My Week in Manufactured Spending: MS’ing Without Ink

I haven’t been this mad at myself since the first time office supply stores carried $500 Visa gift cards and I wasn’t an Ink cardholder yet. Yes, my Chase Ink Plus replacement card still hasn’t arrived and while some people are cleaning out store racks and making backroom deals with store managers, I’m missing out. Despite the bureaucratic hiccup, I did get a decent amount of manufactured spending done last week, outside of office supply stores.

By now I should have an address in San Jose based on how often I go out there with my sister for her work. I drop her off, make the rounds, then pick her up. First we go to Philz Coffee in downtown. Tip: Don’t go at noon – the lines are out the door and don’t move. Since I didn’t want to stand in line, I decided to walk to the Safeway Market nearby. I took my niece with me (getting the new generation involved) because it was time to get her out of the car after such a long drive. Plus, having a kid with me made me look less like I was committing a crime. That didn’t help, however, when my $3,000 Visa gift card purchase set off a fraud alert.

The Gift Card Rack at Safeway The Market

The Gift Card Rack at Safeway The Market

I can’t remember the last time this happened with Barclays, but I was pretty sure I would receive a text message and be able to resolve it by responding with a simple “Y.” The text never came, so after waiting 10 seconds, I called and verified the purchase through the automated system. Seconds later, I swiped my card and the transaction went through. Moments like this make me miss those days when I could charge a $10,000 Amex gift card order to my Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard with zero hassle involved. 

After this, I drove to a nearby Office Depot in hopes of finding a stash of Visa gift cards for the taking. Even if I didn’t have my Ink Plus card yet, at least this was an opportunity to buy gift cards at the same price as Safeway was offering. This would allow me to mix things up and not make it look like I had some kind of strange grocery store shopping addiction. I came across a fully stacked rack with the highest Visa and Amex gift card denominations capped at $50. They did have OneVanilla gift cards, which I took to the register…which was hard coded to accept cash only. Why anyone would convert cash to plastic and pay $6 to do it I’ll never understand.

Office Depot Visa Gift Card Rack 

I left the store empty handed, picked up my sister, then went back to the CVS and Safeway stores by Santana Row. I bought $1,000 worth of Paypal My Cash Reload cards at CVS with my Bank of America Alaska card, then went next door to buy $1,000 worth of Visa gift cards with my dad’s Barclay Arrival Plus card (to which I’ve added myself as an authorized user). 

After stopping for a bite to eat, we made our way home at a snail’s pace. I figured instead of wasting our time in traffic, we might as well go to a nearby Safeway and buy a few more gift cards. I managed to buy $1,000 worth of cards at one store and came back to the car to find my sister exchanging insurance information with a woman who hit her car while backing out of her parking spot. Again, why sit around and wait when there was manufactured spending to be done? I went back in and bought another $500 from the same cashier, who had no problem with it. We made another stop at a San Ramon Safeway where I picked up another $1,000. We made it home before managing one more stop at a shopping center that had both a Safeway and CVS store. Another $1,000 Paypal My Cash purchase, $1,000 Visa gift cards from Safeway and I was done. That’s $7,500 worth of gift card purchases in one day. 

I go to Safeway quite frequently (mainly to feed my addiction to Beecher’s Mariachi Mac & Cheese), so I did pick up another $3,000 worth of gift cards this way from regular trips to Safeway. On Saturday I liquidated $2,900 worth of gift cards via money orders and I’m sure with just two more trips I’ll get the rest done before my credit card bills are due.

These are pretty low numbers compared to what I used to pull off, but it’s still respectable at around 40,000 miles per month. If I still had my Amex premium shipping plan, I would take advantage of the $0 fee offers to get large amounts of spend out of the way. In the mean time, I’m stuck earning 2,000 – 6,000 miles at a time. 

How much manufactured spending have you managed to pull off this past week?

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Ariana Arghandewal


      • They only made me fill out paper work once. After that I am in their computer which also means that they are keeping track of every purchase, but is there something wrong with that? As long as there is no money laundering involved, should we be afraid of something? What about CVS, don’t they scan your Drivers License every time? At least mine does, even with the purchase of one card.

        • It’s more about the hassles involved. On the two occasions I bought SM gift cards, I had to fill out paperwork. That was over a year ago so maybe things have changed. It’s also a bit of a drive, making it less convenient than Safeway.

      • Since your in San Jose area a lot. I would suggest going to Simon Mall in Great Mall. The representatives there are warm welcoming to MSers and even informs you that if you purchase more than $3k is when they’ll make you fill out paperwork. One guy even knows the right amount to put on the last card so you hit $2999.99 evenly with the fees.

          • Macerich Malls are also MS friendly. $3.95 for $500 VGC. Limit is $10K per day personal & unlimited for business. Last week they did a special for no fee GC’s.

    • Which card to use for Simon cards? Some cards give extra points at office stores or groceries. What about simon?

      • There is no special card for Simon mall giving extra points that I am aware of. Just use any card that you use

  1. The store close to me sells the Mastercard gift card for $500. But the manager cribs every time that she doesn’t make money selling those gift cards. Now I have to worry about the managers income while buying stuff.

  2. Where have you been able to get Money Orders? I live nearish Santana Row and I can’t for the life of me find somewhere to get Money Orders with VGC debit cards! Walmart money center ATM hasn’t worked the dozen times I stopped in, no 7/11 seems to allow debit card money order, and several Safeway’s have turned me down as well. I keep reading Walmart, Safeway (or other grocery stores) and 7/11 are the ways to go but so far no luck. Any advice?


      • USPS ended up working for me with Vanilla Visa’s. None of the others in the article seem to work in the bay area. Thanks!

    • Why not USPS. Take two $500 GC’s and get a money order for $998.75. The fee is $1.25.

      • Do you know if that works? I was reading that VGC’s are rejected for USPS money orders, but I only found a few reports with mixed messages.

        • Visa GC’s bought @ grocery stores work @ USPS. I’ve bought a couple MO’s in last week.

          • Thanks for the tip, I just tried and everything worked great! No hassle, just swiped the card and got my MO.

          • Also, the USPS sells VGC’s. Recently I’ve seen $20-$500 variable load GC’s @ the post office. You can buy w/ a credit card.

  3. During the last week I bought $6K of Visa GC’s @ Stop and Shop w/ my Amex Hilton (5X) and received 12K gas points. I also picked up $2K @ Acme w/ Discover & Apple Pay. Taking it slow w/ Discover / Apple Pay until confirmation of GC’s qualifying for the 22% cash back. Got two Serve cards delivered last Saturday which takes the place of two REDbird’s. Loaded $2K today W/ Serve via Kate and I love it. No human interaction is great. Going to cancel the 3rd REDbird tonight and get another Serve.

  4. Thanks for the reply Ariana, Bar Arrival+ gives 2% back if you use it for travel redemption so $1000 in VGC purchase cost $11.90 and you can get $20 worth of award redemption. Since you are doing this regularly I would think it’s worth getting $8.10 ($20-$11.90) per $1000 in VGC can you give bit more of your thinking ? Another question would you think Citi DoubleCash or Fidelity Amex cards will be good cards to do this kind of MFS also?

    • Yes, it’s definitely worth it. Both of those cards would be good, but I personally like Arrival better because of the extra 5-10% rebate on travel redemptions. Plus, I hear Fidelity Amex might be discontinued.

  5. Ariana, first of all – love your posts, especially MS-related! They are much more “user-friendly” that Flyertalk ones, at least for the newbies. Please keep them coming.
    My question is – in view of Redbird demise, what would you rather recommend – Serve or Bluebird? I assume those two are the major tools in MS as of today. Which one you use?

  6. So, I recently switched to One Vip Serve since Redbird went down the drain. I figured I would try loading it at cvs since I was there anyway and the cashier said that the register gave a message stating cash only. Anyone else had this issue? I was using one vanilla vgc.

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