Manufactured Spending

5 Things That Drive Me Nuts About Manufactured Spending

As much fun as I have with this hobby, it’s pretty time consuming and at times patience-testing. I’m currently in the midst of meeting $82,00 in spending requirements, so my frustration is at an all time high. From buying gift cards to unloading, reloading, and depositing funds, it gets exhausting fast. And sometimes I wonder if my time isn’t better spent doing something else. Existential crisis aside, here are five things that I absolutely despise about manufactured spending:

Visa Mastercard gift cards


1. Earning points

I’m not a heavy card churner and with the exception of a few mega sign-up bonus offers, I earn most of my miles from manufactured spending. In other words, I work hard for my miles and that takes time and patience. Though it’s worthwhile when I do redeem miles (and save cash on travel), it’s practically a full time job.

2. Cashing out gift cards. 

It’s such a rush ordering $5,000 worth of gift cards and getting an email from American Express confirming the order hasn’t been canceled like you expected. When they arrive, you are faced with the task of unloading them without appearing like a criminal. A bit of friendly small talk usually does the trick, but sometimes cashing out gift cards is a sigh-inducing experience. While this was fun in the Vanilla Reload days, the process of cashing out $40,000 in gift cards every month has become more of a chore since.

3. Going to Walmart

 Going to Target to unload American Express gift cards via the American Express for Target card is fun. I pick up a drink from the in-house Starbucks, stock up on essentials, stroll the aisles of the home goods department – it’s as close to a spa day as manufactured spending gets. Walmart is the exact opposite in every way. It’s like they put up as many road blocks as possible to keep you out of the store. And when you muster up the will to jump through all the hurdles (having to park your car on the dark side of the moon, bypassing all the annoying solicitors), you are rewarded for your efforts with a broken Bluebird kiosk and having to spend 20 minutes in line to unload one Visa gift card.

4. The time commitment

Unloading anything over $10,000 per month in gift cards becomes a part time job. It makes sense in some cases, when you’re raking in 4% cash back or more. But sometimes you end up spending several days trying to unload your cards when the kiosk is broken, the lines are just moving too slow, and you have that other thing called a life that demands your attention. This really makes you question whether you’re using your time wisely, until you become desperate and decide to use Google Wallet as an unloading tool.

5. Finding award space

After you manage to do all of the above without pulling your hair out, you are rewarded with enough miles to book that trip you’ve been saving up for. Ever since my summer 2012 booking fiasco, my anxiety level goes through the roof any time I have to pick up the phone and call American Airlines to book an award. I tend to travel during peak times. Not being able to go where you want, when you want after having saved up miles to do so, is extremely frustrating. Outsourcing the task to an award booking service just makes me feel like a failure. So I suck it up and do it myself.

So why put up with all of this? This is why. I’d rather chase points and miles for a better travel experience, than deprive myself year-round to save up enough cash for an inferior experience. Ultimately this list of complaints is minor compared to the rewards and any real problems that plague our everyday lives. But we all have to vent sometimes, right? What is it about manufactured spending that drives you up a wall?

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  1. In the end it may be better for those who do not live in the Mid West, Rust Belt, deep south or other economically deprived areas to work on becoming a hacker in the biz world, err I mean an entrepreneur. The skills are the same. Really the worst is the power and control that FF miles give companies over you. The lesson is earn and burn and never fly for status because as all the AA Terms and Conditions miles stealing over at AA show, they can take it away with one fell swoop.

  2. Did you ever consider Paypal cards? Buying them at CVS and then withdrawing funds from your Paypal account?

    • I did that one time only and then somehow my local CVS fixed it (hard coded the register to accept cash only). I wish I could do more

    • None of the CVS stores in my area take cc’s for any kind of prepaid/gift card. Plus, Paypal inexplicably shut me down a while ago. I wasn’t using it for ms, oddly enough.

  3. The Paypal method you mention usually results in a red flag and prompt shutdown of your account. Doing it once in a while shouldn’t be a problem, just not consistently.

  4. Well said Ariana! Your candor reflects my sentiments as well and wonder “why am I doing this” when I hit the walls from time to time. But a new day brings optimism and anticipation of that next trip!

  5. After running into the booking problem with available flights too often, I have diverted most of my MS to the Barclay Arrival Card. It is far easier to book during sales and just pay with points than transferring miles to a program, dealing with phantom seats that will not book and having to fly on your third or fourth preference and stay at a hotel that may not be where in town you want, but is bookable with hotel points. It takes some of the stress out of it.

    • That card often gets categorized as a “one and done,” but it’s probably saved me more cash than any other card. At the rate of which airline miles are devaluating, someday it will be cheaper to redeem your Arrival miles for business class seats than it is to redeem United/AA miles.

  6. I had a question…I don’t MS that much. I’m getting a new AmEx Bus Gold in the mail this week, 75K points with $10K spend. I’d like to take care of the spend in one day by buying 2 $5,000 AGC from a cash back portal and then paying $10K in quarterly income taxes online. Is this okay or do you think I would get a FR doing something like this?

    • I am not an expert in AGC but my understanding is that you cannot do more than 5k in one month (that also broken into 3k and 2k) so if you do 10k, your order will be cancelled.

      • It’s actually $5k every 15 days. In my experience, straight $5k orders tend to get cancelled most of the time. $4k orders have been safe for me.

    • That’s actually a very prudent way of doing it. My only concern are the fees you’re paying on your tax bill. It would be cheaper to buy Visa gift cards, load them onto Bluebird, and use that balance to pay your taxes.

  7. hollyatclubthrifty

    I hate all of these things which is why I rarely MS! =) Walmart near me is a disaster and kiosk is broken about half the time =(

  8. The Warlmart near me refused to take Visa GC to reload BB and Go Bank, even not allowing to buy money orders. What else can I do? 🙁

  9. I’m with you girl! I’m just looking for the KISS method so I won’t feel the anxiety of ‘will they tell me to leave or not’ when I show up at the counter with plastic in hand.

  10. Yes, I too have had my share of being told I was laundering money when I wanted to buy a Visa Vanilla GC at CVS with my Amex gift card, having the kiosk at Walmart freeze on me three days in a row (I was only able to load $200 because the kiosk kept freezing repeatedly after that first load on Day 1), and having the ATM at Costco “not able to dispense cash.” However, I live in Las Vegas, so I the solution was to drive to a Walmart that is 7 miles away instead of 2. And the kiosk at that store always works like a dream! (For anyone traveling to Las Vegas, there are lots and lots of nice Walmarts here.) Also, I made my first trip this month to my bank to pay off my Chase Ink card with cash from Amex gift cards loaded onto Amex for Target, and it was FUN!!!! I was practically skipping in the parking lot and I was definitely saying softly in a sing-song voice, “Thank you, Ariana! Thank you, Ariana!” like I was back in grade school or something. I hope you heard me last week : )

  11. Thanks Ariana for all of your great posts! I continue to use MS for minimum spends…I have not worked up the courage to do MS ongoing. Maybe one of these days I will get inspired to do it.

    • Thanks Carol! With all the hassle involved in manufactured spending nowadays, it really is more worthwhile to do it for a big bonus than just to earn the miles based on spend.

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