Newbie Guide to Manufactured Spending: Visa and Mastercard Gift Cards

Visa and Mastercard Gift Cards

All of the cards we’ve discussed so far involved a three-step process: You buy a reload card, load it onto a prepaid card, then cash out via various methods. There is an easier and more lucrative option: Visa and MasterCard gift cards.

Many gift cards are now PIN-enabled and make it possible to use at an ATM or cash-back at grocery stores. These gift cards can be purchased in $500 increments and have fees ranging from $3.95-$6.95. To eliminate part of the fee, you can purchase these online through select shopping portals and earn cash back.

Purchasing Visa and MasterCard gift cards are becoming one of my favorite manufactured spending due to the following advantages:

1. No purchase limit. You can buy as many of these as you want. The only thing to take into account is whether you have the time to unload them all.

2. Easy unloading. Most Visa and MasterCard gift cards are PIN enabled, making them easy to cash out via cash back at the grocery store register, money order purchases, Amazon Payments – pretty much any way a debit card could be used. All of the cash-out methods are either free or fairly cheap.

In addition to unloading them via Amazon Payments and money orders, you can also load them onto Bluebird. This can be done at any Walmart register or the Bluebird ATM (make sure you select “Prepaid Card” if “Bluebird” isn’t an option). You can then use Bluebird’s Bill Pay center to pay your credit cards and other bills.

Keep in mind that just because a gift card has a Visa logo on it, that does not mean it’s PIN enabled. Walmart, for example, has a range of Visa gift cards that do not come with PIN numbers. Gift cards issued by Bancorp, US Bank, and MetaBank are usually PIN enabled.

3. Category bonus potential. You can buy Visa and MasterCard gift cards at grocery stores, office supply stores, and drug stores – all of which are lucrative category bonus merchants. These cards don’t come in very large denominations (mostly in increments of $500 or less, especially at office supply stores), but the bonus points paid out by credit card issuers often makes it worthwhile.

4. Free manufactured spending. Fees vary depending on the card and the denominations you’re purchasing them in. Usually, they don’t exceed $6.95 for a $200 MasterCard gift card (which earns 1,000 points at office supply stores with an Ink Bold card – less than the cost of buying Vanilla Reloads). What decreases the cost significantly are promotions that often eliminate the purchase fees and sometimes even makes buying these cards profitable.

Office Max, for example, often runs promotions on their MasterCard gift cards. The most recent one was for $20 off a $300 gift card purchase. The largest denominations they carried were $100, which came with a $5.95 fee. The fees came up to $17.85, but with the $20 discount, I pocketed $2.15 (I know, I won’t quit my day job). The significant part of this promotion isn’t the change you pick up as a result, it’s that you’re earning miles without any fees. With my Ink Bold card, I earned 1,500 Ultimate Rewards points. That’s not enough for a trip anywhere, but if I do this two more times, it’s enough for a one-way short-haul  flight (using 4,500 British Airways Avios). You can unload these cards using the methods outlined above, or simply use them to pay your bills.

Another option is to buy Visa gift cards through Giftcardmall.com by going through a shopping portal like TopCashBack or Extrabux. Currently, the payout on Visa gift cards is just 0.5% at TCB and 1% at Extrabux. Factoring in various fees and shipping, the cost of purchasing and liquidating these cards at 0.5% is roughly the same as with Vanilla Reloads. At 1%, you can make a small profit if you consolidate your shipping cost by placing a large order. I would keep an eye out as TCB had a pretty good promotion a while back that made purchasing gift cards profitable.  [Update 4/9: Extrabux is no longer offering cash back on Visa gift cards.]

As you can see, Visa and MasterCard gift cards can be great manufactured spending tools. Not only is there unlimited earning potential, but you can also make a profit with this method.

Note: I will earn a $10 referral fee if you register using the TopCashBack link in this post, along with $5 from Extrabux after your first purchase. Extrabux pays out additional commission when users who signed up with my link use the portal. Please feel free to include your own referral links in the comment section.

For more on points, miles, and free travel, subscribe to my blog (see “Subscribe” above “Recent Posts”) or follow me @PointChaser,  Facebook, or Instagram

53 thoughts on “Newbie Guide to Manufactured Spending: Visa and Mastercard Gift Cards

  1. Are there fees for the visa and MasterCard cash back options? I did my first cash back on a my vanilla card and was surprised at a 1.95 fee.
    Also, do you think my vanilla is ok if used modestly, maybe $ 1-2,000 a month?

    • MyVanilla Debit cards do carry fees every time you use them, which is obnoxious. Visa and Mastercard gift cards (like the ones in the photo) do not have these fees.

  2. NO Visa and MC GIFT cards come PIN enabled. You have to call or go online to get a PIN to convert them into DEBIT cards. However, One Vanilla cards are already DEBIT cards. I just use the last 4 digits for a PIN to buy money orders in Walmart money centers (not at cashiers) to deposit. Pay Walmart fee in cash.

    • What I mean is they’re capable of being used with a PIN. Some of these cards don’t require calling in for PIN set-up. You simply type in a PIN of your choosing the first time you use the card, and that’s the set up process.

    • That depends on what you’re after (cash back, hotel points or flexible rewards). I’ve done a breakdown in this post, but will be going into more detail in the next few posts.

    • Do you mean Visa gift cards? A while ago I used them at to load Bluebird at the ATM. Haven’t tried online though.

    • No, since it’s not a financial institution. If you buy Amex GC’s, then yes Citi will code those as a cash advance.

  3. I bought several Visa gift cards from giftcardmall.com. You mentioned “some” gift cards don’t need to set up PIN. Just pick the PIN at the first time of use. But since it’s not for “all”, I don’t want to get rejected in store. So I still went to update the pin on their website “www.giftcardmall.com/mygift”. But at the end, it told me “Remember the PIN cannot be used for cash withdrawals at ATM or merchant locations.”. Does it mean I cannot withdraw money at ATM? :(

    • One Vanilla cards at CVS are already debit cards. I buy money orders at Walmart to deposit into my bank. I use last 4 of card number for a PIN. I always use my bank ATM card for cash.

    • That’s true, you can’t use them at the ATM but you can unload them via the following methods: 1. Use them to buy money orders or 2. Request cash back at the grocery store register like you would with a debit card. 3. You can also load these cards onto your Bluebird card.

      • Are all Visa Gift Cards offered at the Gift Card Mall able to be used with a PIN? Like you have mentioned, a number of the Visa gift cards offered at various brick and mortar outlets ARE NOT able to be used with a PIN and as a result are not able to be loaded to Bluebird. I just want to make sure that I can use your Extra Bucks link to buy gift cards that are able to be used with a PIN so that I will be able to unload them onto Bluebird. (I can’t check since the purchase is online…couldn’t find any info relating to PINS on the GiftCardMall website)

        • The gift cards offered on GCM are all PIN enabled. When you receive them, you can go online, activate them and set a PIN – I’ve done it numerous times. It’s just the ones sold in stores you have to be careful with.

          • Thank you. Great to know. Also, I share “point chasing” tips with my dad. He raised the question of security when ordering potentially thousands of one’s own dollars through the mail. I know that gift card mall charges a little bit extra for higher amounts to take security measures. Have you been happy with how securely and reliably your gift cards are sent? If an order was to get lost, have you looked into what recourse could be taken to recover the lost or stolen funds?

          • That’s a valid concern. If that were to happen, your credit card company can and will handle it. I’ve had experience with lost items in the mail before (purchased from online retailers) and when the retailer wasn’t helpful, the credit card company came through and refunded the money. That’s the great thing about credit cards – your purchases are protected.

          • Good to know. I had the same question. Your answer leads to another question though. Is there a limit of how many GCs I can buy from GCM in a day?

          • There doesn’t seem to be a limit, but every time I’ve purchased over $5,000 I’ve been asked to submit a form confirming the purchase. This is done to combat fraud, which I appreciate, but it will slow down the processing time a bit.

  4. Pingback: PIN available now for Visa/MC prepaid debit cards. - Page 222 - FlyerTalk Forums

  5. Can I have one more question? If I use AMEX credit card to buy Visa gift cards on GCM, will that be cash advance? Thanks.

    • You’re safe using credit cards on GCM – it’s not a financial institution, so it doesn’t get coded as a cash advance. The only time you need to worry about cash advances is when you’re buying Amex gift cards online. See this FT page for a list of cards that get coded as cash advances

          • Like Lori I have a question about a different part of the Wal Mart GC loading process, but to BB. You have written that you have multiple family members for whom you order credit cards. Have you managed a bluebird account for a family member as well? And lastly if so, have you had success loading GC onto a family member’s BB account at Wal Mart or are you restricted to only loading the BB account in your name?

          • Yes, three of my family members have Bluebird cards that I manage. I have loaded other people’s Bluebird cards with Vis gift cards at the Walmart register. They don’t care whose card it is, since you’re loading money with a debit card, so you shouldn’t have any issues.

  6. Just left Walmart after failing to be able to load 5 different GC’s so as to cash out with a MO. Three were Visa debit from Staples and two were MasterCard. The cashier couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t work and either could I. I used the last four of the card as the pin and for the MasterCard changed the payment option to debit. Do you know if a pin MUST be set online ahead of time? I thought using the last 4 numbers of card worked but was just proven wrong. Getting ready to try Amazon payments…

    • That’s odd. I’ve never had a problem unloading them this way. The PIN setup varies by card – there should be information on the back of the card packet on how to do this. Amazon Payments is certainly another option if this doesn’t work out.

  7. When loading a one vanilla at the wal Mart register, is it ok to load all 500 at once or is it better to split it into two separate transactions? (200 + 300) I’m planning on trying this for the first time tomorrow so any help is appreciated. I have two one vanilla prepaid debit cards with 500 on each. Thanks!

    • Loading all 500 at once and even doing both cards at the same time shouldn’t be a problem. Just did a $500 debit at wal mart all at once. Where you loading the funds to?

      • Thanks for the quick reply! Just to confirm: I tell them at the register that I would like to load my Bluebird card, then swipe the Bluebird, and then the One vanilla? Unfortunately my Walmart doesn’t have a Money pass machine.

    • Buy one $1,000 money order in a Walmart money center with the two $500 debit cards. Pay the MO fee in cash. Deposit the MO into your bank account. You don’t load the One Vanilla at Walmart; in effect, you “unload” them and discard them. I buy them in a CVS.

      • Thanks for the other option. If it’s possible, I think I would rather use BB instead of my normal checking account in order to avoid having to continually deposit MO into my local bank (small town). Is this ever considered suspicious because I think I remember reading somewhere that it is best to avoid many large MO deposits on a continuous basis. If loading to BB is not possible at all, please let me know as I will be going tomorrow!

        • First, $1,000 is not a “large” deposit. Second, no teller has ever hesitated one second to process the deposits. By the way, do you also have a credit union account? I do.

  8. At extrabux gift card mall portal i noticed some fine print on cash back restrictions. It says “Cash back is not available for Visa purchase Fee, Customization Fee, Hess Gasoline, Acro, Safeway, BP, Visa, or Gulf Cards.” Does this mean that when purchasing visa gift cards extrabux does not offer cash back? Arent u saying in this post that they do?

    • Thanks, Joe. That bit about Visa gift cards just got added. Previously, the only restriction in regards to Visa gc’s was the part about purchase fees not being eligible for cash back. At the same time, it’s odd that they would include the piece about Visa fees not being eligible, while simultaneously saying Visa purchases aren’t eligible either. I’ll reach out to them to get feedback.

  9. I couldn’t use a OV card to fund Bluebird at Walmart, but I was able to pay $0.70 to get a MO. Is this correct, or was the clerk mistaken?

  10. Pingback: Money Orders | Simple Travel Hack

  11. Just wanted to share my experience today at Walmart in Atlanta – kiosk was down so I went ot the Money center to load my BB with a Visa Gift card. I was told they no longer accept any gift card/debit card for BB unless it has your name imprinted on the GC/debit card. Hopefully other Walmarts are not going this direction.

    • Everyone should steer clear of the money center. The cashiers nationwide are now imposing a no-giftcard rule. Going to the money center only draws more attention to this game.

  12. Is my math right? if buy thru TCB to GCM, 10 cards = $5000 + $39.5 fee + $25.3 shipping = $5069.3
    0.5% CB = $25.3, net cost = $69.3-25.3 = $44. 5 MO max $5 fee, so total cost ~ $49. $49/5069 ~ 1 cents per mile. trying to meet min. spending for citi so can’t take adv of OD of 5% CB.

    • Looks good, though keep an eye out for an email from GCM, asking you to verify your purchase. This happens with large quantities. You can also reduce your costs by buying Simon Mall Visa gift cards instead. Those run $2.95 per $500, so you’re looking at a cost of $29.50 for $5,000.

  13. This is really great information. If I buy 5k worth of giftcards from GCM using my chase sapphire card, it will count as a normal purchase? How much do you think I can unload from a grocery cashback at one time?

    • Yes, it counts as a normal purchase. Usually you can cash out $200 per transaction, depending on the store.

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