top cash back, can you personalize the cards to have your name printed on them?

  16. Is that $10,000 in one transaction, or is it $10,000 in 5 different transactions of $2,000 each. I am still confused as to wheather or not I can purchase $10,000 at once, of if it needs to be 5 separate transactions. It looks like you do $10,000 at once, so you are only charges $8.95 shipping total.

    • You can purchase $10k in one transaction, it’s just that each gift card needs to be a maximum of $2,000 in order to qualify for cash back. So if you want to do the maximum $10k in one order, you have to select five $2,000 gift cards instead of the slightly easier/cheaper option of three $3k and one $1k gift card. You could buy ten $1k gift cards and earn cash back, but then you’re incurring more fees.

  17. Ariana, after reading so many different blogs, yours is my favorite! Very practical advice and clear presentations! Thanks for sharing this with us! 🙂

  18. I wish I would have discovered your blog so much sooner. After laying off the game for a few months, I thought WallyWorld would still have some love for VGCs….yeah, not so much. San Jose is a wasteland in that regard. Cashier was forthcoming enough to tell me that their folks received training on this matter about 4 weeks ago…

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