My Week in Manufactured Spending: It’s a Wrap

I started the week with a trip to a college town where I always get a lot of churning done. It is, after all, The Pudding Guy’s territory (you know you’ve made it in to the ms hall of fame when you have your own Wikipedia page). I guess he must have done a real number on this place because my favorite CVS store turned me down! You know how I always try to avoid 18 – 35 year old male cashiers? I may have to rethink demonizing that demographic because the usual apathetic looking females in that same age group have been making things increasingly difficult for me.

The register is becoming a grim place

The register is becoming a grim place

I walked into the aforementioned CVS store, making a beeline for the gift card rack. The only cashier working in the store fit the profile of an easy target, until she turned on me right after scanning the gift cards. She asked for my ID and after I swiped my Amex gift card, she asked to see that as well. That’s when her demeanor changed in an instant and before I knew it, “You can’t use these. Your name needs to be on them.” Telling her I’ve used these cards for gift card purchases before didn’t make a difference. “We’ve always had that rule” she insisted. “Always” doesn’t carry much weight when this is the first time I’ve run into you despite ms’ing here for well over two years. Telling her I’ve “always” been able to do this didn’t ease her belligerence and there were now three people in line behind me, so I left after throwing her some bad vibes. When a cashier tells you no, there’s nothing you can do – involving a manager breaks The Code and draws more unnecessary attention to what you’re doing.

On the up side, I did have success with loading my Redbirds at a nearby Target store. Not the one staffed by students – the one out in the boonies, a place that could easily stand in for a zombie-infested town on The Walking Dead (I’m not that obsessed with the show, really). The people in towns like these are simple folks who haven’t been exposed to degenerate travel hackers like us, so they don’t know that they’re supposed to crap all over our fun by telling us we can’t use gift cards for Redbird loads. So I maxed out my Redbirds and got a coupon book from Scott, who asked me if I’d fill out a survey telling his employer how competent he is at his job. I usually throw these survey receipts away, but for an ms-friendly cashier I decided to take a minute to fill one out.

Next were a couple of Walmart stores, where I picked up $3,000 worth of money orders. These were all relatively tame Walmart locations with short lines. I only experienced a long wait at one store, where the woman standing in line ahead of me had carried in five boxes of pre-packaged deli meat. Was she returning them? Was this the Walmart version of the horsehead-in-your-bed threat from an angry customer? No, it was even more bizarre than that: Apparently the cashier in the check-out line forgot to charge her for them. I have no idea how that happens, but it signals a whole new level of incompetence that I didn’t think was possible for Walmart.

It’s almost time for my next round of Amex gift card orders. I’m trying to time it so I can unload them all before the credit card bills are due. The good news is I’ll have plenty of opportunities to liquidate these cards on an upcoming trip to San Jose. The down side is that I’ve maxed out both my Redbird and Paypal debit monthly load limits, so this will have to be mostly a money order venture. Yes, I fully to expect to have my Paypal account shut down before the month is up. No, it doesn’t bother me since upon deep reflection, I couldn’t remember the last time I even used Paypal for a legitimate transaction. 

I am considering foregoing Amex gift cards altogether. I’m not in immediate need of miles and a more laid back approach to gift card churning would be a nice change to the drama I’ve been encountering lately while attempting to unload Amex gift cards. But then again, that would make for a pretty dull post next week…

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. Seems to me this hobby is for living vicariously in the moment. Earn and burn. Can’t accumulate like a retirement account. Which sucks. “But you save money that you would otherwise have paid”. No, I would have never have that much money from my pocket anyhow.

    • Depends on what you were gathering. If you were getting cash, say from a 2x Fidelity or Spark card and 2+ portal, you would be accumulating money not miles. So you can save this cash for retirement it that is what you choose. A bit of a moot point at this time because the portals are limiting cash back now anyway.

      • Extrabux is still paying out 1% on denominations of up to $2k. For some people, cash back is definitely the way to go. For me, this is my travel budget so I save my earnings for living expenses and my points/miles for travel.

  2. No place in Dallas, Texas area will let you buy money orders with loaded MC/VISA debit cards with PINs. For some reasons, I can’t use Serve/Bluebird/Redbird. So my MS for big minimum spending bonuses is limited to prepaying utilities, cable, cell phone accounts.

  3. “It’s almost time for my next round of Amex gift card orders. I’m trying to time it so I can unload them all before the credit card bills are due.” I thought ACG’s are limited to $200 denominations on CB portals. Are you forgoing portals or buying $200 ACG’s? In either case, how does the math add up?

    • Extrabux is still paying out 1% on $2k gift card denominations, so it’s definitely still worthwhile. I end up paying less than $5 per $1k spent, which can translate to 1,000 – 2,000 miles depending on the currency.

  4. It’s funny you mention the young male cashiers…..those are the ones I seek out! They seem to care the least. In my city anyway. It’s the old ladies with beehives and glasses perched on their nose that give me the hardest time.

    I’m gonna lay off Amex GC for a while and see if the portals come back. At 1% you have to buy way too much to even come close to breaking even. And I’m not comfortable doing that. (I envy you)

    • I think this def varies on several factors, probably the major one being our own self, that is how they perceive us and interact with us, and how we interact with them…each one of us being different that is so what works for Ariana might not work for you and me, and vice-versa.

      It’s all subjective stuff but every time we interact with someone we make a snap judgment about them, often without having that judgment enter our aware/rational side of our brain. The book Blink by Malcom Gladwell does a very good job at explaining this. Sadly, it offers no advise whatsover on particular MS techniques.

      Having said that, and being otherwise very much against putting people in one big bucket, I too try to do a lot of profiling on MS trips. I’m usually good at it I think, though not yet Minority Report-iesh.

      • Yeah, It’s interesting. I agree it is as much how they perceive us. I do best with guys and girls under 25. The younger the less they seem to care. The worst for me are men and women over 50. Especially the older women.

  5. Quick question, what pin enabled debit cards are you using the buy WM money orders? All WM’s in my area VCG’s don’t work any more.

    • At CVS I buy $500 denominations (since you can split payments across multiple forms, which will cover the card fees). At grocery stores, I’ll subtract the fee. So if the card fee is $4.95, I’ll get four cards for $495 each. The remaining $0.20 on my AGC gets loaded onto my Starbucks card.

  6. What other places or ways can Vanilla VGC’s be unloaded? Is Redbird the only option? What about Bluebird or money orders?

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