Why I Use Amex Gift Cards for Manufactured Spending

Update: As of September 2014 most shopping portals have either pulled or reduced the Amex gift card denominations eligible for cash back. As a result, the information in this post is no longer relevant.

I get tons of questions about my manufactured spending habits, specifically about why I choose to buy American Express Gift cards, convert them to PIN-enabled Visa gift cards, then unload them via Redbird or money orders. Why not just purchase Visa gift cards directly with a mile-earning credit card? There are several advantages to making this process slightly more tedious by involving Amex gift cards:

Cash back on American Express Gift Card

1. Reduced Expenses. PIN-enabled Visa gift cards don’t come cheap: Fees range from $3.95 – $5.95 per $500 and if you’re buying large quantities like I am, that ads up to substantial out-of-pocket costs. By purchasing Amex gift cards through a cash back portal like Extrabux, I can off-set the majority of the cost with the (current) 1% cash back I earn on Amex gift card purchases. For me, $10,000 worth of Visa gift cards cost $119. By opting to purchase Amex gift cards through a shopping portal, I earn $100 cash back. So when I do eventually convert those gift cards to Visa, my out of pocket cost (with shipping fees and Amex gift card fees included) is reduced to under $50. By incorporating Amex gift cards into my churning strategy, I’m cutting my manufactured spending cost in half.

2. Efficiency. For some reason, my $10,000 American Express gift card orders never get declined by any credit card issuers, but if I try to purchase anything over $500 at a store, I get an annoying fraud alert from my bank. Some banks require a quick text message to straighten things out, while others want a long, drawn out phone conversation before allowing me to proceed with my purchase. It makes the gift card churning process much less efficient. I know what you’re thinking: Even if you buy $10,000 worth of Amex gift cards at once, don’t you still have to spend a significant amount of time converting them to Visa gift cards? Yes, but I do it for much cheaper thanks to the cash back I earn via shopping portals and I don’t have to deal with interruptions from the bank. 

3. Large Point Balances in Less Time. Sometimes I want to see a substantial increase in my Barclay Arrival Miles balance and the only way to do that is with an easy $10,000 Amex gift card order. Yes, I could hop from store to store and accrue $10,000 worth of Visa gift cards, but as I’ve explained above, it would not only cost more and involve a lot of fraud alerts, but  it would be a while before I’d see the full 20,000 Arrival Miles in my account. It may seem like a silly reason, but I like to see large balances post to my Arrival account and buying Amex gift cards helps me do that.

These are my main reasons for incorporating Amex gift cards into my gift card churning strategy. It’s not any more tedious than buying PIN-enabled Visa gift cards with a credit card but it does save me over 50% on gift card fees.

Do you include Amex gift cards in your manufactured spending strategy?

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. Thanks Ariana. I completely agree with the pain of dealing with Fraud alerts.

    Quick question:
    Is there a way we can order these PIN based VISA gift cards online? Sometimes these groceries won’t allow buying VISA gift cards with another gift card.
    Do you have the AMEX gift cards printed your name on it while ordering?

    • Not that I know of. Giftcardmall offers Visa gift cards but with the purchase limits and just 0.5% cash back offered through Extrabux, it doesn’t make sense. Try a Riteaid or CVS if you’re not having any luck at grocery stores.

  2. Buying GC’s @ Stop & Shop works for me. Case in point: Have Club Carlson / Hilton 8 nighter booked for Feb. 2016. Didn’t have Hilton status so I got the Amex HHonors card w/ 60K bonus. $20K spend gives you gold status which equates to free breakfast ($45 per day for two) and maybe an upgrade. Stop & Shop has gas rewards. $20K spend on GC’s get’s me 20K gas rewards. I fill up about 7 times per month averaging 25gal. per fill up. 5.95 x 40 = $230 for the GC cost. I save $55 each time I fill up. $55 x 7 = $385. I come out ahead by $155 after deducting the GC cost. The gas points I don’t use I give to the father-in-law, which is good for another 2 fill ups.

    I got Hilton gold status in one month. Will get free breakfast in Aruba valued @ $360. Made $155 and the father-in-law thinks I’m a good dude. I also get 100K Hilton points for the $20K spend & 60K bonus.

  3. Good news: Extra Rebates is still fair game for $2,000 Amex gift cards. I’m very worried that eventually, all portals will change their terms, and the deal will be gone.

    • Have you actually purchased from Extra Rebates in the past few weeks? I suspect that the new purchase limits for AMEX gift cards are mandated by AMEX and that Extra Rebates simply hasn’t updated their website.

    • That’s what I hear – all portals are going to drop this eventually. That’s why I’m focusing on maxing this out so I get a decent amount of ms done cheaply while I still can.

  4. I just received an Amex offer of 100% off purchase fees on Amex GC’s. If I use the code hub15 that Amex supplied, will I still get a portal bonus?

    • I made a 4k AGC purchase through extrabux on the 31st. Two 2k cards. Extrabux tracked the order but it says $0.00 in the cashback column and when I click on pending cashback it says $0.00. I sent them a message yesterday but haven’t heard back. Shouldn’t it be showing $40.00 pending cashback? This is my first order through them.

  5. Do you really think the portals are gone forever? Seems like it happens every year at this time. They go away for several weeks and then slowly start coming back.

    I do not have a Barclay Arrival card, but I do have the Aviator card. I have not used it to try to buy Amex GC. Every time I have tried to use a non-Amex card, my GC order is declined. So I was using my SPG and Skymiles Gold card.

    • What’s concerning is that the portals haven’t dropped them completely – they’ve reduced the amount that’s eligible for cash back. I do think TCB will occasionally come up with a 2%+ offer to drum up business, like they’ve done recently. However, the norm will probably be 1% cash back (at most) on denominations of $200 or less.

  6. I am sure you answered this in one of your other post about Amex GC but looking through them I am missing it. How do you convert them to PIN enabled so they can be used with RedCard?

  7. Ariana, any ideas on why my 4k ACG order through extrabux is showing $0.00 pending cashback? The order is otherwise being tracked. Shouldn’t it show $40.00 pending cashback?

      • I placed it on August 31st. It was for non personalized cards. Someone on Flyertalk placed a similar order around the same time for personalized cards and the order posted properly. Are you ordering personalized cards with your name on them? Trying to figure out if that might have something to do with it. Haven’t heard back from them. They have no phone support, just email.

  8. giftcards.com gives you 1% G-Money credit on your next purchase which negates the 1% activation fee on VISA gift cards. Also, they print your name on the card and you can choose a design that doesn’t say “GIFT CARD” so it’s easier to unload. They allow you to order $2,500 at a time including fees. Postage is $7.45 per order. No extra step at CVS.

    • They will shut you down if you try to do any volume or use multiple credit cards to place orders. I had one order for $2500 go through and the rest were cancelled. Never got to use the 1% G-Money credit. I flied a claim against them with the BBB. They claim that they detected a pattern of fraud on my account and will no longer do business with me which is complete BS. Many others have had the same issue with them.

      • I’ve done $5000/mo for the last 2 months on SPG AmEx without issue. My wife as well on her SPG. Getting ready for Cat 2 Le Meridiens in Thailand.

        • I’d keep doing what you’re doing and not change anything. Don’t try using other credit cards. Many have been shut down for far less that 5k per month and using multiple cards. Once you get shutdown you’re done for good. Good luck.

          • Hi Rico and Barschools —
            I have been reading about GiftCards.com, and there are some VERY negative reviews about them.

            I don’t live near a Simon Mall, and it is quite a chore to get to one. My local drug stores, Walmart, and grocery stores do not allow credit cards to purchase Visa gift cards. All of them have blocked credit card sales.

            It would be great to be able to purchase online for lower fees.

            Have you been able to trust GiftCards.com?

  9. Me thinks AMEX portals are the least of our problems. New Kate’s being rolled out, excluding loading (see cashier!) and Target clamping down on loads (at least some are reporting that). If no GC loads, all of this other stuff doesn’t really matter. But hit it while you can, I just wouldn’t hold onto more than a couple grand at a time. But if $10,000 at a time is the way you roll, so be it. Some can unload that in one day at multiple locations. Ariana has a system which is successful. It’s not as easy as it sounds though. Lots of driving and time involved, dealing with cashiers, personalities, family, etc. I would argue that the savings involved getting portal cash back vs Visa/MC fees does not pay you back minimum wage for your time and gas in most instances. If you blog about it and have the time anyway and enjoy the challenge then it doesn’t matter. Not all of us fit into that category. What are you worth per hour?

    • I agree, if Walmart and Target pull the rug from under us, that’s more damaging than the Amex/portal issue. I wouldn’t recommend doing $10k+ to a newbie – it works for me, but others might find themselves in trouble if they don’t have a back-up plan. My time isn’t very valuable at all and if I pull the equivalent of minimum wage from ms, I’m still coming out ahead. 🙂

      I make a living writing 10 articles per month for another blog, which takes maybe a week, and then I have all this free time to spend with friends and family, blog, write for a side project, prep my grad school applications, and ms. I could certainly spend more time working and earning more, but I like the balance I have now and ms’ing is part of what keeps me happy and sane.

    • Kent, MS is local so it is hard to quantify a particular venue as easy or difficult for all.

      For instance, most people load fine to Redbird but some don’t and where they don’t it is human-ly enforced, not hard coded (except NC and AR). If you’re near a Target that doesn’t let you load, it helps none that most others load, and vice versa. But overall, as long as Target doesn’t hard code its registers to restrict loading with gift cards, or exclude certain type of gift cards (like Walmart did with Vanillas $50+) that is def good news.

      I don’t have Serve/Bluebird but from what I hear it seems that if you’re able to load Serve at Dollar Store you can also use Vanillas and might be preferred to the often not working or absent KATE machines at Walmart (unless you’re lucky to have a working one nearby).

  10. I’ve been just buying GCs from my local grocery store and liquidating them at Target via Redbird, and just sucking up the $5.95/$500 fee. Reason I haven’t jumped into the AMEX-GCs-via-portal game is that I recall hearing that people would often get burned by various portals… either the portals going under, not paying cashback out, having to be hounded to pay cashback, etc.

    This MS stuff is a fun and often productive game for me, but at the end of the day, er, beginning of each day, I have a very demanding day job and also have other hobbies that I quite love… so spending even an extra hour a month to save $25 or whatever just isn’t worth it to me.

    On the other hand, if folks have honestly had very reliable, consistent experiences with one or more portals, I’m all ears 🙂

    • Totally agree with you, I might just do the same thing like you, too much hustle for me to go AMEX- Visa GC route. Love to buy from office supply store with Ink (5X), buy not no luck finding any VGC over $500 from those store. Any advise?

  11. The amex gift card site doesn’t let you buy a 2k gift card. The denomination is $200 and qty is 10.

    Do they only ship one card or do they ship 10 cards?

    Thanks for sharing your tips!

    • Also how do we access the cashback from the portal. Do they send you a check or can we just transfer the money out through paypal or some other means? Thanks

    • That’s actually not true. They offer them in denominations of up to $2,000 and you can order up to $10k every two weeks. Most of the shopping portals are limiting cash back to denominations of $200 or less, but Extrabux is still paying out on $2k.

  12. So if I understand you right the portal kickback is the offset to the $4.95 fee or whatever each $500 VGC purchase costs you? Then you liquidate to a money order since Serve is dead?

    • Unfortunately, this is no longer an option since shopping portals have either pulled Amex gift cards or reduced the amount eligible for cash back. I’ve added a disclaimer to reflect this.

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