My Week in Manufactured Spending: Redbirds and False Alarms

After taking a break from gift card churning the week before last, I picked things up again. Now that American Express gift cards are out of the picture, I’ve been buying Visa and Mastercard gift cards directly with a mile-earning credit card. I’ve cut back on my daily trips to CVS, but did pick up $2,000 worth of gift cards last week before heading out of town. On the way there, I stopped by a Safeway and purchased a $500 Giftcardmall Visa, using my Barclay Arrival card. Those aren’t exactly the figures I was previously putting on my credit cards, but it keeps me in the game while ensuring I don’t get stuck with a huge stash of gift cards in the event that the only good Target store left in my area decides to enforce the no-gift-card policy.

Redbird Alarm

On Saturday, I headed out of town for my niece’s birthday. This was a prime mile-earning opportunity, not just because the stores in the area are generally ms-friendly but because the road there is littered with Target and Walmart stores. I don’t know how they all stay in business when they’re practically next to each other.

I pulled up to my go-to Target store in Roseville, which set off a series of issues that left me wondering whether Target had begun hard-coding their registers to reject PIN-enabled gift cardsI pulled out my Target Prepaid REDcard (aka Redbird) and told the cashier I’d like to load $500 on it. I swiped the card, selected the “debit” option, then swiped a Vanilla Visa gift card purchased at CVS. I passed the screen asking if I wanted cash back, the entire amount on the card, etc….then an error message popped up on the PIN pad: “Unable to accept card type.”

I tried another card – this time a Vanilla MasterCard. That didn’t work either. The cashier asked if I was paying with a prepaid card, because their registers have been hard-coded to reject those. I said I wasn’t and asked if we could try loading another Redbird, thinking maybe there was something wrong with that one, but that didn’t work either. Finally, I used my Paypal Business Debit card and that transaction went through.

The same thing happened at the second Target location, where the GiftCardMall Visa was giving me trouble. The odd thing is that I’ve dealt with this particular cashier before and she’s never mentioned anything to me about accepted payment forms. On this occasion, she offered it up as an explanation for the error message.

Things kept going downhill when a nearby Neighborhood Walmart wouldn’t accept the GCM Visa for a money order purchase – again, it wasn’t the cashier but the register that gave me trouble. 

The next day, things went a little smoother. I went to a third Target store (this town apparently has more Targets than Starbucks stores) with those same gift cards at hand. The first Vanilla Visa didn’t go through. Neither did the first Vanilla Mastercard, though the second one did. The line was  getting long, so I decided to keep moving. I’ve heard that cards starting with a certain sequence are more prone to rejection. The Vanilla Mastercard that worked started with 5164 while the non-functioning Vanilla MasterCard and Vanilla Visa started with 4847 and 5164, respectively. 

There was a Walmart SuperCenter across the street, where I was able to unload the $500 GCM Visa via money order without problems. On my way home, I stopped at the Target store in Natomas, which has been an easy location in the past. The customer service reps are all teenage girls, who usually make the best cashiers. Not on this occasion. My usual cashier suddenly went on a power trip – and she wasn’t even the one assisting me!

A new girl rung me up and just as I was about to employ Karyn’s reverse card swipe technique, the aforementioned cashier (who was manning her own register) jumped in with, “Wait, is she using a gift card?” New girl looked at me uneasily and I told her, “No, I’m using a debit card.” That’s when the grilling started – female Paul Blart kept asking me question after question (“It’s a debit card, right? Like, it can’t just have a PIN number. It has to be linked to an account…Is it from a real bank? Is it registered? But not like disposable?”) and when I lied my way through her line of questioning, she finally asked to see the card. I had no choice but to hand it over, since I didn’t have my Paypal Business Debit on hand. Her face practically lit up in triumph, “Yeah, see, you can’t use this card. It even says gift card on here.” I tried to bargain with her, saying it’s my last card and could they just do it once? I promised to fill out the survey they print on the receipt and leave a good review. They didn’t go for it and my theory that 18 – 35 year-old males are the enemies of gift card churning lost all its credibility.

In the end, I’m not sure if it was my gift cards or the registers that caused all this trouble. On my way home from Natomas, I did use one of the non-functioning cards to purchase snacks at a gas station and didn’t have a problem there. But the fact that two cashiers in Roseville told me their registers were hard-coded to reject gift cards has me thinking it might be a regional problem. A few readers in the area have had the same thing happen to them. Reader Joe reported seeing a sign at a Delaware Target with the following notice:

“REDcard Payment Notification: We are currently updating our system and temporarily some debit cards can’t be used to make a payment on a REDcard credit account. During this time please call 800-316-3006 to make a payment on your account with your debit card.” Although this seems to apply to Redcard credit accounts (not prepaid), I’m wondering if this is referring to changes being made to all the Target systems. We’ll see what happens.

So maybe it had something to do with this system update. Whatever the reason, I plan on heading to my local Target store this week to see how things go. I’ve buttered up the cashiers enough to the point where they’ve never given me any trouble. In fact, back when I was loading the American Express for Target card, one of the girls went out and got one for herself, telling me my spiel about what a great budgeting tool it is inspired her. 

PS: To those who claimed I was conjuring up drama for a traffic boost…congratulations, you’ve uncovered my brilliant plan. Everyone knows if you’re going to drop a major story that could generate tons of traffic, you do it on Saturday – when the least number of people will see it. It’s how the Huffington Post got so big. Thanks to all the traffic this scheme generated, I’m now right up there with View from the Wing and The Points Guy. Affiliate links will be posted shortly and I’m taking applications for staff writers and editors. Please include a cover letter and at least three references. Pointchaser is an equal opportunity employer.

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. Simon Mall gift cards are still accepted as a valid loading source at my local Target. I loaded $5000 yesterday over two cards.

  2. Sunday night was the first time I’ve ever got shut down by a cashier for using a GC since Redbird started. Something is definitely up.

  3. I was denied at a Target in The Woodlands, Texas. Tthe cashier would not let me even try to load any card and said ALL loads were no longer allowed. She said it was a new policy and to try a SuperTarget. So, I tried a Super Target in Houston, Texas and loaded a VCG with no problems. Whew!

  4. I had issues loading VGC at Target same day Simon Gift cards just work fine. Glad to know I am not alone.

  5. I have had the same issues but only with vanilla visas issued by bancorp. I think it has more to do with that than target really.

  6. These young Target cashiers are just doing their job, so lying and attacking them makes you look like a lowly, selfish person. They funny thing is they at least have a job and contributing to society, so perhaps you should find one and earn a real living and stop abusing the system to pay for all your trips.

    • Someone is in desperate need of a sense of humor. The only person lying and attacking someone for what they do for a living is you – which by your definition makes you a lowly selfish person. I’ll continue using this hobby to pay for my trips, like I’m sure you’re doing as well. I hope you enjoy reading my trip reports!

  7. I think you warned people out of genuine concern, not for traffic or any other such reasons. I think it came from a good place and erring on the side of caution. I doubt there’s many (if any) of your readers who doubt your integrity as a blogger.

    However it was premature in my view, if not holy unwarranted (due to the large scale use of Redbird, hence also large scale panic). There’s a couple of thousand Target stores in the country and I’m sure several (tens?) thousands of people who load Redbird for MS across the country. Your warning about Target hard-coding its registers was based on a couple of personal experiences, plus overall reporting of some difficulties.

    The problem with the overall difficulties as a measure of Redbird’s overall health is two fold: 1) They are skewed data points since people naturally tend to report a lot more when they have issues compare to when they load fine. 2) They are often due to ‘normal’ MS technical issues that get resolved when people do things like, try to swipe the gift card slower, or in reverse, or try to load it another day or at a diff store.

    A very good indicator of Redbird’s overall health is the Flyertalk thread, due to its sheer volume of people who monitor it. For a sample of what a Target nationwide hard coding to reject Redbird looks like in that thread, take a look at the posting that were bombarding that thread on May 6th (it is otherwise a lot more quiet): http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/manufactured-spending/1644836-prepaid-redcard-target-2015-a-427.html

    Having said all that, I understand that we all have different experiences, which along with our own inherent differences make us perceive the same thing differently, in MS as in in life in general.

  8. aaaaaaand you are officially a loser. You go around essentially money laundering, and lying to people at retail stores. Imagine if you took the time you spend running around to wal-marts and targets volunteering or something productive

    • What are you trying to say ????????? Can you do something more productive instead of wasting time here.

    • Thank you for the advice Mr. Trump. Reading and commenting on these posts make you a loser by association, so you might want to take your own advice and rush to a soup kitchen “or something productive.”

      • There is nothing “money laundering” about what Ariana does here. If she gets to treat her entire family to first class/five-star hotel with her MS activities, it seems pretty productive to me.

  9. “I tried to bargain with her, saying it’s my last card and could they just do it once? I promised to fill out the survey they print on the receipt and leave a good review.”

    ‘Please Miss, can I have just one more hit?… I promise it’s my last one! Just. One. More. Hit’ 🙂

  10. I just called the 800 number for RedBird and they told me that Target stores only accept cash now – no longer accept debit/gift cards. ??

    • When it comes to such Redbird questions, the 800 nr reps are as useful as asking your neighbor. They might be confused because the debit (pin gift cars included) loading is somehow couched under “cash loading” in the Redbird legal terms. So was the credit card loading, when it was allowed (until May 6th).

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