Credit Cards Manufactured Spending

My $82,000 Spending Challenge: 3 Months Later

Photo credit: ADoseofShipBoy / Foter / CC BY
Photo credit: ADoseofShipBoy / Foter / CC BY

I’m relieved to finally report that the $82,000 spending challenge I’ve been dragging my feet over has finally been completed. Last month, I wrapped up the combined $20,000 spending requirement on two Citi Executive AAdvantage cards; $20,000 across two Alaska Visa Signature cards; $3,000 on my dad’s Barclay Arrival Plus; and a self-imposed spending requirement of $9,000 on the SPG American Express Business card.

All that was left was $21,100 on my brother’s Barclay Arrival Plus card. Thanks to a variety of factors, I was able to meet the spend on this card and still stay under the radar. It was fairly simple with TopCashBack bringing back American Express gift cards. I was able to knock out an easy $4,000 in spend and unload the card via Amex for Target. I placed another $4,000 order recently, though it was ultimately cancelled. 

Thanks to Amazon Payments, which recently shut down for good, I got another easy $1,000 out of the way. A few trips to my local Simon Mall and the Walmart across the street and I got $5,000 off the books. 

An unexpected opportunity helped take care of another $3,000: My younger sister’s debate team needed a parent’s credit card to cover hotel and registration fees for a two day event. We picked up the tab and were promptly reimbursed. 

In addition to this, my brother used the card for his everyday spend, wracking up about $900. I also charged around $500 in household bills to the card. This didn’t exactly knock off a substantial amount of spend, but mixing regular spending helps to keep card activity looking as normal as possible.

My trusty Amex for Target cards (I have a total of 4) put me over the threshold with a little over $10,800 in spend. I load around $900 per card at a time, since that number is less likely to set off a fraud alert. Overall, I exceeded my remaining goal of $21,100 by completing a total of $25,200 in spend. My goal was to put the Arrival miles towards some travel expenses that were charged to my brother’s card, and we made it just in time for the redemption.

This spending challenge wasn’t the smoothest and didn’t go exactly the way I had planned, due to several obstacles and my newfound annoyance with the hobby. In the end, it got done on time, I avoided the red flags that would have been set off had I been more aggressive, and I made it out with my sanity intact.

That last part isn’t entirely true…I’ve since taken on another $22,000 in spending requirements. Chase introduced a 70,000 point sign-up bonus for the Ink Plus card and I went for it. For the first time ever, I received an instant approval on a business card. It was so easy, I signed my dad up for a card…and he received an approval email last week. Before I decided to splurge on this offer, Bank of America introduced a 90,000 mile version of the Virgin Atlantic Mastercard. Earlier this year I needed to round off a credit card churn, so I settled for a pitiful sign-up bonus on this card. Feeling shortchanged, I had to make things right by taking advantage of the 90,000 mile offer – which just so happens to have a $12,000 spending requirement. While I have 6 months to get it done, I’d prefer not to put it off too long. I like to sync up my credit card spending requirements so that they are all completed at the earliest possible time. With the Ink Plus cards requiring $5,000 to be spent within 3 months, I’m forcing myself to wrap all spending up by December. 

With Amazon Payments out of the picture, I needed to replace an easy manufactured spending tool, so I cancelled all four of my Bluebird cards, with the intention of switching to Serve. It’s not much, but if I can do $4,000 per month in direct loads with minimal hassle, that’s a huge time saver for me. Spread across three months, this will help me knock off $12,000 in spending requirements from the comfort of home. The remaining $10,000 can easily be met through regular spending and Amex for Target loads – three trips and I’ll be done! With the fun I have visiting Target, I may even get this done faster. In any case, I’ll have 343,000 miles to show for it. That’s $343,000 less manufactured spending I have to do…

If you’re in the midst of meeting spending requirements across several credit cards, take a look at this simple table I’ve used to keep track of it all. Hopefully it works for you too. Happy spending!

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  1. That is really impressive; you have nerves of steel and endless creativity for manufactured spend. You are my hero!

    I tried the Serve card recently and found it to be seen more annoying than Bluebird is. The other day one of the travel bloggers raved about the new pre-paidcard Amex has for Target (different than the Amex for Target that has been around for a couple of years) and it sounds fantastic. You can’t have a Serve or Bluebird at the same time you have this new card, but you can load $5,000 a month on it (maximum of $2,500 at a time) at Target without any loading fees (except for a $10 fee the first time you load your permanent card), and then go online and pay your credit card bill the way you do with Bluebird. You can keep your other Amex for Target cards,so that keeps that MS pipeline open. Quick, simple and no more Wal-Mart; I am definitely going to try this out.

  2. What gives you reason to believe limiting deposits to $900 will immunize you against a fraud alert from AmEx for Target? And if you do have reason to be concerned about fraud alerts with that product, why have four cards when the limit is two?

    • In my experience, transactions over $1k tend to set off fraud alerts, so I keep it at $900. The limit is two per person, but I have my card and then three others that belong to family members.

      • I’ve tried to use a different card once to load 1k on AFT and got shot down. Text from the card company asking what I was doing. Called from the store and explained(sorta) my purchase and I was good to go.

  3. The only thing I never understand about your methods is your reliance on AFT. It is one of the most expensive ways to spend at nearly $12.75 per $1,000. Yet…in your defense that’s nearly the same as buying two vgc at 5.95 each…and I guess the dollar difference is made up via in the simplicity of AFT….so I guess I can see where youre coming from…at least for meeting bonuses.

    • It’s more about convenience when meeting spend. I don’t use AFT for regular ms (as you pointed out, it’s way too expensive) – unless I’m unloading Amex gift cards. Then I pretty much break even.

  4. I tried the Amex for Target but I put those cards back in my sock drawer due to the high fees (~1.3% or ~$13 per $1k). Last month I did about $80k of MS, this month I’ll probably do about $40k since I’m getting tired of it.

    • This can be a hit or miss, but buying Amex gift cards at 1.5% cash back and then loading those onto AFT is a way to off-set the high fees. It’s a hit or miss because some cashiers won’t let you use an Amex gc. I find it’s about 3/10 cashiers that turn you down.

  5. Ariana, you are my hero! Very impressive and I love reading your blog!

  6. If you only load $900 per card on the AFT, what denomination of AmEx cards are you starting with? Do they allow loading from multiple AmEx cards if you have a few with balances to clean up? Also, with the Serve card, will you just bill-pay electronically back to yourself?
    Thanks! Loved reading about the $82,000 challenge! Very inspiring.

    • Yep, I’ll use Serve bill pay to unload the balance. I usually buy Amex gc’s in $2k denominations. I stick to one card per load to keep the transaction smooth and under the radar. Whatever cash I have left on the card I typically use for my personal spending or household bills. It works out well as a budgeting tool of sorts.

  7. After dealing with 2 Citi Exec American Airline cards in basically 3 weeks time to get miles for a “front of the plane” experience I am taking a break! My partner and I each got the Chase Ink card and cleared the spend out, that was 10k between us. I just applied for 2 versions of the Hilton cards and got one automatically, waiting to hear from the other. So I’ll be working through those in the next few weeks. I have a Serve card that is being used but that’s a trickle. I just deal with AFT at this point to build up some miles for a trip next summer.

    You do inspire me to be more assertive but it seems as though some of our favorite options are drying up.

    • Thanks Tony! That’s always good to hear. Sounds like you’ve earned yourself a very well deserved break. Put those miles towards a nice trip, recharge, and you may feel inclined to take on another churn.

  8. Ariana,

    Is manufactured spending something that could set off IRS flags? i.e. they look it is at money laundering?

    I am in the middle of a ms challenge(8k in 1 month so far) and just was wondering if it would set off any flags.

    So far so good, but am wary…

    • If you do it excessively, the banks might shut you down. That may eventually result in reporting to the IRS. As long as you’re doing is responsibly, you’re ok.

  9. HomerSimpson

    How did you manage to score FOUR Bluebird accounts and how will you be able to do the same with Serve? When loading to Serve it specifically says that your name has to be on the CC and match the name on the account… and you can only have one account. Any suggestions would be most appreciated!

    • One of them is mine and the others belong to immediate family members. I’ll be using each person’s credit card to load their Serve accounts. This way, when we take a family vacation, everyone has enough miles (thanks to my hard work). We also share, so if I need 50k Alaska miles and my brother has a ton of them, I just use his account to book myself an award. It works out quite well.

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