My Week in Manufactured Spending: A Family Affair

Right before Top Cash Back and BeFrugal began limiting cash back to American Express gift cards purchased in denominations of $200 or less, I placed a few orders totaling $30,000. In addition to this, I had another $10,000 lying around from a previous order. With a stack of gift cards piling up, it was time to unload them all. Back in July I found a local CVS store that’s been ms-friendly so far. I easily unloaded $14,000 worth of American Express gift cards over the course of a week. I also handed my brother $6,000 to unload and he surprised me by finding his very own ms-friendly CVS store. My older sister came to visit during the week and she’s always supportive of my manufactured spending activities. This time, she managed to help me unload another $4,000.

Visa gift cards

With $24,000 worth of American Express gift cards liquidated at CVS, I’m going to have to step things up a bit to finish this stash before I can place another gift card order next week. I can off-load $10,000 worth of Amex gift cards per day if my family helps me out – getting them all organized and parting with the gift cards (before writing down all of the numbers in case they get lost) is the tricky part. 

At the moment, Ebates and Extrabuxx are still offering 1% cash back on Amex gift card purchases, which helps eliminate the majority of the costs associated with churning these cards. However, this might end at any moment, so as soon as I hit the 14 day mark since my last order, I’m placing a $50,000 order across four credit cards.

The only challenge I’ve faced so far has been unloading Visa gift cards. I ran into a few issues at Target while trying to load my Redbird cards. During one instance, a cashier who wasn’t familiar with the new procedure typed in the wrong code and received an error message. She read it back to me and her colleague, who explained that she had selected the “make a payment” option instead of “reload card.” She showed her how to do it correctly and I was able to unload a few cards that way.  Noon Radar has a very useful guide on how to get around issues loading Redbird, so be sure to check that out if you run into trouble.

I’m also having an issue with one specific Vanilla Visa gift card – I tried loading it onto Redbird and got a “card type not accepted” message. The first time it happened, I assumed I accidentally selected the “credit” option instead of “debit.” However, it happened again recently and I’ve reset the PIN to see if maybe that may have been the problem. If that doesn’t work, I’m calling customer service to sort it out.

Out of the $24,000 worth of Amex gift cards I converted to Visa, I’ve successfully unloaded $10,000 via Walmart money orders. Next week, the $5,000 limit on my Redbirds will reset and I can liquidate another $25,000. However, I’m not waiting around for that to happen. I’m getting it all done before the end of the month so I can pay off my credit cards in time for the next Amex gift card order. It’s just a matter of getting the family involved to speed things up.

Despite redeeming over 1 million points and miles during my recent trip, I still have over 700,000 airline miles and hotel points left. Not quite enough for the trips I’ve got planned, but I don’t have to churn many gift cards to hit my target. That being said, this is becoming fun for me again, so I’ll keep ms’ing for as long as I can.

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. when you say “I’m placing a $50,000 order across four credit cards”, is that a single order where you use 4 cc’s to pay, and if so how? Or do you mean 4 separate orders? I always wonder when you say this.

      • Arianna, since the 14 day limit is $10,000 per person, Do you normally order $2000 in one order then repeat until you reach five orders in one day? If so, I think you would incur $8.95 fee for each order, right? Or, do you make 1 order of $2000 with 5 quantity? Doing it this way would only cost you a one time shipping fee, correct? But, does that disqualify you to get the cash back from the portals, which only allow upto $2000?

        • I do $10,000 per order in $2k denominations per 14 days, so I’m only paying $8.95 in shipping every two weeks. This quantity still earns cash back, since none of the cards in the order exceeds $2k.

          • That means you can only use one credit card for this $10,000 purchase then? So, if I want to spend $4,000 in one credit card and $6,000 in another, I must make two orders, which increase my shipping cost, correct?

          • You can’t split payments on one order so yes, you’d have to place two separate ones. I don’t know if the annual shipping plan is still around, but that’s a great way to off-set the cost.

          • Do you know any tricks for payments that would qualify as a Direct Deposits when one is unemployed and does not have a salary to Direct Deposit?

          • banks give you miles/bonus for opening checking accounts that you can fund with credit cards (= double bonus). BUT you sometimes have to make a few direct deposit among other requirements to get the bonus. I suppose this was not the place to ask the question, but I am new to this and have not had time to search around.

          • Oh. I just did that with Chase and got $300. Didn’t help me getting approved for a UA card. (too many apps in the past 24 months)

            An ACH direct deposit is from an employer.

            How do you fund a bank account with a CC? With money orders???

  2. Ever worry using others names and SocSec# is gonna come back to bite you ?

  3. I know that on Amex GC’s some banks may not process the purchase as a cash advance but if the amount exceeds your cash advance limit the purchase is declined. My question is; does the same hold true for Visa/Mastercard GC’s?

  4. Hi there – RE: your comment about turning your VGCs into Walmart MOs. I gathered from your post that you bought Vanilla Visas – and your local Walmart accepted them for MOs?

  5. Thanks for the link for the Redbird guide. The author is “Noon Radar” (I think your spellcheck changed it to nonreader). Thanks again!

    • Blame the misspell on my inclination to come up with a “unique” handle when I first started to post about MS on Reddit…NoonRadar is probably too unique. It didn’t and doesn’t mean anything to me, other than it is now my MS badge and I shall wear it with pride, I guess 😛

  6. Just trY that vanilla visa again another day/location. That happened to me recently on one, tried later and it worked fine. Not sure what the cause actually was.

  7. I had the same issue with a VGC at Target. I tried it multiple times, multiple registers and multiple stores over the past 2 weeks, I even just tried to buy a pack of gum with it to no avail. Was able to run it for a regular purchase at the grocery store, so I just broke down today and got a money order at the post office.

  8. Can you explain how to get money orders with your gift card at walmart? I’ve tried 3 times and it never worked for me.
    Really appreciate it!

    • It’s a total hit/miss – really depends on the location and whether the cashiers are going to ask to see your card. Luckily, I’ve found a few spots where they don’t ask, so I simply swipe and enter my PIN.

  9. I’m wondering just like a couple of posters , how you were able to purchase MO with vanilla visa. I thought Walmart didn’t like them anymore and can only process <50 at a time. Is Kate involved ?


    • Their policy is that they don’t accept gift cards, however it’s not hard-coded into the register and the cashiers don’t typically ask to see your card. So I’m able to swipe and enter my PIN without problems.

      • Ariana – What value MO do you typically purchase with your GCs? I assume its the max. value on any one GC (ie. $100/200/500) – as using multiple GCs is probably an instant ‘red flag’?

        • I usually do $1,000 and split the payment. If I’m using my PP debit (loaded with a PP Reload it card), then I’ll go for a little under $2,000 to avoid having to provide my personal information. There are two Walmarts (a Neighborhood and Supercenter) about 5 minutes apart and I hit up both, usually with 1-2 other people who go in and help me out. Last I heard, you can’t split payment across more than 3 cards anyway.

          • Ariana, sorry I’m confused. so you’re saying that some Walmart’s POS systems are not hardcoded to block $50+ Vanilla Visa for MO purchases?

          • Not on my experience. I’ve been using these visas at Walmart store around the Bay Area and near Sacramento. So far, the only time I’ve been blocked from using them was when a cashier asked to see the card.

  10. Can you show a tally of what you expect the costs to be for all the various amex and visa gift cards plus the money orders you need to liquidate your original 50K purchase round? In the end you only get 50K miles, right?

      • I still don’t get it. Where I live, the $200 gift cards cost $6.95 each. So how can you MS $50K for only $250 when you are buying amex cards (plus shipping fee), then buying visa cards and also buying money orders?

  11. I went to walmart, this morning. Tried to buy MO with Vinilla gift card. Soon as i swiped, it spit out a paper saying, basically I cannot take that card. I need to use cash or debit. Lady said the machine think i’m using a credit card. Didn’t even give me an option to put in a pin.

    • I noticed this with Vanilla Visas sometimes: As soon as you swipe the card, the option to choose debit/credit pops up briefly. If you don’t select debit right away, it gets processed as credit and declines. So the next time you try this, make sure you select “debit” right away to avoid getting your card rejected.

  12. Did you get your RedBird in the San Francisco Bay Area? I’ve been to different Targets in several cities and I don’t see any of them offering the card.

    • I bought mine in Michigan earlier this year. For a while, they did appear in the Sacramento area but then disappeared. If you need one, there are a few options for getting them. I recommend Noon Radar, who has been a reliable supplier to many of my readers.

  13. paypal shut me down, forever, specifically for buying mo at walmart and usps with pp debit card. be careful out there.

    • How long were you doing this before you got shut down? So far I’ve only maxed out the load limit last month and intend on taking it easy in September – maybe $2,500. I’ve been mixing in some regular spend to avoid shut downs.

      • you answered my question with a question 😉
        -how many mo are you buying at wm/visit?
        – dont buy mo at walmart or usps with pp debit or they will shut you down. you can test the waters as much as you want month on month, but it will lead to shut down. pp dgaf.
        pp mc works great at plastiq and has for many months, not just now that plastiq is getting all this hype BUT the current discount on MC at plastiq is well, CHAN’s FAMILY LIKES THAT even though Chan is banned from paypal.

        • I keep it just under $1k – normally I bring someone along to do another $1k so it’s more efficient. Paypal is definitely not a long-term thing for me. Last month I did max out at $5k and use for Redbird loads, mo’s and regular spend, but I’m going to ease off completely after this month. I tried using Plastiq to send cash to someone using an Amex gc and received notice days later that it wasn’t a qualifying transaction – apparently if you’re using it for bill pay or to send money, you need to provide an invoice.

  14. How do you liquidate MO’s you buy? I usually do this by paying my CC bills and avoid putting in my checking account as it might cause money laundering issues

  15. It looks like Ebates pulled the Amex gift cards from their website. Extrabuxx still has the $2000 Amex gift card offer at 1%.

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