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Newbie Guide to Manufactured Spending: American Express Gift Cards

Update: As of September 4, 2015, shopping portals are no longer offering cash back on large denominations of Amex gift cards, so I would advise against this method of manufactured spending.

There are several reasons why American Express gift cards are better manufactured spending tools than Visa and MasterCard gift cards. I’ve outlined some of them before, but it comes down to what matters: It’s cheaper. 

Cash back on American Express Gift Card

American Express gift cards have a high purchase limit (up to $10,000 every 14 days), they are easy to unload, and you have the ability to not only eliminate purchase fees but earn a profit when ordering these through a cash back portal. But first things first, here are the basics you should know about American Express gift cards:

Purchase Limit. You can purchase up to $10,000 worth of consumer American Express gift cards every 14 days. These gift cards come in increments of $25-$3,000 but shopping portals don’t pay out cash back on denominations over $2,000. When you make your purchase, you do have to provide your SSN, which is how they track your daily maximum. At the moment, Extrabux is the only shopping portal still offering cash back on Amex gift cards purchased in denominations over $200.

Business gift cards come in the same increments, but purchases are capped at $100,000 every 14 days (try spending that without setting off a fraud alert). Instead of your SSN, you’ll have to provide your business tax ID number at check-out.

Fees. Amex gift cards have a low fee of $3.95 per card. You are also liable for a $5.95 – $8.95 shipping fee per order. Sometimes shopping portals will offer promo codes that waive the shipping fees. Other times, Amex will offer their own codes – do not use these unless they’re also listed on the shopping portal page. Otherwise, you will not earn cash back on your purchases. 

Where to Buy. You can purchase American Express gift cards online or at most grocery stores. Online is best, since you can earn cash back from shopping portals. In-store, you might get discounts that off-set the fee and earn in-store rewards.

How to Cash Out. The simplest way to unload Amex gift cards is through regular spend or by using them to purchase PIN-enabled gift cards that are then liquidated via money orders or Target Prepaid RED (aka Redbird) cards. Target Prepaid RED has a bill pay feature, so you can use the balance on the card to pay off your credit cards. I wouldn’t unload the entire balance this way – mix in some regular spending, use it at ATM machines to make card use look as normal as possible. Money orders can be deposited into your bank account or used to pay off credit card balances at your local bank brach.

Cashback Portals. There was a time when cash back portals offered upwards of 4% cash back on Amex gift card purchases. Most every shopping portal has since pulled Amex gift cards from the lineup or restricted cash back to gift cards purchased in $200 increments. The remaining portal, Extrabux, pays out 1% cash back on American Express gift card denominations of $2,000 or less.

If you purchase the maximum $10,000, you’ll have $19.75 in fees and a $5.95 – 8.95 shipping charge, bringing your total to $25.70 – $28.70. Through a shopping portal, you’ll earn $100 cash back (note: shipping and fees don’t qualify for cash back). Unloading these via PIN-enabled Visa and MasterCard gift cards will incur fees of $79 – $119, plus extra fees if you’re going the money order route. Factoring in the 1% cash back earned from a shopping portal will either leave you with a small profit or minimal out-of-pocket expenses.

Warnings. Keep in mind that several banks will code American Express gift card purchases as cash advances. If this happens, you will not only miss out on points, but you will be liable for cash advance fees. This Flyertalk thread is a good resource to keep track of which credit cards code these purchases as cash advances. Generally, it’s Citi that does this, but do take a look at the list first in case anything changes.

Also, don’t go overboard buying Amex gift cards. I generally keep my manufactured spending activities at or below $6,000 per card each month (though there are exceptions) and that has allowed me to stay under the radar. The last thing you want is for the bubble to burst because you got a little overzealous with gift card churning.

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Ariana Arghandewal

56 Comments

    • No, but you can buy them at grocery stores and CVS. It’s more lucrative if you buy them online through a cashback portal.

  1. To purchase the max $5K with the $500 per gift card limit do I just put 10 of the $500 cards in my cart and checkout?

    • The way the Amex TCB page words it, I think you are limited to one $500 gift card at a time. The terms state “there is a limit of $500 per gift card, anything higher will not be eligible for cashback.” Then it goes on to say “You are allowed a maximum of 10 transactions in a 1 day period.” I think considering Amex has a $5,000 daily limit, TCB will only qualify orders for cash back if they are made in $500 increments.

  2. Can you get the Amex giftcards and then buy money orders at Walmart? That seems cheaper ($.70/ea for max of $1000/ea) and easier than the VR route…

    • Unfortunately, you can’t since Amex gift cards can’t be used as a debit card. You can, however, use them to buy Vanilla Reloads. A bit more costly, but with the cashback portal it’s still cheaper than buying VR’s outright.

  3. What is your recommended limit for purchases in AmEx GCs per month, assuming I spread the money out so that I have no more that 5k on each of my ccs?

    • If you’re keeping purchases to $5k per card, buy however many you can handle. With Bluebird and two MyVanilla debit cards, you can unload $15,000 worth responsibly. You can also use the cards to buy Visa gift cards and unload those via money order. Really, it’s up to you, how organized you are, and how much of a hassle you’re willing to put up with. 🙂

  4. How do you get the single shipping fee if you have to do 10 separate transactions for $500 each?

    • You can’t, unfortunately. That’s why it’s better to go through Extrabucks. Right now they have a higher payout (1%) and you can do the full $5,000 per day.

      • What about BigCrumbs? They offer 1.2% cash back. Through 4/30/14 they have a special promotion offering NO PURCHASE FEE With Promotion Code FPADMIN.

        Are you saying that if we use the promo code we won’t get the cash back? Has anyone used this?

        • Sorry for the confusion, Teri. The 1% I was referring to was the payout offered by Extrabux for GCM purchases. Extrabux doesn’t offer cashback for Amex gift card purchases.

          Right now, TCB is offering 2% on Amex gift card purchases, but this amount does not apply to gift cards in increments over $500. There is a user-provided promo code (SYNCGIFT) that waives purchase fees, but there’s no guarantee that will qualify for cashback.

          Big Crumbs is the best option if you want to play it safe. You’ll earn just 1.2% cash back, but since the FPADMIN code eliminates fees, you’re still coming out ahead. You will earn cash back as long as you use the promo code provided by Big Crumsb, and since FPADMIN is provided by Big Crumbs, you will qualify for cash back using it.

    • I’ve been using Amex gift cards to buy Vanilla Reloads (and if unavailable, Visa gift cards) at CVS stores.

      • Do we know if CVS will accept Amex gift cards as payment for Vanilla Reloads now that they are cash only? Are Amex gift cards considered cash? Also, if you have several AMEX cards, isn’t it risky to charge the gift card purchases on them? Doesn’t that make it easy for AMEX to identify the manufactured spend?

        • I don’t think they will. Amex gift cards are processed like credit cards and I doubt they’ll take any plastic.

  5. Is there a link on your blog that show how does Amazon Pay works by buying AMEX Gift Card and load into Amazon Pay?

    Thanks

      • There are detailed instructions at http://travelsort.com/blog/amazon-payments-cash-out-gift-cards-bought-to-meet-minimum-spend. My questions is, why would someone want to do this? If you have your Amazon Payments account linked to a credit card, you can already use a credit card to pay someone – up to $1,000 per month and Amazon will draw the funds from your credit card. So, unless you don’t have a credit card, I question the value of funding with a gift card. Am I missing something?

        • The reason for buying Amex gift cards is because there are frequent cash back portal promotions that allow you to actually earn a profit for buying these cards. A while ago Big Crumbs was offering 3.5% cash back, plus there was a fee waiver promo code. A $5k purchase got you $175. Subtract $8.95 shipping and you got yourself a $166.05 profit. Amazon Payments is an easy way to offload some of these gift cards.

  6. I recently got the citiaadvantage platinum around the same time cvs stopped selling vanilla cards with credit cards. I started scrambling through the net for options and landed on the page. I went ahead and bought the $3000 gift card and when I later re-read your post I noticed the warning. The payment isn’t posted on my statement yet. How do I make sure it was posted as cash advance or as a purchase ? This is what it says so far:

    AMEX GIFT CARDS SALT LAKE CIT UT 3,012.90
    Merchant Category: MORTGAGE COMPANIES-FINANCIAL INSTITUTION
    Person: Not Available

    My question is once the payment is if this pending transaction ends up being a cash advance, can I undo it ? If yes, how ?

    Also now that the cvs vanilla option is out what do you recomment for citiplatinum users ?? Do you have a post for that ? Thanks a lot in advance. Your website is brilliant

    • I’m sorry to hear that, Sid. You can look into whether Amex will allow you to return the gift cards. If that’s not an option, call Citi once the cash advance fees kick in and ask if they will waive them just this once, since you were not aware gift card purchases were considered cash advances. Here’s a post on other ways to meet the $10k spend.

  7. Hi,

    Can you get shut down by Amazon Payments if you switch Amex Gift Card every month or 3?

    Thanks,
    Bill

    • I don’t know, as I’ve avoided Amazon Payments until now. Most folks either use their credit cards directly or a variety of Amex gc’s, so I think it should be fine.

  8. When you buy AMEX GCs with an AMEX credit card or charge card, does the purchase counted as a “spending” towards bonus points for new card or points for older card? I noticed the terms and conditions excluded any prepaid cards or cash equivalent, just wondering it’s enforced?

    • JC, I know Amex doesn’t give points for Amex gift card purchases, though I’m not sure about it counting towards spending. I’d honestly just buy Visa gc’s at a grocery store if you’re going to miss out on 10k points.

  9. Can you still unload these cards by buying VRs? Or you have to purchase regular Visa/MC GC and transfer to BB? Thanks.

    • You may be able to buy VR’s with a credit card at some grocery stores, but no longer CVS. Most people are now buying Visa/MC gift cards and loading those onto Bluebird.

      • Thanks for the reply. When you use AGC to buy Visa/MC gift cards at Walmart/CVS, do you process it as debit or credit? If debit, do you need to provide a PIN? Thank you for your time!

        • It will process as a credit transactions, and if you’re given a choice you should choose credit.

  10. Can these GC’s be liquidated at an ATM even though they have no PIN?
    Thanks, John

    • They can’t, unfortunately. You’ll need to use them to buy Visa gc’s that can be unloaded via Bluebird.

  11. Let me first say I’m new to this. I just realized there is a “MoneyPass” ATM a block away from me. If I were to buy Amex gift cards from a portal, then buy pin-enabled Visa/MC gift cards at a gas station, could I deposit these gift cards at the MoneyPass ATM? Is there a limit on how much I can deposit at ATMs per month? Are there charges for depositing at ATMs?

    • Unfortunately, the only ATM that allows you to deposit Visa/MC gift cards is the Bluebird kiosk at Walmart. You’ll need a Bluebird card for this.

      • OK. Once I deposit this money into my Bluebird account at Walmart, can I liquidate into cash via these ATMs? I was under the impression that MoneyPass ATMs were meant for Bluebird withdrawals.

        • Once the gc’s are deposited into your Bluebird account, all you have to do is login to Bluebird’s Bill Pay and use that to send payments to your credit card company.

  12. If I buy 5k worth of amex gift cards, and can only transfer 1k a month to amazon, what should I do if I want to unload the rest of the money within a money and also without using it to buy the Visa cards to be loaded on to a BB account?

  13. If I have an American Express gift card with a balance of $25, and I want to spend it on something worth $30, for example, how does that work?

    • I think that may depend on the store. I only ever use them at Starbucks, where the register will prompt an additional form of payment to cover the remaining balance (in this case $5).

  14. My experience testing the waters using AEGC. I bought one at Staples for the highest denomination possible there of $200 for a $6.95 charge. Incredibly steep, but I wanted to ensure I could liquidate these prior to buying larger amounts. Get 5X points at Office Supply store with Chase Ink card.

    Step 2. Tried to use it to buy OV PP Debit card at CVS. Nice cashier tried repeatedly and could not get it to go through.

    Step 3. Tried to purchase a MO at grocery store that accepts debit cards for money orders. Would not go through. I then said it is a gift card for $200, can a MO in that amount be purchased and still no joy.

    Step 4. Went to Target to try and load onto an American Express for Target. I am completely new to that and only heard about it here. The clerks had no idea what I was talking about and referred to Visa Gift Cards. Maybe these aren’t available in KS, I will look into that.

    Step 5. Emailed PointChaser asking for help/clarification. Nothing yet, but it was just yesterday or day before that I emailed.

    Step 6. (Future) Will try loading onto Serve Card, if that doesn’t work will try Amazon Payments. If that doesn’t work save for normal spend at Costco and consider this a failed attempt being glad I risked a little rather than a lot.

    • The only way I have found to unload an AEGC is on Amazon Payments, which is pointless, as I can pay for anything on Amazon with a credit card. Since I don’t have a 5X card (yet) it’s not worth the time or effort, so I have removed AEGC from my MS strategy.

      • The value in AEGC’s is the ability to earn cash back via a portal. When the payout goes up to 4%, you’re looking at $200 cash back on $5k. It’s definitely a hassle and I can understand why some folks don’t want to go that route.

  15. I received a $5,000 AMEX gift card and I want to buy shutters but the guy doing the shutters doesn’t take gift cards or credit cards (cash or check only) is there a way to cash the card out?

  16. Time to update this post especially since it is linked to current postings.

  17. Hi. Very informative Post!
    How do I upload these AMEX Gift cards to my redcard account to pay my bills?

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